Security deficit syndrome

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am

It is excellent that we have to queue for half-an-hour more, going through new airport security measures, as we carry out our civic duty of catching that terrorist. It is excellent that we are no longer able to carry any liquid bottle of more than 100ml, as we help to increase the businesses of all the shops in the airport after security. It is even more excellent that we are still allowed to leave our shoes on and not risk catching verrucas.

Not so excellent, however, is that we are very likely to fail to do the one thing we arrive at the airport for: catch our flight. For by the time we have shuffled through the strata of checks and been given officious lectures on what one is permitted to do, other than breathing through the nostrils, the chances are that we will miss our flight.

Thankfully, when I was travelling to Beijing earlier this week, I had an acute refugee instinct on the morning of my departure. After I stood in line for 35 minutes with my bag searched and researched and myself practically strip-searched, I ran towards my gate as if Krakatoa, East of Java, had just erupted 100 metres behind me. I imagined molten lava gushing out to incinerate me, and so with my very tricky blakies, which did not help over the marble floor, I propelled my 90kg frame as if I was a Trident missile.

Huffing like a speared bull - or perhaps a wife who has just found a Tiffany receipt in her husband's jacket without having received anything sparkling - I managed to be the last passenger to enter the aircraft before they closed the door. A couple of seconds later and I would have missed my flight.

Now you may well wonder, as I do, if the world is over-gripped by security deficit syndrome. At one end of the spectrum, the obsequious citizens will accept that it's all for the good of everyone, and we should simply do our duty and stop complaining, and shut up and queue up, and go around with our toothpaste and shampoo in plastic bags. At the other end, there are those who believe that all the expert advice from security experts makes no common sense, as the security procedure is designed to catch one person in tens of millions.

If the truth be known, the terrorist is really only caught by spies, or by covert intelligence or tip-offs or links to other suspicions. The men caught in Britain and America were uncovered by an enormous amount of intelligence. Suspects were followed and watched, and raids took place in dingy semis or innocuous flats. In any event, the security measures on liquid make no sense if those same tens of millions of passengers are able to buy freely from all the shops within the airport after the security check. Even a naive terrorist could smuggle his nefarious ingredients into those umpteen outlets that have become the lifeblood of airport operators. These operators are the guiltiest parties - for giving terrorists slack, and worst of all, for being mercenary in doing so.

The other general point is, how long will we have to sustain this ever-increasing security for the general public? There does not seem to be light at the end of the tunnel for the slightest relaxation. So there is a sigh of resignation - not good for the human spirit. But maybe these escalating security filters will begin to deter travellers, fewer will bother to travel, and the world aviation business will decrease. The result: fewer carbon emissions. I daresay environmentalists would happily become indirect beneficiaries.

And maybe I should be pleased to have been ambushed by the new travelling rules on liquid the other day, anyway. I managed to sprint from Gate 1 to Gate 28, and cleared my lungs and exercised my cardiovascular system for the day. Most of all, I learned not to lose my sense of humour, and so I exercised that too - but, mind you, to its point of unstretchable limit.

David Tang is the founder of the China Club and Shanghai Tang