A number of highly respected sources usually turned to for creative thinking on issues of crime and terrorism were seen giving television interviews with a very disturbing “deer in the head lights” look I in their eyes. While I didn’t expect to hear too much creative thinking so soon after a terrorism attack of this magnitude, there was something new about the tone and content of the opinions being given. There was a focus on the failure of Belgium law enforcement to foresee these attacks and in time at least to limit their scope. Much of the critical commentary centered on the arrest last week of the sought after Paris attack terrorist, Salah Abdeslam.
Because Abdeslam was arrested and may have been cooperating with his captives by providing information on the identities of others involved in attacks elsewhere, another attack was approved before too much specific information could be given. A second focus on the failure of Belgian law enforcement was centered on the fact that Abdelslam had been on the loose only a doors away from the neighborhood where he grew up and had likely been developing new plans together with a network of others long known to him. Under the circumstances, it was believed there was enough information to remove Abdelslam much sooner.
While there is certainly much to consider about the circumstances of how the investigation and ultimate arrest of Abdelslam to easily divert our attention away from the all too long standing questions of how to clamp down on the continued failure, world wide, of our failure to interdict foreseeable risks of crime and terrorism. In the United States alone we now spend $8B annually on aviation security while continuing to fail every test of our ability to identify and remove explosives conducted by our federal aviation agency. Today I heard a sense of the despair of aviation security experts, analysis, and commentators as they slowly came to the conclusion that the problem was too big to fix without crippling our ability to move millions of passengers quickly; or unreasonably invade our protection against illegal profiling; or to allow limitations on first amendment liberties and the like. We quickly and unfairly look at necessary law enforcement steps to be taken to reasonably inconvenience the public in the war on terrorism as too draconian for a free society. But rather than work to improve how we respond to necessary security threats we continue to attempt to fix yesterdays security problems by more of yesterday’s failed solutions.
Today’s Belgian terrorists, realizing that aviation security still cannot find explosives in luggage wheeled their explosives on baggage carts up to an airline counter on the public side of the security perimeter and detonated. We can examine bags with modern technologies that can tell us if there is a potentially explosive cocktail being carried inside. In fact if we mandate that every man, woman and child and all that they place on to an airplane go through modern technology designed to examine every item carried into an airport for explosives, the bomb problem will all be eliminated.
We have known for as long as we have recognized the need for aviation security that securing airports themselves has always been the weakest link in the chain and much more vulnerable than airliners themselves. Think of airport perimeters as launching sites for missiles, terrorist workers, bomb carrying delivery and passenger vehicles, and the gateway to unsecured airliners too easily accessible to terrorists for installing explosives and weapons. We know this to be true but we are unwilling as a society to take on the job and admit that we can fix it.