Viewpoint

Rethinking Airport Security

Confirmation that a bomb downed the Metrojet flight from Egypt has refocused attention on airport security. It is often noted that while global procedures are extensive, they are not applied evenly. The implication is that airports like Sharm el-Sheikh are laxer than those in Europe and the United States, and thus represent a weak link in the chain for terrorists to exploit. This is false. The multiplicity of checks and scans introduced following 9/11 have failed to detect a single would-be bomber anywhere.

The implication is that airports like Sharm el-Sheikh are laxer than those in Europe and the United States, and thus represent a weak link in the chain for terrorists to exploit.

This is false. The multiplicity of checks and scans introduced following 9/11 have failed to detect a single would-be bomber anywhere.

Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the underpants bomber – were both subdued by passengers mid-flight, while the cargo aircraft plot was only foiled following specific intelligence, and after the explosives had already flown in several holds.

In the latter case, rigged printers were x-rayed in Yemen, but German authorities said they also would not have detected the sophisticated devices.

The United States seems equally powerless: the Transport Security Administration, responsible for airport security, failed to detect 67 of 70 dummy bombs in recent inspections.

Thus one wonders whether the real purpose of modern airport security is to prevent harm, or to reassure passengers with a piece of theatre akin to Iraqi checkpoint officers waving fake bomb-detecting wands under vehicles.

A counter-argument is that the measures deter terrorists from even trying to board flights, but in the case of Sharm el-Sheikh the bomb – claimed by ISIS to have been concealed in a drinks can – appears to have been planted by airport staff or someone with airside access.

Again, the West is equally vulnerable, as the Department for Homeland Security found when it warned in June that the TSA had hired 73 people linked to terrorism to work at US airports.

It’s time for a reappraisal of security approaches, passenger and airside, at every airport.

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