January 7th, 2010
02:34 PM ET

Stop the panic on air security

Bruce Schneier
Special to CNN

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The Underwear Bomber failed. And our reaction to the failed plot is failing as well, by focusing on the specifics of this made-for-a-movie plot rather than the broad threat. While our reaction is predictable, it's not going to make us safer.

We're going to beef up airport security, because Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab allegedly snuck a bomb through a security checkpoint. We're going to intensively screen Nigerians, because he is Nigerian. We're going to field full body scanners, because they might have noticed the PETN that authorities say was hidden in his underwear. And so on.

We're doing these things even though security worked. The security checkpoints, even at their pre-9/11 levels, forced whoever made the bomb to construct a much worse bomb than he would have otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or another reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial user of PETN, he had to resort to an ad hoc homebrew - and a much more inefficient one, involving a syringe, and 20 minutes in the lavatory, and we don't know exactly what else - that didn't explode.

At that point, AbdulMutallab's fellow passengers quickly subdued him. Yes, the screeners didn't notice any PETN in his underwear, but the system was never intended to catch that particular tactic. There probably were intelligence failures - why wasn't his father's tip followed up on, and why wasn't his visa revoked? - but it's always easy to connect the dots in hindsight.

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Susan Lewis NYC

    The suspect himself said that there are more, and they are coming. Smell the coffee? Full body scanners, bomb sniffing dogs, military personnel for airport security. No, I don't like it, but I refuse to die for a ding-a-ling principal, theirs, or ours, period. Disagree? don't freaking fly!

    January 7, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  2. Kim

    This report has been reported on various other news stations and will CNN confirm for national security ? Has Hillary Clinton been informed ? Airports being tested for security and are they passing ?

    January 7, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Kim

    No Panic ! What's up with the security check at the airport per news reports ? They tested security and someone got through with an explosive ? Any follow up on these reports with facts ? The dog smelled one explosive but not the other and the individual testing security flew with an explosive ? Please confirm for facts and follow up CNN ! Thank-you !

    January 7, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  4. meron

    Especially the media exposing the do's and don'ts of security, what to look for in a suspect and many other things. so what makes you think these people will do what they plan to do on their first attempt, instead they will change their tactis and become experts and outsmart the system. I think every thing has to be secret so they can be cought by surprise.

    January 7, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Diana holland

    Why were there more attacks the past year the. Past year since all combined since 911 !!! also as far as conecting the dots , this mans father went twice Not once to warn us!!! His visa should have bin taken right away ! Along with other signs to watch. This man!! If it was not for the beVerly citizans ion the plane this probably would have killed almost 300 people!! Since when is it the passengers job to thawart these things!! We are willing to so are part But we expect are elected officials to do theirs!!! Please do your job to hold all goverment accountable! And despite your party affiliation please hold all accountable!!!!! We as American citizans deserve this ! Don't you agree??? Thanks

    January 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  6. lissa10279

    I couldn't agree more. Security wasn't the problem; human error was. The problem here was this man's father came forward with real intelligence, and this intelligence was either ignored or not delved into further, which could have prevented this situation in the first place.

    In the U.S., we're notoriously reactionary - and it's a knee-jerk reaction (no shoes b/c of Richard Reid; no liquids because of a failed attempt).

    We can't live in fear for the rest of our lives. This kind of terrorism is, unfortunately, part of this new world order - and it's not even a new concept. Terrorism (of different levels) has been around since the beginning of time. It's designed to incite mass chaos.

    We need to be vigilant, and we need to listen to the signs and voices - quite literally–that are feeding us information.

    January 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm |