Matt Blaze on the New "Unpredictable" TSA Screening Measures

Interesting:

"Unpredictable" security as applied to air passenger screening means that sometimes (perhaps most of the time), certain checks that might detect terrorist activity are not applied to some or all passengers on any given flight. Passengers can't predict or influence when or whether they are be subjected to any particular screening mechanism. And so, the strategy assumes, the would-be terrorist will be forced to prepare for every possible mechanism in the TSA's arsenal, effectively narrowing his or her range of options enough to make any serious mischief infeasible.

But terrorist organizations -- especially those employing suicide bombers -- have very different goals and incentives from those of smugglers, fare beaters and tax cheats. Groups like Al Qaeda aim to cause widespread disruption and terror by whatever means they can, even at great cost to individual members. In particular, they are willing and able to sacrifice -- martyr -- the very lives of their solders in the service of that goal. The fate of any individual terrorist is irrelevant as long as the loss contributes to terror and disruption.

Paradoxically, the best terrorist strategy (as long as they have enough volunteers) under unpredictable screening may be to prepare a cadre of suicide bombers for the least rigorous screening to which they might be subjected, and not, as the strategy assumes, for the most rigorous. Sent on their way, each will either succeed at destroying a plane or be caught, but either outcome serves the terrorists' objective.

The problem is that catching someone under a randomized strategy creates a terrible dilemma for the authorities. What do we do when we detect a bomb-wielding terrorist whose device was discovered through the enhanced, randomly applied screening procedure?

EDITED TO ADD (1/5): In this blog post, a reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog argues that the terrorist didn't care if he blew the plane up or not, that he went back to his seat instead of detonating the explosive in the toilet precisely because he wanted his fellow passengers to see his attempt -- just in case it failed.

Posted on January 5, 2010 at 11:41 AM • 48 Comments

Comments

markJanuary 5, 2010 11:59 AM

And even the failures accomplish certain goals as the entire country is paralyzed reacting to what almost happened.

caseyJanuary 5, 2010 12:06 PM

Is there any reason not to attribute our relative safety from terrorism to the difficulty in finding suicide bombers? I find it hard to accept that if we did no screening whatsoever that events would happen every day. Certainly, no threat of detection would stop someone so determined.

Is there any reliable data on how often a bomb attempt has been stopped short of failed detonation?

kashmarekJanuary 5, 2010 12:07 PM

One aspect of the Israeli security model is retribution. That seems to count for a lot (then again, it might be the cause for some of the terror).

TDLJanuary 5, 2010 12:29 PM

At this point, it seems to me that the scariest thing a suicide bomber could do is set off a bomb at the airport in the middle of the crowds of people lined up waiting for security to clear them for multiple flights....

DaveJanuary 5, 2010 12:31 PM

"Randomized" screening always sounded like a smokscreen to me for these very reasons. The problem our policy makers face is that they can't just tell us that they improved security in ways we don't notice. To appease us—to give the impression that they are protecting us—they have to inconvenience us, delay us, drive us to angrily swear off air travel (in my experience the airlines are doing a superb job at that already). If they tell us that more extensive screening is being randomly applied, we can waltz through security thinking, "whew, I'm glad they're scrutinizing people who aren't me."

HJohnJanuary 5, 2010 12:35 PM

As I say often, I don't believe the TSA's tactics are cost affective or appropriate. But I do think they have a much tougher job than we give them credit for. They don't intend for people to swear off air travel (otherwise, they'd run themselves out of business). Yet, intentions and outcomes are usually different.

mojoJanuary 5, 2010 12:37 PM

I don't see why they don't just strap on some explosives and blow up the line of people waiting to get into security. If the pictures on the news yesterday were anything to go by then the carnage would be on a par with many other attacks.

These things are never really random anyway. Despite being Caucasian 9 times out of 10 I get pulled aside for a "random" feel-up. I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with my Islamic surname.

alJanuary 5, 2010 12:42 PM

An individual terrorist is motivated to blow himself/herself up and "make a difference", not spend the next 72 years in US custody being interrogated.

If the organization's strategy is to throw dozens of individual terrorists at the security apparatus hoping that just one will get through and explode, it's going to lose terrorist candidates. There's no harem of virgins waiting for a "martyr" who failed and wound up in a Colorado penitentiary.

These individuals are looking for glory and fulfillment of the belief that they made a big difference.

HJohnJanuary 5, 2010 12:48 PM

@mojo: "These things are never really random anyway. Despite being Caucasian 9 times out of 10 I get pulled aside for a "random" feel-up. I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with my Islamic surname."
________

That's part of the difficulty. To do any profiling is to be too easily labeled a racist, or an Islamophobe, or any other term for bigot. To do it completely random is chalked up to harrassing 90 year old grandmothers.

I personally advocate an overhaul of the entire screening process. But I don't think profiling works. Of course, certain groups are more likely to engage in certain activities. Elderly grandmothers aren't likely to be drug smugglers, men of a certain age range or more likely to be hijackers, for example. But the problem with selective screening is that would-be threats will exploit the trust afforded children or the elderly or any other trusted group. Osama gets screened and they find nothing because he tricked Ma Kettle into smuggling the materials for him.

Don MartiJanuary 5, 2010 1:00 PM

The other strategy is to work "with" the security industry. If there's a company trying to sell the TSA a billion dollars worth of sock scanners, all the terists have to do is send through a sock bomber and you just cost them a billion dollars.

NemoJanuary 5, 2010 1:08 PM

It's a bit like Margaret Thatcher's comments about the IRA, way back when: "I need to be lucky all the time; they only need to be lucky once". Random screening just makes it a little less likely that any given terrorist will succeed, which is great if the goal is to defeat, you know, a random individual terrorist. Alas, that doesn't quite seem to be the case...

Joe BuckJanuary 5, 2010 1:09 PM

Ah, but it seems clear that Al Qaeda does not have enough volunteers, because they've scaled back their ambitions considerably. In years past, their MO was a big, splashy action where multiple teams hit multiple targets simultaneously (e.g. Madrid, 9/11, London). You still see this kind of attack in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not elsewhere. Instead we see lone operators and a low level of competence (neither Reid nor the Nigerian nor a number of other attackers succeeded in harming anyone but themselves).

durandalJanuary 5, 2010 1:31 PM

In response to Joe: they don't need massive coordinated attacks to cause as much damage anymore. They've pretty much got us jumping at shadows, and when a single minor attack is foiled, we overreact. They don't spend much on the attack, but they cause a massive amount of damage.

What about an attempt on an airport or security checkpoint itself? Honestly, that seems like it would cause the most damage, and would have the least preventative measures. After, all, you can access the terminal in most airports without a boarding pass. How would the TSA or anyone respond to this? The amount of increased security and inconvenience would surely create more havoc than a minor attack on a single flight.

Seems to me that in terrorist thinking, this would be the next logical step to causing economic distress. After all, a team of armed gunmen, or a single bomber could cause a massive amount of damage, physical, economical, and casualty.

My point is, yeah, the TSA response may stop or slow the next minor attack, but as Bruce has stated, they can cause as much damage with far less cost than that of the 9/11 or other major attacks.

derfJanuary 5, 2010 1:43 PM

The actual number of terrorists is incalculably small. My reasoning is that there are much less hardened, more effective targets than have previously been attacked, and yet all of our security dollars are being force-fed into the TSA.

We'd have instant martial law if certain extremely soft targets were suddenly blown up at more than one site within the USA.

To cause the most mischief possible in an airline related incident, a bomber would go into one of the major hubs during peak travel time and blow himself and several planeloads of people up with an over-sized carry-on bag full of explosives.

Since neither scenario has been done, one can only assume that the terrorists are either simple-minded or non-existent.

reinkefjJanuary 5, 2010 1:44 PM

I remember reading something that the Russian KGB, during the Cold War, would assassinate the families of those that "messed" with their diplomatic or intelligence assets. I don't know how true that is, but it would certainly be a deterrent. Mark & Reprisal are in the Constitution.

RHJanuary 5, 2010 1:47 PM

There seems to be conflicting assumptions made in this arena. The assumption is that the "bad" security solution is always hit by the most intelligent response to the "bad" solution, while the "good" solution is tested against the response to the "bad" solution. If the terrorists see we are using the "good" solution (which, in this article, is a non-randomized test), they will optimize their strategy to beat this "good" solution. So yes, you'll stop the "lots of guys trying to beat the lowest security," but it will invite a new opening.

