http://www.salon.com/technology/ask_the_pilot/2010/11/10/airport_security/index.html lists a terrible sequence of terrorist attacks on aeroplanes:
Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane's occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.
While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.
Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.
A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.
Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.
Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.
Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.
That's a pretty macabre fantasy, no? A worst-case war-game scenario for the CIA? A script for the End Times? Except, of course, that everything above actually happened, in a four-year span between 1985 and 1989.
On Bruce Schneier's blog, Steve Pinkham makes an excellent point:
Remember, in the 80s the generation that fought WWII was running the show. We were still in the cold war. We as a society [k]new that the world was perilous, and life was often nasty, brutish, and short.
Americans haven't really been affected by a war since then. We have basically come to think that the world is by and large a safe place, and that we are invulnerable. We are not. Our irrational desire to return to that belief is what gives us out irrational security policy. Well, at least what lets the public put up with it until too now, much of our policy is simply political butt-covering.
Yes, we must all accept some risk. It's an imperfect universe, and the sooner we learn to deal with acceptable risk we will be better off.
Why do we still focus on airports? Other than the fact that the queues for security checks are longer (and therefore more attractive targets), let's not forget the 7/7 London bombings on buses - we did not add any extra security to buses, that would be ludicrous. We accept the risk as minimal, and get on with life. Despite being as open a target as it ever was, nobody has bombed London buses since 7/7. As Pinkham says above, "we must all accept some risk."
There is no life without risk.
We must accept that there was risk before 9/11, there is risk after 9/11, but nothing really changed. Yes, we fly more than we used to, and using hijacking as a weapon, not a means of transport, was new (though already envisaged by the CIA), but nothing really changed in 9/11, just that (like the planet of Krikket, for fans of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) nobody had ever attacked the mainland USA before, other than the Pearl Harbour attack which prompted them to join the Second World War.
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