Trading Off Security for (Relative) Privacy


James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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72 Responses

  1. Avatar Heidegger says:

    James, without question, I’m on flight Y. I’d be very surprised if the final numbers of this survey were below the 90s. What really kills me with this debate is that, presumably, these new security measures (grope vs. irradiation) are in response to last year’s Christmas Day bomber–you know, the guy that had the PETN in his crotch but, thankfully, didn’t have the brains to correctly ignite the bomb. Well, guess what?– the new millimeter wave scanners STILL would not have been be to detect the Christmas Day explosives. It’s designed to detect high density objects like, knives, box cutters, sledge hammers, machetes, battering rams, etc. Low density objects–powders, PETN, liquid explosives can not be detects by the MMW scanners. Taking this into consideration, I’d be surprised if your survey didn’t get a 100% rating on passengers opting for Flight Y. Actually, make that 99.999999%–Mr. Heath will probably be the only passenger on Flight%WReport

  2. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    I’d take the train. Barring extreme circumstances, I’m not getting on a plane again until our airport security is no longer insane. If I had the choice above, I’d opt for option U – go through *pre-9/11* screening processes. Nothing done in airport screening has measurably improved travel security since 9/11, except reinforcing the cockpit door. Exhibit A -> number of terrorists caught by the TSA in nearly a decade of operation? Zero. Money spent to catch those zero terrorists? The TSA’s budget is on the order of 10 billion a year now, beginning at much less when it first launched, but the number is somewhere around 70 billion if I remember correctly.

    Heidegger, you really need to read up on Bayesian reasoning. This is not the first post where you’re only thinking about half of an issue (potential benefit). You also need to read a lot more security analysis.

    Admittedly, terrorism is a statistically unlikely event. Cancer from overexposure to x-rays is a statistically unlikely event. Neither one is on my radar as a significant risk.

    However, you’re more likely to get cancer from the backscatter x-ray than you are to be killed by a terrorist on a plane flight. The TSA is now literally, demonstrably, *more dangerous than terrorists* to the flying public.

    The problem with these “enhanced security measures” is that they don’t provide measurable security benefit for their cost. Just like the border fence, they’re hugely expensive, very unlikely to interdict the behavior for which they are designed, and trivially worked around by simply shifting the target space. Right now two suicide bombers packed with a standard vest could kill more people by blowing themselves up in a security line in the packed holiday traveling season (one to cause initial casualties, one to set themselves off to hit the responders) than they’d get by blowing up a plane, and they’d have virtually the same impact.Report

  3. Avatar AMW says:

    I’m with Pat Callahan (except I was going to call it “flight Z”). I want to go back to the days when I could actually meet someone at the gate.Report

  4. Avatar AMW says:

    And, of course, “Pat Callahan” = Pat Cahalan.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to AMW says:

      Don’t worry about it. The human brain is really good at pattern matching, to the point where it does it when the pattern isn’t there.

      You’ve probably seen Callahan a few times, nobody’s seen Cahalan. The mind is a funny gadget…Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Yes it can, Pat–just look at this.

        Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht
        oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and
        lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can
        sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by
        itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

          For that matter, every time I start to write your name it comes out just like AMW’s–Callahan. Never fails. Any chance you can go and legally change the spelling of your name to make it easier for us? Thanks–you’re all heart!Report

  5. Avatar Heidegger says:

    Pat, I responded, IN FULL, to the survey question asked by James. The peripheral issues you injected–suicide bombers, backscatter X-rays, border fences, etc. that’s fine and interesting if you want to include in your response but certainly not necessary as part of this survey. And omitting such in no way taints or sways the final results as being incomplete. (not that you said it would) Your “U” choice is probably the best of all possibilities. Outside of being required to take off your shoes, I’m not aware of any significant security measures implemented since 9/11. Think James needs to add another plane on the runway. And regarding this, “thinking about only half an issue” business, that’s just my recent corpus callostomy kicking in. Have mercy!Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    For god’s sake guys, it’s already expensive enough running two simultaneous flights. We just can’t afford to offer a flight U or Z in our thought experiment. Our NSF (Non-sufficient Funds) grant won’t cover it.Report

  7. Avatar AMW says:

    Fine, fine. I’m on flight Y, you security Nazi.Report

  8. Avatar Heidegger says:

    One more plane to add—V–NO security measures. Bargain basement deals, no waiting, smoking allowed, drinking allowed. Even special quarters for the Mile High Clubbers. That’s V for victory over cumbersome security measures. Cockpit door will be impenetrable–don’t want drunks trying to give flying a whirl or pilots getting frisky with comely female passengers. “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
    Climbing high into the sun;
    Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,
    At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun! (Give ‘er the gun now!)Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Heidegger says:

      Ahem, I’ve already stated that there shall be no other planes available. Don’t make me get stern.