Why do you think so much fuss is made when there's a leak of documents (even silly ones that don't describe much we didn't know)? An enemy who knows our strategies gets to plan against them. And its been proven in computer models that the best defense against an enemy who knows your strategy is to have a sufficiently randomized strategy (disclaimer: proven at least for the cases studied by grants that I am aware of). Non-randomized strategy works better only when the enemy does not get to know anything about the strategy (in effect getting the unpredictability of randomness with the tactical advantage of the strategy).

In such a public environment, we should assume the enemy knows everything.

doJanuary 5, 2010 2:00 PM

"I remember reading something that the Russian KGB, during the Cold War, would assassinate the families of those that "messed" with their diplomatic or intelligence assets. I don't know how true that is, but it would certainly be a deterrent. Mark & Reprisal are in the Constitution."

Collective punishment is not only morally reprehensible, it's a crime.

Jilles van GurpJanuary 5, 2010 2:51 PM

@TDL, exactly. Why bother getting on the plane when people willingly crowd with hundreds in a cramped space where stressed people pushing around carts full of luggage is considered normal? You could push many kilos of explosives straight into a security checkpoint and instantly disrupt air transport world wide for weeks/months. It would not even be necessary to detonate the explosives for this to happen! The panic would be massive regardless of this.

Strategies that seem to work, as pointed out by others in this thread:
1) Retaliation Israeli style. Not pretty but highly effective: the counter attack on you, your family, your house, etc. is pretty much guaranteed if you choose to attack them. Not something to be taken lightly. Associating with Palestinian extremists is not a good survival strategy.
2) Profiling and intelligence are powerful tools that have arguably prevented lots of bad stuff from happening already. Combined with #1, you have plenty of sources of information. People willing to sacrifice everything exist but are actually pretty rare.
3) Systematically targeting leadership, wears down terrorist organizations and makes #2 even more effective due to increased clumsiness and sloppiness of the attackers.
4) Bringing the fight to where the terrorists come from can inspire some self moderation. Just look at how the Pakistani are waging war against the Taliban right now. Targeting Pakistani civilian targets could likely prove to have been a historic mistake for the Taliban since Pakistan was the only safe place left for them.
5) A stick and carrot approach with countries supporting terrorism can change things dramatically. Being on the wrong side is not a sound economic policy right now whereas actively fighting terrorism opens a lot of doors.

RHJanuary 5, 2010 2:54 PM

@do: "Collective punishment is not only morally reprehensible, it's a crime."

Interesting statement. I agree with you, but I'd like to point out some amusing observations about the wording.

First, "not only ____ but also ___" tends to be used with the minor problem first and with a major problem following. That would imply that the fact that its criminal is more appalling than its moral content.

Second is that morality is decidedly based in society, not in absolutes. There's countless examples of things that are "morally appalling" to us which are the socially accepted norm in other cultures.

I'd rather argue against "collective punishment" by throwing morality to the wind and pointing out that anyone who believes they are going to go to "heaven" for committing an act of terrorism would probably not be deterred from his acts by promises to send his family to "heaven" care of the USA taxpayer ;-)

LeglessJanuary 5, 2010 3:08 PM

@kashmarek: Retribution may be part of the Israeli security model, but this is collective punishment, and against international Law. While Israel may not concern itself with such nuisances, we in NA should be cautious to discard such conventions.


bobJanuary 5, 2010 3:33 PM

I still think the terrorists are missing out by not randomly doing smaller attacks in less secured locations. Remember the fear of getting gas caused by the DC sniper? The majority of Americans have little to fear of a bomb blowing up a plane they are on. However throw a few bombs into suburban malls, high school sporting events, etc throughout middle America and you will see widespread fear.

DavidJanuary 5, 2010 3:35 PM

@RH:
It's not only morally reprehensible and a crime, it's frequently counterproductive. Suicide bomber A takes out an airplane, say, being unusually good at it. US thugs murder his family. Suddenly, there's a whole lot of people who have just had one or more perfectly innocent relatives or friends killed by US assassins, some of whom now don't have nearly as much to live for as they did.

I would rather my tax dollars weren't spent to motivate and recruit anti-US terrorists.

RSaundersJanuary 5, 2010 4:24 PM

I wish the folks who thought these ideas up had gotten a little better grades in math. Random sampling works fine in a factory setting where a broken tool will cause the machine to make bad parts. You sample randomly, and if you get a failure you track down the cause and scrap the bad parts. It works fine in a hamburger factory, where a sample from each batch can tell you to throw out the batch.

These are settings where failures are common, they happen every week/day. Terrorism is not like this, AT ALL. Terrorism is insanely uncommon, and there is no statistically valid test that has a suitable sensitivity.

