Understanding the nature of personal judgment, accountability, by-the-book procedure and why together they fail

Posted on February 26, 2010

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Dressed in Brioni and carrying a faux crocodile holdall, I was contemplating life, nature and the underwear detonating antics of the Nigerian Jihadist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before I was shaken out of my stupor by an officer of the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit corporation.

“Random security check, I need to search your bag, sir.”

I slipped the Transit Card into the inner pocket of the tailored suit taking a moment to enjoy the feel of silk on my fingertips before swallowing the bitter bile of irritation. Mentally, I attempted to recall the number of terrorist bombers dressed in designer togs as I handed over the holdall.

Travelers And Security At Ronald Reagan International

Since September 11, 2001, it appears that heightened security has done little to improve the lives of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of zealous security officials and religious zealots. Granted, my inconvenience is nothing compared to other persecuted peers that have gone before me- Elizabeth McGarry forced to drink her own breast milk. Neil Godfrey, pulled over for carrying Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the officer thought it was a book on radicals in middle eastern prisons) and to prove that the United States does not have the market on stupidity, Brad Jayakody, from London was stopped by officers at Heathrow for wearing an “offensive” t-shirt featuring Optimus Prime (offensive because Optimus was armed in said t-shirt with a laser cannon).

Optimus Prime is clearly the most dangerous terrorist threat to peace loving nations worldwide

Logically, I understood the need for random checks, but still I needed some rational balm to soothe my rising irrational anger. One has to wonder, what goes through the minds of some security officers?

Definitely, terrorists often mimic innocent civilians in their quest for martyrdom but how many do it in Transformer fanboy T-shirts or with bottles of milk and baby in tow?

This scene played out in my mind: Pleasant looking blond boards an airplane, nursing the baby with a baby bottle, she suddenly utters “Allahu Akbar”. The plane explodes. Security officers that allowed her to board are questioned and reprimanded for their lapses. “This would never have happened if you followed procedure!” shouts their commanding officer. “She was a mom, nursing an infant! We had no reasonable way of knowing!” reply the bewildered officers. “That’s why we have the book! Follow the book and nothing will go wrong!”

Two words come to mind: ass covering.

The problem with cast-in-stone, by-the-book procedures is that it suspends the sentience and reasoning ability of a human being and delegates it to a book. If the book says it’s so, it’s so. Rationality be damned.

Indeed, officers on the ground should be held accountable but should senior authority figures be delegating measurement of accountability to a book as well? If a mother is arrested for mentioning that “bombs are dangerous” to her child, whilst letting known terrorist elements swim through the security grid, this is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees.

In tandem, when you hire human beings to enforce regulations while being a stickler to guidelines without taking into consideration situation and circumstance, what you are really doing is encourage otherwise intelligent individuals to suspend personal judgment and behave like a complete twat.

As the Nigerian bomber security lapse investigation continues, I’m almost certain that the personnel involved followed procedure to the letter. A statement of caution was issued by Umar’s father. Umar was entered on the Watch List. Until the credibility of the information was verified, Umar’s entry visa was not suspended. The gap here was that the personnel should have considered Umar’s father, the whistleblower, a more credible witness than the average informant. What a book of procedures won’t tell you is how to decide which informants are more credible than others, you need humans for that.

“Thank you, sir.”

Jolted back to reality, I accepted my bag and quickly looked to see if my belongings were intact, taking time to thank God and the SMRT officer for not confiscating my Dunhill manicure set. After all, security regulations dictate that nail files and clippers (should I decide to hijack a plane via threat of cuticle decapitation) are deemed dangerous implements of mass terror. Had they confiscated my $500 grooming tools, they’d certainly turn me into a dangerous jihadist.

Jonathan writes for Augustman.com and maintains a column while covering the watch beat for the print magazine. August Man and Augustman.com is property of CR Media Pte Ltd. You can visit http://www.augustman.com for stylish men’s fashion, luxury brand and high end watch reviews, travel stories, social commentary, trendspotting and motoring.
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