Security has become the topic of the day following the attempted destruction of an airplane on Christmas Day. It is a topic with which I have been intimately involved from watching for bad guys while working in Vietnam to closing the heavy metal blast shutters on my office window following a bomb explosion on the lawn in front to putting heavy duty window backing on my office windows to keep glass from shattered windows cutting down me and my staff to varying my travel routes to avoid a kidnapping and more. I have a fair idea of how to protect myself from evil doers.

I am troubled by airport security procedures because they rely too much on machines and systems, instead of good sense. I was placed in a special line for inspection at an airport when I showed a US Government ID to the guard at the gate. When I commented on this to the person who actually inspected me, he responded, “the other guard works for a different organization, so I have nothing to do with him.” I then stated my concern that two people who were suppose to be working together to make the flight safe were not cooperating. Of course this got me the familiar, “do you want to get on this plane” threat.

I also recall standing in a security line for a flight in Tehran, Iran to Isfahan. I noted the pat downs and careful inspection being given to a group of elderly American tourists standing in front of me. When it was my turn I told the inspector that surely they did not believe that the old people would be a problem. He replied, “we carefully check all passengers.” A week later I was sitting at a cafe in Beirut, Lebanon reading a local English language rag that carried an article about an airplane being highjacked in Iran. Believe it or not, the plane had been highjacked by prisoners who were being flown to a new jail. I guess the inspectors were so concerned about elderly tourists they did not have sufficient time to carefully inspect prisoners boarding a plane.

I also chuckle a bit when I read that intelligence wonks are “not connecting the dots.” Do you have any idea of how many “dots” there are? In one job I had to read reams of reports to find mere indications of impending danger. The real test was to determine the credibility of the report before comparing it to others. Correlations can be drawn between totally unrelated or even bogus information that render the correlations meaningless. Once you determine the reliability of a report, you can then use it to test other information.

It takes time and effort to do this. I recall being invited to the CIA when I returned from nmy assignment to Finland where I met with an expert in monitoring the flow of “controlled” high tech goods and services to the Soviet Union. He thanked me for having done a great job at providing accurate information that ran counter to most of the information coming from “intelligence” sources. I had developed my knowledge of the players and trade to the extent that I could readily determine if intelligence reports were credible.

The most memorable case involved a report that the Russians had a company in Finland that was buying American computers there that were not allowed to be sent to the Soviet Union. I was asked to investigate the report. I did not even leave my office to send a clarification. I replied, “yes, the Russians do own this company in Finland, but it sells, not buys, computers.” I added that the company specifically sold Russian computers that were the cutting edge technology in their application, running totalizer boards at race tracks.

Security can only be delivered by people who have a good handle on what they are doing and how to do it. If they lack this basic understanding, no amount of hardware and systems will make a difference.