FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Grand Placebo

The authorities in Britain and the United States are scrambling.  They hope to find answers as to how the 23-year-old engineering student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to elude and almost detonate himself on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.  Even his family in Nigeria had contacted US security officials, voicing ‘concerns’ about their son’s radicalization.  Their son’s sojourn to the Yemen, a key al-Qaida ground, was mentioned.

Abdulmutallab was said to have hidden an explosive device under his clothes on the Detroit-bound airbus on Christmas Day.  The device supposedly involved the widely available high explosive PETN concealed in a condom and strapped to the leg of the suspect.  His intention, it is alleged, was to blow up the substance with the addition of a liquid chemical kept in a syringe.  A group calling itself al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) has claimed responsibility for the foiled effort.

The responses to this event demonstrate a disturbing tendency in law enforcement and international policing.  Banal events are regarded as radical and dangerous (typing the term ‘terror’ in the Google search engine might be ‘suspicious’), while a statement from a family vouching for their son’s defection to an al-Qaida stronghold is to be regarded as of lesser importance.  Eyebrows are not raised at pure cash transactions such as that which took place at Ghana – $3,000 worth for the ticket. The most useful, and the most obvious intelligence goes begging.

Instead, politicians and the policing establishment will rush for the nearest biometric or body imaging panacea they can find.  The solution, for them, resides in the machine.  Rep. Peter King from New York and the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee has already shown us that streak, telling us that Abdulmutallab did not go through ‘full-body imaging machines in Nigeria or Amsterdam’ (Washington Post, Dec 27).  Image the body, one apparently solves the problem.  Security ‘experts’ prefer the jargon of the ‘Bikini principle’ in enforcement.  In the words of one commentator (ABC News, Mar 21, 2006), ‘When you provide strategic coverage of the most important vulnerabilities, you’ve already won most of the battle.’

Nor is the fabled relationship-sharing nature of intelligence between US and British officials smoothly run, let alone squeaky-clean.  In this case, it seems there was a failure in sharing information that might have proved costly.  The British Home Office was apparently in possession of the suspect’s fingerprints, which it never passed on to international agencies.

The authorities are bound to increase security measures, bringing an ever more intrusive regime into play in their hunt for elusive substances and bombers.  The already idiotic spectacle of having shoes removed is bound to become more bizarre.  Airport giants such as Heathrow, an already deeply frustrating airport for a passenger to traverse, are set to become more chaotic.

Such measures will hardly solve the problem.  The broader picture is stark for the British: a regular stream of radicalized Muslims taking up residence in such places as Yemen.  In terms of the purely technical aspect of law enforcement, each heavy-handed response clocks up another point on the al-Qaida scoreboard.  Bumbling officialdom risks looking authoritarian and inefficient.

What is striking is that officials did not observe their own information on the suspect, bringing into question whether the masses of data supplied to their coffers matter much in compiling ‘watch lists’ and the like.  Abdulmutallab was on an intelligence database which was blithely ignored.  Pre-existing records were not consulted.  The evidence of his father, Alhaji Umaru Abdulmutallab, was given similar treatment.  That his son ever boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was itself puzzling.

US President Barack Obama wants the entire screening process reviewed.  The Office of Homeland Security is stumped, with its secretary Janet Napolitano humbled by the near fatal event.  In the meantime, the grumbling queues and grouchy guardians at the boarding gate are bound to increase.  All in the name of feeding that grand placebo of airport security.

BINOY KAMPMARK lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

June 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Divest From the Business of Incarceration
W. T. Whitney
Angola in Louisiana: Proving Ground for Racialized Capitalism
Susan Babbitt
Assange and Truth: the Deeper (Harder) Issue
Kenn Orphan
Humanity vs. the Rule of Law
Mateo Pimentel
Why on Earth a Country of Laws and Borders?
Michael T. Klare
The Pentagon’s Provocative Encirclement of China
Howard Lisnoff
The Outrageous Level of Intolerance is Happening Everywhere!
Vijay Prashad
The People of India Stand With Palestine
RS Ahthion
Internment Camps for Child Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Lawrence Wittner
Getting Ready for Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Women Protest After Being Told by Turkish-Backed Militias to Wear the Hijab
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail