Saray Givati Privacy exhibition.
(photo credit: )
Congratulations on an outstanding job, Osama. You masterfully pulled the strings, and the most powerful nation in the world jumped. You caused turmoil in major airports around the world on the busiest travel day of the year, cancelling and delaying thousands of flights. Now we discover that there is a new place to hide explosives as we scurry around to devise solutions.
Creating havoc at airports will divert our attention from your real targets. Perhaps our fragile electricity grid? Or our cyber-dependency? Homeland Security, always a step behind you, frantically searches for bombs in the last places you hid them. Since Richard Reid's 2001 shoe-bombing attempt, we remove our shoes before we fly, much as you do before you pray. We are searched for liquids since the 2006 plot to blow up 10 transatlantic flights. You must be chuckling. Now they will have to search our underwear!
As Roey Rosenblith, a passenger on Friday's flight is quoted in Toronto's The Globe and Mail, "Even if he had been thoroughly frisked, the only way the guard would have noticed anything is if he literally put his hands down the guy's pants and searched his groin."
Even the secretary of homeland security is confused. The Sunday after the incident, she claimed that the airport security system was not broken. The next day, she reversed her comments. Both of her opposing claims are right.
Rosenblith wrote in the Huffington Post that everyone boarding the NWA flight in Amsterdam was interviewed by a team of around 10 personal screeners. He said that he was frisked so thoroughly that he began to wonder if the Dutch security official was enjoying himself. They did all they could. And yet Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded at getting through security.
HE GOT through because although the system is working, the people are not. This is America's greatest strength and also its most perilous weakness. We are brilliant at systems, processes and technology. But in the pursuit of and reliance on technology, the American mind has become fat, lazy and complacent. Any intelligent human could have prevented a man with explosives strapped to his body from boarding a flight only weeks after the man's father warned US authorities of his son's growing radicalism. All that was required was someone to ask questions and connect dots; 9/11 could have been prevented in the very same way.
Ben-Gurion Airport is in one of the most targeted countries in the world for acts of terrorism. Yet it has successfully managed to avoid hijacking and bombing attempts, even though security there is usually much quicker than at any US airport of similar size. Perhaps this is because security at Ben-Gurion does not rely only on technology. Security officers there do not mindlessly monitor people taking off shoes and belts as they walk through metal detectors. They are not just looking for bombs. They are looking for stories, connections and intelligence, and they hire and train brilliant people to look for those stories by asking probing questions.
Once, after clearing security there, an officer looked into my eyes and said, "Do you know why I am asking you these questions?" And then she said with compelling sincerity, "I really don't want anything to happen to you."
I believe she was telling the truth. To her, her job was not about checking boxes to make sure that if a plane went down, her own back was covered. Her job was much more meaningful than that. Her job was to care about me and tens of thousands of other travelers that day, and she was passionately committed to it. She was applying her considerable skill, training and intelligence to her job in the most caring way.
The security check was fast, not unpleasant and genuinely reassuring. Only wisdom and intelligence can foil an intelligent enemy. Machines and process alone cannot.
THE NEED for wisdom over and above technology goes beyond security. We will not maintain our global lead in any field with process and technology alone; we will also need much more human brilliance. Process and technology can be copied, brilliance cannot. Even in the field of technology itself, can a nation continue to lead if it relies more on process than on thinking? Dan Senor and Saul Singer's Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle argues that it cannot.
Process and information is about having the best answers, wisdom is about asking the best questions. Instead of educating our children to have the "right" answers, we should educate them to ask the right questions. Law enforcement and airport security personnel should be trained to ask more questions, not just to rudely yell out childish instructions about computers and liquids. The country's intelligence systems need to preempt rather than react.
Whether Abdulmutallab was an insignificant individual or part of a bigger plan, he highlighted the fact that we can never have all the right answers. However we can ask all the right questions, and in the wise question, the Talmud says, lies half the answer.
The writer is CEO of Lapin International, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm that develops new-generation business leaders capable of mobilizing human energy and transforming it into quick, measurable results. He has trained over a thousand senior criminal justice professionals as part of the Department of Justice's National Institute Against Hate Crimes and Terrorism at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance.