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Richard Reid Bomb ShoesRichard Reid, aka the Shoe Bomber, offers an example of how security questioning together with appropriate security procedures, can be an effective deterrent and identifier of threat.  Although there are hundreds of examples of how proper questioning has succeeded, this case is notorious.


On July 7th, 2001, Reid traveled to Israel on El Al airlines.  After being questioned, El Al security officers identified him as suspicious.  His bags were very thoroughly checked, as was everything he was wearing.  His belongings and appearance did not match his stated purpose and the duration of his itinerary. He was allowed to board the plane to Tel Aviv, and was overtly and covertly monitored closely by security personnel all the way to Israel. 


His five-day sojourn in Israel provided an opportunity to observe and gather intelligence on Reid.  Insofar as he did not choose to return to Israel, nor make it the target of a terrorist attack, we may well conclude that Reid was deterred by the Israeli security system which relies in part on questioning as a tool to ascertain threat.  There was a reason his target shifted from an Israeli to an American airline.


Later that same year, on December 21 Reid attempted to board a flight from Paris to Miami.  His disheveled appearance coupled with the fact that he did not answer all questions and had not checked in luggage for a transatlantic flight aroused the suspicion of the airline screeners.  They called in the French National Police whose questioning of Reid was driven by a crime no/crime framework, and did not reveal the actual problem.  They let him go, he missed his flight and was reissued a ticket for the following day.  It rained in Paris that day which resulted in the bomb components in his shoes becoming wet and no longer functional.


On December 22, although the airline passenger screeners found him, again, suspicious, he was allowed to pass through security and board American Airlines Flight 63 wearing his special plastic explosive bottomed shoes.  After a stewardess noticed him trying to light the fuse coming out of his shoe, she and nearby passengers subdued Reid who was arrested on arrival.  He now resides in a supermax federal prison in Colorado.


What lessons can we take away from the Reid case?


  • Security Questioning links inquiry with actual adversarial methods of operation. 
  • Police-style questioning is not an effective tool for screening or threat mitigation because its focus is on crime, versus threat assessment.  Security questions are specifically designed to determine intent versus culpability for something yet to happen.
  • Security Questioning conducted in a vacuum, without an appropriate follow up procedure is ineffective. 
  • Security Questioning is the only viable tool for assessing suspicion indicators related to a person’s behavior, appearance and story.

In the El Al example, their security officers:


  • achieved deterrence
  • got intelligence and
  • and most importantly, mitigated the threat posed by Richard Reid 

In the questioning that was conducted in Paris, none of this was achieved.  Security was breached.  And the only thing that prevented a horrible disaster was, alas, the rainy weather and luck.