Cynical Synapse

Fri, 29 Oct 2010

Europeans Call for Curtain on Security Theater

department of security theater

Earlier this week, European airline and airport executives decried the burdonsome security requirements, labeling them “unnecessary and overly intrusive”. British Airways’ chairman started the furor in remarks he made before the UK Airport Operators Association.

Martin Broughton complained specifically about separate checks of laptop computers and forcing people to take off their shoes for checking, saying that such measures are “completely redundant,” the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

UK pilots, Heathrow airport’s operator, several European airlines, and even security experts welcomed Broughton’s observations.

“We need to keep passengers safe, but there’s also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out,” said Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst in London.

The requirement to remove shoes for screening, for example, was “the knee-jerk reaction after Richard Reid.” The newest metal detectors would sense any metal such as wiring in shoes, he contended.

tsa frisks terror suspect

Much of the security charades are simply feel-good measures with no significant security value. There are substantial costs in time, productivity, real estate, equipment, and manpower. Some have even referred to TSA—Transportation Security Administration—as Thousands Standing Around. Removing shoes was a knee-jerk reaction to the lone shoe bomber, Richard Reid. The plastic baggies and liquids limits resulted from the liquid explosives plot in the UK. Emphasis and speed-up on installing full-body scanners is because TSA knew they couldn’t demand we take our underwear off so they settled for a virtual strip search. The problem is these approaches are not effective.

However, all that “security” is not all that secure. According to articles by the BBC, Time, and Discover Magazine, pat-downs do not detect devices stowed in bodily orifices and invasive body scanners do not detect liquid, the most common form of explosives used by airborne terrorists. The Wall Street Journal notes that hardened cockpit doors and a trend of terror threats coming from coach class hint that deterrence may not be the main reason that federal marshals fly first class.

Are you kidding me? Air Marshals fly first class? If Osama Bin Laden himself was sitting in the window seat in row 38, what do you think the chances are of stopping him from blowing up the plane with his “netbook”? Netbooks don’t go through separately like laptops. An Air Marshal in first class would have had zero chance to stop the underwear bomber.

security screening

All the so-called security measures seem to address a real and reasonable threat. They should be reassuring. Instead, the process is dehumanizing and conducted with much the same compassion as sending cattle down the chute to the truck for the slaughterhouse. It feeds on and expands the irrationality of fear that is all around us.

Nevertheless, we should be thankful TSA is working so diligently to save rule-following, law-abiding citizens in close coordination with other countries around the world. In response to Broughton’s comments, a TSA statement said the US:

works closely with our international partners to ensure the best possible security. We constantly review and evolve our security measures based on the latest intelligence.

Previously on security theater:

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