From Politco (“Obama officials snipe at terror hearing”):
But Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair fought back, arguing the no-fly list has been subject to political pressure to take names off the list because it was causing problems for ordinary citizens.
“The pressure since 2008 been to make it smaller,” he said. “Shame on us for giving into that pressure. We have now greatly expanded the no-fly list since what it was on Dec. 24.”
Boy, it just sounds like the only downside to expanding the no-fly list are annoying a few civil libertarians, right? What if those negative-nancies could be ignored? Would security be improved if we, say, put everyone on the list?
The most immediate downside to the average person is, of course, the increase in time at the security checkout and the number of strange hands patting you down.
But, the real kicker, is that after all that inconvenience, our security would most likely be worse.
At the end of the Politico article is this gem that reveals how the best-laid security plans fail because of one person’s clumsy fingers:
A worker in the American embassy in Nigeria misspelled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s name when he searched a database to determine whether the young man had a valid U.S. visa, a senior State department official told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. That was Nov. 20, the day after Abdulmutallab’s father visited the embassy to warn U.S. officials that his son might be involved with radical extremists. The same worker sent a cable to intelligence officials with the correct spelling of the name, but it was incomplete because he hadn’t properly done the searches to realize that Abdulmutallab could get into the U.S.
A simple typo nearly doomed an entire passenger flight. How did this typo happen? Was it the end of the day and the worker was losing his boost from that last cup of coffee? What if it wasn’t a typo? What if the supervisor who gave the worker a name to look up had misspelled it?
The simple breakdown could’ve happened at any point in the information-sharing process.
And simple breakdowns happen more frequently as more tasks are in the pipeline. Think of Peter Provonost’s medical checklist: Doctors, the most rigorously educated members of our society, were killing patients because they failed to do something as simple as washing their hands with soap; a step easy to forget, perhaps, after treating dozens of patients in a day.
How much more likely is it that your average TSA/Homeland Security worker is going to bumble up a comparatively more complicated task, such as a thorough pat-down or a database record retrieval?
And how much does the chance of a screwup increase when the number of people to be patted-down/searched for increases significantly?
Recklessly expanding the no-fly list, or even having the belief that reducing the no-fly list is tantamount to reducing security, is not one that makes us safer.