The Fallacy of Security
It is as if we all suffer from some level of cognitive dissonance. The difference between feeling safe and being safe. And long the way are the many agencies, organizations, policies, plannings that most civilians entrust with their personal safety- us- the security professionals.
Yet, as I get to the airport in the back of my Uber I cannot but notice the planes taking off in abrupt ascents less than 800 meters from us. There are also the various police agencies, private security companies, airport greeters, and in many airports around the world- heavily armed military personnel. But today, I am only flying nationally from Vancouver Island to Toronto.
I still remember the aftermath of a UK led Operation Overt (2006), which led to the conviction of UK's Abdullah Ahmed Ali for his alleged role in a foiled plan that could have ended in a terror attack involving up to 7 planes.
Operation Overt and the Bojinka Plot (1994), which involved Philippines Airline 434, resulted in the death of a single passenger and a huge hole in the plane are the reason we are not allowed to bring quantities of liquids and gels on planes.
In 2002, Richard Reid, aka the "shoe bomber" tried to blow up flight 63 from Paris to Miami. His shoes had been modified to contain 10oz (283g) of C4 type explosive, along with a fuse, which proved to be faulty because of perspiration and wet shoes. As a result the TSA requested that all travellers have their shoes x-rayed- eventually that rule was eased up- exempting kids under 12 and seniors over 75.
On 9/11, allegedly box cutters were used to take over the planes.
So get your shoes checked, don't bring liquids on board. Leave box cutters at home. And we should be dandy.
The reality is that the Bojinka Plot should have been sufficient to limit liquids on planes, but it took until 2006 for the TSA and other international agencies to embrace that policy. 12 years, billions of travellers later and no incidents. The TSA implemented the mandatory shoe checking policy, yet we all know that unless all other countries implement such rules, you can very well end up on a flight bound to Paris, Dubai or New York without getting your shoes checked.
Box cutters can be replaced by an exquisitely sharpened credit card edge.
The low string off a guitar can be used to strangulate, the high string can be used to exsanguinate, yet thousands of guitars are permitted on planes every month. Will it take a grievous attempt for the various transport authorities to ban string instruments?
Dry chemicals that can be mixed with water from the plane's bathroom sink, belts, shoe laces, pens, books, lighters- even clothing can be modified if there is a will.
Another angle to all of this is to pull over on the side of the highway and use an RPG to destroy a plane on take off.
Feeling safe is 3/4 of the battle. While the majority of the population is often critical of newly imposed measures, they most certainly are happy to know that policy makers are attempting their "best" to ensure everyone's safety.
Yet the data points to a very different direction; it is not necessarily the measure that keep us safe, but the lack of attempts. However, we know that if all the little measures weren't in place there would be a much higher rate of incidences all around.
Crowd psychology- a whole topic in itself - demonstrates that perceptual fallacy is sufficient to create a "perception of safety" and simultaneously a "perception of invulnerability". So passengers feel safe, a would be attackers feel challenged.
This applies to much of security management- from retail, to physical, to large scale events, protective, transport, maritime, loss prevention, etc. Most measures are in place to discourage what would otherwise be "honest" people, and to some extent, opportunistic criminals. Otherwise, those who really want to, can often find ways around.
The good news is that roughly 99.3 percent of people are reasonably decent members of society. The .7% are roughly responsible for all the measures in place; but we now know that without those measures in place, that .7% would considerably increase.
There are many different approaches to managing different venues, based on threat and risk mitigation measures. Definitely Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport security measures start long before you get to the airport with various security measures along the way. Paris's Eiffel Tower benefits, of late, of some newer measures involving solid 3 meter walls and bulletproof glass. The recent incursion inside the US Capitol is a good example of how a federal police force of 2200+ members with a budget of close to half billion dollar failed to prepare for the a security breach that cost the lives of 5 people.
Systems are fragile and for the most part reactionary. The days of having open doors to airplane cockpits are long over, except for that little 20 seater that flies me in from a regional airport to Vancouver's international, flying very close to the downtown core- that plane can still be very easily hijacked, either with a guitar string, a shoe lace or of course with a sharpened credit card- so yes, security is largely an illusion- but most certainly, a necessary illusion.
Vali Majd, JTFSecurity