Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

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Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby jason11 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:11 pm UTC

I was curious what everyone on xkcd thinks of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight landing in detroit on christmas day.

I see it as a resounding success for the additional security that's been put in place by the TSA since 9/11/2001. All the additional security is the only reason that terrorist was carrying an extremely small binary explosive and that is what prevented damage to the airplane and all the people on it.

This guy wanted to blow up the plane and if the security wasn't in place at the airports the way it is today, that guy could have easily walked onto the plane with more and easier to use explosives to cause massive damage to everyone if it didn't destroy the airplane as well.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby EMTP » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:47 pm UTC

This seems like a News & Articles thread. In fact it would surprise me if there weren't such a thread over there.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby jason11 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:57 pm UTC

My apologies if it's more fit for the News fora. I was wanting to discuss the attack in relation to airport security whether it worked well, were there better ways to do it or if it had failed in some ways and I thought that that "Serious Business" would be an appropriate place for it.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Spudgun » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:55 am UTC

Airport security that allows someone to carry on such a device in the first place isn't something that "works well", in my opinion.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Dec 28, 2009 12:57 am UTC

Indeed, and who says that this bomb was actually limited in size by the security measures? Certainly not Bruce Schneier.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Azrael » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:05 am UTC

The only thing that would even come close to preventing all problems is full volumetric scans of all checked & carry on luggage (or simply disallowing carry on...) and replacing the metal detectors with one of the various body-scanning technologies available. And even then, someone with a large enough colon could still hide a debilitating device.

Short of that, your only hope is that the measures being taken reduce the ability of the less sophisticated terrorists to do anything damaging enough. Which is certainly a valid strategy, although one that encompasses more risk than the average passenger is really willing to admit they're faced with.

But the latest restrictions spawned certainly do not do that -- they're knee-jerk reactions put in place solely so that there is some reaction at all, by an agency that knows what the alternatives are, but can't convince anyone (even themselves) to pay for it.

It took 9/11 to get the US government to require that your checked baggage is volumetric scanned...

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:15 am UTC

jason11 wrote:All the additional security is the only reason that terrorist was carrying an extremely small binary explosive

So he was protesting the security measures?
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Storyteller » Mon Dec 28, 2009 8:59 am UTC

I think that it's very hard to discuss what worked / did not work in this case because we don't have any sort of a control subject to test it against. The best we can really do is take lots and lots of data from the current systems, and study what correlation there is between changes in security standards and safety, and even then our best option is still only to assume that there is some sort of a relationship between those measures and the changes observed. (e.g. Security "limiting" the size of the explosives smuggled aboard.)

I think that the fact that a passenger was allowed on a plane with an explosive that failed to cause the harm intended is a show of failure on his part, and not of success by the airline security. Obviously screening didn't stop him from entering the plane, nor did it remove his weapon from him. I think this would be the same as watching a criminal's gun jam during an attack and thanking the police for being on scene.

If the US is really serious about security I think they need to emulate an airline that consistently deals with, and defeats threats, such as El-Al does. The biggest issue I see coming from action like that is the political uproar over practices like profiling that are used in their security that will undoubtedly follow.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Mokele » Mon Dec 28, 2009 3:29 pm UTC

Honestly, airline security is still pretty much a joke. At the end of some recent fieldwork, a senior professor who we'll call M was re-packing his carry-on bag in order to fit more stuff in it. Upon emptying it, he discovered a large scalpel handle and 4 fresh blades, which had apparently made it through airport security as carry-on luggage at least 4 times (based on when he remembered last emptying the bag).


Any system (computer, government, airline, etc.) must find a balance between security and usability. Too secure, and you make the system useless or intolerably frustrating, Too usable, and security fails more than is acceptable. People, of course, don't want to hear this - they want to believe they can be comfortable, unhindered, and yet perfectly safe. But the fact of the matter is that the more draconian security measures the airlines take, the more people will just drive, take a bus, or take a train for anything that doesn't mean crossing an ocean.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby BlackSails » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:46 pm UTC

We should move to an El Al security model instead of the TSA model. Interview the passengers. If they raise any red flags, you empty their bags and interview them some more. TSA just makes up more and more ridiculous things, like no liquids on a plane. Never mind that a few terrorists on the same flight could each bring their fluid allowance full of liquid explosives on board the flight and pool it, or that there are plenty of solid explosives that work perfectly well.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby achan1058 » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:47 pm UTC

Mokele wrote:Any system (computer, government, airline, etc.) must find a balance between security and usability. Too secure, and you make the system useless or intolerably frustrating, Too usable, and security fails more than is acceptable. People, of course, don't want to hear this - they want to believe they can be comfortable, unhindered, and yet perfectly safe. But the fact of the matter is that the more draconian security measures the airlines take, the more people will just drive, take a bus, or take a train for anything that doesn't mean crossing an ocean.
That is untrue. You can get both of them, if you are willing to trade in privacy. The new scanner system in UK which is being protested against so hard is one such system.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8303983.stm

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Azrael » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:54 pm UTC

achan1058 wrote:
Mokele wrote:Any system (computer, government, airline, etc.) must find a balance between security and usability. Too secure, and you make the system useless or intolerably frustrating, Too usable, and security fails more than is acceptable. People, of course, don't want to hear this - they want to believe they can be comfortable, unhindered, and yet perfectly safe. But the fact of the matter is that the more draconian security measures the airlines take, the more people will just drive, take a bus, or take a train for anything that doesn't mean crossing an ocean.
That is untrue. You can get both of them, if you are willing to trade in privacy. The new scanner system in UK which is being protested against so hard is one such system.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8303983.stm

Those aren't new -- the TSA first piloted such whole body systems starting in roughly 2005 at several airports, raising the same privacy concerns. Both backscatter and millimeter wave personnel scanners have been commercialized for quite some time. Beyond the privacy issue, and (depending on technology) the dose issues, the next major stumbling block is scan time -- although all three of those can be mitigated if only selectees are scanned, as is the case at several major airports where the units are currently in service.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Storyteller » Mon Dec 28, 2009 6:41 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:We should move to an El Al security model instead of the TSA model. Interview the passengers. If they raise any red flags, you empty their bags and interview them some more. TSA just makes up more and more ridiculous things, like no liquids on a plane. Never mind that a few terrorists on the same flight could each bring their fluid allowance full of liquid explosives on board the flight and pool it, or that there are plenty of solid explosives that work perfectly well.


It's more complicated than that, sadly. Israel doesn't deal with the huge volume of flights that America does, nor does it have many flights within the country itself. Americans depend on flights to travel from city to city, and that's a whole new forum of issues that Israelis have not needed to deal with. They're just not similar enough to copy-paste. We certainly could learn a lot from them though.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Mokele » Mon Dec 28, 2009 8:43 pm UTC

achan1058 wrote:
Mokele wrote:Any system (computer, government, airline, etc.) must find a balance between security and usability. Too secure, and you make the system useless or intolerably frustrating, Too usable, and security fails more than is acceptable. People, of course, don't want to hear this - they want to believe they can be comfortable, unhindered, and yet perfectly safe. But the fact of the matter is that the more draconian security measures the airlines take, the more people will just drive, take a bus, or take a train for anything that doesn't mean crossing an ocean.
That is untrue. You can get both of them, if you are willing to trade in privacy. The new scanner system in UK which is being protested against so hard is one such system.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8303983.stm


That comes under "usability" - the more privacy people must give up in order to use a system, the smaller the percentage of the population that's willing to make that trade, especially when it's something so deeply personal.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby EMTP » Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:23 am UTC

Since this is SB, perhaps we could look at some numbers, via a great post at FiveThirtyEight:
Spoiler:
Not going to do any editorializing here; just going to do some non-fancy math. James Joyner asks:

There have been precisely three attempts over the last eight years to commit acts of terrorism aboard commercial aircraft. All of them clownishly inept and easily thwarted by the passengers. How many tens of thousands of flights have been incident free?

Let's expand Joyner's scope out to the past decade. Over the past decade, there have been, by my count, six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner than landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics provides a wealth of statistical information on air traffic. For this exercise, I will look at both domestic flights within the US, and international flights whose origin or destination was within the United States. I will not look at flights that transported cargo and crew only. I will look at flights spanning the decade from October 1999 through September 2009 inclusive (the BTS does not yet have data available for the past couple of months).

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Again, no editorializing (for now). These are just the numbers.


http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/ ... error.html

If we take 7 billion flyers (rounding), and assume 30 minutes per flight for the extra security, and we value that time at $15 per hour, we get a price point for the extra security of $52.5 billion. Let's assume without the TSA measures all those on flights where there were terrorist incidents would have been killed (674), plus a few more, for rounding: 1,050 people, or fifty million dollars worth of time per life saved. We could probably find ways to use our time that would be considering more effective at preserving life.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby hidden.ips » Tue Dec 29, 2009 4:38 am UTC

EMTP wrote:Since this is SB, perhaps we could look at some numbers, via a great post at FiveThirtyEight:
Spoiler:
Not going to do any editorializing here; just going to do some non-fancy math. James Joyner asks:

There have been precisely three attempts over the last eight years to commit acts of terrorism aboard commercial aircraft. All of them clownishly inept and easily thwarted by the passengers. How many tens of thousands of flights have been incident free?