      As for Michael Heath, let’s not assume his choices. He’s a free moral agent like the rest of us. And I don’t think anyone would be flying either flight all by their lonesome.Report

  9. Avatar 62across says:

    If you’re going to kick me off Flight Z with Pat and AMW, then I’ll grudgingly take Flight X.

    But, to Pat and AMW’s credit, they have directed us to the salient point; this all flows from the national over-reaction to 9/11. The fear-mongering that followed 9/11 (color-coded threat levels, anyone) led to the general populace clamoring to be protected whatever it took. The government is responding to that clamor. That “whatever it takes” has evolved to the ridiculous is par for the course.Report

  10. Avatar James Joyner says:

    I’m getting into whichever line is shorter. Which, apparently, means flight Y.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Joyner says:

      And even with the slower security measures that line will go faster, if it’s only you. But the flight leaves from Chicago, not directly from our blog, so I imagine you’ll actually have some company.Report

  11. Avatar James Joyner says:

    If there were a Flight Z: “Just get on the damned plane (with reinforced doors) and take your chances, you big baby” I’d be on that one.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Joyner says:

      Look, folks, this is the third time I’ve had to say this. There is no flight Z, or U, or W or any other letter except X or Y. I don’t care how much you want pre-9/11 security, the best I have to offer is post-9/11 security without the porno-scans and sexual molestations. If you can’t behave properly you’re all going to be kicked out of the thought experiment! Now straighten up and fly right. Err, that is…well, I’ll just leave it at that.Report

  12. Avatar 62across says:

    Fair enough, it’s your thought experiment and you set the rules. But, if the results so far are any indication, you’re not asking for much thought since Flight Y is such a clear choice when weighed against a vague threat and somewhat better effectiveness.

    I’d be interested in knowing how the results might change if the threat were palpable (say the news has been filled in recent days of reports on new credible intelligence that there are attacks planned on US air travel). Would the results also change if the methods were proven to be dramatically more effective?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to 62across says:

      you’re not asking for much thought since Flight Y is such a clear choice when weighed against a vague threat and somewhat better effectiveness.

      In this forum it seems to be a clear choice. But I’m working with a self-selected sample whose bias is more than a little obvious, so let’s be cautious about assuming Flight X will actually be empty. It just won’t have anyone that LoOGers will want to engage in conversation with. (Well, not necessarily true. If Michael Heath chose X, I’d miss his company on my flight.)Report

  13. Avatar Simon K says:

    Given everyone else is on flight Y, and there’s no line for flight X, I’m going with that one. Arbitrage, see. No groping, though, ‘kay?Report

  14. Avatar trizzlor says:

    Are we all flying private jets now? How about, you take flight Y and a plane full of people gets blown to bits once a year; take flight X and it happens once a decade. Which flight now?Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to trizzlor says:

      Seeing as how that was not the case pre-9/11 (planes being destroyed on an annual basis by terrorists), I fail to see how it will be the case now.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to trizzlor says:

      66 aircraft were hijacked between 1961 and 1968
      277 between 1969 and 1972

      And yet, nobody suggested “9/11”-style security for three more decades. Moreover, the public didn’t crap their pants and run screaming for the TSA in spite of the fact that dozens of planes were being hijacked every year. This discrepancy in safety expectation may be due to the fact that *nobody* hijacked a plane leaving from a U.S. airport from 1991 to 1999.

      However, re-read that last sentence. In the decade prior to 9/11, **using only pre-9/11 screening techniques**, there were zero hijackings. 9/11 succeeded because it was an expectation exception, not because of any particular security failure. If people knew that they were intending to fly the plane into a building (as opposed to fly the plane to Yemen), none of the hijackings would have succeeded. Indeed, the hijackers would probably not even have been able to destroy the plane. You can’t fight off a plane full of pissed off passengers with some box cutters (you probably won’t even successfully kill *anybody* unless you’re really lucky).

