Looked at clinically, the $200 million air travel security upgrades including body scanners announced by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today are a case of futile measures meeting an impossible task.

That is because there is no remotely practicable combination of procedures and technology that can remove the risk of a terrorist attack on the population at large where people gather, whether at an airport, a railway station, a sports stadium or a pub.

Of course the government knows this, but it also knows it can’t do nothing. So like the US and in the UK, Australia goes through the process of being seen to do things that are next to useless, but generally speaking, doing them less obnoxiously than the measures already encountered at the major airports in Los Angeles, London and Frankfurt for example.

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The new body scanners to be introduced in 2011 are already in use at Amsterdam as described and illustrated earlier this year in Plane Talking.

But the body scanners are only going to be used in the major international terminals, which is naturally an invitation to anyone who wants to imitate the crotch bomber who set fire to his testicles on Christmas Day on a flight about to land at Detroit to try something similar in a domestic terminal.

And $54 million of the $200 million being spent is for cargo X-ray and explosive traces technology to be deployed in the air freight processing chain at ‘appropriate locations’.

Which means terrorists sending bombs by express parcels will just have to make do with ‘inappropriate’ locations. The statement is an admission of failure.

Although given the use of trucks to move a lot of air freight consignments between some Australian cities for part of the delivery process, there is always a reasonable chance such a plot will turn into a road rather than air accident.

It might seem laughable, but it is no laughing matter. There is a lot of risk outside of airports, as the Bali atrocities and the Madrid and London transport bombings showed.

The new measures will only make people feel more secure if they don’t think about them in any detail.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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