Bill Head is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington, and an airport security consultant who researches law enforcement responses to hijacking, kidnapping and hostage situations. He spoke to NUVO last week about the state of airport security, and the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. NUVO: You said recently that "We seem to be winning not the war on terrorism but the war on keeping passengers from bringing nail clippers on board planes." Bill Head: It"s frustrating, because everybody"s really concerned about terrorism and airports, but it seems like the approach is pretty simplistic. Probably the silliest thing was the standard questions that everybody had to be asked: "Has anybody touched your bags but you?" and, "Have you left your bags unattended?" Do they think the terrorists are going to break down and confess to somebody there at the ticket counter? It"s just ludicrous, and they"ve discontinued that now - they got rid of it about three weeks ago. It was a silly exercise for everybody involved. NUVO: Can you talk about the shortfalls of some of the other security measures that have been put into place since Sept. 11? BH: We can make it as difficult as possible to get on an airplane, but the terrorists aren"t going to say, "Curses! Foiled!" and give up their lives of terror - they"re just going to find some other way to get something onto the plane, or will take over the entire plane and use it as a weapon. Basically, what you"re doing is displacing the criminal activity rather than preventing it. Any measures that you take are going to have an unanticipated consequence that you can"t foresee. NUVO: How about the plans to federalize baggage screeners and have checked baggage screening equipment in place by the end of the year? Are those appropriate ways to address the problem? BH: The intent is to allay the fears of the traveling public by giving the impression that the federal government is now in charge, and so everything"s OK. Clearly, there are people who are not going to be comfortable with that, and clearly, the cost is going to be pretty dramatic. Basically, that"s what this boils down to: We can prevent planes from being hijacked, and we can make air travel perfectly safe, but the cost is going to be astronomical. You have to weigh the benefit of these new security measures against how much the traveling public is willing to pay. Most of the airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy anyway, and this very easily could push them over the edge. NUVO: How much do you estimate these measures might cost? BH: If you really get serious about airport security, you"re talking about doubling the price of tickets. Most people are not willing to make those concessions. NUVO: The Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to allow pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit. Is that a viable solution? BH: That"s just window-dressing. I can"t see any benefit to it whatsoever. Obviously, the pilots have enough going trying to manage the plane, without giving them weapons as well. Even the sky marshals on the planes are instructed not to fire their weapons - obviously that would create even more problems. It"s not going to be that much of a deterrent. Terrorists aren"t going to say, "Gee, the pilot"s armed now, I"m not going to do it," but it will escalate the level of possible violence. NUVO: From your research, have you determined what methods would prove more effective? BH: The question is whether you want to take a long-term approach or a short-term approach. Everything that has been implemented and suggested so far is very shortsighted in its approach. I think you need to get at the root causes of why these people hate us in the first place. Any time we use retaliatory measures, or say we"re going to destroy Iraq, we touch off a wave of retaliation on the part of terrorists. Rather than rattling the sabers, we need to try and be a little more conciliatory, and recognize that our way of life, even though we love it, isn"t the only way to exist in the world. NUVO: Airplane hijacking isn"t exactly a new phenomenon. BH: We"ve been trying to deal with the problem for going on 50 years now. Even if we make air travel as safe as humanly possible, the terrorists will find something else - busses, trains, whatever - they"ll just divert to some other form of transportation, or some other spectacular event. They"ll start going after sporting events or Disney World - they"ll find something else that strikes at the heart of what they believe to be the basis of our culture. NUVO: These people do seem to be endlessly creative in the ways they go about invoking terror. BH: The root of the word terror is basically fear. They"re trying to cause disruption, to create a situation where we don"t know what"s going to happen next. They want to be as unpredictable as possible. To a large extent, we may be closing the barn door after the horse is already out. They"ve already done this, so it"s time to move on to some other form of terror. NUVO: You don"t anticipate a repeat of any of the techniques that were deployed last fall? BH: I think that you"ll see some dramatic incident, but you can"t count on airlines being the vehicle for it. The message they got across was that the one thing we thought was safe, that we had taken extraordinary measures to protect - air travel - and they used that with a new twist. NUVO: Do you anticipate some additional terrorist activity this fall? BH: There are lots of folks in the world who don"t care for us, don"t care for our way of life. Even if you go after the Taliban, even if Osama bin Laden has been eradicated or at least diminished in importance, there are lots of folks who want to get their message across. You can"t just concentrate on one sect or cult and think you"ve won the war on terrorism. NUVO: If the U.S. does take military action against Iraq, would we see some kind of retaliation in the form of terrorism? BH: Down the road, I think. It"s not going to happen right away, but you are creating new generations of zealots and fanatics who view the United States as the ultimate enemy, and that certainly can"t be good for world relations in the decades to come. NUVO: How do you rate security at the Indianapolis International Airport, as compared to others around the nation? BH: Clearly, the Indianapolis Airport is not seen as a primary target because it"s not as spectacular. This is the sleepy Midwest vs. the Los Angeles airport or the New York airports, which are much more high-profile. On the other hand, simply because people tend to let their guard down because it hasn"t happened here, it might be seen as a more attractive target by terrorist groups - the access would be a little easier than at a larger airport where you"ve got more security. NUVO: Do you still fly often? BH: About the same. I usually take two to three trips a year, and that"s about the same as it was. My wife and I got a great deal at Disney World December of last year because everybody was afraid to go there. Because of the aftershock of Sept. 11, there were a lot of good bargains out there. The analogy I use is that more Americans abroad are killed by wild animal attacks each year than are killed by terrorist attacks, and nobody ever says they"re not going to Europe or Latin America because they"re afraid of getting rabies or being bitten by a hippopotamus. A lot of it is reality vs. perception: terrorism, in the cosmic scheme of things, is not really that much of a problem for the average traveler - the trip to the airport is much more dangerous than the actual air travel itself.

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