      Studying hijackings is tough, because the vast majority of them (historically) aren’t precisely either “criminal” (in the sense that someone is trying to steal the plane or plunder it) or “terrorist”. Most of them are people trying to get from point A to point B without the political authority to leave A or to go to B. ( for more reading). They might be scary episodes in which you don’t want to participate, but they’re not much of an actual danger.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I would amend your zero hijackings claim to say: using pre-9/11 security we had 1 attempt a decade and it succeeded, using pos-9/11 security we’ve had 4 attempts a decade and all failed.

        But you’re right that an exact repeat of 9/11 is unlikely regardless of airport security measures. Still, if after Richard Reid we didn’t change our policies, do you think Abdulmutallab would have still used the precarious underwear device? Do you think our policy changes after Richard Reid perhaps made bomb smuggling precarious enough to be a deterrent as well? A lot of people complained about taking their shoes off too.Report

        • Avatar D. C. Sessions in reply to trizzlor says:

          Do you think our policy changes after Richard Reid perhaps made bomb smuggling precarious enough to be a deterrent as well? A lot of people complained about taking their shoes off too.

          In a word, no. Anyone who actually has the brains of a ferret can get amazingly destructive materials onto a plane without comic-opera stunts like stuffing their shorts. If there haven’t been any successful attacks since 9/11 it comes down to one of two reasons:

          1) All of the Bad Guys are dumber than the Keystone Kops — including bin Laden, who knew what a planeload of jet fuel would do to a large building better than a lot of our national geniuses even in hindsight.
          2) A lack of successful attacks are more to their taste than a successful attack would be.

          I’m betting on Door Number Two, but I’m open to discussion on why that’s the case.Report

          • I think there are actually three reasons:

            (1) Most people who blow themselves up in areas like Palestine and Iraq aren’t required to do much more than walk in the target area. In many cases, the person pulling the trigger isn’t the person carrying the bomb.

            Triggering an assembled device requires a bit more intelligence, and you have to be fairly calm and collected when you’re doing it. It’s hard to find smart and cool, rational actors who are also willing to blow themselves up. You only get two of the three, you get morons or people who are so nervous they can’t put the parts together, or both.

            (2) Terrorist are actually really rare to begin with. If we didn’t have any hijacking attempts in a decade with nearly zero security, we’re probably not likely to have many hijacking attempts in the next decade, either, without changing much in the way of the security countermeasures.

            (3) Really rare events done by a very small population are more prone to other problems, as well. If you’re the one guy trying to pull off a very complicated Evil Plan, missing your plane flight can screw the whole deal.Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to D. C. Sessions says:

            I’m betting on Door Number Two, but I’m open to discussion on why that’s the case.

            We’ve seen a number of airline bombing attempts with each one being more precarious than the last – the last one entirely switching entirely from passenger liners to cargo planes. To me this looks like the residual effects of a security system that’s working at pushing terrorist attempts into the margins of what’s practical. To you, it’s a systemic process to get a bunch of terrorists caught in the act?

            One can argue that he changed his methodology because Reid’s attempt didn’t work, I suppose

            Yes, this is exactly what I’m arguing. Had we not changed our policies after Reid, I think it’s entirely reasonable for a terrorist organization to continue trying to hone the shoe-bomb track until they got it right (e.g. activate his shoe in the bathroom instead of in his seat). Instead, they had to resort to a smaller, less effective device (underwear) and a dumber, less effective terrorist to agree to wear it.

            As for US-bound flights headed from foreign countries, we already have restrictions in place there and they could be tightened. But the argument that because we cannot eliminate terrorism entirely we shouldn’t try at all seems absurd to me. You can redefine the time-scale, but it comes down to one success X years or one success Y years – that’s the difference between the two lines.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to trizzlor says:

          > Still, if after Richard Reid we didn’t change our policies,
          > do you think Abdulmutallab would have still used the
          > precarious underwear device?

          Abdulmutallab evaded detection in Nigeria, which doesn’t have much in the way of any screening. In Amsterdam all he had to do was just not get off the aircraft.

          (One can argue that he changed his methodology because Reid’s attempt didn’t work, I suppose, but you can as easily say that if the previous attempt failed, it is unlikely that anyone is going to re-attempt using the same methodology whether or not you change countermeasures.)

          In any event, American screening policies at American airports had zero effect on Abdulmutallab. He could have put the bomb in his shoes and probably got on the plane anyway. Heck, he could have checked his bag in Nigeria and set the bomb off with a timer or a cell phone. Very little checked luggage is actually scanned, particularly at many other nation’s airports. You can get contraband inside a checked baggage compartment without going through screening, anyway. Drug dealers do this all the time.

          Which illustrates another problem with airport screening: you can only screen people who depart from airports you control. This has zero effect if you can’t also forbid planes that haven’t gone through the same screening from entering your airspace from somewhere else.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        This is a great point. At the time of 9/11, the materials we had with regards to hijacking all assumed it was a hijacking to Cuba. Stuff like the materials said “when you get to Havana…”, and so on.Report

  15. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Flight Y, no question. I’m sick of the metal plates & screws in my arms being a potential threat to national security (seriously, those aren’t pop-up guns in my guns).Report

  16. Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

    Y you betcha! (You’ve had your ration of shit for the day.)

    Now if you could only get a real national poll on this — but I put the chances of that in the “as long as you’re wishing, buy a lottery ticket” department.Report

    • National polls typically support enhanced screening. But national polls don’t correct for frequency of flying.

      If you polled only airline travelers, you’d get a very, very different response than if you poll a random sampling of everybody in the U.S.Report

  17. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Do you have a link to a news story about the event you describe? Because I’ve heard some pretty wild stories about stuff that happened to my friends’ friends’ friends. For example, “strip search” turned out to be “asked to take off sweater”, and “groped my privates” turned out to be “touched the inside of my thigh”.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to DensityDuck says:


      No, this was from a close friend. There’s been no news reports written about it. Of course it should be discounted based on how much you trust me and my friend (whom you don’t know, of course).Report

  18. I’d vote for flight X, under the conditions that Mr. Hanley describes (that the new procedures are indeed as effective as claimed).

    I don’t mean to belittle the reasons others object to the procedure, and I realize my acceptance comes at a certain cost: I don’t like to be groped and I don’t think I’d like my body to be screened so intimately, and while I presume the risk of cancer is minimal, I’d prefer to minimize any risk I run thereto. But apparently, I am willing, personally, to pay the cost and run the risks in exchange for the (perhaps minuscule, but, in this hypothetical, real increase in security). I realize for others, the costs/risks weigh more heavily (i.e. and e.g., while I don’t like the idea of my body being seen through the scanner, I, as a man, am probably willing to accept it more than, say, a woman who has to endured being objectified by others on a continual basis).

    None of what I say here is intended to be an argument for the new security procedures, except in the trivial sense that because I am willing to acquiesce in this hypothetical situation, I am implicitly lending support for the new procedures.Report

  19. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Which flight? Obviously the rational choice is the one with less security, even if one was well-versed in quantitative decision-making methods – or not since the math can be intuitively understood by just about anyone . We empirically know that the odds of being on a terrorist plane approach zero therefore any marginal cost to us for enhanced security gives the advantage to the less secure flight.

    However I’ve repeatedly noted why this is not the relevant issue in my previous comment posts. Instead the core point is screening out terrorists – that requires a different mindset than one with a monolithic population containing defects where in this case we are not the population of potential defects, a different population occasionally infects our population.

    James – your survey coupled to your anecdote compels me to think you continue to entirely miss the key factors when designing a screening process for this type of dual population set, which again has little to do with the population of non-terrorists. It’s not about us, it’s about screening terrorists out to the point we have a very high confidence rate they won’t attempt to hijack our commercial airliners; that requires a completely different set of criteria than what you present here.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Heath says:

      No, Michael, I don’t miss your point. I just find your overall argument unpersuasive because we can’t actually apply your methodology absent data. I want to re-emphasize that–I’m not critiquing the method, but like any method at all it’s useless without data.

      Anyway, in this particular case I was just curious about how people would respond. A survey of a dozen self-selected individuals does not provide an argument one way or the other about what ought to be done on any given public policy.Report

      • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, ” I just find your overall argument unpersuasive because we can’t actually apply your methodology absent data. I want to re-emphasize that–I’m not critiquing the method, but like any method at all it’s useless without data.”

