In Amsterdam, passengers to the U.S. were being subjected to body searches yesterday, according to CP:
"They patted you down really well," said Allen, 41, an automotive engineer from Shelby Township, Mich. "It wasn't just a quick rub, it was a slow pat. They went through everything in your bags, went through the pockets in your pants, the pockets of your coat."
However, to understand why, and to understand the new security measures announced by Air Canada and WestJet, you have to turn to two reports in the Washington Post.
The first, in today's edition, conveys the comments of Michael Chertoff, head of U.S. homeland security from 2005-2009, on the unsuccessful attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day:
"This plot is an example of something we've known could exist in theory, and in order to be able to detect it, you've got to find some way of detecting things in parts of the body that aren't easy to get at…It's either pat-downs or imaging, or otherwise hoping that bad guys haven't figured it out, and I guess bad guys have figured it out."
The second Washington Post report concerns an unsuccessful attempt last summer to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's chief of counterterrorism operations. I don't believe that the story was reported in Canada; you may be surprised to learn what the 'bad guys' have figured out and why the new security measures announced yesterday by Air Canada and the body pat-downs in Amsterdam are mostly for show (though they could help identify especially nervous or suspicious passengers):
"On the evening of Aug. 27, the prince sent his plane to the southern Saudi border city of Najran, where Assiri, who had crossed from Yemen, was waiting. He was taken by the prince's personal bodyguards to his house. Some officials said Assiri was never subjected to a security check.
At some point in the evening, Assiri handed his cellphone to the prince. Some of his comrades, he told the prince, wanted to hear his assurances that they would be treated well. That was the signal that the prince was standing close to Assiri. The bomb, which according to Western diplomats and local news reports was probably hidden inside Assiri's rectum, was triggered by the cellphone. Assiri was ripped apart-pictures of his body were published in local newspapers and on Web sites."
It may be of some comfort to also learn that the authorities responsible for Canadian air transport security have been experimenting with scanners that can see through clothing. However, while raising serious privacy concerns, to date the technology has been ineffective according to documents obtained by Sun Media. Forget about the reassuring statements of cabinet ministers, be they Canadian or American.
The only consolation for those who must fly is that the risk of an attack is still incredibly low. But no one should be under any illusion that there aren't a lot of people-both foreign and home-grown and some, like the Detroit suspect, from a privileged background---who want to do harm to the U.S. in particular but not exclusively. Or that they lack either the means and the motivation to do so-and not only because of Afghanistan, which appears from one report to be what was on the mind of Farouk Abdulmutallab aboard a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.
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