03 April 2010

April Fools: Government has Secured Mass Transportation

Because of the tragic Moscow metro bombings, Russian militia is now visibly present in the underground system.  My identification has been checked twice thus far.  Getting past security has been just a matter of showing my passport and explaining that my keys are that which makes the metal detector wand squeal.
 Tell Me:  Why Does the Bulge in Your Pocket Excite My Wand?
Moscow's metro system is a fabulous, world-class mass transit system. By some estimation, the metro moves some 7 million passengers daily in 10-million-people city. A system that big, with that many passengers, is impossible to secure completely. As a case in point, militia's presence is more pronounced in downtown (where core government functions are) than on the edges of the city. Basically, it is easy for a determined troublemaker to slip into the system from the outskirts.

Because of that idiot Richard Reid, the infamous shoe bomber, we now have to take off our shoes when going through American airport security (most world airports ignore this practice). After the crazily insane Christmas bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, my concern was that raising security levels would lead to dropping underwear. This proved somewhat prescient: Body scanners, which effectively remove the subject’s clothing, are now in vogue. Pity those who have to view the resulting images; most of us look better clothed.

It is valid to ask whether there have been significant security improvements to US’s air transportation system. Jeffry Goldberg explains that the system only appears to be more secure in an excellent article in The Atlantic. Here is a telling excerpt:
To slip through the only check against the no-fly list, the terrorist uses a stolen credit card to buy a ticket under a fake name. “Then you print a fake boarding pass with your real name on it and go to the airport. You give your real ID, and the fake boarding pass with your real name on it, to security. They’re checking the documents against each other. They’re not checking your name against the no-fly list—that was done on the airline’s computers. Once you’re through security, you rip up the fake boarding pass, and use the real boarding pass that has the name from the stolen credit card. Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.”
Goldberg’s article was published in November 2008. The vulnerability that he describes is still a big gaping security hole in US’s air transpiration system while you fly the friendly skies.

The US air transport system is bigger than Moscow’s metro system by any meaningful measure, including the consorted effort, resources, and time that have been expended for security. The system is still insecure today, as the dimwitted underwear bomber managed to demonstrate. In his January 1st New York Times column, David Brooks astutely pointed out the following:
… it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The [underwear bomber] plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.
The TSA and Russian Militia put up good shows in US airports and Moscow subway stations respectively. In societies where individuals deem their freedom important, like in the US and in the current-day Russia, the real security of the nation comes from individuals willing to take action for the better, and refusing to be cowed by a few mad bombers.

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