        Do you understand why I find your response both self-serving and a fierce denial tactic not worthy of you?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Heath says:

          Do you understand why I find your response both self-serving and a fierce denial tactic not worthy of you?

          No, I don’t understand that. Understand, I was trained in a field where both method and data matter, and you can’t use one without the other. For example, a few years ago I had a student who did a senior research project analyzing the Six Day War from a game theoretic perspective. Great project idea, great methodology. But in the end, all he said was, “we could apply this game theoretic approach, or we could apply this other one, or we could apply yet this other one.” He never actually plugged any data into any of those prospective approaches, so he never actually said anything of interest.

          So I am completely, totally, baffled as to why my criticism of not having any data would appear self-serving rather than principled. Because believe me, it’s based on principle. As I’ve said before, a second-best method with data is superior to a first-best method without data.

          At one point in the other thread you said I was “out of my depth” in discussing the DPM approach. I might have been, although you’ve done a good job of explaining it to me. But I have to say, in all honesty, that I get the same impression about you when you treat criticisms of not having data as irrelevant. I keep imagining you at an academic conference, or taking my senior research seminar, and taking that line. I swear to God, if I had a student who said, “I have a great hypothesis and research design, but I don’t have the data–the government claims they have that data but it’s classified, so I think I’ve proven my hypothesis,” I’d tear them to shreds. If someone did that at a conference they’d need a police escort to escape alive. And I don’t see that you’ve done anything differently here.Report

          • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to James Hanley says:

            James – I twice provided you with arguments on why you shouldn’t ignore the changes in screening methods merely because the data was inaccessible due to it being justifiably classified. The fact you ignored those arguments in your reply here and jumped on s simplistic to a fault white horse as if I were a total idiot in need of remedial education is disappointing.

            In addition I was pretty confident you got the DPM argument just fine, instead my original point in this thread which was continually pointed out in previous threads was your focus on one population to the point you completely avoid the very population that the government is instead focusing upon. The government’s focus on that other population, terrorists, has and will most likely continue to come at the expense of the other population, that being fellow travelers. We agree there is a cost to the population you rightfully address – you think an unacceptable one and I think acceptable as long as we see continuous improvement. I think your argument is fatally weak because you avoid addressing the other population in your criticism which from the government’s perspective is the entire reason they’re implemented this new screening procedure in the first place and unless they serve up data that would be greatly risk national security* they lose by forfeit.

            I won’t harp on these points anymore unless you want me to stay engaged. I don’t care that you object to what the TSA is doing, there’s a very good argument to be made against what they are doing. But any good argument must be considerate of the government’s very best arguments for putting us on a more advanced technological screening roadmap coupled to a more robust process – you continue to avoid those arguments which by default forces critical thinkers to consider your argument with pessimism, especially when coupled to the passion and illustrations you bring to your argument.

            *Unless perhaps if their process is approaching zero DPM which I’m confident isn’t remotely close to achieving. Even then they might not to disclose this if they wanted to use this process as a lure to encourage terrorists to make an effort here rather than another more vulnerable target.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Heath says:

              I twice provided you with arguments on why you shouldn’t ignore the changes in screening methods merely because the data was inaccessible due to it being justifiably classified.

              A) I unpersuaded that the data is justifiably classified.
              B) I remain dubious that the claimed data actually exists.
              C) I’ve yet to see a persuasive argument for why I shouldn’t remain unpersuaded by the value of the screening changes, given that I’ve seen no data. You have provided arguments, but not one that seems at all persuasive to me.

              It’s not accurate to say I focused on a single population that did not include potential on-plane terrorists. I emphasized the cost to that population, which I think you discount too much, but I focused on the whole population of people trying to get on planes, as well, in my calculation, which would include potential on-plane terrorists.

              But as to that population of terrorists, I’ve yet to see you respond to arguments made by others that the population of on-plane terrorists is much smaller and less of a concern than you suggest.

              any good argument must be considerate of the government’s very best arguments

              A “very best” argument is, by my definition, an honest and true argument. Again, I think you are too casual in your acceptance of the government’s claims. You use the phrase “critical thinker,” but don’t seem to apply that to what the government says. You’re taking their arguments as an inarguable data point, and on that I have to call bullshit.Report

              • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to James Hanley says:


                But as to that population of terrorists, I’ve yet to see you respond to arguments made by others that the population of on-plane terrorists is much smaller and less of a concern than you suggest.