Random sampling rules of thumb from manufacturing approximates an unknown distribution with a normal or Gaussian distribution. That's not what we have with terrorists. We have 600M zero values per year and 1 one. Sampling 10% of people with a perfect scanner (which nobody knows how to make) will give the "no terrorist" result ~ 90% of the time. That's 60M security failures, and we still have an unacceptable 9/10 chance of the terrorist getting onto the plane.

Please hire someone to do the math before you set policy! Examine the confidence intervals and publish some papers in peer reviewed statistics journals that show you're not just flushing the money away.

HJohnJanuary 5, 2010 4:36 PM

@RSaunders at January 5, 2010 4:24 PM


For the most part, I agree. But there is a value to sampling on top of detecting terrorists (which, as you illustrated, trying to catch the 1 per year isn't effective). Sampling will have a pretty good rate at detecting something that was missed by the security that is applied to everyone. This can be something universally bad (say, a gun) or something generally benign (liquids or cutting instruments other than knives). The value in such a check will be to identify and correct a faulty scanning mechanism, thus improving overall security.

The faulty parts analogy of yours is a good one. Some faulty parts may leave the plant, but the detection may enable prevention of future breaches.

RHJanuary 5, 2010 4:43 PM

@RSaunders:
Its not so much random sampling as randomizing your challenges to the terrorists.

Think of it like a football game. If you predictably pass every 1st down, and run for the remaining downs, the defense will quickly learn to stop the long passes on the first down, then get in close to stop runs. If you pass 25% of the time, run 75%, at random, you force them to be ready for both cases.

JohnJanuary 5, 2010 5:24 PM

It's pretty clear by now that it's actually quite hard to recruit and place would-be terrorists in America. Otherwise we'd have had someone do exactly what Blaze describes, to wit, send a bunch of armed people all at once, knowing that not even one of them has to get through for the plan to work.

Jilles is right that it would be trivially easy to completely shut down US - if not world - travel for days or weeks with one well thought out explosion. Yet, we have seen nothing.

On Blaze's post, I thought he started out well, but lost it when he started arguing about needing to screen only well enough to catch a reasonably arrived at amount of plausibly dangerous substance/object. As Bruce is fond of pointing out, the number of plausible dangerous objects/substances is very large.

JohnJanuary 5, 2010 5:26 PM

RSaunders: problem is, in your analogy the other team needs to stop you only once to be like a successful terrorist. Once is good enough in terrorism, but it's not in a game.

However it's pretty clear by now that it's actually quite hard to recruit and place would-be terrorists in America. Otherwise we'd have had someone do exactly what Blaze describes, to wit, send a bunch of armed people all at once, knowing that not even one of them has to get through for the plan to work.

Jilles is right that it would be trivially easy to completely shut down US - if not world - travel for days or weeks with one well thought out explosion. Yet, we have seen nothing.

On Blaze's post, I thought he started out well, but lost it when he started arguing about needing to screen only well enough to catch a reasonably arrived at amount of plausibly dangerous substance/object. As Bruce is fond of pointing out, the number of plausible dangerous objects/substances is very large.

RobinJanuary 5, 2010 5:28 PM

The logic in the article that terrorist groups will just send a bunch of terrorists through in hopes of getting one through seems valid at first, but it makes me wonder why they aren't already doing just that, if they could.

Send a dozen suicide bombers through with explosives strapped to their bodies. If they get caught, they blow themselves up in the screening area. If not, they wait until they're on the plane. As tightly packed as those screening areas are, even a failed attempt would be pretty devastating, and increase the fear people have. Now you aren't just scared on the plane, you're scared in the security line.

Defense against this sort of attack would be difficult...even if you send people through one at a time, it's going to take a heck of a lot more space.

So I think the idea that Al Qaeda has hundreds of people ready and willing to blow themselves up and plenty of access to explosives can't be right. If they did, there would have been far more attacks already. Forget airplanes. A crowded mall on black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving - officially the busiest shopping day of the year.) A fancy New York restaurant...the possibilities are endless, and it's impossible to secure them all.

So, either Al Qaeda is hopelessly unimaginative, or getting suicide bombers and explosives are hard to come by (at least here in the US).

