Airplane Security Commentary

Excellent commentary from The Register:

As the smoke clears following the case of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the failed Christmas Day “underpants bomber” of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 fame, there are just three simple points for us Westerners to take away.

First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.

Second: This does not matter. There is no need for greater efforts on security.

Third: A terrorist set fire to his own trousers, suffering eyewateringly painful burns to what Australian cricket commentators sometimes refer to as the “groinal area”, and nobody seems to be laughing. What’s wrong with us?

Posted on January 13, 2010 at 2:55 PM36 Comments


Moe January 13, 2010 3:07 PM

Hey Bruce, any comment on Google’s talk about pulling out of China / uncensoring its search results?

HJohn January 13, 2010 3:14 PM

I agree. If this guy were a laughing stock instead of the source of much fear and fingerpointing, it would probably serve as a bit more of a deterent to terrorist wannabes.

I do wonder if he would have been able to build a better bomb, detonator, etc., under pre-9/11 screening levels. I’m not saying he could have, I’m just saying that I have some ignorance about the workings of the bomb and if liquids could have helped (I’ve read conflicting information, so yes I have researched the question). That’s not to say I think the liquids ban is good (I don’t, people have a legitimate need for liquids), but I wonder if the ban detered him from a better device.

I’ll further the joke on him. Given the region of his body that was damaged, perhaps the best punishment would be to send him to live under the Taliban since he may now qualify as a woman (as we know, women, unfortunately, do not fair well under the taliban).

Petréa Mitchell January 13, 2010 3:22 PM

The money quote for me there is:

“That’s why planes and trains aren’t blowing up every day; why people aren’t opening fire into crowds every week […] Because most people, even people who in all other respects you would describe as fanatical extremists, just aren’t mass-murderer material.”

This is the only article I’ve seen so far to make that point.

Peter E Retep January 13, 2010 4:51 PM

“Any terrorists reading this should be aware that an essential precaution has been left out of all the bombing plans above, without which any attack is 90 per cent or more likely to fail due to a classified security tactic in use by the UK (and presumably the US).”
– So, since terrorists only need one success, the authorities have here told them to press the defense with 10 tries at once.

Peter E Retep January 13, 2010 4:52 PM

“Any terrorists reading this should be aware that an essential precaution has been left out of all the bombing plans above, without which any attack is 90 per cent or more likely to fail due to a classified security tactic in use by the UK (and presumably the US).”
– So, since terrorists only need one success, the authorities have told them to press the defense with 10 tries at once.

Jay January 13, 2010 7:12 PM

@Peterretep: This isn’t computer security; humans are wise to brute-force attacks.

For instance, the screening requirements were updated very quickly after the pants-on-fire thing; it might sound like a CYA response but it would stop copycats or a ‘zerg rush’.

hope chest January 13, 2010 7:32 PM

It is like even with our best efforts terrorists can still think of a way to continue their acts. And not until there is another airplane that will blow up, they will not be vigilant enough.

400guy January 13, 2010 9:26 PM

The article says “nobody seems to be laughing”.

Well, I for one laughed when the CBC, reporting the attacker’s not-guilty plea in court, commented … “Liar, liar, pants on fire”.

jacob January 14, 2010 1:18 AM

Did this guy qualify for a darwin award?? A religious nut qualified for a darwin award? I find the irony humorous but then small minds are easily amused. 🙂

Douglas Onyango January 14, 2010 2:48 AM

If this is anything to go by
I think think there is one more think to laugh about – the fact that these guys let themselves to into paralysis analysis. They had better options for detonation especially with the knowledge that time was one thing that their bomb detonation needed and instead were lured by prospects of a possible almost empty tank under them that hey weren’t even sure they could penetrate.

Roger January 14, 2010 5:45 AM

Another vote here: I chuckled vigorously. Especially at the description of hero Jasper Schuringa beating out the flames (now that HAD to hurt!)

Neil in Chicago January 14, 2010 6:31 AM

“If he had succeeded there would have been 72 disappointed virgins in Paradise!”

GregW January 14, 2010 6:33 AM

I agree with point 1, “First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.” but isn’t it worth asking as a taxpayer why El Al, under even fiercer attacking conditions, can apparently produce better results than our system? I know they deal with fewer flights, being a smaller country and all, but I don’t understand why their approach can’t scale up. Is their dollar-investment-per-passenger in security really higher? If not, then why can’t we do better? Prevention of 100% may be “completely impossible”, but hey, doesn’t this incident illustrate we can do better?

bac January 14, 2010 9:11 AM

I rarely fly at all so this may be my ignorance showing.

When comparing security for air travel, is the security provided by the airport included with the security provided by the airliner?

El Al is an airliner so I wondering how much of their security is provided by the airports.

DC January 14, 2010 11:02 AM

Well, we all laughed here (and still are).
I think everyone but the media gets it, perhaps because they were ordered to not get it?

I heard Bruce on NPR this AM, and he didn’t mention it himself — and we don’t have that much exposure, those of us with some sense and an idea of what security is about — you missed a good chance there Bruce.

I agree — first is to get off this “war” thing and demote them to mere (inept) criminals, then laugh at how stupid they are. That will do more than all the other attempts so far tried or even mentioned.

If you’re going to do theater, at least catch a clue and do it right, use it for what it’s good for.

It’s been pointed out many times the the types who get suckered into blowing themselves up are most often lonely, desperately needy types. Sure would make it harder to recruit them if they knew the likely response would be laughter — at them.

