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Aviation Security: After Four Decades, It's Time for a Fundamental Review
RAND CORP ARLINGTON VA HOMELAND SECURITY AND DEFENSE CENTER
Pagination or Media Count:
The recovery earlier this year of a new, improved bomb designed to avoid detection by airport security underscores terrorists continuing determination to bring down commercial airliners. Like the bomb carried by Umar Abdulmutallab in his unsuccessful attempt to sabotage an airliner in 2009, the new device designed by al Qaeda s bomb-maker was intended to be concealed in the saboteur s underwear. The device was obtained by an intelligence operative who managed to persuade his al Qaeda handlers that he was ready to carry out that suicide mission. While it is necessary to investigate possible ways to counter this latest terrorist innovation, a more fundamental review of how we secure the airplanes that 2 million passengers board every day in the United States is imperative. Evolving terrorist tactics and technology pose new threats, as growing passenger loads and added security procedures are already straining airport screeners. And terrorists are not the only problem faced by the Transportation Security Administration TSA. Airline passengers have become increasingly hostile to the very measures deployed to protect them, while TSA is under continuous assault in Congress. Aviation security is costly, controversial, and contentious no other security measures directly affect such a large portion of the country s population. Because of the nature of the threat, aviation security is the most intrusive form of security, pushing hard on the frontier of civil liberties. And the threat is real terrorists remain obsessed with attacking airplanes. At the same time, passenger loads are increasing, while security budgets are likely to decline. Performance suffers. Meanwhile, public tolerance and cooperation are beginning to fray. But the Transportation Security Administration is often blamed for things beyond its control. And post-catastrophe reviews can push us in the wrong direction, usually resulting in new security measures rather than a reexamination of strategy. After
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