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.