Let's expand Joyner's scope out to the past decade. Over the past decade, there have been, by my count, six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner than landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics provides a wealth of statistical information on air traffic. For this exercise, I will look at both domestic flights within the US, and international flights whose origin or destination was within the United States. I will not look at flights that transported cargo and crew only. I will look at flights spanning the decade from October 1999 through September 2009 inclusive (the BTS does not yet have data available for the past couple of months).

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Again, no editorializing (for now). These are just the numbers.


http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/ ... error.html

If we take 7 billion flyers (rounding), and assume 30 minutes per flight for the extra security, and we value that time at $15 per hour, we get a price point for the extra security of $52.5 billion. Let's assume without the TSA measures all those on flights where there were terrorist incidents would have been killed (674), plus a few more, for rounding: 1,050 people, or fifty million dollars worth of time per life saved. We could probably find ways to use our time that would be considering more effective at preserving life.

I don't think you can reduce this to a numbers game.

Terrorist attacks are political tools meant to send an international message, that the US (in this case) isn't impenetrable or untouchable. A successful attack has far greater meaning beyond the number of lives lost. It's embarrassing and it taints the country's international image. I agree there is definately a lot of fear mongering surrounding air travel but, politically speaking, a plane blown up by a group of terrorists if far more devastating than a plane that's crashed due to malfunctions. Which explains why there is a seemingly disproportionate amount of research and funding going into preventing these attacks.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby EMTP » Tue Dec 29, 2009 7:49 am UTC

hidden.ips wrote:I don't think you can reduce this to a numbers game.


But you do, at some point, have to figure out how much you're willing to give up -- of your time, of your money, of your freedom -- chasing perfect safety.

I agree there is definately a lot of fear mongering surrounding air travel but, politically speaking, a plane blown up by a group of terrorists if far more devastating than a plane that's crashed due to malfunctions. Which explains why there is a seemingly disproportionate amount of research and funding going into preventing these attacks.


I think it's more likely to be explained by recall bias -- the tendency of people to grossly overrate the likelihood of vivid, dramatic, violent events -- from terror attacks to child abductions.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Storyteller » Tue Dec 29, 2009 3:35 pm UTC

EMTP wrote:Numbers.


Please correct your math if you want to play with numbers.

Don't play with fire. 'Cause you never win. -Az

1. The post only lists only the attacks that took place. This is an incomplete picture of the threat. Acts can be thwarted before they are set into motion, or before they board a plane. To give an accurate number, and value, for the actual number of attacks you would need to know how many threats were mitigated by security before they were realized and the projected cost of each of those attacks.

2. The post fails to include the cost of every effect of an attack. It approaches from the angle that only those killed in the attacks are effected, this is blatantly untrue. The entire point of the attack is to generate fear in the general populace. A number would need to be generated of the estimated cost of economic effect of these attacks; not to mention simple costs like therapy and personal spending on 'security'.

3. There is a general issue with the entire problem in that it assigns the value to human life as 1:1. This is a fallacy. Someone dying from heart disease and someone dying from murder are two entirely separate events, and they entail entirely different complications. You said; "We could probably find ways to use our time that would be considering more effective at preserving life." Is that to say that you shouldn't try to work toward bettering a situation when it's not the optimal investment?

"I'm sorry we couldn't save your life, sir. It's just that you're just not a very sound investment. So we've taken our money to another broker."
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby BlackSails » Tue Dec 29, 2009 4:59 pm UTC

Fine, so you still want airline security. Take all the money we are spending on it and spend it on things that make sense. You will never stop a terrorist by banning items on a flight, until you get to the point where everyone flies naked and without carry on luggage.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Mokele » Tue Dec 29, 2009 8:13 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:Fine, so you still want airline security. Take all the money we are spending on it and spend it on things that make sense. You will never stop a terrorist by banning items on a flight, until you get to the point where everyone flies naked and without carry on luggage.


Even then, there are still "inventive" hiding places. With a bit of "training", someone could easily smuggle something the size of a hand grenade, or larger.

I think, however, it's probably best not to go into further details on this line of thought.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby scikidus » Wed Dec 30, 2009 12:29 am UTC

Mokele wrote:
BlackSails wrote:Fine, so you still want airline security. Take all the money we are spending on it and spend it on things that make sense. You will never stop a terrorist by banning items on a flight, until you get to the point where everyone flies naked and without carry on luggage.


Even then, there are still "inventive" hiding places. With a bit of "training", someone could easily smuggle something the size of a hand grenade, or larger.

I think, however, it's probably best not to go into further details on this line of thought.

Please don't. BlackSails, related to your point, TSA is now looking into x-ray backscatter technology. The technique reveals anything and everything hidden on the body. Pro: weapons will not get through. Con: someone sees you naked. The article I linked does mention that non-flesh shows up differently on the image than flesh, so that makes me hopeful that some programming could examine the images in place of people.

