3 stories that may shake your faith (2 in airline security and 1 in physicians)

Story #1: Several Delta Airlines passengers found needles in their turkey sandwiches on flights from the Netherlands to the United States over the weekend. Obviously, this was an intentional attempt to sabotage the airline’s operations by instilling fear in its passengers and/or an attempt to harm the passengers. As I see it, there are three types of person who’d do such a thing:

1) A psychopath who simply takes pleasure in other people’s fear and pain,
2) A terrorist who wants to disrupt international travel and target Americans particularly, and
3) A vengeful employee who wants to damage the airline and/or the catering company that made the sandwiches.

Because there presumably weren’t many people who handled these sandwiches, I think it’s likely that the FBI and the authorities in the Netherlands will identify the perpetrator or perpetrators (if, for example, there were five possible perpetrators, and I interviewed all five, I think I’d have a good idea which one or ones was or were guilty). For this reason, I think the likelihood of a psychopath with no agenda other than personal amusement in this case is low (they’re usually cowards and probably would’ve picked a less-risky pastime).

Unless the needles were laced with something more lethal, like disease-infected blood (which I hope they weren’t but which I think would have a low probability of effectiveness due to degradation of the material while exposed to the environment), I think the likelihood of a terrorist in this case is low as well. I could imagine a terrorist trying to insert something non-lethal into airline meals as a “test run” for the later insertion of something lethal, but in that case, I’d expect the “test” item to be something that wouldn’t be likely to draw attention and result in a lot of new safety procedures.

So, I think that the highest probability in this case is the disgruntled employee(s) theory, and again, I think it’s highly likely that the person(s) will be identified in fairly short order. Unfortunately, I think this will also result in new safety regulations governing food preparation, storage, and service on flights originating and/or arriving in the U.S., which will again add to the cost of airline travel.

Story #2: Meanwhile, a SkyWest Airlines pilot is dead after apparently murdering his girlfriend and then attempting to flee by stealing a SkyWest regional airliner. That’s right, he apparently sneaked onto the tarmac of a Utah airport in the middle of the night, despite his airline credentials having been suspended as soon as he became a person of interest in the murder, got inside of the airplane, started its engines, and began to taxi toward the runway before he struck several items that damaged the plane enough to prevent it from getting airborne. Then, as law enforcement closed in on the disabled plane, he apparently committed suicide with a gunshot to the head.

Now, how could any of that still happen in 2012, you ask? Why was the airport perimeter penetrable? Why was the plane accessible? Does this mean that anyone could have climbed into that airport (apparently he used a rug and leather gloves to climb over a fence that had razor wire at the top), gotten onto that plane, started it up, and even potentially taken off in it? I don’t know either, but that makes two stories this week that should shake our faith in our airline security system.

Story #3: Shifting topics now, another item of interest based on my experience as a consultant and expert witness in legal and employment matters involving psychological issues: A prominent Texas surgeon facing charges of soliciting another doctor’s murder adamantly maintains his innocence, and of course, he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence under the law. But just in case you’re inclined to believe him simply because he’s a physician, let me tell you, as someone who has psychologically evaluated numerous physicians for a mind-boggling range of reasons, it wouldn’t surprise me.

I’ve assessed physicians who’ve done just about anything criminal that you can imagine, often using their professional duties and/or status as cover. Yes, physicians are a generally-intelligent bunch, but they’re also susceptible to something that I’ve often called the “curse of intelligence,” whereby people with high I.Q.’s can come up with fascinatingly-complex and convoluted rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that are utterly irrational and unjustifiable. I continue to believe that a strong majority of doctors are both dedicated professionals and good people, but if you had seen what I’ve seen, trust me, any faith that you have in their universal benevolence would be shaken.

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