Thursday, April 29, 2010

A modern Maginot line

One of my favourite writers, James Fallows from The Atlantic, takes a look at the full body scanners that governments around the world fell over themselves in buying after the failed underwear bombing at Christmas. The entire argument for full body scanners seemed as asinine as the current preoccupation with liquids.

There are a host of problems with arbitrary measures that reflect our pathological obsession with death by terrorism and our pathological denial with respect to death by less dramatic forms, namely heart attacks and car crashes. But let's focus on these full-body scanners right now, which produced a trite conversation about civil liberties because someone in a different room would see an oddly-coloured three-dimensional image of your body.

Fallows dismisses these "easily-thwarted, Maginot Line-style, tech-heavy" measures as useless "security theatre" thinking. He quotes an Israeli expert who told Canadian MPs that "I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747". Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which is successfully if not justifiably secure, does not make use of these scanners.

The Maginot line refers to the large concrete fortresses that France constructed along its German border before World War II which Germany circumvented by attacking through Belgium. A Maginot line for fighting terrorism is a line of body scanners and trash cans full of water bottles. "The real answer lies in intelligence and savvy," writes Fallows. By the time that a terrorist has gotten to the airport and the public is relying on airport workers to protect them, it's probably game over.

Of course, much like having a stomach stapling to stave off going from a compact to a mid-sized automobile, the answer lies in prevention, not mad-dash interventions at the very end. Not being paranoid about what is otherwise an infinitesimally small risk is also a good step. If all else fails, you can go read about people who successful dealt with lupus in the back pages of Reader's Digest.

No comments: