Liquid Bombs and Airline Security - Fear as a Force Multiplier
Ever since the disruption of the liquid bomb plot in Great Britain, the stress on airline security is clear. As the airlines and TSA implement new security measures, lines have gotten longer and delays at the airports have increased.
In a USA Today article last week titled Checked Luggage Strains Security, it became clear that the system is being overwhelmed by the 20% increase in checked bags since the TSA banned liquids from carry-ons August 10th. The result of the liquid ban has been more than 500,000 new bags each day requiring scanning. That alone would stress the system. But when you realize that the increased volume places a time pressure on the process of scanning luggage, there are concerns about security gaps.
Baggage Facts - CHECKED BAGS 1 billion Annual number on domestic flights, before recent surge
3.6 million Number lost, damaged
120-180 bags an hour Speed of bomb-detection machines
$1 billion Cost of luggage screening Sources: Air Transport Association, Government Accountability Office, Department of Transportation
What are the implications of this, and what is really happening here. Since August 10th, there have also been 17 or more airline incidents reported in the U.S. and Britain, with many requiring emergency landings and very visible baggage inspections on the tarmac by bomb sniffing dogs.
Stratfor’s most recent article provides a revealing analysis of the airline liquid bomb plot, raising the spectre that we are watching a “misdirection play here.”
Airline Incidents: Fear as Force Multiplier
A Google link to the Stratfor article
The following are highlights of this article:
Given the asymmetric nature of the war we are fighting with al Qaeda, its important to understand the propaganda aspect of the attempt at airline terror in Britain, the thinking that may be behind it all, and the real possibility that we are witnessing a misdirection play.
As we fast approach the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, we may well be advised to remember that misdirection and deception are long practiced tactics of war. Our opponent, al Qaeda is as capable of such deception and misdirection as any other adversary, at any other time in history.
The spate of incidents -- each of which rings up significant financial costs to the airline company and governments involved and causes inconvenience and delays for travelers -- is a reminder that terrorism, philosophically, is not confined to the goal of filling body bags or destroying buildings. At a deeper level, it is about psychology and the "propaganda of the deed." And as far as al Qaeda is concerned, it is also about economic warfare: Osama bin Laden personally has stated that one of the group's strategic objectives is to "bleed America to the point of bankruptcy."
If among the strategies of al Qaeda is to create havoc, cause the airline industry to spend excessive money in search of the next solution, and perhaps, divert attention from another form of attack, is that strategy not succeeding?
These new security measures already have had a financial impact on the airline industry. On Aug. 25, Irish discount airline Ryanair filed the lawsuit it had previously threatened against the British Department for Transport --- Ryanair officials have publicly called the new restrictions "nonsensical and ineffective" and have called for "a return to common sense" regarding airline security. The company claims it has lost 3.3 million pounds (nearly $5.9 million) in earnings as a result of the new measures.As discussed in the USA Today article (above) the strain on the system has already been seen, costs mount, and the effect on the airline industry and the flying public is apparent. The Stratfor article talks about the impact of fear.
With that psychological component in mind, terrorist acts do not have to be tremendously successful (in terms of physical casualties or damage) in order to be terribly effective.Remembering that one of the strategies of al Qaeda is to "bleed America to the point of bankruptcy," the effect of the events post-September 11th have clearly been costly, despite the gains. The sacrifices being made by the American public in the expense of the War on Terrorism, the invasion of Afghanistan, the removal of Hussein in Iraq and in whatever theater of operation that comes next, are all consistent with this strategy.
"It's the economy, stupid!" Bin Laden outlined this very clearly in his October 29, 2004, message to the American people. In that recording, he estimated that it cost al Qaeda only $500,000 to carry out the 9/11 attacks, whereas the estimated cost to the United States from the event and its aftermath was measured at $500 billion.The government has no choice but to respond to the threats as they are presented. So airline baggage rules are changed and adapted to fit the newest apparent threat. In response to the terrorist threats, the U.S. and other governments have stepped up surveillance and interception of suspected terrorist funding. Every threat must be treated as a real threat. There is no choice but to do so. All too many people point to raised threat levels and laugh. When the threat passes, the public questions the validity of the alert and the expenses incurred. Does the government have any other options?
To avoid the finger-pointing, governments have begun shifting the way they investigate potential terrorist acts from an approach based on waiting until a strike is about to be carried out -- and then "making the big case" -- to an approach based on disruption and pre-emption (or, in other words, taking action at the earliest possible stage).
The tactic of misdirection raises the question of whether, as the U.S., the U.K. and other countries scurry to prevent an attack with liquid explosives on transcontinental airlines, a different form of attack is being planned.
Obviously, the United States and its allies cannot conceivably protect everything, and attempts to do so take great tolls on human resources and finances. Viewed through this lens, the responses to the disrupted airlines plot may, in fact, be a form of success for al Qaeda, despite the failure of the actual plot.
This is not a matter of flag waving or chicken little exclaiming that “the sky is falling.” This is not an “either or” situation or a debate. What this represents is the very nature of the threat faced by our country today. Despite the robes and living in caves and the camels, we are dealing with a sophisticated enemy as embodied in al Qaeda. And they are schooled in tactics and strategies. So, is misdirection afoot here? With the attention being paid to airline security, and to the contents of baggage, is the real threat something else? Hopefully we will not see the evolution of this threat. But the very nature of asymmetric warfare suggests that we may be looking in the wrong place, and if that is true, then at least for this point in the match, it could be "advantage al Qaeda."