On Security - From the physical perspective

time to read 4 min | 728 words

                         (Image from Boing Boing)

I don't generally comment on such things, but in my recent trip to London, I had to go past the Heathrow Airport, and I found the security measures there... excessive. Especially in light of several other... observations that I made while in London. Those observations match across several countries (Canada, UK, Denmark, and I am pretty sure that it will match what I will find in USA). This is not an attack on the UK, this post was merely sparked by my recent trip there.

You could say that I have a professional interest in terror and terrorists. And I spent some time trying to understand them. Living in Israel, a country with a long and bloody history of dealing with terrorism, certainly help bring the lesson home, even if I haven't had personal experiences with it.

Israel's security forces, by and large, have long institutional memory with regard to how to handle potential threats, and I did my share of that a few times. As such, I have to say that while the security on Heathrow was excellent after you passed it, there seem to be zero security whatsoever until that point.

A casual survey of the way that I would attempt to make any sabotage attempt suggested several routes that seems very opened for attack.

Now, to be clear, I despise terrorism to the depth of my soul, and I have little but contempt for the actions of people who believe that random killings and the attacks on civilians are a viable method of operation.

I can think of at least three non violent ways to cause problems that are going to bring as much news coverage, cause no loss of life or damage to property and are even likely to be legal.

Oh, and they would be aggravating as hell itself.

That disclaimer aside, assuming that you can get a bomb (and you can find enough instructions in Google, even if you can't get a basic chemistry book), there is a lot of damage that can be done easily enough.

Just take the train. I got into the train by walking into the station with a large suitcase. At no point did I even see security, much less had them inspect what I was doing. I left the suitcase at one end of the train car and found an empty seat in almost the other end of the car.

During the one hour ride, it appears that no one has noticed that there was an unattended suitcase that was just sitting there for a long period.

Compare that to the experience that I expect to have in Israel. In nearly all public buildings (from the Mall to the Library), you have a guard that will ask to open your bags, and I can't imagine an unattended bag sitting anywhere with people for a long period of time. People here notice that (and trains, bus stations and even on the buses themselves there are security guys that will generally catch this type of thing).

Just to give you an example, here is what happens if you leave your laptop unattended in Israel. They shot it dead.

Israel has very good reasons for this type of behavior. I went for a pub with a friend from the states not long ago, and we sat down in a place on the shores of Tel Aviv, and talked a bit. The discussion moved to terror at some point, and I began to list bombings in the area. That very pub we were sitting on, a club not 500 meters away, a bus on the next street, etc. And that was what I could recall off hand and at a moment's notice.

I do not expect it to be the same elsewhere, but I was disturb by the difference between level of security for getting on a plane vs. everything else.

This post is getting long, morose and I have another flight to catch soon. It is also a subject that I tend not to talk about much, at least not on the blog, so I'll wrap it up now. But that dissonance is annoying as hell, disturbing at many levels and irritating just about all my professional senses.