Three airplane stories: the failed Nigerian suicide bomber whose flight, thank heaven, made it to Detroit; the Chinese doctoral student who evacuated Newark's airport when he breached security to give his girlfriend an extra kiss; and the fifty six year old Gilligan's Island fan whose adolescent humor resulted in his Hawaii flight turning back to Portland.
We are so easily distracted, so in want of stimulation, so repelled by repetition. Passengers and transportation personnel suffer alike. Who would want to watch an x-ray monitor for hours and hours, days on end, to see what's stashed in passengers' carry-ons? Who wouldn't want to stretch his legs after being posted at an exit with nothing to do but watch for people walking in the wrong direction?
We haven't yet learned why the Nigerian terrorist was not intercepted, but I suspect that part of the reason was boredom. The sleepy bureaucrat first entrusted with this intelligence probably looked around for someone else to pass it off to. Perhaps the file sat in a second bureaucrat's inbox while he fumed about having too much work. Maybe he left it on the desk of a third, as a surprise, for when she came back from Starbucks. Thirty five days passed, but Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board his flight unhindered.
The enemy of vigilance is tedium. While on one hour of guard duty in the jungle of Viet Nam, on an especially dark and quiet night, I let two hours slip by. Was I asleep? I will never know.
The Sentry by Carel Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt, 1654. The artist was killed in "The Delft Thunderclap" when kegs of gunpowder stored nearby suddenly exploded. Click on the picture for a closer look.