Sunday, December 27, 2009

What the Detroit Terrorism Attempt Means for Us

There are a number of lessons and observations from the recent Detroit airliner terrorist attempt:

Apparently, the alleged hijacker has ties to Nigeria, not Afghanistan or Iraq. I’m sure that if Dubya were still President, we would be invading Cameroon – following the precedent of invading countries adjacent to those where the attackers originated. Oh wait – the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, not Iraqis – but I digress. Nevertheless, the lesson here is that brute military force is the wrong solution. Police work, detective work, and human intelligence are the only ways to mitigate this threat. Wars embolden the terrorists, police work captures them.

Passenger screening will always be imperfect. If we assume that the TSA has instituted a solid six-sigma process, with 3.4 “defects” per million, given that there are 30,000 domestic commercial airline flights per day, this works out to one defect every 33 days. So roughly once a month, some item that is not allowed past screening gets on board an airplane. Even if these assumptions are correct, this does not mean that we should expect one attack per month. All it means is that someone (perhaps inadvertently) got a bottle of shampoo or even a "legal" gun through security. Increased screening may marginally make these numbers better, but there will never be a perfect screening process.

After 9/11, the entire country became unified, supporting the President in his quest for justice. Only after the President used 9/11 to further his political agenda did that feeling go away. If, God forbid, there were another attack of the same magnitude, I can guarantee that a Democratic president will not receive the same support. Indeed, even now, with this failed attempt, the Republicans (see Representative Peter Hoekstra and Senator Jim DeMint) are using it to further their political agenda.

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