Thursday, July 21, 2005
What We Have Here Is A Failure To Imaginate
DC officials have a rather silly idea about how to deal with potential suicide bombers in the Metro stations: random backpack searches:
    Subway riders may face random police checks of their bags under a security measure being considered in the nation's capital, the latest city to look for ways to deter terrorism on rail systems.

    No decision has been made on the idea for the city's 106-mile Metrorail system, and the logistics would be difficult. But “it would be another tool in our security toolbox,” says Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
All right, class, let's hit the highlights of how this would not work:
  • If the random searches occur in crowded stations or, heaven forfend, crowded trains, what's the difference of detonating the backpack on schedule or when the Metro cop says, "Hey, you!"? Not much to a suicide bomber.

  • Fine, you say, search all backpacks before people get into the system. Capital idea! As in waste of capital except for the new TSA hires for screening backpacks who will draw new salaries and government benefits.

    But when you look at an airport, a subway, or other mass transit system, you have two locations where passengers are grouped and vulnerable: In the little metal tubes, and in the queues. Adding a new queue checkpoint where everyone regardless of train, plane, or bus has to crowd together will give terrorists and malcontents a fatter opportunity to wreak their havoc and up their body counts with a bomb.

  • Searching backpacks won't stop bombers wearing bomb belts. Or bomb shoes. Or whatever other nefarious creativities will arise to subvert the check and balance mechanisms put in place to deal with a very specific threat.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is on the cusp of creating yet another perpetual inconvenience for temporary appearance of security.

At worst, these measures will be ineffective or even more dangerous than the current situation, and at best will only send the bad guys to blow something else up.

But at least the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority will have done something!!!

UPDATE: As a story seen on Outside the Beltway indicates, New York will begin random searches. I hate to be the first cop to try to search a suicide bomber.

I wouldn't mind the searches as much if they were based on profiling rather than done randomly.

It's not a question of searches as civil liberty infringements.

It's a question of whether asking a suicide bomber to show you his bomb will keep him from detonating that bomb at that instant, killing himself, the searching police officer, and other people in line.

It won't. It just changes the location of the detonation.

Searches work when you're looking to strip someone of a gun or a knife that's more limited in its impact.

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