Airline Incidents: Fear as Force MultiplierBy Fred Burton
During the past month, since British authorities announced the disruption of a bomb plot involving airliners, there has been a worldwide increase in security awareness, airline security measures -- and fear among air passengers. At least 17 public incidents involving airline security have been reported in the United States and parts of Europe since Aug. 10. Most of these were innocuous, but many resulted in airliners making emergency landings off their scheduled routes, sometimes escorted by fighter aircraft.
The spate of incidents -- each of which rings up significant financial costs to the airline company and governments involved and causes inconvenience and delays for travelers -- is a reminder that terrorism, philosophically, is not confined to the goal of filling body bags or destroying buildings. At a deeper level, it is about psychology and the "propaganda of the deed." And as far as al Qaeda is concerned, it is also about economic warfare: Osama bin Laden personally has stated that one of the group's strategic objectives is to "bleed America to the point of bankruptcy."
To say that the governments and industries targeted by terrorism face difficult choices is a gross understatement. The problem lies in the fact that decision-makers not only must protect the public against specific groups using known tactics (in al Qaeda's case, bombs and liquid explosives) but also must protect themselves in the face of public opinion and potential political blowback. Officials naturally want to be perceived as doing everything possible to prevent future acts of violence; therefore, every threat -- no matter how seemingly ridiculous -- is treated seriously. Overreaction becomes mandatory. Politicians and executives cannot afford to be perceived as doing nothing.
This powerful mandate on the defensive side is met, asymmetrically, on the offensive side by a force whose only requirements are to survive, issue threats and, occasionally, strike -- chiefly as a means of perpetuating its credibility.
Again, what amazing power we've chosen to give these people . . .