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?