Eat, drink, especially drink, and be merry

The country that kicked off the liquid ban seems like it’s ready to end it, at least partially. At the end of April, the European Union will allow passengers passing through Europe from a third country to carry liquids, aerosols and gels purchased either at an airport duty-free shop or on board a non-European airline. Unfortunately, the technology to scan liquids is still far from perfect. However, this reaction is not entirely surprising.

While terrorism is still a relatively new concept to American’s, 9/11 was our initiation, and nods to  the Ft. Hood attack and a few failed attempts, most of us still walk the streets feeling relatively safe from terrorist attacks. However, the nations that comprise the EU, have been dealing with this issue for a long time, and they tend to approach it differently.

When the Madrid train bombings and the London bus and subway bombings occurred, the EU didn’t spend billions of dollars implementing screening checkpoints at all rail stations and subway stops. They stepped up law enforcement patrols and intensified their intelligence gathering and interdiction in the field. Then Europeans went about their business with the realization that there are risks in this world and being killed in a terrorist attack is one of many.

I’m not saying that you just accept terrorist threats as a risk of life and do nothing. However, part of any balanced approach to security is realizing that the elimination of all risk is impossible, and attempting to make anything 100% secure, achieves the very objectives of the people that are attacking us.

As George Friedman discusses in his newest book, The Next Decade (Doubleday 2011), terrorism generates fear, helplessness and rage, and transforms public opinion, which then demands a response from the government (p.77). In the past decade, this has cost a lot of money and steadily eroded a civil right here or there.

“The terrorist’s goal is to be treated as a significant threat when in fact he isn’t one…his ultimate goal is to be taken as an enormous, indeed singular threat. This creates the foundation for the political process the terrorist wants to initiate,” (Friedman, p73).

The ongoing terrorist attacks throughout the world and the continued targeting of the U.S. and particularly aviation, must be addressed with a measure of temperance so that we don’t end up destroying the industry ourselves.

The partial raising of the liquid ban, seems to be an attempt to regain some of the lost economic ground the resulted after the 2006 liquid bomb plot. Understandably, the trade associations have been active in pushing the ban, despite heavy opposition from numerous airports throughout the EU, and the U.S. TSA.

One major challenge the ban faces is the lack of harmony between the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) worldwide aviation security standards, and the U.S. aviation security standards. In ten years, we still aren’t in sync with each other, with some practices throughout the world being significantly more invasive than in the U.S., and in other areas, significantly weaker.

It’s time for the U.S. and ICAO to get back on the same page. It’s too early to entirely lift the liquid ban, but based on the fact that this reduction seems to only affect liquids purchased at the airport (or an airport) reduces the risk that the liquids contain explosives, save for the ever present risk of a hole in the employee screening and vendor and catering screening processes, which could allow an insider to smuggle a liquid explosive through anyway. But we’re not talking about those layers of security – here.

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