The cutting edge of terrorism and flying

Anyone who has flown on an airline since 9/11 knows it is not fun. Those ads from the 1950s that show the glamour and luxury of international travel are dated curiosities of yesteryear.  Whether it is the increased nickle and diming of ever more services – checked bags (leading to the competition for overhead bin space), headsets, meals, booze…- or the ever diminishing legroom, there are few outside of business class who can honestly say they enjoy the experience.

Added to this misery is, of course, the security process. We have been subjected to a growing list of things we cannot bring on planes from gels and liquids to metal objects.  We engage in what are essentially strip teases at the security checkpoint, removing shoes,belts, hats, jewelry and other sundry objects and if this humiliation were not enough we are sometimes subjected to full-body x-ray scans that create images of us in our birthday suits.  And we do this all in order to fly from A to B.

Much of this is a direct response to terrorism and is thus understandable.  Extremists continue to target aircraft for attacks for very simple reasons: bringing down a plane is a spectacular act of violence that kills many and garners world attention to one’s cause.  Think PanAm (Lockerbie, Scotland 1988) Air India (1985), 9/11 (2001) and Metrojet (2015) and you get what I mean.  Those tragedies are why security staff check for explosives in both checked luggage and carry-on and why we cannot bring knives onto aircraft.

Except for now, at least in Canada.

Transport Canada has issued a statement in which it says ‘small knives’ up to six centimetres (that’s 2-3 inches) may now be brought on board.  Unnamed ‘security experts’ have ruled that such devices do not pose a ‘significant threat’.  I am sure that this news will come as a relief to many – or will it?

Those who have read my opinions already know what I think of ‘experts’ so I will refrain from rehashing that argument.  What disturbs me is the notion that a blade, even one as small as six cm, has been deemed to not pose a threat.  What are these ‘experts’ thinking?  ANY blade no matter how long poses a threat as it can be used to cut, stab or threaten flight crews or other passengers.  We saw that with 9/11 and I am puzzled as to what has changed as of late to render knives innocent objects.  Would YOU want to get into a tiff with the passenger beside you over whose bag fits in the overhead bin if you knew s/he had a knife on board?

We know that terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) repeatedly advise its followers to carry out attacks using whatever weapon they can find, steal or manufacture.  The smarter ones build bombs, those in countries where firearms are ubiquitous (yes, I mean the US) will use firearms and everyone else will look into the kitchen drawer or a butcher block and grab a knife.  Knives as vectors of violence are too widespread to list in their entirety: London, Woolwich, Paris, St-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Edmonton….it goes on and on. Sharp objects are for many the weapon of choice as they are everywhere.  In addition, for IS and others knives and their sword cousins are representative of classic Arab and Muslim conquest tactics: this is why these terrorist groups make such a big deal about beheadings.

I fail to see why anyone would consider the Transport Canada decision a good one. Why in heaven’s name does anyone need to bring a blade, of any size, onto a plane?  Can’t you check it in tagged baggage? Can’t you wait until you get to your destination to trim your toenails?  Must you pare an apple in flight?

No, this is a solution in search of a non-existent problem.  For my sake, and for all our sakes, I hope the Canadian government reverses this needless and dangerous move.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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