Sunday, December 27, 2009

The flying Dutchman and other notes on the victory in Detroit 

The good guys won again in Detroit on Christmas. "Victory"? We are in a war, so when we interdict an enemy attack that is what it is, small though it may be. I have a few thoughts to add to the cacophony, although I doubt any of them are actually original. As my posts yesterday implied, I was not very attentive to the news cycle.

Individualists, including me, are thrilled that a passenger thwarted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attack on Flight 253. I was even more thrilled to learn that the heroic passenger was not American, but a Dutch film director named Jasper Schuringa. Why? Because that means that I'm going to be safe even on flights with lots of Europeans! Not only is the target still hard in the United States, but it is hardening elsewhere, and that is good for the good guys.

In the final analysis, though, the attack may have failed because the detonator failed, not because Mr. Schuringa, European film director though he may be, is a man of action. Abdulmutallab exploited a weakness in screening systems, which still, by and large, rely on metal detection rather than the full-body imaging now being rolled out in a few American airports. Blowhard terrorism expert Richard Clarke says that airports have been slow to adopt imaging systems because of costs and concerns about privacy:

"We've known for a long time that this is possible," said Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar and ABC News consultant, "and that we really have to replace our scanning devices with more modern systems."

Clarke said full body scans were needed, "but they're expensive and they're intrusive. They invade people's privacy."

These reasons are, of course, ridiculous.

"Expensive": We now have a government willing throw incremental trillions at health care. What could be better health care than stopping mass murder? Let's hope some enterprising Democrat with a screen-system manufacturer in his district carves out a little extra health care moola for imaging systems.

"Privacy": If you're so ashamed of your naked body that you don't want somebody you will never meet at a cocktail party looking at a silhouette of it, don't fly. Or lose weight. Either way, you'll be doing the rest of us in coach a favor. Harsh that may be, but I'm really rather tired of morbidly obese people thinking that their ticket entitles them to "rolls over" in to the air space above my seat.

There is a lot of good stuff by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. On the one hand, this is apparently the best that Al Qaeda's "top bombmaker" can do. On the other hand, these creeps are nothing but adaptive.

Morrissey proposes the adoption of El Al-style screening interviews. El Al believes in "searching the person" rather than the person's things. In my experience, disarmingly cute young Israeli women who could no doubt kill you with a pony tail scrunchie ask the passengers lots of questions. Where were you born? Where did you go to college? What were the names of your roommates in college? Who are you visiting in Israel? Can I look at the emails on your computer? And so forth. On it goes, and then suddenly in the middle of some innocuous discussion they ask "Do you have a bomb?" By the time you are done -- the interview might take 20 minutes or more -- you know that nobody sketchy is getting past these people. El Al's record suggests that it is very effective.

Unfortunately, there are at least four problems with this proposal, all of which will be difficult to overcome. The first is that it is incredibly intrusive, and many Americans would not put up with it. If you do not want some anonymous dude behind a screen looking at an image of your body, you are really going to hate actual personal questions about your past. Second, El Al's method no doubt drives results that would have a "disparate impact" or otherwise be seen as discriminatory. It works in part because they know who the old and loyal Israelis are, and they get waived through with a short verification of identity. Here, any such discrimination would trigger a lawsuit; the first time a trial lawyer could show that the Muslim dude with a history of attending a radical mosque suffered through four more questions than the grandmother from Joplin, the air transportation system would grind to a dysfunctional halt and the terrorists would have scored a bigger victory than ever could be achieved by blowing up a plane once a decade. (Although, in the sense that "only Nixon could go to China," only Barack Hussein Obama could call for profiling in security screening.) Third, the Israelis can make this work because it is a small country with little domestic air traffic. Air travel is the means for getting in or out of the country, but it is not an essential feature of the domestic economy as it is in the United States. Fourth -- and this is the most important -- the Israeli system depends on having lots of very smart people (those cute Israeli interrogators who can kill you with the scrunchie) able to sniff out bad guys. The Israelis can do this because they have an intensively educated population with universal military training. Where are we going to find enough such people in the United States? Sadly, the El Al solution is not practical.

Now, that having been said, the new restrictions that airlines are imposing, perhaps at the behest of the government, strike me as extremely intrusive and more than a little pointless:
But several airlines released detailed information about the restrictions, saying that passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. It was not clear how often the rule would affect domestic flights.

