Here’s the country I want to be a citizen of: the one that decides to buy comfort and convenience by deploying courage.

9/11 · We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary, and can we just get over our sustained episode of collective chickenshittedness? As Bruce Schneier has pointed out repeatedly, terrorists post-9/11 have lost the ability to use planes as weapons, for two reasons:

  • The cockpit doors are strengthened and locked.

  • The passengers have learned that fighting is their best option; butter-knives against machine guns if that’s all there is.

All the extra scanners and pat-downs and machines and line-ups are buying us, unless all the experts I read are wrong, more or less nothing.

Here’s What We Do · Go on X-raying luggage; why not? Plus, don’t let a plane take off if someone has checked in luggage but isn’t on board; easy and almost always non-intrusive.

As for passengers, just lighten up. To start with, drop all the silly rules about toothpaste and shoes and laptops having to be out of the bag. Me, I’d go further, I’d just return to the best practices of around AD 2000. Then I’d slash huge numbers of airport-security drones and replace them with one-tenth the number of elite criminal investigators. Because history should have taught us by now that counterterrorism is police work.

And basically, let’s show some courage. Airplanes crash, but they’re safer than driving, and they’d still be safer even with substantially relaxed security. Why are we letting the terrorists succeed by making us act as if we’re frightened? Most of us aren’t, really.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mike (Dec 29 2010, at 23:10)

I agree 100%

I looked up the stats for vehicle related deaths and did the math...I don't remember the exact number, but I'm pretty sure it was over 100 times the number of people that died in 9/11 (Passengers, Building occupants, and rescue workers) have died in vehicular accidents since 9/11. Yet people take that risk every day in stride.


From: Philip Storry (Dec 30 2010, at 00:09)

The frightened ones are, of course, politicians and those in public offices appointed by politicians.

They feel - not exactly incorrectly - that they will be the ones left carrying the can when something does get through. Despite the fact that the odds are against them if terrorists keep trying, because eventually one of them will get through... So it's really just another risk to be handled.

The real problem is that until people start calling for small government (have you seen the size of the TSA?) and value for money in their security arrangements, nothing will happen.

Just like nothing much has ever happened to reduce the massive military spending the USA has either.

It would take real strength and courage to stand up with the facts and say that defense or security budgets are wildly disproportionate. Because it's practically inviting the soundbite of "soft on terror" or "weak on defense", which is probably political death.

I'd estimate that it would take 75% of the population being educated in matters of security before anything changes - because anything less than that and no politician will risk it.

So we're stuck with this crap.

Well, until you can convince the producers of CSI or something similar to include sensible discussion of security measures and their benefits...

And frankly, given that they much prefer the "impossible technical solution drives the plot" style of writing, you're probably better off waiting for that brave politician to surface...

Actually, I think that CSI, 24 and others have a lot to answer for here. They put in people's minds the idea that we have an abundance of machines that solve everything with a beep and a click. That the solution to crime or terrorism isn't about human intelligence, cross-referencing information, developing and encouraging relationships, and other long and arduous work. But it's instead about having a magic machine tell you where to go and what to do - probably whilst waving guns heroically.

Education is key. You won't see any changes until you see popular culture display an understanding of the changes that need to be made.


From: dr2chase (Dec 30 2010, at 04:44)

And add to that, please drive carefully. Drivers kill tens of thousands of themselves, and thousands of pedestrians and cyclists (mostly pedestrians).

And further, drive less, drive slower, drive smaller. Not only is it our appetite for oil that got us into these wars (we'd have no bases there, they'd have less money to spend on military adventures, and we wouldn't care anyhow), it's going to get us into future conflicts when demand increases and supplies continue to run short.


From: Jason Southwell (Dec 30 2010, at 05:46)

I couldn't agree more. The word of this logical and reasoned approach to airplane security really needs to be spread to the masses. Unfortunately the propaganda on the other side of the issue is nearly overwhelming.


From: Jani (Dec 30 2010, at 06:13)

Planes already aren't allowed to take off if someone has checked in luggage but isn’t on board. This was implemented after quite a few years ago, though unfortunately only after it had been learned the hard way.


From: Mark Rendle (Dec 30 2010, at 07:04)

No, don't you see, if only we can be frightened enough of everything, and try our very hardest to eradicate all possibility of risk, we can all live forever. And won't that be nice?


From: Adrian Scott (Dec 30 2010, at 07:41)

I've stopped visiting the U.S. for now because of the current TSA silliness that is irrational and extremely invasive.

It would have been nice to see my family at Christmas and spend thousands of dollars in the U.S., but I guess I'll wait until I'm rich enough to use a charter plane to visit, so I don't have a 3% or greater chance of being sexually assaulted by the US gov't like the 'little people' do.

The gov't tries to say travel isn't a right. I think we should ask whether it should be a right. Should people have the freedom to be able to travel efficiently with normal constitutional protections? Hell, yeah.


From: D'Arcy Norman (Dec 30 2010, at 08:25)

But Big Security Theatre is now Too Big To Fail. It employs thousands of people. It's a big part of the travel industry, and dumping all the drones back on the street would be bad for the economy. Can't do anything that might be bad for the economy, right?

And what's the alternative? It's not like anyone's going to stop flying. Big Security Theatre is holding our friends, family, and colleagues ransom. We can either do what's needed - stop flying entirely, until the Theatre is dismantled and replaced with something saner - OR - get to see our friends and family, and do our jobs that require travel.

That's not a viable choice for many people, so we suck it up, quietly line up to let our prostates get fingered in the name of Security.

I'm more concerned about the corruption of process that put this theatre in place in the first place. This is a democracy. I don't remember being asked if this was what anyone wanted - it was just done, in our names, for the sake of saving us from the evil bad guys.

We never needed saving.


From: curious citizen (Dec 30 2010, at 08:42)


From here the whole theatre smacks of social engineering to condition masses for a new form of establishment regime. Everything you write is _common sense_.

I am sure _none_ of these consideration have escaped the consideration of our "servents" in the "people's government".

And funny you mention 9/11. A nation that used to fish out little itty bitty pieces of fuselage from the Long Island Sound to reconstruct a jetliner suspiciously dropped the ball and shipped forensic evidence to China as scrap metal.

That's the starting point. This is not the same country anymore.


From: Sophie (Dec 30 2010, at 08:59)


I would also advocate watching the movie "4 lions" as detox against fear. Having one of the best laughs of the year when suicide bombers achieve or fail to achieve their goals is priceless to combat fear of terrorism.


From: JAlpino (Dec 30 2010, at 10:02)

Not to play devil's advocate here, but these are some reasons why I think the current security checks are in place at our airports:

- A terrorist does not have to access the cockpit of plane to cause destruction. Detonating an explosive could be just as damaging.

- Explosives can be made from liquid components, not just hard materials c4/tnt/etc that you see in the movies. This is why you are restricted to certain sized toiletries that would not otherwise be suspicious.

- An explosive doesn't have to be concealed in your luggage, in fact it's more likely to be on the individual rather than in their baggage. Without full body x-rays and/or pat downs, detecting people with explosives on their person is pretty much impossible (especially if there are no components that would be picked up from the metal detectors)

While I would agree some of security measures seem draconian, they are important in preventing against more attacks via our planes. I do wish we took more of an approach like Israel in which they profile people and initiate conversation to get a feel of whether or not that person is a threat. I'm sure however, that people would complain about that as well.

Security measures aren't meant to be convenient, if you don't like it... don't fly.


From: BillSaysThis (Dec 30 2010, at 10:35)

Tim, it's the money. Those new TSA scanners cost in the area of $8 BILLION to purchase, install and train the workers. Where do you think the money went?

The execs at those companies and other financially interested individuals won't go quietly into that good night. Not when they're having such a good time at our expense.

What you suggest is agreeable to me but I doubt it will happen anytime soon.


From: Anonymous Geek (Dec 30 2010, at 15:54)

The sad truth is that the "security" practices will only get worse. Why? There's money in it for a large number of government contractors and unions. Do those practices really make us safer? No hard evidence although the TSA trots out supposed evidence of the number of "potential" terrorist activities it uncovers.

It's a sad thing, but America has become unmanned by a bloody nose and has completely overreacted in the least effective way. As you and many others note, counterterrorism is accomplished through solid, investigative work, not patting down the 86-year old lady at the airport. Furthermore, it seems that bloody nose continues to be used as an excuse for continually reducing our civil liberties without providing a measurable benefit. Yet we sit idly by as it happens.

It does make one wonder what might have occurred during the McCarthy era if people hadn't started standing up for their rights...


From: Andrew (Dec 30 2010, at 16:12)

Fact - a person did attempt to detonate a bomb hidden in a shoe.

Fact - a person did attempt to detonate a bomb made from liquid explosives.

Fact - a person did attempt to detonate a bomb hidden in underwear.

Fact - all 3 of these attempts plus the recent cargo bombing attempts failed because of human error on the part of the bombers.

If these attempts had all succeeded I imagine that our airport security procedures would look a lot more like Israel's and there would be none of this bleating about body scanners or having to get to the airport 30 minutes earlier than you did 10 years ago.


From: trutherator (aka Alan) (Dec 30 2010, at 16:29)

Somebody said follow the money. George Soros has BIG investments in the company that makes those porno scanners, and former TSA head Michael Chertoff works for that company now.

And the former head of security at Israel's airports said the new porno-harassment choice is worse than worthless. And he could get past those measures with enough to blow up a 757.



From: Ivo Wever (Dec 30 2010, at 16:34)

The continuing focus on planes increases the obscurity of the plain facts: there are plenty of targets more obvious, and with more severe consequences, in terms of fear, economic and physical damage, than planes. Attack multiple subway systems in multiple cities simultaneously. Explode a huge device in a sports stadium. The panic will do most of the damage. Etc., etc. However, Terrorists haven't thought of it, haven't been able to organize or they simply don't exist. Whatever the reason, almost nothing has happened in the past 10 years. I'm not scared the least bit; the threat of a drunken train operator missing a red signal is larger. It also happens more often. Yet, we don't take nearly as extreme measures to prevent much more likely problems.


From: GrammarNazi (Dec 30 2010, at 20:54)

"The passengers have learned that fighting is their best option_:_ butter-knives against machine guns if that’s all there is."

FTFY, minus the underscores.


From: Mike (Dec 30 2010, at 22:20)


Fact - There have already been tests that show that stuff can be missed with the body scanners. I believe someone got pancake shaped items by the scanners.

Fact - Not everyone goes through the scanners

Fact - I have accidentally gotten forbidden items passed TSA only to discover it at my destination

My point is, There is no 100% solution short of strip searching every passenger and doing a oral cavity check like they do prisoners (and they still find ways to get contra band). Someone or something is probably going to get through, but even if every one of the attempts you mentioned were successful, it still wouldn't raise the odds significantly that you would die in a terrorist plane attack. You're still more likely to die in a car accident. The amount of money we spend as a country on this security is not worth the result. If we spent the money elsewhere we could save far more lives (if saving lives is what you are concerned with)

And those of you who say shut up and do it, it's worth the inconvenience for the added safety. If that was true I would shut up. Someone please show me that we are significantly safer for the amount of money spent. If you are really worried about terrorist attacks, put the money towards more and better police work, since that seems to be the most successful terrorist deterrent to date.

@Philip Storry

I agree with most of what you say, but you lost me with the TV shows. Common man, FICTIONAL tv shows need to answer for nothing, they are fiction and for entertainment. If there are large amounts of people out there who can't distinguish the difference, only proves that the real culprit is a terrible education system and 24 hr news channels. If anything all the 24 hr news channels use the fear to sell their channel and pass editorial as real news. And I do realize yellow journalism has been around for awhile and it appears to not be going anywhere soon.


From: Oliver (Dec 31 2010, at 03:51)

As for the shampoo-bombers: I have read somewhere that it would need huge amounts of liquid to build something that would do any damage, unless you use concentrate which would blow up easily when you move around long before you board the plane.

So effectively you'd need a dozen or more people mixing large amounts of liquid together, on a plane. Unless everybody on board is a terrorist this is not going to happen.

But as previous comments mention, there are vested interests in this security theatre, and the risk that one mistake will be enough to kill your political career. So I think there will be no change, unless to the worse.


From: curious citizen (Dec 31 2010, at 15:34)


I do not care if you post this comment. Please review this: and if sufficiently intrigued, just browse the top level at

(This is a follow up to my previous post. I was not aware of the above link at the time of the writing.)

Dmitri's presentation (the full matter) makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you?


From: dare (Jan 01 2011, at 12:28)

I 100% agree too, although I wonder how far the police are willing to take things if we give them all the control... Look at the UK with the remote control airspy machines (drones) that are virtually silent and therefore invisible at night.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
December 29, 2010
· The World (126 fragments)
· · Travel (50 more)

By .

The opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.