Irrational Response

Safety/Security

Yet another example of people overreacting to “suspicious-looking” people on a plane once again highlights the broken security system protecting our skies.

In this round, Monarch flight 613 traveling from Malaga to Manchester (England) found its passengers walking off the plane before departure because of “two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.” At least, this is what the Daily Mail reports.

This is not uncommon these days, sadly, but it needs to be put to a stop. Think about this from a rational perspective and it makes no sense at all. It also highlights why our security system is better at causing panic than actually protecting passengers.

“Despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.” This, along with the fact that they were speaking in what appeared to be Arabic and looked Asian made people revolt.

First off, Malaga to Manchester on a UK charter airline? That’s probably not going to be the first target for a terrorist. Though it would probably do more to strike fear in the hearts of everyone because it could then theoretically happen anywhere, we’ve seen time and again that terrorists like the big strike. It’s always prominent airlines on major routes that will make a big impact. Malaga – Manchester is not one of those routes and Monarch is probably not one of those airlines.

Second, it’s a pretty sloppy terrorist that tries to stand out. Remember 9/11? They were all dressed like businessmen, and nobody thought twice. If you’re a terrorist, why would you wear a heavy jacket in the heat of summer and act nervous and suspiciously? You wouldn’t. There are plenty of reasons that these guys could have been wearing a coat, but terrorism probably isn’t one of them.

But let’s get to the point here. People are on a witch hunt for anyone that vaguely resembles someone from the Middle East, and that’s ridiculous. Straight ethnic profiling can only hurt.

US and UK government response combined with media overreaction to the most recent events can do nothing positive. We’re not any safer, we’re just more scared. The liquid ban was fine for a few days considering the supposedly imminent threat that this could easily stop, but now the government is exploiting our fears to keep these ridiculous measures in place. The government says it’s for us to feel safer, but it really just keeps us more scared. It reminds us of this “constant threat” every time we fly yet not being able to bring on toothpaste does not make us safer.

And that’s why people are overreacting and walking off planes. They’re scared and they feel no safer despite all these supposed safety measures. All they do is make people more suspicious when they probably shouldn’t bother. Organized terrorist groups are going to find ways around security if they want, and passengers won’t see it coming if they do. It’s Scotland Yard or the CIA that’s going to catch these guys, not airport security.

So, let’s stop this ridiculousness and focus on how we can really make ourselves safer. Banning liquids isn’t going to do it.

Edited 8/20 to adjust first and third paragraphs

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3 comments on “Irrational Response

  1. I think you’re forgetting a bit of context around the Malaga – Manchester flight. In the UK, they are likely much more alert to people dressed inappropriately for the weather – the tube bombers were just such individuals and the government security response to the attack included a specific recommendation that citizens be on the lookout for individuals who were wearing bulking, heavy, masking garments when the weather didn’t warrant it.

    Also, I’m all but convinced that profiling is the only thing that makes sense when it comes to security screening. Randomly searching everyone is just ineffective and a drag on everyone in the security line. Certainly profiling strictly on ethnicity is a bad heuristic, however NOT factoring in ethnicity when it has played such a key role in past attacks is pretty ludicrous.

    Should we subject the 78 year-old grandmother from Wisconsin to the same security screening as an individual from Egypt here on a student visa? Where’s the sense in that?

  2. Ok, I wasn’t aware that Britons were told to keep an eye out for people wearing bulky clothes, but I assume that was only meant for public places where security screening wasn’t required. If people thought about it rationally, they would probably quickly realize that a terrorist couldn’t get through security with large explosives strapped to his/her body. Of course, this has nothing to do with being rational, and that leads back to the main point of my post.

    The security screening at the airport really only increases people’s fears and doesn’t actually improve security significantly. It encourages people to act out of fear and that always leads to irrational response. People think that airport security is the main point of defense, they see how ineffective it is, and so they end up being very afraid.

    In reality, the real security work is behind the scenes with airport security a minor last point of defense for those who are unorganized and unlikely to succeed anyway. That’s why Scotland Yard busted this latest attempt and not some bag screener at Heathrow. And that’s why I agree that we should most definitely have profiling.

    That being said, I disagree that we should have straight ethnic profiling. You talk about the 78 year old grandmother from Wisconsin and the Egyptian in the country on the student visa, but there are plenty of cases that aren’t so clear.

    How about two 25 year old Muslim men of Syrian descent. One has recently entered the US on a visa and surveillance can tie him to communications with suspected terrorists back in Syria on a regular basis. The other is third generation American, has never even called the Middle East, and works for the US government.

    And let’s go back to the 78 year old grandmother. Sophisticated terrorists will find out where the system weaknesses are and exploit them. If they see all 78 year old grandmothers get through no problem, they’ll find some 78 yeard old grandmothers that’ll do the job for them.

    While straight ethnic profiling would flag the first two men and not grandma, the additional info would flag the first man and the grandma but let the second man proceed without additional screening.

    There are always privacy issues with this, but I think you can find a way to use relevant info to build a better case for who needs a closer look without severely compromising privacy.

  3. Inappropriate dress — Let’s just say you are going from Malaga to Manchester. You have a cool leather jacket you paid a lot of money for. You can’t bring on any carry-on luggage. You really like this jacket. Do you put it in a suitcase and risk it getting lost or wear it? I’ve flown from Houston to San Francisc in August. I had a jacket with me because a.) AC in the plane is freezing and b.) I’d be freezing when I landed at SFO at night. Even warm days can turn into the low 50’s at night in Manchester.

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