So why not just blow up the plane an hour before it lands? Coming from Europe, that puts you over Albany instead of over Newark, so I suppose you might hurt fewer people on the ground, but the bad guys have still scored a victory and killed a couple hundred infidels as a bonus. One would think this measure will hurt us, by deterring travel and business (does this measure extend to paperback books?), more than it will frustrate the jihadis, but maybe I'm missing something. (Mixing up the screening routine strikes me as sensible, although I will be interested to see how they do that without irritating the politically correct.)

Mark Steyn makes the usual instructive point that poverty and lack of opportunity have nothing to do with terrorism, at least not of the Islamist variety:

As for the perpetrator:

The young man, who yesterday night attempted to ignite an explosive device aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan in the United States has been identified as Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, former First Bank chairman. Mutallab, a former minister and prominent banker recently retired from the bank’s board...

The family home of the Mutallabs in Central London, is currently being searched by men of the Metropolitan Police. THISDAY checks reveal that the suspect, Abdulfarouk Umar Muttalab who is an engineering student at the University College, London had been noted for his extreme views on religion since his secondary school days at the British International School, Lome, Togo.

So once again we see the foolishness of complaceniks who drone the fatuous cliches about how "in this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs". The men eager to self-detonate on infidel airliners are not goatherds from the caves of Waziristan but educated middle-class Muslims who have had the most exposure to the western world and could be pulling down six-figure salaries almost anywhere on the planet. And don't look to "assimilation" to work its magic, either. We're witnessing a process of generational de-assimilation: In this family, yet again, the dad is an entirely assimilated member of the transnational elite. His son wants a global caliphate run on Wahhabist lines.

And, finally, does this change the politics of closing Gitmo? Mitt Romney's proposal to "double" Gitmo is looking better and better.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Dec 27, 10:25:00 AM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Anonymous Just Because I'm Paranoid Doesn't Mean I'm Wrong, at Sun Dec 27, 11:20:00 AM:

Do you really think that increased passenger checks at airports have been effective? Or that we'll be safer if we start doing full cavity body searches?

To blow up a plane, or to pull off a devastating attack at a terminal, you need human ordnance. That's the limiting factor -- not the specific method that's used and that we search for. You also can't use just any raghead from the Middle East for this kind of operation -- you need a Western accultured piece of human ordnance. Like Mohammed Atta or Richard Reid or this new guy, Abdulmutallab. Thankfully, they seem to be rare.

Am I hearing this right? The perp's dad -- a man of prominence and hence someone credible -- specifically warned the US about him -- yet we let him through. But we threw Cat Stevens off a plane when he was on his way to do a duet with Dolly Parton? That's the real lesson to be learned here -- we once again failed to act on specific, credible warnings.

I actually agree with Michael Moore -- Al Queda is long gone from Afghanistan ... they're in places like Yemen.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 27, 12:53:00 PM:

Michael Moore? Oh, geez. Please grow up and learn about life from other people than Hollywierd idiots who are first class hypocrites and cretins.

Islamic jihad terrorism? What Islamic jihad terrorism? I thought all of this was gonna stop once we were rid of the Evil BusHitler and recieved the Prophet Obama?

It's the immigration, stooopid. Allow more moooooslims into our country (and the West in general) and enjoy more jihadi attacks, as well as more mosques going up, more push for Sharia Law, more bizarre "wrappings" for women to wear, more ass-backward customs.

Open borders uber alles!  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Sun Dec 27, 02:01:00 PM:

Very good post.

As for the social origins of jihadis, it would be interesting to compare their profiles with those of people who join other cults, such as Scientology or Moonies. I suspect there will be a common tendency to be well off and rather innocent.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 27, 03:30:00 PM:

Don - the difference is, there are not 1.2 billion Moonies or Scientologists. Furthermore, those two groups hardly have anyone in the advocating "death to the West".

Islam is a serious religion with strong political aspects as well. There is not separation between "church(mosque)and state" in Islam. Islam is one's religion but also one's political ideology.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sun Dec 27, 05:08:00 PM:

Comparison to Scientologists and Moonies reveals just what we are dealing with here. Members of those two groups aren't high on most others' list of favorite people but none of them have done anything close to trying to blow up a plane or building full of innocent people. This isn't naive or misguided, this is pure evil.  

By Anonymous Just Because I'm Paranoid ..., at Sun Dec 27, 05:08:00 PM:

There appear to many here who are in Britain or are British. I'd be interested in their reaction to the following. Others here too.

