Thursday, June 3, 2010

What Hindawi Teaches Us About Security


It is fairly common to hear recent travelers complaining about airport security. Perhaps the most righteous anger is reserved for those screeners who insist on hassling the elderly and pregnant mothers. Let the record show that I care about the elderly and pregnant mothers - I like 'em at least as much as the average American does, maybe even more. But I have had to explain the case of Nezar Hindawi (pictured left) so many times that I am now sharing it with you, dear readers of the blogosphere.

On 17 April 1986, Hindawi, a Jordanian national living in Britain, bid farewell to his pregnant Irish fiancée, Anne Mary Murphy, who was taking an El Al flight from Heathrow to Tel Aviv, with plans to meet his parents before the wedding. Unbeknownst to Miss Murphy, her luggage contained semtex explosives and a calculator functioning as a timer and detonator. Her fiancé was a terrorist working for Syria.

To the casual observer, the Israeli security guards working for El Al were giving this poor pregnant Irish woman rather unnecessary trouble. But Miss Murphy, her unborn child and the flight's other 375 passengers were spared an untimely death that day because of the vigilance of the Israeli security guards.

No doubt our friends at the Transportation Security Agency have their share of incompetent employees, unnecessary procedures and irksome policies. No doubt the airport screening process could be refined. But next time you see someone "who clearly was not a terrorist" being given extra screening, consider holding your tongue. Those annoying screeners just might be saving your life. The key to effective security is not creating politicized procedures that do or do not favor this group or that; effective security is found in consistent application of well thought out policies which take their cues from actual hard evidence, and not hunches or inferences.

And Hindawi, you ask? What happened to him? He was convicted and received 45 years in prison. When he later petitioned for parole, the Lord Chief Justice, who heard the application, explained to him: "Put briefly, this was about as foul and as horrible a crime as could possibly be imagined. It is no thanks to this applicant that his plot did not succeed in destroying 360 or 370 lives in the effort to promote one side of a political dispute by terrorism. In the judgment of this Court the sentence of 45 years' imprisonment was not a day too long. This application is refused."
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