The Christmas Day attack on the Northwest Airlines flight reveals a fundamental flaw in the security policy of western governments: a misguided belief in the efficacy of data profiling (“Yemen provides possible link to al Qaeda as bomber suspect prepares for Detroit court”, The Herald, December 28).
But relying on data profiling techniques is reckless security theatre.
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None of the airport charades performed on that day made any difference to the outcome of the attack.
During the last decade, the UK and US governments have sought to gather as much information as possible about each of us, in the misguided belief that a large mass of data equates to high quality intelligence.
It is for this reason that airlines are now required to inform the UK Borders Agency of our meal and seating preferences, credit card details and e-mail addresses, while internet service providers and telecoms companies retain records of our personal communications for subsequent inspection by the security services.
The reality is that this intrusive collection of excessive data dilutes the value of any useful information held.
By placing everyone under suspicion, the government merely lowers the signal to noise ratio of captured data, thus weakening real security.
The US authorities had been notified that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a potential threat but this information did not rise above the chaff of data recorded about innocent people.
Indiscriminate mass screening of our activities will never be a substitute for proper human-led intelligence.
When searching for a needle in a haystack, it is not wise to add more hay.
It is to be hoped this lesson will soon be learned by our government, preferably before many people have to die to teach it.
Dr Geraint Bevan, Glasgow.
It is hard to reconcile the inconsistencies surrounding the case of the Nigerian who tried to blow up the aircraft on Christmas Day.
Here is a young chap whose father warns the American Embassy in Nigeria of his concerns about his son, who pays in cash for a Lagos-Amsterdam-Detroit flight, who travels without luggage and is known to be barred from entering Britan since May.
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, deploys smoke and mirrors to state that the ban prevents Abdulmutallab from entering Britain but allows him to pass through.
Amidst the gesture security arrangements we endure, which are shot through with inconsistencies, the most bizarre inconsistency is the name given to all such gathering an analysis of relevant facts: intelligence.
George Devlin, Glasgow.
I find it hard to reconcile the zeal with which the American authorities are pursuing the extradition of Scots-born hacker, Gary McKinnon, with the apparent complacency in dealing with the more realistic airborne terrorist threats we have seen in the past few days.
With terrorist ‘watch’ lists being ignored, the stringent visa requirements and pre-notification of passenger lists did not stop the reported attempt to blow up the American aircraft.
The US authorities should get their act together if they want to allay public fears about their ability to cope with the terrorist threat.
Bob MacDougall, Stirlingshire.
A barrage across the River Clyde is a good idea and a similar project on the Forth would be better than a new bridge
I read your report about installing a barrage across the River Clyde with interest (“River tidal barrier to protect and power Clydeside”, The Herald, December 26). If it can be made to work this is one of the most useful things to do.
The problem is that there is little prospect of finding the money to put it in place. Should we be looking at this as part of a bigger picture?
We already have tentative plans to build another bridge crossing of the Forth but that is expensive and will only provide a transport link.
If a barrage were built instead it might not cost a great deal more and would both significantly increase our production of green energy and provide an effective flood control mechanism for the upstream areas of the Forth such as Longannet power station and the Grangemouth refinery,
There are several other estuaries where there is significant tidal flow and these should all be examined with a view to increasing our production of energy.
These are most probably for the longer term but the Forth crossing is the one that cries out for immediate review; there is little point in spending several billion pounds on a bridge to miss the opportunity of a much greater range of benefits from a barrage.
D.S. Blackwood, Helensburgh.
What great news: flood prevention; tidal green energy generation; improved shipping to and from the Clyde; more jobs; a new traffic route joining up the north and south of Scotland.
Wonderful. Let us have suggestions for a name for such a great project.
Not a Clyde Barrier but a Clyde Connection?
Steve McIntosh, Johnstone.
In reply to Mary Gowrie’s letter regarding proposals for a River Clyde barrage (December 28): in 1839, the Glasgow & South Western Railway proposed a train ferry between its line at Langbank (which it would have renamed Dumbarton Ferry), the Forth & Clyde Canal at Bowling, and a new pier and station at Levengrove, with a branch railway to Balloch.
The scheme did not proceed. As late as 1925, Transporters Ltd (a company founded by William Lindsay Hamilton) planned a transporter bridge (with a main span of 1200 feet, to allow unimpeded river navigation) from Langbank to Levengrove.
This system would have carried four large coaches or ten cars across the river in two minutes.
Although the company was supported by Maurice Denny and Walter Brock, along with five knights of the realm, including Sir Hugh Reid, the world-renowned railway engineer, nothing came of the proposal.
But who really knows what the future holds.
David Harvie, Dumbarton.
Reid this Heather - the weather. Whether hither. Thither. Whither?
Allan Roderick Morrison, Glasgow.
The planet’s ecosystems are being destroyed by a plague of humans
I agree with Alan Sangster that it is misleading in the global warming debate to compare current temperatures with some specific time in the past 1000 years (Letters, December 28).
Climatologists are well aware of these short-term cyclical warm and cold periods but that is not what the science of global warming is about.
It is about the long-term equilibrium over millions of years.
While there is debate about the rate of warming and the role of man, most scientists agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
Today the concentration is already higher than for more than one million years, a time well before homo sapiens walked the earth.
On current projections, by the end of the century we could be back to CO2
concentrations in the age of the dinosaurs, when the global mean temperature was several degrees warmer than at present.
Such rapid changes in the atmosphere and climate leave insufficient time for animals and plants to evolve or migrate, so mass extinction is more likely.
Mr Sangster is also correct that the human population is far too high for long-term sustainability.
We have been able to increase our numbers to the detriment of other species by plundering the earth’s resources, particularly fossil fuels, to satisfy our need for food, mobility, goods and places to live.
Today, the earth is suffering a plague of humans, leading to destruction of habitat and ecosystems.
Ultimately the equation between resource and demand must be balanced.
Perhaps the planet can only sustain a human population of two to three billion.
An adjunct to climate change is that such an adjustment is likely, in order to regain a balance with the environment and other species.
It is easy to forget that the period of human civilisation is exceedingly short in the history of the planet.
It is inevitable that the equilibrium we are disturbing will be restored as the planet and nature “fight” back.
Hugh Walker, Dunfermline.
Why is airport rail link so expensive?
The arguments for and against the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) project and the financial reasons for omitting it from the Scottish Budget have already been fully rehearsed in these columns (Letters, December 28). However some questions remain about the estimated cost. I understand the latest estimates were £210 million for the construction of the new 2.4km rail link from Paisley to the airport, including the new bridge over the M8, and £182m for the upgrading of 9km of existing track between Glasgow Central and Paisley Gilmour Street.I assume the total of £392m also includes construction of two new platforms at Central Station and the rail terminal at Glasgow Airport.
I have been sent a recent copy of a Spanish newspaper (fortunately with a translation provided) describing the new underground rail project linking Madrid’s two main rail terminals.
This will involve the construction of a deep twin tunnel 7.3km in length below Madrid’s city centre, under the Prado Museum and Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium. The estimated cost of the project will be €206m (£231m). This works out at about £28m per kilometre compared to the Garl spur link at £96m per km. Even allowing for bridge and terminal costs, how can a comparatively simple surface project cost three-and-a-half times as much per kilometre as a complex underground tunnelling construction using expensive German technology?
Perhaps the Scottish Government and its agencies need to look again at their estimating and tendering processes.
A similar discrepancy has also been noted between the cost of the new Forth Bridge and other similar bridges built recently in Scandinavia.
But never mind, the good news is that a brand new fast train line is to be built from London to the north, perhaps even going as far as Scotland eventually.
This will include the construction of a completely new station in central London and will have direct links to Heathrow and with the £16bn London Crossrail project already approved.
Perhaps there will be some loose change left over to pay for our own much-needed cross-rail link and also effective airport links serving all parts of Scotland, not just the central belt.
Iain A D Mann, Glasgow.
Many new teachers can’t find any jobs
You report that thousands of additional teachers have been trained in recent years to meet SNP manifesto commitments on class sizes but figures show more than one quarter of newly qualified teachers cannot find a job (“EIS attacks plan to cut number of trainee teachers”, The Herald, December 28). The main problem is the definition of job. A teacher is classed as being in employment even if they just work one day out of a full school year. So this does not take into account the hundreds of newly and not so newly qualified teachers struggling to make ends meet. Some will have simply gone abroad, probably never to return, or have found employment in a more secure sector.
There is also the myth of the “retirement bomb”, which has been doing the rounds for the past decade, if not longer. Each year the teaching colleges’ wheel out this particular chestnut in an effort to
bolster student numbers, and it works. Thousands of people sign up, sometimes giving up a lucrative career, only to find themselves kicking their heels when they are deemed surplus to requirements.
Why do the Government, the teaching colleges and, to a lesser extent, the unions find it so difficult to predict and budget for teachers into the future?
The EIS is quite right to predict there will be a teacher shortage in a few years and, as a recently qualified teacher who has had three weeks’ work since August, I am tempted to say it serves the Scottish Government and the local authorities right. However, I still regard myself as a professional and would never treat other professional people so shoddily.
I believe our children’s education is essential for their future and the future of our country. I just wish the authorities felt the same.
JJ Williams, Glasgow .