The failed terrorist attempt to blow up the Detroit-bound plane by Umar Farouk Abdumutallab has prompted the Transportation Security Administration to press on installing full-body-imaging machines in major airports across the globe. This is a typical knee-jerk reaction from bureaucrats responding to a crisis -- by pumping more money, by exerting more authority or by expanding more turf.
Pumping more money to counterterrorism by installing full-body scanners is not the right solution. Moreover, it infringes civil liberty and privacy. Asking for more authority and more funding will improve public safety only marginally, but at a big expense to the liberty we all treasure so much.
If we are willing to surrender the major stake of civil liberty that democratic societies enjoy, and live under an authoritarian hierarchy like communist countries, yes, terrorist activities can be suppressed. But is it worth it?
There is plenty of evidence that Umar Farouk Abdumutallab is a terrorist. His father had alerted U.S. authorities of his son's extreme religious views months ago; British intelligence agencies knew three years ago the accused Detroit bomber had made contact with Islamic extremists while studying at a university in London, but failed to flag him as a possible terrorist risk; and e-mails that Mr. Abdulmutallab wrote when he was a 19-year-old student appear to show him admitting to having "jihadist fantasies."
Even President Obama has bluntly admitted the failures. Intelligence agencies have spent a great deal of effort collecting data, but not enough effort in communicating, screening and analyzing the data. This is the root cause of the intelligent failures, not lacking full-body scanners.
One potential answer may lie in leveraging the talents we have in software programming to better detect and analyze communicating bits and pieces through the Internet or cell phones. Of course, don't forget good communication skills to disseminate findings to the right organizations.