Moscow airport bombing exposes obvious flaw in airport security

In reading the New York Times coverage of today’s tragic bombing at a Moscow airport, I found the summation by former Department of Homeland Security official Stephen A. Baker to be rather curious:

“They’d like to be bombing planes and they can’t, so they’re bombing airports,” he said, adding that the attack “validates the focus that the U.S. has had on security at airports.”

Um… really? And how exactly would our focus on airport security have stopped a determined suicide bomber like the one who struck in Moscow today? As I wrote back in December:

In fact, if I were a dedicated suicide bomber (and just to be clear to federal authorities, I’m not), I’d pack a rolling, carry-on suitcase with as much explosives as possible, pick the busiest time of the day, wheel it through the snaking security line until I was in the very middle of the crowd, and then… BOOM!

Depending on the sophistication of the device, such an attack would kill and injure dozens, possibly hundreds, and achieve the same catastrophic impact on the airline industry without having to devise a way to sneak a weapon through security. And since the target is created by the screening process itself, such attacks would be virtually unstoppable, as any attempt to expand the security perimeter would merely create more targets.

I wasn’t prescient at all. Just stating the obvious.

As a 13-year-old visiting London in 1976, during the height of the IRA’s bombing campaigns, I was somewhat amused by the repeated announcements at Heathrow Airport that unattended baggage would be “removed and destroyed.” Less amusing were the armed soldiers who patrolled the halls, a sight that seemed incredibly incongruent to a sheltered, American suburbanite. But suicide bombings were not the IRA’s schtick, and so heightened security and vigilance had obvious rewards.

But in the age of the suicide bomber, not quite so much. There’s simply no practical way to screen passengers and their suitcases prior to arriving at the airport, and as today’s Moscow bombing illustrates, no amount of TSA screening can protect the crowds amassed outside the security perimeter. So if anything, I’d say today’s tragedy invalidates our focus on patting down 13-year-old girls… unless, of course, TSA’s real mandate is to protect the airplanes, not necessarily the people flying on them.


  1. 1

    Ekim spews:

    In fact, if I were a dedicated suicide bomber (and just to be clear to federal authorities, I’m not), I’d pack a rolling, carry-on suitcase with as much explosives as possible, pick the busiest time of the day, wheel it through the snaking security line until I was in the very middle of the crowd, and then… BOOM!

    It is even easier for SeaTac. Park a large delivery van in the passenger pick up area packed with explosives a la Timothy McVeigh. Set it off and no more SeaTac.

  2. 2

    rhp6033 spews:

    Every time you push the securty barricade further out, you mostly you just change the location of the bottleneck where dozens (or more) passengers are going to be congregating for security screening. The suicide bombers in Iraq figured this out pretty quickly, bombing checkpoint locations.

    The Israelis DO have a system which checks the bags and people before they get to the airport. But it involves a checkpoint quite a ways down the road from the airport itself, and everyone going through it has to open their trunk and have a vehicle/baggage inspection, while another policemand examines tickets, IDs, and questions the vehicle occupants. They are trying to identify bombers by inconsistent stories, false IDs, deceptive behavioral indicators, etc. Those who’s passports show ties to countries with known Islamist training camps are subject to special and intense scrutiny.

    Of course, this takes a lot of time, and you have to plan for at least an hour, if not more, of waiting in line on the road to the airport. And once arriving at the airport, you still have to go through the metal detectors, and you can still be stopped for special screening at any time – in the lobby, corridors, and at the gate.

    And just to make sure no hijacker makes it on board, there’s an Israeli air marshal on board EVERY El Al flight. And these guys aren’t just retired police officers, they are trained anti-terrorist experts.

    It’s a big pain for everyone involved, to be sure, but there’s never been a successful hijacking or bombing of an El Al plane, to my knowledge.

    My own experience is most frequently with Narita airport, which is about an hour’s drive away from Tokyo and is the main international airport serving Tokyo. Every car, bus, etc. has to stop and is subject to document inspection and search before it can even get within sight of the terminal. I usually take what they call the “Limosine Bus” to Narita. But although private cars are subject to having their trunk opened with a cursory inspection of the contents, it’s a lot more laid back than in Israel. On the bus, the police board, and with excessive courtesy and a few bows, they request your passport and ticket, check both to see they match and are valid, and then they exit and we proceed to the airport. They don’t check passenger bags at all, although I suspect they could if they thought there was a threat. Total stop time is less than five minutes.

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    Roger Rabbit spews:

    A Palestinian expatriate once told me suicide bombers are “the poor man’s F-16.”

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    Deathfrogg spews:

    @ 3

    The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Reagan administration described suicide bombers as “the poor mans Air Force”.

    Who needs a $100 million aircraft when you can convince some low-intelligence sociopath to blow himself up for the cause? Hell, general accuracy is probably comparable.

    Humans will never change.

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    Zotz sez: Pudpuller is a danger to itself and others! spews:

    @4: I think it’s incorrect to call a suicide bomber a sociopath.

    Sociopath’s are typically high functioning people who are totally into themselves.

    OBL is a sociopath.

    The deluded ignorant religious fanatics he and his ilk convince to strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up are just additional victims.

  6. 6

    Jason spews:

    Well, one thing in favor of moving where the bombing happens from planes to the lines to get on them is that the airport is unlikely to crash to earth, taking out anyone who survived the bombing.

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    rhp6033 spews:

    # 6: No, but it accomplishes the same objective: It makes everyone afraid to fly anyway, so vacations/busines trips/conventions get cancelled, and airlines go into Chapt. 11 (again), resulting in another blow to the economy.

    And if the public just switches their mode of travel (train, car), the bombers switch their targets as well (the Spain train bombing got Spain to leave Iraq).

  8. 8

    Winston Wolf spews:

    Hey now, even those fun-loving, friendly muslims need to let loose every now and then…

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    Listen to Goldy’s logic … “Because security cannot prevent every act of terrorism at an airport, there should be no security.”

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    Thanks for posting this information. Well, one mania in favor of poignant where the bombing happens from planes to the appearance to acquire on them is that the airport is improbable to hurtle to earth, taking out anyone who survived the bombing. It’s a gigantic sting for all and sundry implicated, to be sure, but there’s never been a triumphant hijacking or bombing of an El Al plane, to my acquaintance. Nice post.

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    drool spews:

    We are always fighting the last terrorist attack. We are still not adequately screening cargo and it’s just a matter of time before a plane is brought down by a bomb in a cargo shipment. We dodged a bullet due to the laziness and stupidity of the Yemen printer bomber(s). They will be back.

    There is a total lack of imagination on the part of the authorities…or resistance to do anything new (and I am not talking back scatter imaging or groping) to mitigate the potential problem.

    I’m in aviation and I HATE flying commercial. It has become nothing but a pain.

  12. 12

    oxbrain spews:


    What’s wrong with that? Security measures that do not provide actual security, are a complete waste of money and a greater drain on our economy in the long run than a certain rate of successful bombings.

    Given that our security measures haven’t actually caught anyone, and several have slipped through and failed due to incompetence, we haven’t even moved the danger point. All we’ve done is create a second target, with even less likelihood of being caught and even more blood and gore for the TV.

  13. 13

    Ekim spews:

    David Freddoso: Time to abolish TSA as we know it

    …But, you might say, aren’t these inconveniences, and TSA’s $7 billion annual budget, just the price we pay for safety? Hardly, because we’re not getting safety. A Nigerian man with documented terrorist ties, whose name was already on a watch list, known both to the British government and to ours as a threat, was given a visa and allowed to board a U.S.-bound plane wearing explosive underpants. Had he lit his drawers on fire in the bathroom and not in his seat, we’d be watching memorial services for 300 passengers today.

    In short, we have turned our airports into something out of “1984,” and we’re not safer for having done so.

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    These things actually happens because there is a less security measures. If only there are enough things to consider and not give a too much confidence to these people who will try to make some disaster.Hope we will learn from our mistakes.