Did Shoe Bomber Richard Reid Win In The End?

Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber”, is a British career criminal who converted to Islam in prison and came a member of Al Qaeda. He attempted to blow up American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001. The plot was foiled by several factors, from high humidity to Reid’s own perspiration dampening the fuse along with another passenger smelling smoke.

He was arrested, charged, convicted and eventually given 3 life sentences plus 110 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

It was this plot that led to American passengers removing their shoes at airport security. He was unsuccessful, but Richard Hanania wonders whether he was ultimately successful,

  • Assume the process of removing shoes, sending them through screening, retrieving them and putting them back on (in some cases tying laces or buckling) takes one minute. Indeed, shoes are one of the most time-consuming components of the screening process.

  • At roughly 500 million passengers per year, over 20 years, that is 10 billion minutes.

  • That’s equivalent to 19,026 years of life.

  • Or 242 full lives, based on average US life expectancy of 78.5 years.

American Airlines flight 63, of course, was carrying 197 people on board. Taking shoes off at security, of course, will continue for those without PreCheck until new scanning technology replaces it.

Now, you might say, without taking off our shoes there’d be more Richard Reids, and those plots might be successful. And that’s a very difficult counterfactual to disprove. However,

  • we haven’t seen shoe bombings used against other targets in the U.S. that lack a shoe screening requirement

  • TSA accidentally filed a security assessment in court documents in 2013 revealing that “as of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports.”

  • And the TSA found that “there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11.”

NSA spying on Americans, tapping internet traffic, several wars and losses of life and the end of passport-less travel to Canada and Mexico are a few of the legacies of 9/11 in addition to TSA. And,

For the extra spending to have been justified using conventional tools of cost-benefit analysis, assuming a 75% reduction in risk, it would have needed to prevent an otherwise successful 9/11-level attack every two years, or a 2005 London bombings-level event every few weeks.

Does this mean, in some sense, that the terrorists won?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Theater, but scared people do stupid things. Or at least, once they start doing things (however logical they seem at the time) it is very difficult to stop them. I think this is bin Laden’s century, America having neatly fallen into his trap of destroying much of its civil rights (this is no damn “homeland!”) and bankrupt itself in useless wars chasing the shadow of his ghost.

  2. I disagree the “in some sense, that the terrorists won?”. Making cost-benefit analysis here isn’t an option. There shouldn’t be cost-benefit thinking when it comes to human life and protecting as much of it as possible, and the understanding that “each person is an entire world of it’s own” (to roughly translate an old Hebrew saying).
    And that is what it’s all about – a society that as flawed as it may be places value on human life, unlike these Islamic radical monsters who care nothing (!) about life, their own or others. Plus, the US governments spends soooo much money on silly things, it can pony up the cash to protect as many people as it can (even though I do agree that the TSA is security theatre).
    Also, thinking of current times, if we were to make cost-benefit analysis why wouldn’t we just say as a society (and some do) to let hundreds of thousands people die from COVID because it’s too much of a burden on a nation’s finances, it’s citizens civil rights?

  3. Not convinced you should be giving this Islamist terrorist ink and pumping new oxygen into his perceived position as a martyr to religious extremists..
    To specifically utilize & identify this POC as primary influence for TSA screenings ,enhanced airport security protocols & U.S. intelligence gathering is completely out of context & the equal to being a chronic barking dog / chronic car alarm – very annoying and conspiracy related. .
    There are legitimate reasons WHY we haven’t been hit again,, most reasons are due to hours & hours of extremely tedious & focused intelligence gathering, analysis, hard work, appropriate security protocols and luck.
    Israel has not been hit yet and they basically developed many of the procedures we are currently .

  4. You don’t have to be an Islamic Terrorist to commit Terrorism, you can also be a State Terrorist. you can Blow up Buildings Full of children from missiles in the name of preventing Terrorism. case in Point, Predator Drones firing Hellfire missiles at Funerals where Terrorist never appeared and Relatives of previous Hellfire victims & families became victims.
    You don’t think any innocent children died in Israeli Bombing of Gaza? according to them it was All in the name of preventing Terrorism.

  5. No shoes off in T5 at LHR last Thursday. Quite surprising.

    Although terrorists have ensured that I sometimes get my balls fondled. Which is always a nice way to start the day.

  6. I don’t know if I would call it winning but yes there was federal over reaction that should have stopped years ago. So many of our over reactions have caused more harm than good. While I don’t agree with you on “masking” I do on this one.

  7. You’re right Gary. The government has done more to harm western citizens than that group ever has done. Civil liberties are dead. Domestic spying is the norm, TSA and customs abuses many, and trillions have been wasted on foolish wars that have done nothing to make westerners safer. Like with everything, the government does it wrong. One external group poses the biggest risk to western citizens. A rational plan would be to severely restrict immigration of this group and severely restrict student and other visas for this group. This prevents this group flying on flights to and from the U.S. and within the U.S. Problem solved. Instead, western citizens are persecuted and that group gets waved through at airport screening for fear of offending.

    Certainly, we need to distinguish between rich Arabs/south Asians coming on vacation with tourism $$$ and poor students who have plenty of college opportunities in their home countries and aren’t coming here with $$$. It’s the not the former who pose the direct risk.

    You say the T have won. That’s true except who won the most are the T in thre U.S. government who get to spy on and persecute western citizens.

  8. Shoe screening is a total waste of time. Most other countries don’t bother with it and they haven’t experienced shoe bomb attacks, which pretty much proves the point. The TSA even X-rays flip flops and sandals that couldn’t conceivably contain enough explosives to damage an aircraft. Pointless security theater that’s probably only still in place because the government doesn’t want to admit it was an over-reaction.

  9. Osama bin Laden said that he would increase costs to the US economy.

    As far as the shoe calculations, at least one bridge toll is calculated that way and results in tolls that are too high. The high tolls cause traffic to be diverted to the free route.

    The shoe calculations in the article don’t account for that people do not check in earlier due to the shoe requirement. If there were no shoe requirement, they would be waiting at the gate a little more (except for those rich fat cat who wait in the airline lounge, so smug that they should be punished*).

    *I don’t believe that but some in the AOC and Bernie Sanders camp do.

  10. TSA is a joke. I have seen countless screeners being trained on the job. I’m sorry but if your job is to root out terrorism and not just catch the occasional water bottle someone forgot about, you should be undergoing a rigorous training program ready to just step in when deemed ready for the job. Half these people are true dipshits with no respect for what they do.

  11. Can you do the same calculation for the several billion iOS iPads, phones etc powering up every day? How many lives lost?

  12. I think the winners of the “remove your shoes” policy during passenger screening might be the drug manufacturers who earned increased profits from selling more remedies to cure athlete’s foot (tinea pedis). Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that usually begins between the toes. Athlete’s foot can occur from infected passengers not worthy of TSA PreCheck® who spread their fungal infection to other barefoot passengers when they remove their shoes and walk barefoot through TSA screening. The signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot include a scaly rash that usually causes itching, stinging, and burning.

  13. @gary left,

    Let me first say that I can’t stand TSA procedures (or most of their people TBH). My wife is from Australia, and they manage to make air travel security a relatively pain free process, even allowing non-traveling civilians plane-side without going thru the excruciating process required in the USA.

    However I don’t get the whole “TSA hasn’t caught a single terrorist” mentality. Where is the math on prevention is better than a cure? Surely having some form of security is a deterrant?

  14. Gary, I believe you err when you state “Taking shoes off at security, of course, will continue for those without PreCheck until new scanning technology replaces it.”

    I am approaching 90 and have not been required to remove my shoes or my belt for at least 20 years. I usually fly from Dulles and believe that I am subjected to the TSA requirements that apply to all adult passengers without PreCheck. To my knowledge, no exceptions are made because of age.

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