Nonsense and Sensibility

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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And so to my final Blog of the year – and the decade.

2009 closes out with duty free once again finding itself among headlines of the unwelcome kind.

In the wake of the failed terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, the union representing German police officers is reportedly demanding a ban on the sale of fragrances, drinks with a high percentage of alcohol, lighters and razor blades at post-security Departures shops in European Union airports.

Trade union leader Rainer Wendt told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung: “On the other side of the security queues, potential attackers can get everything they need to build bombs in the duty free shops and restaurants.”

Coming from a leader of a policing organization, that’s crassly alarmist and irresponsible talk – which has, predictably, already been picked up by news organizations all around the world, including The Straits Times in Singapore. Many more will follow suit.

Wendt means well but he’s talking nonsense. Frankly, the authorities need to triple their efforts to prevent the Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallabs of this world from getting within 100 kilometres of an airport, rather than cracking down on what the overwhelming majority of innocent people can buy once they have cleared security.

However, the German union leader does have a point about razor blades. Given that they can be bought easily on arrival anywhere in the world and the easy propensity with which they could be turned into weapons, there is absolutely no justification in allowing their continued sale at airports.

The famous Swiss Army Knives were one of the early victims of the post-9/11 crackdown, making it even more indefensible that the likes of Gillette or Boot’s own-label razors blades are still widely available in airport shops.

As the whole post-August 2006 LAGs fiasco has shown, our channel is the softest of targets for the regulators. Let’s do our own policing please.

But if today brought one (largely) nonsensical statement from one interest group leader, it also generated arguably the most sensible quote of the year from another.


Calling for better partnership between the aviation industry and security regulators, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani (pictured) commented: “Instead of looking for bad things – nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo – security systems need to focus on finding bad people. Adding new hardware to an old system will not deliver the results we need.”

Substitute Johnnie Walker for nail clippers and Chanel No 5 for shampoo and Bisignani makes the precise, brilliantly articulated point that the travel retail industry must repeat time and again. The crackdown on LAGs (airside) – justifiable in the immediate post-August 2006 paranoia but not beyond that point – has achieved precisely nothing in combating terrorism.

As I pointed out in my last Blog (Kneejerk reactions and a Keystone Cops approach to terrorism), the authorities – especially in the US – need to take a long, long look at their own inability to monitor, let alone catch, obvious suspects before they render international travel an angst-ridden, inconvenient and wholly unfair experience for the rest of us.

2010 must be the year of catching the bad guys, not finding the soft targets. Happy New Year – I hope.

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  • Martin, I couldn’t agree more with you on this article…. monitoring the potential terrorist is one thing, but as Omagh and many other atrocities proved in NI , or the inspections on WMD pre Iraq, the authorities need the folk monitoring to keep up to date, and to give their info to a team that can implement effectively and immediately.

    From what I’ve read the internal structures of these agencies charged with protecting and monitoring terrorist threat has a major internal flaw that needs to be addressed first to become more effective.Staffed by human beings they are like anyone encumbered by so many rules dictats etc that when they do spot or get a hunch or lead..the process can be so long winded that the opportunity is lost many times over to eliminate the risk.And should they be over zealous or even correct the fear internally of presenting some facts means they can lose jobs so many don’t trust the instinct and training they have been hired for in the first place!

    Profiling definitely should be used more frequently…though from personal experience at Ballykelly a profile would have been useless as the bomb was smuggled in by a pregnant woman.It’s a fact…”we only have to be lucky once” as was quoted after Brighton..and the unexpected is what terrorists work on..not the obvious!Vietnam etc has proven that traditional models of war etiquette probably are as old as the tin soldiers made in Napoleanic times!

    IATA’s president and duty free operators should point out that this kind of argument put forward to eliminate these products like fragrance and alcohol from duty free is as silly as not selling fertiliser in NI during the troubles, well a lot of our economy was based on agriculture!(I choose the example specifically to illustrate Mr Wendt’s comments for what they represent!)It wouldn’t have stopped one atrocity…where there is a will there is a way by these people, terrorism thrives on re invention!
    Mr Bisignani and TR could bring together some experienced professionals from well known troubled spots to help TR defend it’s rights to sell. Based on Mr Wendts proposals he would have closed all NI retail for 30 years! The fact is terrorism is not going to go away…you must manage your information better, be pragmatic, as you mentioned (blog passim) not offering kneejerk reactions will help . It also undermines a terrorist’s major goal .to create fear..and ruin business.Surely the capital of the free market sees this as one of the key aims of these terrorists .so why accede?

    TR especially needs to counter this negative media by taking example and consultancy from credible and well known ex security chiefs who have had real experience of this daily threat for decades.I find Mr Wendt’s comments naieve and also a lazy solution…..but we should be offering our own counter op solutions to the media. Mr Bisignani has at least given TR products a first defence!