Till January 14, 2010 11:17 AM

I find the ubiquitous jokes tedious, unfunny, and tacky.

Lots of people almost died. Which isn’t particularly funny.

But really I’m just looking for a higher standard of comedy. Guy blows only himself up after packing explosives into his ass (can’t remember where this happened)? Hilarious. Guy attempts to set off explosives he had in his underwear? Ehhh…I’m not seeing the funny, and I’m getting a little sick of people smirking about it. Because underpants are funny. Or something.

Shane January 14, 2010 12:14 PM

@Niel in Chi

BAWHAHAHAHAHAHA, and virgins they would’ve remained. It would have been a wonderfully befitting punishment for such a crime, had he succeeded, especially considering his personal blog/rants on his sexual frustrations.

MarkH January 14, 2010 12:48 PM

@Till, “Lots of people almost died.”

Did they? Probably, a few. I am no expert, but a life-long student of aviation technology. If this fool had succeeded in detonating his bizarre IED, he might well have killed and maimed some of the passengers seated nearest to him.

But the plane probably would have remained in controlled flight, and landed at an airport where emergency crews would be able to promptly deal with any fire and casualties.

With his plan and preparation, he was about as dangerous as a drunk at the wheel of an SUV.

DC January 14, 2010 2:56 PM


The guy presumably had around 2 ounces of PETN, or even worse, just the precursors, it depends on which report(s) you believe.

That much would have maybe killed some people within a few feet (nothing in the way of a shrapnel add on was mentioned) and that’s about it, maybe put a bulge in the side of the plane, no more unless he held the explosive up to it and it was a shaped charge, so I agree — this wouldn’t have worked if it had worked, so to speak.

Two ounces of PETN will knock off about a head sized rock (becomes gravel), or blow about a 1-2 foot hole in the ground, and not throw the dirt far either — it’s all shock (brisance) and no heave (gas production).

I’ve been 10 feet from an ounce that did detonate, and I’m here to talk about it (I was lying down at the time and very worried — accidents happen). Scary, but not that big a deal actually. All the dirt flew over me, and my ears rang. Inside some enclosure the noise would be nasty, but that’s about it, some lost eardrums and bruises perhaps.

And I think laughing at people who want to kill me and destroy my way of life is in the very best taste, sorry to those who think otherwise — not.

David Rickel January 14, 2010 3:03 PM

Well, think of it as a proof-of-concept explosion. If it had worked but only taken out a couple seats, the next guy could wear an explosive fat suit.

thatguy January 14, 2010 4:20 PM

@Lawrence D’Oliveiro: not SAS, Navy.

“Armed Forces Career:
University Air Squadron, RAF 1988-91
Royal Navy officer 1993-2004
* Navigator, HMS Quorn 1994-96
* Long Mine Clearance Diving Officer course 1996-97
* Ops Officer, HMS Middleton 1997-98
* All-arms Commando course 1997
* Executive Officer, HMS Bridport 1998-01
* Officer in Charge, Southern Diving Unit One 2001-04
* Joint Improvised Explosive Device Disposal No. 1 Operator course 2001”

moo January 14, 2010 6:30 PM


Laughing at terrorists (especially pathetic fools like this one) will do far more to defuse terrorism than scaremongering about them will.

There are far more important threats to worry about. The American psyche was damaged so badly by 9/11 that they have allowed their nation to blow the threat of terrorism out of all proportion and use it as an excuse to inch closer to police-state status. Bad move. We should be laughing at guys who set themselves on fire.

Even if they SUCCEEDED in blowing up the plane, I would still be laughing at them. What kind of pathetic fool thinks that blowing up a bunch of other people and yourself, is a good use of your one and only life on this planet? Even if you’re a religious fruitcake, surely there are more useful ways to serve your variant of God if you remain alive for many more years?

phred14 January 15, 2010 11:47 AM

The answer – full dress rehearsal.

Obviously they need to train their suicide bombers better. Prior to going on a mission, they need to do a full dress rehearsal with live explosives, live detonators, and perform the detonation, just to make sure they know how. Let’s not let the fact that they don’t get to do this twice deter them from proper training.

mcb January 15, 2010 4:20 PM

@ supergee


Thanks…now I need a coffee clean up and a new keyboard in cube A1-124.

newfy777 January 30, 2010 2:04 PM

if the underpants bomber[ aka the mind controlled CIA-Mossad dupe] REALLY wanted to blow up the plane,he would have gone into the jet bathroom and pulled the “nutcracker” out of his undies and pressed it up against the skin of the fuselage..this was absolutely a CIA-Mossad false flag Christmas present and show,to make x homeland security boss dual Israel-U.S. citizen Michael Chertoff and friends,billions and billions in profits installing naked full body scanners in every airport in America..then the world.. and then in every government building in America..wake the L up people..its all about
#4-more highly profitable war on the middle east and attacking Israel’s sworn enemies
#5-more intensification of and the further tightening of the police state in America
#6 more propaganda and brainwashing of dumbed down Americans into ever more fear of phony false flag /CIA/Mossad black op terror and more fear of a non-existent former CIA asset and boogeyman named Osama Bin Laden that died in 2001 and Al-Qaeda[Al-CIA-da]

newfy777 January 30, 2010 2:11 PM

rumor has it the underwear bomber Umar Abdul Farouck Allobadob is penning new music in custody..
an anonymous prison guard says the new song will be called..get this..
“great balls of fire”

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