Mauro SJanuary 5, 2010 6:27 PM

One way sometimes used to grade an attack is to compare the dollar amount the attack cost you to the damages on the enemy. For instance, a $100k torpedo sinking a US$10m ship is a good deal, a U$1m Tomahawk missile destroying a US$10k shack is a bad deal.

Under this criterion, the underwear bomber is the best deal the terrorists ever got. For $3k worth of explosives and airfare, they incurred US$ billions per year of costs to TSA, airline and the flying public.

With the unending cooperation of US bureaucrats, the terrorists are winning at every turn, big time. Not to mention that they are turning the United States in a police state more like the ones the terrorists come from. Isn’t it their declared objective, to make us like them?

RHJanuary 5, 2010 6:37 PM

@John: true, it is strange that they haven't been doing more terrorism.

I do wonder, however if the "just get one bombers through" logic scales. If I send 10 bombers at an airport, and 1 gets through, its a huge deal. however if I had sent a thousand bombers, and 1 gets through, its different. The physical damage is the same, but I don't believe the psychological effects are quite as bad. The terror comes from our apparent inability to stop the bombings, not from the bombings themselves. The more manpower they throw at it to improve their odds, the more we can rationalize it with "they put an awful lot of manpower and effort into that attack."

If this is true, then the statistical cases hold water. The question no longer becomes number of bombers to get through, but percentage of bombers to get through.

Its a shame the battlefield is so skewed. We're trying to fight a normal war against terror, when the terrorists are fighting a total war (a war where civilians are fair targets).

AntonJanuary 5, 2010 7:40 PM

Even though this has been said many times before, I would like to reiterate that both sides, Government/TSA as well as terrorists, want to maximize the scare factor. Hitting or trying to hit planes mid air does that much more effectively than hitting crowds on the ground.

Meanwhile the US Government's and TSA's response points blatantly to the fact that the chosen air born targets are exactly where US society is psychologically at its most vulnerable: "so please continue making this your target".

dobJanuary 5, 2010 8:09 PM

RH: Fair point. I phrased it as such because I recognize that morality isn't agreed upon by all, but criminality is by and large cut and dried.

For those of you waxing rhapsodic over Israeli commando justice, you, not to mention they, might do well to consider the long-term implications of such actions.

Stefan W.January 5, 2010 11:40 PM

Not screening-related, just flights:

What does a flight-crew do, if a person goes to WC 65 Minutes before arrival, and refuses to come out 5 minutes later?

SlartyJanuary 6, 2010 12:48 AM

I can't believe we're still having this discussion.

The reason we (sane British people) prevailed over the IRA (etc.) was because we didn't react to the terrorist noise. The only way to defeat this is:

1. Cut off funding (thank you Mr. Clinton)
2. Ignore it. Report it as a simple criminal / mental illness issue

"A person tried to set light to his underpants on a flight today. Mental health authorities met the flight at the gate".

I guess the tricky bit is the hundreds of thousands of troops prodding the nest in the middle east...

uk visaJanuary 6, 2010 3:14 AM

@Slarty I agree with you but think you're thanking the wrong person for cutting off US funding for the IRA; the person who achieved that for the UK was Osama Bin Laden - without 9/11 the odd American would still be paying for the IRA to bomb London.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 6, 2010 5:05 AM

Many people appear to be well behind the curve on explinations as to why things (appear) to be happening the way they are.

First off 9/11 was for all it's many many faults carried out at a level that required a degree of competance and self control amongst those involved. The simple fact they spent many many months planning the attacks went through many dry runs to enumerate the airport security etc shows a degree of ability and comitment few possess.

The result of 9/11 was to get the US/UK and other countries onto the "chosen battle field" of what we now call insurgents.

Those criminals/insurgents/terrorists with the ability to do another 9/11 are out on the battle field fighting with IED's and causing "body bags" to go back to the US/UK etc.

Take an honest look at "Capt Underpants" and "Cpl Hot Foot" and ask yourself this question,

"On the battle field who are they going to be most dangerous to their own side or the enemy?"

Both of them where disasters waiting to happen the best place for them is as "living jokes" condemed to live out the longest life possible knowing their own actions where their cause of failure. As an example to other incompetant wanabe Walter Mitty types.

From the point of an insurgent recruiter you do not need them, they will harm your organisation. Ordinarily you would find some place for them where they cannot learn anything to harm the organisation and thus get rid of them as an issue.

Full marks to their controlers how ever they have found a way to use them productivly with minimal harm.

