The Farce That Is TSA

A few short days after terrorists flew jets into the World Trade Center I went through the TSA checkpoint at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas with a box cutter in plain sight. It was an accident; I had forgotten it was clipped in my laptop case. The TSA agent searched the case and made me turn on my laptop so she could be assured it wasn’t a disguised bomb. She missed the razor blade and passed me through without question.

Sometime later I passed through another TSA checkpoint with Kirsten. They confiscated a tiny bottle of lotion from Kirsten and completely missed the folded-up scissors in her purse.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a joke. In an article published in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg calls it security theater.

The Things He Carried
Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, November 2008

In this interesting essay Goldberg not only describes how to foil the TSA security measures, he tells how he did it, over and over again. What is more interesting than evading security is whether or not any of that theater makes us any safer. Why wouldn’t a terrorist simply detonate their bomb in the totally unsecure TSA checkpoint where people are congregated in the interior of the busy airport? Or perhaps they’d just walk into the airport through the back door.

“Do you know what you have on the inside of an airport?” Hawley asked me. “You have all the military traveling, you have guns, chemicals, jet fuel. So the idea that we would spend a whole lot of resources putting a perimeter around that, running every worker, 50,000 people, every day, through security—why in the heck would you do that? Because all they have to do is walk through clean and then have someone throw something over a fence.”

So what do we get for the billions spent on airport security and obtrusive screening? Not much, it turns out.

“Counter­terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schnei­er said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”

You can imagine, after reading the article in The Atlantic, how humorous the article in USA Today I read last night must have been.

TSA ads aim to get fliers on board with security measures
Thomas Frank, USA Today, November 25, 2008

TSA has teamed up with the Ad Council to launch a $1.3 million ad campaign trying to “change behavior of passengers who no longer automatically accept post-Sept. 11 airport security procedures.”

A passenger focus group conducted for TSA by New York City business consulting firm Blue Lime found that “unquestioning compliance has diminished.” Passengers say they are more afraid of missing their flight than they are of an airplane being attacked, the 73-page Blue Lime report found.

In the video a TSA screener tells flyers homemade bombs, “are the No. 1 threat to aircraft, and we know terrorists have concealed these items in shoes.” Ooh, how scary. Does anybody need reminding why the shoe bomber, Richard Colvin Reid, failed to bring down American Airlines Flight 63 with his shoe bomb? Because he was too stupid to light a fuse with a match and because passengers subdued him.

Richard Reid

Passengers on flight 63 complained of a smoke smell in the cabin shortly after a meal service. One flight attendant, Hermis Moutardier, walked the aisles of the plane, trying to assess the source. She found Reid, who was sitting alone near a window and attempting to light a match. Moutardier warned him that smoking was not allowed on the airplane; Reid promised to stop. A few minutes later, Moutardier found Reid leaned over in his seat; her attempts to get his attention failed. After asking “What are you doing?” Reid grabbed at her, revealing one shoe in his lap, a fuse which led into the shoe, and a lit match.

In addition to the video, radio spots, and website for travel tips the TSA screeners might become a little more gentle. I suppose when reason fails they can just nice us into submission.

In addition to the ads, the TSA has been training screeners to better interact with passengers, urging them not to shout across security lanes and to chat quietly and warmly with people in line, Howe said.

3 Replies to “The Farce That Is TSA”

  1. Brent, it gets worse. The TSA, like any organism, including bureaucraies, wants to survive and grow.

    They are now proposing introducing the same Security Theatre to *private* aircraft over 12,500lb (that includes the larger King Airs and probably all Learjets). So operators of private and corporate jets would need to go through the same ridiculous hoops (submitting passenger manifest to an agency for checking against the no-fly list, etc) as airlines do. Even though there has never been any demonstrated threat of terrorism using private aircraft! (And besides, anyone can go and rent a Truck from Ranger and fill it with explosives without the TSA or anyone else taking any interest at all)

    And of course this is only the thin end of the wedge. If they succeed with that, who’s to say they won’t eventually expand it to *all* aircraft?

    What business does the government have interfering with people moving about the country in their own vehicles? It’s quite absurd.

    More: LASP

  2. @Steven Pam – Yes, I was being kind. Thank you for your 2¢.

  3. “Counter­terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better.”

    –Exactly! What a joke…and waste of money.

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