                As I’ve stated before, I think there’s an argument to be made for a lower quality screening process than what we now have. That argument’s central point IMO is the relatively few efforts to date since 9/11, especially at check-in points under the control of the U.S. government. I respect that and don’t believe I ever avoided it.

                However, I am confident that the success of 9/11 still resonates with the terrorists and believe their desire to use planes by getting their people on-board remains very strong or could return in the near future.

                I think our upstream efforts to quell al Qaeda has led to a current reduction in their capabilities to attack us in this manner. Bravo for us. I don’t think we can be confident our efforts upstream and our efforts to reduce demand are robust enough to remove or stop attempting to continually improve our screening methods, i.e., I’m convinced the government is both prudent in focusing on continually improving the check-in screening process and that the public is correct in near-monolithically demanding they do this. This is a long-term effort and therefore all evaluations should be from that perspective. You seem stuck in the moment where you demean the entire new approach where I see no consideration or respect for the long-term implications.

                I also think that the dynamics regarding the use of terrorism can change quickly, where the best containment/screening measures require years of focus to achieve a level of efficacy that would provide high confidence the odds are low a terrorist can’t board a plane and carryout their plans. From my perspective we remain in our infancy in developing robust screening procedures with all the attendant start-up problems one should expect on full display (your objections). This is frequently true when using both new technology and being so dependent on non-professional humans in the transactions themselves.

                Therefore from my perspective you are naively ignoring the implications from a strategic perspective merely because of your tactical beefs and the current reality in spite of it not being immutable – both in terms of the efforts by terrorists and our ability to eventually eradicate the more offensive aspects of the current process. From my perspective that is a fatally defective flaw when it comes to problem-solving.

                I won’t go over my other objections to your other points simply because I’ve provided what I think are convincing arguments which have obviously failed to resonate with you. Therefore from my perspective any more effort on my part would be waste of both our time.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Heath says:

                Michael, you state that we should “continually improve our screening methods.” But;

                a) You haven’t provided a persuasive argument that this new procedure will provide any significant improvement in our screening methods; and

                b) By making that a categorical statement, you ignore the cost issue again.

                Those are areas where we obviously operate under very different assumptions. Once an argument reaches the point where each party stands on its assumptions, there’s little more to be gained by continuing it beyond recognition that each side may in fact be arguing honestly, and not just engaging in “self serving denial tactics.”Report

              • It’s not inconceivable that this sub-thread has exhausted itself and spun off into a vicious circle wherein each reply merely states the same position in a way that’s different only in the most mindnumbingly insignificant way.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Joyner says:

                It is amusing, though.

                HEATH: “If we can improve our methods, then we should!”
                HANLEY: “But you can’t prove that we can!
                HEATH: “But if we can improve our methods, then we should!”
                HANLEY: “But you can’t prove that we can!
                HEATH: “But if we can improve our methods, then we should!”
                HANLEY: “But you can’t prove that we can!

                (repeat for twelve posts deep)Report

  20. Avatar Hyena says:

    I’d probably take flight X. I’m not really concerned about backscatter machines or being patted down. At the end of such a screening, I’m not the one who feels embarrassed. 😉Report

  21. I brought this point up in the comments to last post on the topic, but someone replied with something along the lines of “our security is only as strong as its weakest link” which is bullshit because no terrorist will ever ever ever get inside a locked cockpit door ever again.

    Also, people seem to forget that there are other countries besides the United States, which almost all have less invasive security than we do, so there goes any kind of hypothetical. These two flights already exist. Plane X is a U.S. flight. Plane Y is departing from any other country.