The Provisional IRA (PIRA) ran a campaign against the British for over two decades that often included deliberate acts of terrorism. While the PIRA didn't come close to the one day death toll of 9/11, they made many, many attacks in England and far more in Northern Ireland. They were unlucky not to have assassinated Margaret Thacher in 1984. They also used bomb threats to disrupt London on a frequent basis. On one Sunday morning, they used a massive bomb to blow out every window on Canary Wharf -- a key part of London's financial district.

If you lived in England at the time, I'd bet this was legitimately worrying and often disruptive. It wasn't just London that was hit -- you had exposure anywhere in England. There weren't half a million Catholics in Northern Ireland, and the British had legal jurisdiction -- but PIRA proved a very effective terrorist group.

With this as backdrop, my question is whether we're exaggerating the threat of Islamic jihad terrorism. There's a billion Muslims in the World, and a few million resident in the US, but we've only seen just a few attacks and attempts on US soil. This suggests that the true concern is a much, much smaller number. We're not at War with Islam. Saying we are is inflammatory, and clouds judgment.

Also, if you don't live in NYC, DC or a couple of other places, you have no risk.

I'm not suggesting that there is no threat, nor that we give up on certain things but it strikes me that we've overreacted in the past.

9/11 exposed that the firewall between the CIA and FBI was idiotic. But this recent event shows that the government still hasn't figured out how to act on specific direct warnings.

Yeah, yeah ... we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. When do we invade Yemen?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 27, 05:17:00 PM:

I agree with the comment Gary Rosen made- our collective unwillingness to accept that evil exists and is loose in the world makes it highly unlikely we will make any substantive progress in stopping these attacks. Since it was a miracle this one didn't succeed, it's only a matter of time before the miracles run out. Janet Napolitano thinks everything is just peachy. I wish it were possible to make her fly every week, and then see what she says. Even someone as stupid as she obviously is would sing a different tune then.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Sun Dec 27, 05:28:00 PM:

Don Cox
As for the social origins of jihadis, it would be interesting to compare their profiles with those of people who join other cults, such as Scientology or Moonies. I suspect there will be a common tendency to be well off and rather innocent.

Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog authored Engineers of Jihad . This was a Sociology Working Paper from Oxford.

Abdallah Schleifer, an American Jew now a professor of media studies at the American University in Cairo, converted to Islam in the 1960s and subsequently befriended Zawahiri. When they first met, Zawahiri, then at medical school, gave Schleifer a tour of the campus: “during the tour, Zawahiri proudly pointed out students who were painting posters for political demonstrations, and he boasted that the Islamist movement had found its greatest recruiting success in the university's two most élite faculties—the medical
and engineering schools. ‘Aren't you impressed by that?’ he said” (Wright 2002).......

This means that the share of radical Islamic engineers is no less than nine times greater than the share we could expect if the proneness of engineers to radicalize was the same as that of the male adult population.

This massive over-representation, however, does not tell us whether engineers are
also over-represented among the subset of individuals with higher education: how
many engineers could we expect to become radical if they had the same proneness to
do so as graduates or students in any other subject? If the countries we consider had
an extra-large share of engineers among their total graduates comparable with that in
our sample, our puzzle would evaporate. To address this question we must compare
our results with enrolment rates. The correct term of reference is the data for males,
since all our cases are males and males everywhere have a much higher propensity to
study engineering than females. We managed to obtain detailed higher education data
for all of the important countries in our sample, including MENA countries in 1986-7,
when a substantial share of our men went to university.

Even among male graduates, the over-representation of engineers in our sample is
present for all nationalities (except Saudi Arabia, see below). The average share of
engineers among total male students of twelve relevant countries (table 4), weighted
by the number of cases with higher education per nationality in our sample, is 18.0
per cent, while the ratio of engineers over those with known higher education in our
sample is 43.8 per cent, that is over two and a half times greater .

The Nigerian on the plane was an engineering student from a well-off family.  

By Anonymous Blacque Jacques Shellacque, at Mon Dec 28, 02:48:00 AM:

El Al believes in "searching the person" rather than the person's things.

It always seemed to me that El Al will look for the actual terrorist, while the TSA simply searches for the terrorist's tools.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Dec 28, 06:32:00 AM:

Blacque, I think that is a better formulation than mine, I agree.  

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