Posted tagged ‘no-fly list’

“Connecting the Dots” on Terror – Going Through the Motions

January 5, 2010

I find myself unaccountably depressed tonight.   That is perhaps not accurate–my depression can probably be accounted for by a number of factors—a difficult and contentious day, stress, hormones, age, cold feet.   (I only turn to the comfort of my fabulous hot water bottle in the middle of the night.)

Then too there is Obama’s speech on terrorism,  the continuing failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to “connect the dots”, the continuing sense that while we bicker here, allowing the assignment and/or avoidance of blame to take precedence over doing a job correctly, plots are hatched, terror and destruction are planned.

I don’t particularly blame Obama.  He’s not the guy directly dealing with the “no-fly lists,” or taking calls at the U.S. embassy at Nigeria.  But that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot happier or secure.  One problem is that it’s hard to believe that this is an issue that can be solved simply by putting more systems in place.  The lapses don’t seem to arise from problems with protocol so much as attention, alertness, intelligence, in the truest sense of the word.

There are inherent difficulties:  planning and executing an attack appears to be a whole lot more exciting than working in a comprehensive and general way to stop attacks.  (I don’t mean the foiling of a specific attack;  almost every single James Bond movie ever made demonstrates how exhilarating the foiling of a specific attack or specific villain can be,  especially if the villain is surrounded by scantily clad women.)

But what about the many possible amorphous attacks?  The few hundred thousand, or more,  villains?   The lack of scantily clad women to attract and hold the attention of attack-foilers?  (Perhaps this is one reason to support the installation of body-scanning devices as part of airport security.)

People have a hard time with big numbers, long-term risks, lists of names (even for a state dinner).    It is mind-numbing to try to connect dots where there are tons and tons of them, and yet, no clear underlying picture.   So many bodies, so much shampoo.

There is a failure of attention throughout societal structure, a lot of going through the motions, even when the motions don’t actually do the job.  (Note the S.E.C. and bank regulators.)   The situation reminds me a bit  of the feeding machine in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, which spills soup all over Chaplin’s chest, but still, observing its routine, extends a dainty napkin only to Chaplin’s lips.

The feeding machine is unthinking.  But sometimes people are so dulled by the stimuli and repetition of modern life as to also become unthinking.   They are bored;  they become careless.

I think of several New York City cab drivers I have had lately who actually read the newspaper while driving.   Seriously.  They unfolded the paper over their steering wheels, and not only looked at it while the lights were red, but when traffic was slow (which, in NYC, meant most of the drive.)

I sat in the back seat feeling terribly nervous, but did not say anything, at least not,  “put away that newspaper.”

These are attitudes that are going to have to change.