Security bans: How far will airports go?

By Freedom Newspapers

The arrests in England of those accused of plotting to blow up American airliners has reawakened the public to the threat that international terrorism poses.

Fortunately, British counter-terrorism agents, with significant help from Pakistani intelligence officials, detected the plot weeks ago and moved in to stop it as it reached “a critical stage,” according to a Washington Post report.

The main lesson here is that intelligence agents discovered the plot, kept an eye on the principals and moved in before they could carry out their plan to blow up as many as 10 U.S. airliners flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to the United States.

The plot virtually mirrors one in 1995 that was led by Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was convicted of conspiring to blow up the World Trade Center. He planned to destroy 11 airplanes over the Pacific using liquid explosives.

Those charged with airline security obviously understood the danger that this type of attack threatens. Seemingly innocuous materials, such as nail polish and peroxide, could be mixed aboard an airplane to create a bomb and then detonated by electronic devices such as a cell phone or laptop computer.

In response to Thursday’s developments, the Transportation Security Agency prohibited air passengers from carrying aboard any liquids, except baby formula and medicines. What we fear is this ban will be in effect for years, much as nail clippers became contraband after the attacks of 9/11.

Nail clippers are now allowed, along with scissors with blades less than 4 inches and screwdrivers less than 7 inches, even though the latter two could be formidable weapons.

But, as all air travelers know, TSA screeners still like everyone to remove their shoes, in homage to the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, who attempted to set off liquid explosive in his shoe in 2001.

No sensible person begrudges the authorities procedures reasonably calculated to make a substantial contribution to safety aboard aircraft. It is the rigid adherence to screening techniques that had little to do with enhancing security in the first place that is maddening.

How long will it be before laptop computers, cell phones and other electronic machines will be banned from aircraft cabins? That would be unfortunate and, as anyone who has landed in one city only to have their checked baggage continue on to another will attest, sometimes quite disruptive to business or vacation plans.

Careful screening of passengers by skilled observers is a proven security technique, as demonstrated by the Israeli national airline, El Al.

Better that some of an additional $5.6 billion spent on airport security since Sept. 11 be spent on real airport security agents.