Cynical Synapse

Sat, 26 Dec 2009

Air Travel Security Hoops and Loopholes

Anyone who flies these days realizes air travel isn’t any fun anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I think it’s more because of so-called security and airline policies. The seats are wedged in on the planes, they recycle the air the bare minimum, and you can buy a snack for $5. Did I mention they charge you for taking your luggage along? What’s up with that? So, the airlines are part of the problem, but I guess the convenience—time-saving, mostly—outweighs my complaints as I continue to fly.

My real annoyance is with airport security. Anybody remember when they were doing the random second checks at the gates? Did you notice most of the time they were selecting little old ladies? What about the big guy wearing jeans and a tank top? There are dozens of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guys at every screening point, most of them standing around. On a recent trip to Orlando, I noticed the trams from the gates to the terminal were manned by TSA guys. What’s that got to do with air travel security? Everyone on the trams just got off a flight or has been through screening. So manpower utlization is not exactly the most efficient.

What really bugs me is having to take my shoes off. Now they’ve added belts and coats. I’d be real interested to know exactly how many would-be terrorists they’ve caught this way. Wouldn’t random secondary screening to check shoes, belts, etc., be more effective and less disruptive? And, while the liquid thing affect me personally, I think it’s idiotic. I’m not a chemist, but I’ll bet there can be a liquid explosive that’s powerful enough in 3 ounces. All this stuff amounts to what I call feel-good security. The rule followers—the 99% of us who just want to go somewhere—have to do dumb things for an impression of security. What about strollers and wheelchairs and such? Who’s checking them? How do the TSA guys know my 3 ounces aren’t some kind of acid?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for effective security measures, ones that make sense and have a definite benefit for the burden they entail. Hence, my concern for the latest incident. On a Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate some explosives during the plane’s decent, succeeding only in burning his pants off. The 23-year-old Nigerian, who was subdued by another passenger and subsequently taken into custody, allegedly acted on orders from al-Qaida. Another passenger apparently was burned but the aircraft was not damaged. So, caught unawares, Homeland Security promises additional security measures.

The media jumped right on the similarity with the Shoebomber case. That December 2001 incident involved al-Qaida operative Richard Reid attempting to blow up a flight from Paris. In August 2006, UK officials foiled a liquid explosives plot on flights from Heathrow. And now we have “Shoe Bomber II” on a flight from Amsterdam, which originated in Nigeria. See any similarities here? Yep! Every one of these cases originated outside the US. They’re all foreign flights. That tells me security needs enhancing in Europe and Africa. Is anybody looking there?

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