The Terror of Fine Whiskey

Flying into Sydney airport for a transfer onto another flight to New Zealand recently, I discovered to my horror that the paranoid fantasies of the counter-terrorism imagination had claimed my fine single malt duty free whiskey as their latest victim. It turns out that following the UK liquid bomb plot, the Australian authorities decided that even when passengers are only in transit through the airport, they cannot take liquids over 100mls into the transit area and onto another plane – even if it is in a sealed duty-free bag and has transited safely through other countries and planes. I know this for a fact because I bought some delicious (and expensive) whiskey for a friend in New Zealand at Birmingham airport, safely transited it through Dubai, only for it to be confiscated (officially stolen) at Sydney airport – even though I was flying on to New Zealand!

The point is that this has almost nothing to do with security, even if it may have started out that way. This is clear from any reasoned analysis of the situation, namely, that if I was a terrorist carrying a liquid bomb in a fake duty-free officially-sealed bag, I could have detonated it over Sydney as we came in to land – or in the airport while I waited for security. If the authorities were that concerned at the risk, they would make other countries follow the same rules and not allow flights into Sydney that broke those rules (as the US does). A partial, half-hearted security regime is no security regime at all. Moreover, if the authorities are genuinely worried that explosives could be smuggled in via duty free whiskey, then they must also be extremely worried that a man put explosives in his underwear and flew all the way to America before trying to blow himself up. If they were really concerned about explosive risks, then Sydney airport would make every passenger remove their underwear for an explosives check.

We can also be sure that this is not necessarily about a reasonable response to a security risk, because there are simple procedures which could be adopted (like locking the doors to the pilot’s cabin in the case of hijacking). For example, in my case, they could ask me to take a drink of the whiskey to ensure it wasn’t liquid explosive; I would be very happy to do this. Or, they could have someone whose job it was to check that duty free alcohol really was alcohol by tasting a little of each bottle that passed through. Of course, they would probably need to rotate these people frequently and organise an AA meeting. Actually, a simple explosives test, which many airports use randomly on passengers anyway, could solve the question. Or, a simple security seal from airport security in the world’s main airports would also work. My point is that there are simple and reasonable measures which could be taken to reduce the sheer idiocy of some of the security measures currently in place – like confiscating my whiskey! The authorities have actually demonstrated that they can show a reasonable response when they realize that the alternative is too costly and too disruptive compared to the risk – as in the case of underwear bombs. Why not the whiskey, then?

But this is the catastrophic imagination we now have to live with, where paranoia makes policy and the security officers know they’re trapped in a Kafkaesque world but simply have to follow the rules (as the guys at Sydney security admitted to me). On average, there is one terrorist attack on a flight for every 17 million flights, and many of these attacks are unsuccessful. I’ve written about the factual risks of terrorism before; the real risk does not justify the overreaction and paranoid response, especially in terms of my whiskey. (Why must they take it out on people’s whiskey? For God’s sake, think of the children!) But the reality is that facts and reason no longer count for much in this new world; the heightened imagination of security officials is all that is needed to turn your whiskey (or maybe vodka or gin, you never know) into a security threat. And it seems that once an idiotic policy is in place, it is harder to change it back than to simply keep it going – a case of inertia and path dependency. Or maybe it has something to do with the security companies that have to charge a tidy premium for confiscating all that terrorist whiskey – not to mention the people who get to share the free confiscated whiskey at the end of the week? (I hope my stolen whiskey makes them puke! I’m not bitter about this at all, seriously.)

My question is: when will we – the whiskey drinkers; I mean, the People of the World – stop putting up with this stupidity and idiocy? How should we resist it? What are the tactics for fighting back? Next time, I think I will sit at security and drink the whole bottle of whiskey, sharing it with fellow passengers, rather than let them confiscate it. Either that, or take off my underpants which have travelled 24 hours from the UK and put them through the x-ray machine. I have to do something; I simply don’t want to live like this anymore. When good whiskey falls victim to counter-terrorism policy, you know we have reached the end of civilized society. It’s time to stand up and be counted, people – for the whiskey!


About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently Professor of Peace Studies and the Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of pacifism and nonviolence, terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies (Routledge, 2016); Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism. In 2014, I published a research-based novel entitled, Confessions of a Terrorist (Zed Books, 2014) which explores the mind and motivation of a terrorist.
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6 Responses to The Terror of Fine Whiskey

  1. Benji Cartwritght says:

    stolen whiskey! bastards…. they were Australian though; if it ain’t lager it ain’t welcome.

  2. I lost a jar of homemade jam to the fine counter-terrorism policy at the known terrorist prime target that is Slovenian national airport. I remember reaching the same conclusion about the end of civilized society.
    I guess that the work you are doing with your research and teaching is the only way to fight this.

  3. nzindie says:

    At what point does it just become theft?

  4. Matt says:

    Yes you could have detonated it Richard – if you had had various other chemicals on you and were able to spend a couple of hours in the toilet mixing them together while releasing various noxious smells (of a chemical nature). I remember security guards stopping me from taking my daughter’s Muller yoghurts for the same reason, even though I had some other liquid that could just as easily have been some kind of liquid explosive. Last week I watched an old lady in a wheelchair being pat-searched by G4S morons – the lady not the chair. Such things drive me mad, but like most people I don’t say anything because I don’t want them to stop me getting on the plane. I often wonder what drives this security theatre. The catastrophic imagination is one thing – the money that G4S is another. Either way it infantilises all of us, and maybe that is the point.

  5. Bob Burns says:


  6. John Paul says:

    Does this qualify as state sponsored terrorism? You are being selectively targeted as a representative of a wider group (European traveller with an affinity for good whiskey) with a view to delivering a message to that wider group (don’t by duty free whiskey) in order to intimidate and modify future behaviour.

    Also consider the moral implications of facilitating this act of terror through the propagation of their message via your blog.

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