What can we learn from Underwear II?
First, threats to aircraft are still top of mind for al Qaeda, even post-bin Laden. Forget the line about AQ being staggered and on its last legs, just because they may not be as concentrated in Pakistan/Afghanistan doesn’t mean they don’t have a presence in many other locations.
Second, the real threat to aviation is bombs brought on board the plane. Searching for pointy objects is a waste of time. Regulations aren’t enough, flexible and smart techniques like behavior observation work better.
Third, connecting intelligence capability to TSA checkpoint operations is key and this is the perfect proof case. Well done all the way around.
Fourth, body scanners are helpful but they aren’t everywhere, particularly overseas. This means a pat down is urgently needed that is accepted by the public and consistently done properly by security officers of every culture in all locations. U-II is not an argument for the invasive pat down; it highlights the need to replace it with something sustainable.
Fifth, physics rules. TSA needs to know for sure whether the mass of the explosive in Underwear II is sufficient to take down a plane. That will inform the discussion about how far up one’s leg a security officer needs to go. The goal is not to find a trace element (deep in the crotch); we are looking for the necessary mass to take down a plane (not quite so intrusive).
Sixth, be vigilant elsewhere. We are notorious for dashing after the latest attack technique and AQ likes multi-stage attacks with diversions built-in.