As was seen with the UK attacks after 7/7 even a compleate failure in mission objectives still counts as a win. The likes of the DHS agencies finding these "wanabe's" and giving them rope enough to hang themselves before reeling them in is a win for the DHS.

So any old plan with no hope of success is well worth spending a few USD on just to get rid of the wanabe's who will harm your organisation.

The only problem is keeping them sufficiently away from sensitive parts of the organisation such that if they get caught and forcefully interogated the only things they know cannot harm the organisation.

Do people realy belive that "Capt Underpants" came up with the design of bomb himself or the knowledge of how to hide it?

Of course not.

As for not seeing terrorist organisations "testing the system", next time you see that bin of conviscated items ask yourself,

"Is any one of these thousands of items a stelth test by a terrorist organisation?"

The answer over a year at all US airports is certainly yes...

It is one of the reasons I have for saying that we need penelties for transgressing the rules such as "on the no fly list for a year"

However the rules need to be clear and open and not secret.

With no penalties there is no risk and little cost in testing the system for the terrorists.

And if you assume they are applying the principles of Newtonian Science (Theorise, Test, Refine) to game the system the only way to stop them "gaming the system" is to increase the expense of test beyond a viability tipping point.

Now Random processess without penalties just makes the "test phase" longer it does not stop it. Eventualy the terrorists will enumarate the system sufficiently to know what does and does not work.

The reason for this is that to be effective as a deterant the random process has to be up above 10% and nearer 1/3 of people. The Downside is that this means the terrorist only has to run tests for at most three times as long to enumerate the system to the point a viable "game" can be arived at and verified befor implementation.

The other problem about "random" systems like these that is without great care they become very non random.

As an example a TRNG is used to light a light to say "the next passenger" is to be screened. All well and random looking But, how do you define "the next passenger", if left to a human their natural prejudice will come into play be it known or unknown to them or their supervisors.

A carefull observer will note the prejudice and use it against the system as part of their "game".

Then there is a real problem with "random selection and test". Whilst the random part can be implemented, and possibly the selection, there are resource issues on the test.

People do not want to turn up to take a flight the day before just on the off chance they get "randomly selected" for a test that takes longer than the departure gate time.

Likewise the airline is not going to want to lose money because a flight has to be held because a passenger who has checked baggage is still being tested and has not got to the departure gate before it closes...

If you use true random selection then there is the certainty at some point that the test resources will become overloaded...

All of these problems allow an attacker to game the system to their advantage, in just the same way a "privalaged traveler" system can be gamed.

Saddly pure random selection and test is not going to work.

However what may work is a "random walk" "test tree". These put everybody through a series of initial tests where you might or might not pass. If you fail you go on to more extensive testing. Importantly what also happens is that (apparently) randomly even people who do pass a test get selected for a more indepth test. Neither the person being tested or the testers know if it is "random" or "fail" selection.

The number of random selections go up and down based on a nonlinear filtered capacity usage history. That is a weighted average to make forward capacity predictions and keep the system with a certain load average with allowable variation.

From the point of view of those testing and those being tested they do not know if the selection of a person is a "positive" or "random selection". This makes testing the system by an external observer very difficult.

If this is tied up with a higher penelty system in the right way then yes the system stands a chance of leveraging desirable parts of "random testing" whilst avoiding "que issues".

But... it is not going to be easy to get the advantages without occuring disadvantages. Also it is a difficult issue to discuse in a blog format 8(

Clive RobinsonJanuary 6, 2010 5:52 AM

@ dob,

"For those of you waxing rhapsodic over Israeli commando justice, you, not to mention they, might do well to consider the long-term implications of such actions."

Yup,

Oddly for some to contemplate, one of the reasons for the Muslim faith is to stop the age old principle of "revenge" where a minor slight would escalate and go on as a war of attrician for centuries...

Also as odd to contemplate is the "wisdom" asspects of the Muslim faith that gave rise to perhaps the longest and most peacfull reign of prosperity, where art, science, learning and culture became prominent.

We have a lot to thank the Muslim Faith for that could so easily be undone by short term stupid behaviour.

The need for "revenge" in an adversery is a very very easily exploitable weakness, all it realy does for those that practice it is provide their enemies with rope enough to hang them and their loved ones for centuries to come, with those holding the rope the percieved moral high ground...

Clive RobinsonJanuary 6, 2010 6:37 AM

@ Slarty,

"1. Cut off funding (thank you Mr. Clinton)
2. Ignore it. Report it as a simple criminal / mental illness issue"

Over a quater of a century ago Maggie Thatcher made her public pronouncment about removing the oxygen of publicity.

However it has been said by others that the plan was more subtal than that. In essence it was like "house breaking children" that is one of giving reward for more appropriate behaviour.

Apparently Maggie and Co knew that if they compleatly cut off the publicity then there was one of two things that could happen,

1, the bombing would stop.
2, the bombing would get worse.

Several centuries of behaviour suggest that the former (1) was not likley to happen. So how do you mitigate the latter (2)?

The solution was to reward behaviour that did not harm people. That is bombing of infrestructure such as railway signaling systems got the press the PIRA wanted, killing people got them no reward.

It appears it was working then some journo let the cat out of the bag and we got several major bombs in the London Business districts that could not go unreported...

Thus your,

"A person tried to set light to his underpants on a flight today. Mental health authorities met the flight at the gate".

Will take away the publicity but might encorage a 9/11 type response...

Depending on your view point a slow death by having life blood tax dollars being bleed by the DHS, might be prefrable to another 3000 or so deaths in say Washington DC...

Likewise depending on your viewpoint your comment,

"I guess the tricky bit is the hundreds of thousands of troops prodding the nest in the middle east..."

May be actually saving lives at home.

Since Vietnam the world percieves the US of being scared of "body bags on TV". It is strengthend by the US development of "stand off" doctrins and the equipment/weapons to support it.

That is as somebody else has put it the US do not mind spending 1millionUSD to blow up a shack on a hillside.

Hence some argue 9/11 was where the terrorists took US technology to US soil and said "Yah boo" and 3000 paid for the US vanity.

The result the US/UK et all put boots in the mud and went to fight a battle on the terrorists chosen ground. An elementry tactical error that people have cautioned about in writing for over 6000 years...

Speaking of writing it might be worth some finding out what connects "Play the white man's game" the US and Afganistan...

It is a lesson from English and Russian history the US War Hawks appear to have not heard...

From memory (and hopefully remembered correctly) a Poem,

When you're wounded and dying,
left on Afghanistan's plains,

And their women come out to cut up what remains,
Pray to Queen and god and,

Jest roll on your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd like a soldier.

- Rudyard Kipling

KingsnakeJanuary 6, 2010 8:26 AM

If I was a terrorist, and I had a explosive vest, or explosive tighty-whiteys, on, and got caught at the screening station -- enhanced or otherwise -- I would not wait to get arrested, but simply pull the trigger. It would kill a crap load of people *and* not only shut down the terminal for a half a day, but weeks. Frankly, I am surprised this does not happen more often. It did back in the old Black September, Red Army Faction days ...

GeorgeJanuary 6, 2010 2:17 PM

How do you distinguish between an intentional system of "unpredictability" and a system incapable of training its front-line officers to do anything consistently? If I didn't know better, I'd suspect they've hired a PR firm to spin their well-known incompetence into "enhanced security."

KingsnakeJanuary 6, 2010 2:56 PM

Thinking about what I said above, that is basically what happened inthe Mumbai hotel, except with extra guys for more fun. Now, instead of a hotel, drop those guys off at the airport ...

thatguyJanuary 7, 2010 5:03 PM

@uk visa: the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Definitely Clinton, I would think.

AndrewJanuary 10, 2010 2:37 PM

The terrorists have already won. We live in fear instead of doing useful things with our lives. Thanks, Fox News!

aaawwwJanuary 12, 2010 8:54 AM

@derf probably because a big suitcase backed of explosive is hard to come by. but I think more or less in the same way, no scrutiny or checkpoints or anything may stop a non terrorist looking guy to blown up himself within a crowd like this http://www.duke.edu/web/broadway/broadway_new_york_09.jpg

or to start a shooting spree, but that requires a level of training that most terrorist don't have

fndsJanuary 15, 2010 2:53 PM

"Is there any reason not to attribute our relative safety from terrorism to the difficulty in finding suicide bombers?"

I would guess that very few are willing to blow themselves up and take hundreds with them. In addition, the terrorist orgs have a serious problem retaining "good" martyrs. The really competent ones are all dead. As a bonus for us, the incompetent ones also die in many cases, case in point, the bum-bomber.

This is natural selection at it's best. At the rate they are going, we should expect that suicide bombers will be extinct at some point in the future.

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