The terrorist attacks carried out in the Belgian capital of Brussels have again reignited questions regarding airport security, and at what cost travelers are willing to compromise this safety for ease of travel. With at least 31 victims dead and another 300 injured after successful suicide bombings, the world is left to question what security measures were used in the Brussels airport. Were there metal detectors in place — and if so, how did they fail?
These limitations within the airport security system have caused renewed alarm throughout U.S. and international travel, and have again raised fresh concerns over the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria after the group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the underlying issue, however, seems to be the placement of the bombs themselves — two of the three bombs that entered into the airport exploded outside of the departure hall, prior to passing through the more secured areas of the travel hub. But the third bomb, which was later detonated by a bomb squad, made it past the metal detectors. An additional attack at a subway station was carried out in Brussels the same day, killing another 30 people and wounding another 230.
This leaves the question of what security measures can be taken both in and outside the more "air-side" portions of the airport, where access is restricted to travelers and airline personnel. But as CNBC argues, an additional problem stems beyond just the inability of metal detectors and other security measures to catch these weapons. They argue that there must be additional conversations held regarding the mere display of security, and how that security is or actually is not protecting travelers.
This discrepancy between the feeling of being secure versus what security actually does is what experts call "security theater." Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Edward Felten has discussed security theater, stating that airports often go to extreme measures to appear safe, but the effectiveness of these security measures are often lacking and more for show. The CNBC article likewise claims that governments would do better to implement higher standards of coordinated intelligence activity, so as to stop these attacks while they are still in the planning stages. The task of keeping travelers safe should rely just as squarely on intelligence activity as it does airports themselves.
So whether the metal detectors were correctly in place largely becomes secondary to a bigger conversation regarding security measures, and consequently, what can be done on a government level to not only appear safe, but increase communication among officials to actually be safe.