Monday, May 03, 2004

More 20/20 Hindsight

The Weekly Standard weighs in and takes the FAA to task for not doing more to prevent 9-11. In Jonathan Last's view, they should have revised the hijacking protocols so that planes could not be used as weapons even if that meant passengers were killed in the cabin and the plane risked a crash.

He blames the FAA even though he admits that the pre-9-11 policy worked for nearly 40 years and that there was no US hijackings for a decade.

For Last, agencies must evaluate all threats and implement aggressive counter-measures for all that are plausible.

While that sounds reasonable, a little thought will reveal that it is really a formula for a garrison state and is unworkable in practice.

In fact, i'll wager that Mr. Last doesn't operate in real life in a manner that is consistent with his censure of the FAA.

For example, we know from captured training films that the jihadis have considered using small teams to shoot up public areas like schools, malls, and golf courses. They trained for this in Afghanistan. Further, terror cells in Oregon, Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania actually practiced small group tactics and shooting here in the US. We have the case of Mir Aimal Kasi who killed 2 and wounded 3 on the highway outside of the CIA headquarters in1993, the DC snipers, and the LAX shooter. finally, intelligence agencies have warned of credible threats to shopping malls in recent weeks.

As an individual Mr. Last has to deal with this risk as he goes about his work and recreation. does he avoid malls, crowded highways, and golf courses?

In addition, history is pretty clear that the most effective response for minimizing civilian casualties once an attack starts is vigorous action by armed civilians. Even a rapid police reaction gives the terrorists several minutes of free killing.

So, following Mr. Last's logic that the responsible parties must take aggressive steps to prepare for all plausible threats, i would expect that he does the following:

1. Has a permit for CCW.

2. Carries, at all times, a suitable handgun for an anti-terrorist response. Suitable means a minimum of a 4" barrel and a police caliber. Little revolvers and pocket automatics are not appropriate for engaging terrorists with AK-47s.

3. Has practiced with his handgun so he can hit a 10" plate consistently at 50 yards.

4. Travels with a rifle in his car (but not in the trunk). A handgun is only part of the solution. The terrorists might be 100 yards away or more in which case Mr. Last needs a better tool than his handgun.

I'm sure The Weekly Standard won't have a problem with Mr. Last carrying his rifle to work but malls and golf courses might object. Since he can't leave them in the car (could be stolen and besides, what good is his rifle if it is in his trunk while he is in Home Depot?) he will just have to avoid those places.

This sounds ridiculous and it is. But that is the problem with using only narrow hindsight to assess risks and failures. There are many risks which meet the "plausible and dangerous" threshold. To guard against any failure we must guard against all of them all of the time. That, in itself, becomes unworkable.

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