And once more we launch into the "privacy versus security" debate.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Mokele » Wed Dec 30, 2009 1:32 am UTC

Actually, I'm strongly opposed to installing X-ray backscatter technology for another reason - X-ray dosage. I already work around pretty strong X-rays on a fairly frequent basis, and would prefer *not* to increase my already substantial annual radiation dose.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby amyweaver29 » Wed Dec 30, 2009 4:05 am UTC

It is good enough that such an attack was prevented. Measures should be taken seriously to thwart any such attempts in the future.

I am also thinking that is not only the business of the security personnel in any airports, ports, bus terminals, churches, and public places to secure the place to safety but also our business. It is everybody's business to make our place safe and peaceful. No matter how sophisticated our security technologies are, there will always be some folks who are going to breach them. Ours, the laymen, is to be vigilant. Report anything suspicious and don't be a party to such activities.

Anyone heard of the massacre in Mindanao, Philippines? Those are not terrorist nor rebel attacks. But, such has caused so much lives. Thankfully, though, there are people coming in the open to help shed light.

Such and many other acts in that manner, terroristic or not, could have been prevented if we are vigilant and not compromising. That's what I am thinking.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby zombie_monkey » Wed Dec 30, 2009 8:39 am UTC

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/29/pa ... che-l.html

Someone dug up some of his postings on an islamic internet forum.

Farouk1986 wrote: :( Basically, the problem I'm having is that I've been having extreme loneliness...for many years. I don't really know what to do because I'm not the type who likes to go out much, and I'm just shy and quiet. Even on the internet, I don't feel comfortable posting much because it exposes myself. Sometimes people are so mean.

So I'm trying to figure out what to do. I just wish I had someone to give me attention and stuff. I wish I had someone who would be there to listen to me, and always be nice to me. It really hurts to have someone neglect me or be mean. Unfortunately, a weakness of mine is that I'm sensitive, but I think I became more sensitive after something bad happened some years ago.

I wish I had at least one nice person to talk to, maybe over e-mail or Messenger. Of course, if I could find someone to marry, then Insha'Allah I would have someone in real life to give me all the attention and affection I wanted. So far, the families we've met aren't interested in me, though.


Sound pretty typical. The serious analyses I've read show that they mainly recruit people who feel alienated form society and what motivates them is no particular cause but a sense of belonging, of having a social group.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Azrael » Wed Dec 30, 2009 12:14 pm UTC

Mokele wrote:Actually, I'm strongly opposed to installing X-ray backscatter technology for another reason - X-ray dosage. I already work around pretty strong X-rays on a fairly frequent basis, and would prefer *not* to increase my already substantial annual radiation dose.

The dosage is actually lower than what you get during the flight. I'll find a citation somewhere beyond "I design them".

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby scikidus » Wed Dec 30, 2009 4:27 pm UTC

Update: Dutch to use full-body scans for U.S. flights
Spoiler:
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport will begin using body scanners on all passengers taking flights to the United States following the attempted terrorist attack on a U.S.-bound flight on Christmas Day, the Dutch interior minister said Wednesday.

The millimeter-wave body scanners will be in place in about three weeks, Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst told a news conference at The Hague.

"We've escaped a very serious attack with serious consequences, but unfortunately in this world there are individuals who do not shy away from attacks on innocent people," she said.

Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, 23, is accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane going from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, with explosives that had been concealed in his underwear. He is charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

The militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the December 25 plot.

Dutch authorities have already said they were confident in the security measures that were carried out when AbdulMutallab transferred to the Detroit flight from an earlier flight from Nigeria.

The measures they had in place were metal detectors and X-ray machines, however -- and ter Horst admitted they could not have picked up the explosive material that AbdulMutallab was allegedly carrying.

"The introduction of these body scanners would certainly have helped in detecting that he was carrying something on his body," she said. "We know that metal detection does not help to detect non-metal explosives, and these millimeter-wave scanners can do this, which would mean that this would be an improvement."

One passenger on same plane as AbdulMutallab told CNN's "Larry King Live" that the security checks at Schiphol were not as stringent as those she is used to in the United States.

"We walked through and did not have to take our shoes off," said Wisconsin native Richelle Keepman. "Also, my mother had a water bottle in her bag that she'd completely forgotten about. And it went right through and we didn't realize it until we were on the plane."

Ter Horst acknowledged that the systems currently in place are "not watertight," which is why the body scanners are being introduced.

As to privacy concerns -- namely that the scanners could pick up private features of a person's body -- ter Horst said the scan results would first go through a computer, which would then flag any suspicious items to a human.

The scanners will be permanent at Schiphol, and any passengers bound for the United States who do not go through them will be bodysearched, ter Horst said.

Erik Akerboom, the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism, said part of the investigation is looking at whether the explosives were brought into Schiphol by someone else, for AbdulMutallab to pick up later.

Dutch authorities are also looking into who he was in touch with while at Schiphol awaiting his connecting flight. They are combing surveillance camera footage from the connections hall, Akerboom said.

AbdulMutallab was traveling on an Italian passport, Akerboom said, without elaborating.

Asked about reports that AbdulMutallab paid for his ticket in cash and was flying only with hand luggage, Akerboom said neither would have necessarily raised any alarms.

"There are several travelers who do this," he said.

AbdulMutallab's name had come to the attention of U.S. authorities before the attack, sources have told CNN in recent days.

His father talked twice about his son's extremist views with at least one CIA representative at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and a report was prepared, but the report was not circulated outside the agency, a reliable source told CNN's Jeanne Meserve on Tuesday.

Had that critical information been shared, the man might have been denied passage on the flight, the source said.

A U.S. intelligence official said AbdulMutallab's name, passport number and possible connection to extremists were indeed disseminated. But the official added, "I'm not aware of a magic piece of intelligence -- somehow withheld -- that would have put AbdulMutallab on the no-fly list."

CIA spokesman George Little defended the agency's actions regarding AbdulMutallab, but also said the agency is reviewing data to ascertain whether more could have been done.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said department staff did what they were supposed to by sending a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington about the matter. Kelly said any decision to have revoked the suspect's visa would have been an interagency decision.

Ter Horst said Dutch authorities did not know that AbdulMutallab had raised any security flags, and she called for a global watchlist for all suspect travelers in the future.


And a video to watch as well.

From that video it seems like the computer already processes the scans for abnormalities and displays those abnormalities as locations on a dawn outline, not on the actual scans. If so, what's the privacy concern? All the attendant sees is where you have stuff on your person, not what you look like naked.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Azrael » Wed Dec 30, 2009 5:18 pm UTC

The back-end hardware sees you naked, and reconstructs you naked. It's only front-end software that does the image processing that displays you (depending on the manufacturer) in any other state. While the commercialized product might have that filtering installed, anyone with any hardware or security experience knows that a) it can be shut off and b) the government will want to do so, in order to get the best images possible.

Other complaints centers around making sure nothing is done with the pre-filtered images at all, that post-filtered images are not stored nor are they (except in the case of threats) tied in any way to the passenger in a non-anonymous fashion. The other issue being that even the best of the post-processing software will still pick up body piercings, cosmetic surgery implants, and most musculo-skeletal repairs -- things we generally consider to be private.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby stevey_frac » Thu Dec 31, 2009 6:46 pm UTC

I think with respect to the who nakedness/privacy issue, people in health care deal with it all the time. And we trust that the nurses and doctors will maintain privacy. What's wrong with having some people in a closed room review images and just flagging them as 'suspicious thing on this person'. The security then pull this person aside for further scrutiny, and all others go through. It is, in my mind, far more impersonal and less embarrassing then being patted down.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby EMTP » Thu Dec 31, 2009 9:12 pm UTC

[snip]

Storyteller wrote:Acts can be thwarted before they are set into motion, or before they board a plane. To give an accurate number, and value, for the actual number of attacks you would need to know how many threats were mitigated by security before they were realized and the projected cost of each of those attacks.


You can change any one of the estimates I provided by a factor of ten and the calculations still support my point: that we're paying a lot of money for what is, by all indications, a marginal increase in safety.

The calculations also included pessimistic assumptions, such as that everyone on the planes in question would have died (plus a few hundred more I rounded up). Given the incompetence of the bomb-makers in each case, that's a very generous assumption.

2. The post fails to include the cost of every effect of an attack. It approaches from the angle that only those killed in the attacks are effected, this is blatantly untrue. The entire point of the attack is to generate fear in the general populace.


Of course, that implies that you need to factor in the cost of the fear created by the security measures themselves, by the publication of threat levels and the eternal calls for vigilance, etc.

3. There is a general issue with the entire problem in that it assigns the value to human life as 1:1. This is a fallacy. Someone dying from heart disease and someone dying from murder are two entirely separate events, and they entail entirely different complications.


Silly me, valuing human life equally like that. Clearly it's much better to lose 10 kids to accidental shootings than one to a terror attack.

Seriously, though, you are not making much sense here. Everything is different from everything else, but you haven't made any persuasive case that a person lost in a terror attack is a greater tragedy than a person lost to a heart attack. Dead is dead.

You said; "We could probably find ways to use our time that would be considering more effective at preserving life." Is that to say that you shouldn't try to work toward bettering a situation when it's not the optimal investment?

"I'm sorry we couldn't save your life, sir. It's just that you're just not a very sound investment. So we've taken our money to another broker."


