Cynical Synapse

Tue, 09 Mar 2010

Security Theater Leaves US More Vulnerable

Filed under: Flying, Global War on Terror, Government, National security, Terrorism, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 7:38 pm

Schiphol airport

Dutch investigative reporter reporter Alberto Stegeman exposed a serious gap in airline security from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. In a piece broadcast March 7th on Undercover in Nederland, Stegeman showed how he bought a fifth of alcohol, then replaced it with water, and was able to bring the bottle onto a US-bound airliner.

How does this square with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “3-1-1” rule? It should sync right up, since Netherlands agrees with the 3-1-1 concept. Only, I can bring a fifth of a gallon of liquid through security at Schiphol, but I can’t bring more than 3 ounces through security at Detroit Metro. What’s up with that?

Y’all probably know someone who has brought so-called contraband onto a flight. Airport security is not a perfect system and never will be. But, several fifth-gallons of liquid? There’s a big problem here.

Full body scanner

In the meantime, TSA is moving forward on fielding full-body scanners at US airports. Personally, I’m not in favor of these, unless it means I don’t have to take my shoes off. Still, I disagree with the Fatwah claiming the scanners violate Muslim decency. Please feel free to travel by any other means, such as tramp steamer, train, or car. If I’m going through the scanner, so are you. Too bad, so sad.

The illusion of safety leaves us more vulnerable. Because we think we’re safe, people tend to be less vigilant. But, the reality is we are at greater risk today than ever before. And yet, the authorities continue to focus on “feel-good” measures, like the 3-1-1 rule and take your shoes and belt off. I’m not aware of any terrorist or hijack incidents or attempts involving belts, are you?

Effective airport security boils down to behavioral profiling. That’s how the Israelis have been so successful with their air travel safety. Electronics, trained dogs, and schooled security personnel are all essential elements in a system. Paying attention to anomolies, however, will disrupt terrorists just as terrorists hope to circumvent machines. The human factor, through training and even “gut instinct”, is unpredictable, however, leaving terrorists to rely more on luck than skill. As Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan (ret) said, “Hope is not a method.”

Israeli airport screening

So, what’s keeping us from implementing good, sound security procedures? First, it’s our tendency to put a lot of faith in technology. Technology is totally objective so no one has to justify subjective decisions. An even bigger problem, however, is an effort to not offend or hurt anybody’s feelings. Officials want to avoid complaints of racial profiling. I’m quite certain most Muslims are not radical extremists, but all of the 9/11 terrorists, the shoe bomber, and the undie-bomber were all Islamist jihadists. Which leads to the third issue—TSA would have to train screeners to observe passengers to pick out those most deserving of additional questioning or screening, something they’re not too good at right now. And that means they’d have to also trust their people to do the right thing. When’s the last time you encountered a fairly senior government official who trusted the little guy? Besides, those things require thinking and making decisions. We’d rather have everything be predictable and adhere to easy-to-follow flowcharts.

We continue to harass the rule followers while ignoring bigger issues. It seems security theater still has a long run ahead of it.



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