Faith Based Security

There’s a reason Sadam Hussein was good at security. He had everyone killed that he suspected. He also carried out pre-emptive murder. Ditto Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Milosevic, Idi Amin, Jean-Paul Akayesu, Abdul Hamid II and more than you would tolerate listing here. It still works today in way too much of the world – China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Burma, Iran and others.

We, in America, practice faith-based security. We believe (or choose to pretend) that we are safe. That democracy works. That we count all the ballots. That capitalism isn’t rigged. That justice is best served in courts. That civil rights, privacy, liberty and the right to own guns, trump a more absolute form to guarantee public order. That obeying our laws makes us safer. When something goes wrong – 9-11, Pearl Harbor, Firing on Fort Sumter, etc. as examples – our government has special powers to temporarily suspend these rights so that our faith can be restored.

airport securityOur government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to protect us and keep us believing while enjoying the fruits of freedom – intercepting phone calls, spy satellites, agents on the ground, interdicting suspected evil doers, and the like. When the Clinton administration foiled a planned millennium bombing attack on Los Angeles, it was luck and the system worked. When they didn’t in Oklahoma City; the 1993 World Trade Center; Centennial Olympic Park; the Birmingham, Pensacola, Brookline, Amherst abortion clinics; or Columbine; they weren’t lucky and the system didn’t work. Ditto the Bush years: 9-11; anthrax mailings, LAX, Beltway sniper; Riyadh compound, and all those bombings in Iraq, they weren’t lucky and the system failed. When they stopped the shoe bomber, they were lucky and the system worked.

No matter what Dick Cheney says, short of suspending all basic freedoms, imprisoning, or executing all we suspect, there is little we can do to stop it all. It takes luck. We spy, x-ray, screen, watch our lists, take our shoes off and wait endlessly in line; take names and invade countries harboring evil doers, but it is just part of making us believe we are safe so we can live out our lives normally and free. Our chemical plants, the water we drink, our power plants, grid, and ports are unguarded, or barely guarded. Were Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab to have chosen to take out thousands at a football game instead of a couple of hundred on an airliner, he would have had no problem.

Sure, when the Christmas terrorist was reported by his father, we should have put his name on the No-Fly list along with 3,400 others; or on  the Selectee list with 14,000 others; or the Terrorist Watch list with 400,000 others; instead of just the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list with 750,000 others; but we didn’t.

The bomb didn’t work – not because he was stopped when he went through airport security in Nigeria. We just had made it difficult enough that it didn’t work – this time. Sure, we need to do better. Be more vigilent. Get the huge database lists to work more effectively. But the system worked just as it does most of the time when we are lucky. The system we have used since the beginning. The faith-based security system. We believe, therefore we are. I depend on the same system each time I get behind the wheel of a car.

Terrorism is nothing new, not even to us. For a list of terrorist attacks dating back to 1800, click here.

7 thoughts on “Faith Based Security

  1. Lee Leslie Post author

    George -- I have faith in cable news and the “loyal opposition” to do that.
    Mike -- That is a common fallacy. This happened because one person out of 6.7 billion sewed PETN in his underwear and took a very long trip. With this many people on the planet, some nut is going for his Andy Warhol moment almost all the time. Obviously, we need to either get rid of explosives, ban underwear on long flights, or do something about birth control.

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  2. Ned Barker

    This is well stated, thanks Lee.

    We (Americans) need our leadership find the courage to re-define “victory”: victory is about preserving the rights and freedoms you reference. Stopping shoe and underwear bombers IS important, but it is largely tactical.

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  3. johnny

    It is as one of the pundits said, “We may have for the same price security or the appearance of security.” We have chosen the appearance.

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  4. Jim Smith

    Lee, you seem to be dumping your premise here: “The bomb didn’t work – not because he was stopped when he went through airport security in Nigeria. We just had made it difficult enough that it didn’t work – this time.”

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but the bomb on Northwest 253 didn’t work because the igniter solution was not adequate; in other words, not because of screening or databases or the heroic actions of the nearby passenger or anything else “we” did, but because we got lucky again.

    Just a minor point though. I agree that there’s only so much we can do without destroying the values that make the real difference.

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  5. Lee Leslie

    Jim -- Not sure I dumped the premise or just shoved a sequitur to address a present tense headline. However, rephrasing your question for the sport of the evening, do I believe the bomb didn’t work because the guy was inept, the equipment malfunctioned or the design was flawed? Yeah. Part of what we do pretty well now, security wise, is to learn from our errors and their innovation. The ziplock bags and taking away our water made them re-design. Obviously, they were close. Now, we’ll check everyone’s drawers. Now we’ll re-screen passengers from some countries taking long journeys with cash tickets and no luggage who have studied more than a couple of times in countries we are currently bombing or paying for bombing. Make it just a little less convenient and see if that works. However, the brave actions of the passengers and crew shouldn’t be underestimated. I am reminded of a flight my daughter took just a couple of weeks after 9-11. She was totally freaked out about a passenger (pretty normal looking -- no profiling going on) whom she believed was acting overly nervous and basically weird. She called a flight attendant who took the warning seriously. Federal marshals met the plane, disarmed (large knife) and arrested the escaped convict.

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