Please, I have that conversation on a daily basis. You know how many times I've had to explain to an alcoholic that he wouldn't be listed for a liver transplant? Or been there when the surgeon explained that somebody's son or daughter or wife or husband was so sick that they couldn't get the surgery that is there only chance in the long run because it would kill them in the short term?

People who are actually in the business of saving lives have to live with the fact the resources are finite and need to be directed where they can do the most good.

Prodding the newbie just hard enough to avoid purple text, and then reporting him when he inevitably escalates his response is not particularly impressive. Don't make this a habit. -Az
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Storyteller » Fri Jan 01, 2010 12:54 am UTC

Quote sniping: It's not effective nor do I put up with it. Please be sure to read the SB rule at your earliest convenience and in the future, participate in a more meaningful fashion. -Az

[snip]


Also;


stevey_frac wrote:I think with respect to the who nakedness/privacy issue, people in health care deal with it all the time. And we trust that the nurses and doctors will maintain privacy. What's wrong with having some people in a closed room review images and just flagging them as 'suspicious thing on this person'. The security then pull this person aside for further scrutiny, and all others go through. It is, in my mind, far more impersonal and less embarrassing then being patted down.


The issues comes up when the party looking at you nude is a government controlled entity that has a history of perceived privacy infringement (see: phone tapping) rather than a private practice who has, presumably, no ulterior motive. People still have issues trusting doctors; this is to be expected. (Anything, and I mean anything, funded by the government gets a huge tinfoil hat following.)
Last edited by Storyteller on Fri Jan 01, 2010 1:00 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Vaniver » Fri Jan 01, 2010 10:50 am UTC

hidden.ips wrote:I don't think you can reduce this to a numbers game.
All policies are numbers games, or they are irrational and most likely wasteful.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby drunken » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:26 am UTC

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8441891.stm

This is partly relevant to the discussion and is also very funny.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby dedalus » Thu Jan 07, 2010 5:45 am UTC

@EMPT:
To be honest, I think you'd need to do a bit more before you dismiss the flaws that Storyteller points out as making only a 10x difference. Most certainly the 1st point wouldn't be that large, but in terms of the actual cost of successful attacks, I'm pretty sure that wars have been started over successful terrorist attacks, and they're pretty costly. The main thing is that when someone is murdered, you don't just talk about the cost of the human life, but also the cost of achieving justice for the death, and in reality from a political view you don't just want an arbitrary form of justice but the perception of justice, which is often quite expensive to achieve when the people you're trying to get at are in another country. So for example, not only does September 11 bring with it the cost of the destruction of the twin towers and the lives of all the people killed, but you'd also need to attribute part of the cost of the wars in the middle East to it, and the cost of finding Bin Laden.

Also, a massive assumption you're making is that the bomb-makers aren't developing in technology. Plenty of people have described their attacks as incompetent (yourself included), and plenty others have staged fairly sophisticated ways of planning better attacks, and I'd dare say it's only time that this sophistication occurs with the terrorist attacks.

Thirdly, you said that the security measures cause fear, when I'd say enhanced security measures make people feel... secure? It's not like they're unaware of the perceived dangers of terrorism before they get to the airport.

And finally, you didn't do anything to address Storyteller's point no.3, despite claims that you did. There's a big difference between losing a child to a preventable shooting then an 60 year old to a disease that, at its very best, science could only promise an extra 2-3 years of life to. It's not a difference in 'what does this money prevent', it's 'what does this money provide'.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby fjafjan » Thu Jan 07, 2010 5:20 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Mokele wrote:Actually, I'm strongly opposed to installing X-ray backscatter technology for another reason - X-ray dosage. I already work around pretty strong X-rays on a fairly frequent basis, and would prefer *not* to increase my already substantial annual radiation dose.

The dosage is actually lower than what you get during the flight. I'll find a citation somewhere beyond "I design them".

How much less though? Because if it's the same order of magnitude it would for people that fly a lot still constitute a meassurable increase in radiation and considering how marginally less secure this system makes us it's most likely a bad trade-off. So in other words if it's 2% of flight dosage, probably worth it, if it's 20% it's arguably not.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Azrael » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:23 pm UTC

fjafjan wrote:How much less though?

Our system falls into the <10 u-rem (1x10^-5) per scan [per ANSI N43.17 -- the same standard other manufacturers are going to follow, so results are apt to be industry typical]. Commercial airline flight is about .3 m-rem per hour (3x10^-4). So even for flights of only 1 hour, it's a factor of 30x less and a fairly typical flight would subject you 100x more radiation than the scan.

2-5 m-rem for cross-country flight in US
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby EMTP » Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:30 am UTC

dedalus wrote:@EMPT:
To be honest, I think you'd need to do a bit more before you dismiss the flaws that Storyteller points out as making only a 10x difference.


