(James Jay Carafano)
The Transportation Security Administra tion's move to mix up security procedures on flights is likely to hamper terrorists. But in the end, we need to stop them before they buy their plane tickets.
Terrorists want the security they face to be predictable -- and for the results of their attacks to be predictable. They rehearse, do practice runs, test security and conduct surveillance of airports and airlines. When they attack, they want the results to be successful and spectacular. They must get it right the first time. So any change in security screws them up.
For that reason, it probably makes a lot of sense that the TSA decided after the unsuccessful Christmas Day crotch-bomber incident to let the airlines mix up the security procedures on flights. On some trips, you'll have to stay in your seats. Sometimes, you won't be allowed a blanket for the baby, to use electronic games or type on your laptop. On other flights, pilots will have a whole different list of taboos.
The jumble of security measures will frustrate and confuse many airline passengers -- but it's likely to give al Qaeda pause. Having gotten it wrong and stirred up a hornet's nest of airline security worldwide, it will probably wait a bit before it tries again.
The security "mashup," however, is likely just a short-term fix. The evildoers will eventually figure out how to do an end-run around any security we dish out. America needs a better long-term answer to aviation security.
Likely as not, the Detroit-bound bomber was just a test run, similar to Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe bomber. If al Qaeda thought it had crotch-bombing down to a science, it would've hit a dozen planes at the same time. They'll keep at it till they get it right -- and throwing billions more dollars at airline security won't stop them.
The answer is to stop them before they buy a plane ticket, let alone try to set their pants on fire on an overseas flight. That means more connecting of the dots. The Department of Homeland Security must identify suspicious travelers and keep them off planes or at least make sure they get more scrutiny before their seating zone is called.
Better still, we need effective counterterrorism operations that nab the leaders, break up the organizations, mess up operations, cut off funding and thwart recruiting.
The fact that an international terrorist ring was able to put a plot together and US intelligence knew nothing about it till the stewardess grabbed the fire extinguisher and a passenger had the bomber in a hammer-lock -- well, that's just appalling.
In short, Detroit makes our intelligence, military and law-enforcement efforts to thwart attacks on the homeland look like something from 2001. We were supposed to have come a long way since then. What happened?
In fact, government agencies have thwarted 28 attacks on the homeland since 9/11. But in the last year, the number of aborted strikes has doubled, and in the latest one, we just got lucky.
So for now, buckle up and live with it, passengers. We'll need to remain alert while Washington tries to get its act together.
James Jay Carafano directs the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Stud ies at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).