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December 29th, 2009
09:40 AM ET

Is aviation security mostly for show?

Bruce Schneier
Special to CNN

Last week's attempted terror attack on an airplane heading from Amsterdam to Detroit has given rise to a bunch of familiar questions.

How did the explosives get past security screening? What steps could be taken to avert similar attacks? Why wasn't there an air marshal on the flight? And, predictably, government officials have rushed to institute new safety measures to close holes in the system exposed by the incident.

Reviewing what happened is important, but a lot of the discussion is off-base, a reflection of the fundamentally wrong conception most people have of terrorism and how to combat it.

Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It's rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. However, our elected leaders don't think this way: They are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Terrorism • Travel
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. cliff watt

    If the so called intrusive search is too much for you to handle, no problem – please go drive safe – the rest of us feel better flying safe!

    Cliff Watt
    USMC (R)
    Sherwood Park, AB

    December 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm |
  2. Tim Gibson

    Part of the act of terrorism is an attack upon our emotions, beyond the attempt or success of the actual act itself. Yet, we cannot put blinders on and say, so what, what you gonna do next and act as if we have not a care in the world when in fact we have many cares and concerns when it involves national security and the lack of beyond visual.

    An example to follow would be from Israel when it comes to airport and airline security. As well, for such a small region resist threat and acts of terrorism or war much more effective than our own nation.

    No real security is only an open invitation for disaster.

    December 29, 2009 at 10:27 am |
  3. JJ

    Bruce Schneier makes some very good points regarding our reactions, perceptions and defenses against terrorism. Why was this man allowed on this flight after his father red flagged him as a threat that was all but ignored.
    Unfortunately, the blame is placed on airport security...so now what....will be be walking naked through airport security or better yet, lets spend billions more on body scanning technology that might work. I would be interested in who's making the money on airport security technology and where that trail leads.

    December 29, 2009 at 10:08 am |