Storyteller did not actually demonstrate any flaws with my model; he merely asserted that the model didn't capture all the variables or weigh them correctly, but he neither offered any evidence for that nor presented a model of his own.

It ought to be self-evident that a calculation of that kind requires a lot of rough estimates. I think mine were pretty good, and the result was pretty robust.

Most certainly the 1st point wouldn't be that large, but in terms of the actual cost of successful attacks, I'm pretty sure that wars have been started over successful terrorist attacks, and they're pretty costly. The main thing is that when someone is murdered, you don't just talk about the cost of the human life, but also the cost of achieving justice for the death, and in reality from a political view you don't just want an arbitrary form of justice but the perception of justice, which is often quite expensive to achieve when the people you're trying to get at are in another country.


So you want to factor into the calculation of cost the possibility our leadership will declare war on some tempting target using the attack as an excuse? Interesting.

I don't know what value you are assigning "the cost of achieving justice for the death," but most of the terror plots we have discovered over the past eight years have seen the network in question rolled up swiftly. You cannot factor in the cost of war with al-Queda, given that we are already at war with al-Queda and additional attacks will not change that.

Also, a massive assumption you're making is that the bomb-makers aren't developing in technology.


I made no such assumption. What are you basing this on? Are you suggesting that by wasting lots of time and money now, we will be better prepared for a paradigm shift in the future? The opposite is usually true. The more heavily one is invested in the current technology, the more it costs to abandon it and the more difficult it is to shift paradigms. An expensive and time-wasting "Maginot Line" of airport security is precisely the kind of enterprise shifting technologies and strategies regularly make a mockery of.

Thirdly, you said that the security measures cause fear, when I'd say enhanced security measures make people feel... secure? It's not like they're unaware of the perceived dangers of terrorism before they get to the airport.


Certainly they cause fear. Elaborate precautions and constant warnings always amp up public apprehension, whether the issue is terrorism or drugs or teens having sex.

And finally, you didn't do anything to address Storyteller's point no.3, despite claims that you did. There's a big difference between losing a child to a preventable shooting then an 60 year old to a disease that, at its very best, science could only promise an extra 2-3 years of life to. It's not a difference in 'what does this money prevent', it's 'what does this money provide'.


What you are saying here is simply cant. Losing a child to disease is every bit as terrible as losing them to a terrorist attack (why you introduce the straw man of a 60yo, I have no idea; obviously adults can die in terror attacks and children can succumb to disease). Playing with your verb changes nothing: whether we are "preventing" or "providing," the cost-benefit analysis is of critical importance.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby dedalus » Mon Jan 11, 2010 5:38 am UTC

Ummm, actually he *did* point out a few flaws: You didn't take into account all the attacks, you didn't take into account the real cost of a successful attack (or a partially successful attack, and you didn't take into account the fact that you can't simply staple a numeric value to a human life. They're all pretty big flaws with a model. And I don't think any of his arguments needed backing up with hard facts, because he was pointing out flaws with your reasoning, not with your data. If you'd made a decent attempt at rebuttal rather then dismissal and ridicule, then he might have had to provide some hard evidence, like the number of failed terrorist attacks, but I'd doubt any of those figures would exist.

Your estimates may have been fine, but there's assumptions you made that weren't. They've been pointed out. You're free to assert them using reason, but I haven't seen that yet.

I think it's perfectly appropriate to factor in the cost of all repercussions of a successful terrorist attack when you're talking about the cost the terrorist attack has on the nation. And considering the fact that I would argue 9/11 was the primary cause of the hunt for Bin Laden and the war in Afghanistan, I would say at least part of the cost of both of those should be tagged onto the 9/11 bill. Oh and the $900 million cost of the WTC.

You make the assumption that bomb-makers aren't improving in technology when you apply a static variable to the number of successful attacks. Why do you think that just because X dollars only prevented Y bombings up to now, cutting funding would still only allow the same number of bombings? To be precise, you're using numbers after the increase in security to try to place a value on the security, rather then using numbers about when the security didn't exist.