    What we are really securing ourselves against now is a psychopath blowing up a plane, which – let’s face it – is a pretty pathetic target. Cruise ships, stadia, subway systems, bridges, even busy city streets offer far more bang for the terrorist buck. Should we x-ray everybody before they cross the Golden Gate Bridge? When does it end?Report

  22. Avatar Paula Product says:

    Flight Y. (And that’s even buying into the assumption that the Flight X procedures “are as effective as claimed” means they actually enhance security, which is actually something beyond being “effective as claimed.”)Report

  23. Avatar Anna says:

    As a woman traveling alone with 3 children under the age of 5, I was put through a ridiculous search of all of my bags, the stroller, and car seats. Any parent of small children understands how much stuff is carried when traveling with small children. This was my connecting flight, I hadn’t even left the airport and was searched at the gate. I even had to take my sleeping infant out of her car seat so it could be inspected. That didn’t make me feel any safer and given the odds, even as a mother who considers herself a champion of safety for my family, I’ll go with the numbers and take Y. Heck, statistically flight Y is safer than my planned distance drive tomorrow on the icy and snowing roads of Michigan.Report

  24. Avatar BSK says:


    I posited a similar idea over on Radley’s blog, though the conversation didn’t have much traction.

    A question that was difficult to answer is that the decision is not uniquely personal or individual. If you choose to take a (very slightly) elevated risk, so be it; that is your right. But what if that hijacked plane is flown into my building? I did not elect for the elevated risk. How do we handle third parties?

    Note: I do not intend to fearmonger and justify the enhanced security measures. But I do think that we must consider third-parties since the decision is not as individualistic as presented here. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.Report

  25. Avatar BSK says:

    As some have pointed out, locked cockpit doors likely eliminate the threat of planes being flown into buildings. So let’s assume they’re simply blown out of the sky and the engine falls through my roof and onto my head.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BSK says:

      Well I’ll be damned, it’s BSK!!! I can’t tell you how happy I am so seeing BSK on the comments section. (uh-oh, this means war!) Seriously, a very hearty welcome back–have missed you and your erudite thoughts and comments. Hope all is well.Report

  26. Avatar BSK says:

    All is well. I mourned the loss of PL and moved over to Radley Balko’s blog at JK’s suggestion. Got too frustrated with the comment section and remembered that JK had come here (apparently with many other PL folks). Glad to be back.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

      Good to see you, BSK.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BSK says:

      That’s just terrific. Think you’ll really enjoy this joint, LoOG–with the exception of the token certifiable loon (me), lots of smart, thoughtful, interesting, thinkers. And of course, we still have James Hanley to make sure everyone keeps on their toes. (he even retracted his mob hit on me) I think you’re a very valuable person in these discussions and must thank Balco’s blog for the unintended migration of you to the League. Oh, to the security topic….last I heard the planes on the runway had grown from 2 to 325–that’s those Libertarians for you!Report

  27. Avatar Anna says:

    Terrorists can do just as much damage by blowing up a cruise ship or bus on the freeway and in subways yet there hasn’t been intrusive security on our roads or in our docks and in our other transit systems. Are we not just feeding the frenzy and paranoia in our airports? As far as third parties go, any type of terrorist attack can cause collateral damage, so why are we so focused on the airline industry and allowing the extreme searching measures there while forgoing simple measures elsewhere? Just food for thought.Report

    • Avatar Tony Comstock in reply to Anna says:

      No they can’t.

      If people stopped going on cruises that would have no where near the economic impact that it would if people stopped flying.

      As to the bus, people are quiet obviously inured to deaths on the highway (IIRC, ~12K speeding deaths each year, but everyone speeds). And how many Americans take the bus anyway?

      An airline attack offers the perfect blend of economic and emotional impact.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Anna says:

      “Terrorists can do just as much damage by blowing up a cruise ship or bus on the freeway…”

      It would take one hell of a bus explosion to kill 4000 people.Report

  28. Avatar BSK says:

    I always wonder how much of the terrorists’ (supposed) focus on airplanes is because of our own obsession with air disasters. When we put in place crazy security measures, that implicitly says, “This is really frickin’ important!” Given that terrorists’ motives are often as much, if not more so, symbolic as they are practical (for instance, the terrorists could have killed a lot more people flying the plane into a football stadium, but they chose the WTC and Pentagon because of what they represented and the psychological impact), it’s quite possible that they assume an air strike to be a major symbolic victory. Which box would you more likely desire? The one left on the side of the road or the one guarded by armed security and dogs?

    Anna, your point about collateral damage is a bit misguided from my question. Yes, collateral damage will always be an issue. The question here is, do I have a right, in exercising my own self-determination, to make others share in the risk?Report