You compared a terrorist attack to heart disease, and we lose more old people to heart disease. More importantly, again, is that if we lost that child to heart disease, and modern technology could only give them 2-3 more years of life, then it's better to spend that money preventing the child lost to terrorism, because they have much more time ahead of them. Note that I'm not saying funds for medicine should go to anti-terrorism, anything but (simply because medicine helps more people then anti-terrorist measures do), but you can't just equate lives together, especially when one mightn't be able to be saved.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby MEGAMANTROTSKY » Mon Jan 11, 2010 8:18 pm UTC

Dear all,

I have read the discussion on the attempted "Christmas bombings" up to this point and while I'm glad that the topic exists at all, I believe that there are gravely serious matters that are not being considered. Namely, the role of the US government in the many unanswered questions regarding this incident have not been addressed in the slightest. The contradictions are to referenced from this article and others: http://wsws.org/articles/2010/jan2010/bomb-j04.shtml

How can the Obama administration's explanation for this massive intelligence failure be explained? In their words, they made a mistake of not "connecting the dots". Given the following facts, their explanation strains credibility past the breaking point:

-In May, the British government withdrew its student visa for Nigerian native Umar Abdulmutallab, barring him from entering the country. In addition to this, he was put on a watch list.
-In August, US intelligence agencies learned of Al Qaeda discussions of an operation concerning the use of a “Nigerian.”
-On November 19, the father of Abdulmutallab visited the US embassy in Abuja and told State Department and CIA personnel that his son had fallen under the influence of radical Islamists, and broken off contact with his family. He was reported to have joined up with these reactionary elements in Yemen.
-Based on the father’s report, State Department and CIA officers at the embassy informed Washington on November 20 and a security file was opened on Abdulmutallab at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.
-On December 16, Abdulmutallab visited a ticket office in Ghana and paid $2,831 in cash for a ticket on a Northwest Airlines flight from Lagos through Amsterdam to Detroit, landing on Christmas Day.
-On December 25, Abdulmutallab boarded the flight in Amsterdam with only a carry-on bag for a trans-Atlantic journey. Following standard procedure, the US Department of Homeland Security was notified at least an hour before departure that he was a passenger on the flight.

Given this information, any such explanation regarding the failure of picture-book puzzles should be met with serious skepticism. With the number of security measures that have already been put in place, it seems impossible that the perpetrator bypassed all of these checkpoints undetected. In all likelihood, Abdulmutallab's boarding Northwest Flight 253 was consciously allowed by American intelligence. Of course, the operative question is why. What possible reason would impel the CIA or their cohorts to allow this near-disaster? Some possibilities are fuzzy, with little evidence to support them, but there is an immediate reason, given to the extent that it's been documented: the escalation of invasive, police-state measures not only for the sake of strengthening American imperialism, but for those European countries who support the so-called "War on Terror." This is expounded upon by this article: http://wsws.org/articles/2010/jan2010/secu-j09.shtml

The enthusiastic response of European leaders, including that of French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, as well as Mussolini-sympathizing Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, cannot therefore be regarded as a coincidence. It will mean the escalation of Patriot-Actesque powers, with more "stringent" control on immigration being only the tip of the iceberg. While the corporate media has typically parroted the claims of the US government regarding aircraft security's failure, the only real victims that have met death in this tawdry affair are democratic rights.

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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby Storyteller » Mon Jan 11, 2010 9:05 pm UTC

@MEGAMANTROTSKY - Doesn't that seem a little "loose-change-ish" to you? I think you need to bring supporting evidence of some of the conspiratorial actions rather than just circumstantial evidence before they can be taken seriously.
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Re: Terrorist attack on northwest airlines

Postby MEGAMANTROTSKY » Mon Jan 11, 2010 9:53 pm UTC

Dear Storyteller,

For me to respond properly to your post, I wish that you provide exactly which details you find "loose-change-ish." I don't see how any of the previously mentioned points can be contradicted; if anything, only the government's account of what transpired seems "circumstantial" and therefore compromised. I believe the evidence speaks for itself, namely that the US government's explanation is not the truth. I should have been more clear about that. If by "supporting evidence" you mean a smoking gun, I cannot satisfy. To support the Obama administration's official explanation, however, is an insult to human intelligence.

If the problem, suggested by the "connecting the dots" metaphor was really the truth, it would imply that all of the data on Abdulmutallab was scattered across the intelligence apparatus, in which "each piece of data, taken separately, is not incriminating" and that only if the information was contained in an air-tight box would there be a "sinister pattern" to be read by agents. But the points listed in my previous post would be highly suspect to any "anti-terror" organization, especially given the fact that the youth's father was concerned enough to make follow-up calls to the CIA about his son's zealous alliances. To ignore such indicators suggests inaction, not mere incompetence. Taking such an explanation at face value would be tantamount to admitting that the US government had an even greater intelligence failure than 9/11. Two such massive mistakes, over the course of only nine years, in the backdrop of continuous funds for the illegal Middle Eastern war, nationwide wiretapping dubiously approved by secret courts, memos condoning legal subterfuge in regards to torture? Explaining away such actions in this political context would be very difficult, if not impossible.

If you have any further questions on the matter, I won't hesitate in discussing them in depth.

The quotes above are in reference to this article: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/jan20 ... -j08.shtml

Edit: missing a hyphen in quoting Storyteller.


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