Tag: security line

‘Give Thanks for the TSA’?

My Washington Examiner column this week covers two developments last week that may make you somewhat less likely to “Give Thanks for the TSA” as former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen urged on National Review’s website.

The first is the viral video of a TSA agent at New Orleans airport giving the “freedom fondle” to a six-year-old girl. The second is Friday’s revelation that among the “behavioral indicators” TSA uses to scope out travelers who deserve extra manhandling is the “arrogant” expression of “contempt against airport passenger procedures.”

Because, clearly, making a scene on an airport security line is sound strategy for anyone trying to sneak a bomb onto a plane.

Is it possible that anyone with an IQ above room temperature buys that logic?
A lot of Al Qaeda terrorists are pretty dumb. But it seems doubtful that they’re that dumb.

The column looks at what our willingness to submit to this sort of thing says about “American Exceptionalism”:

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “American Exceptionalism,” and whether President Obama understands what makes America stand out among the family of nations.

I’ve always thought that what makes Americans exceptional is our ornery resistance to being bossed around….

Neoconservatives see America’s uniqueness as an excuse to bomb any country that looks at us crosswise. But the original idea was somewhat less aggressive. With “every spot of the old world… overrun with oppression,” America would be freedom’s home – an “asylum for mankind” – as Thomas Paine put it in Common Sense.

In the 1992 film adaptation of “Last of the Mohicans,” James Fenimore Cooper’s novel about the Seven Years War, there’s an exchange that illustrates American Exceptionalism at its best. An effete British officer berates the rough-hewn colonial “Hawkeye”: “You call yourself a loyal subject to the Crown?”

“Don’t call myself ‘subject’ to much at all,” Hawkeye replies.

You have to wonder how long that spirit can survive in a world where official federal policy requires you to stand by placidly while agents of the state run their rubber gloves under your innocent 6-year-old daughter’s waistband. And it’s far from clear that these procedures are even making us any safer.

Making Airline Travel as Unpleasant as Possible

The Transportation Safety Administration long has made air travel as unpleasant as possible without obvious regard to the impact on safety.  Thankfully, the TSA recently dropped the inane procedure of asking to see your boarding pass as you passed through the checkpoint – a few feet away from where you entered the security line, at which point you had shown both your boarding pass and ID. 

However, there are proposals afoot in Congress to set new carry-on luggage restrictions, to be enforced by the TSA, even though they would do nothing to enhance security.  An inch either way on the heighth or width of a bag wouldn’t help any terrorists intent on taking over an airplane.  But the proposed restrictions would inconvenience travelers and allow the airlines to fob off on government what should be their own responsibility for setting luggage standards. 

TSA also has restarted ad hoc inspections of boarding passengers.  At least flights as well as passengers are targeted randomly.  After 9/11 the TSA conducted secondary inspections for every flight.  The process suggested that the initial inspections were unreliable, delayed passengers, and led experienced flyers to game the process.  It was critical to try to hit the front of the line while the inspectors were busy bothering someone else.  There was no full-proof system, but I learned that being first or second in line was particularly dangerous.

Finally TSA dropped the practice.  And, as far as I am aware, no planes were hijacked or terrorist acts committed as a result.  But TSA recently restarted the inspections, though on a random basis.

I had to remember my old lessons last week, when I ran into the routine on my return home from a trip during which I addressed students about liberty.  Luckily I was able to get on board, rather than get stuck as TSA personnel pawed through bags already screened at the security check point.

There’s no fool-proof way to ensure security for air travel.  Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to inconvenience passengers while only looking like one is ensuring airline security.

Galling Security Ignorance

In a post on Saturday at NRO’s the Corner blog, former Bush speech writer Marc Theissen exhibits ignorance of basic security concepts too galling to let pass without comment.

Attempting to refute the idea that hijacking planes and flying them into buildings was “off the table” as a terrorist tactic after 9/11, Theissen says:

Really? Planes were off the table after 9/11? That would come as a surprise to every passenger in the past three years who had their liquids confiscated in an airport security line. Those security measures were instituted because in 2006 we foiled an al-Qaeda plot to hijack airplanes leaving London’s Heathrow airport and blow them up over the Atlantic (a plot our intelligence community says was just weeks from execution).

(First, put aside some issues - “what the government says about its security measures must be true” and both the immediacy and viability of the liquid bomb plot in London.)

The difference between “hijacking” and “bombing” shouldn’t need explaining. The former is taking over the controls of a thing, enabling an attacker to direct it into other things. The latter is exploding something in it or on it so as to render it inoperable.

Americans ritually donate their toothpaste to sanitation departments in the cities they visit not because a liquid bomb could enable the commandeering of a plane, but because the alleged liquid bomb could take a plane out of the sky.

The bombing of a plane is a serious concern, but not as serious or potentially damaging as the commandeering of an aircraft. And commandeering is essentially off the table. The hardening of cockpit doors, new procedures at the fronts of planes, and newfound resolve of passengers and crews against commandeering have reduced the likelihood of future commandeerings to near zero. That was what the plane going down in Pennsylvania was all about.

If it weren’t made in debate about such serious issues, Theissen’s error would be quite comical. In his jumbled version of events, the liquid bomb plotters were going to go to the trouble of capturing the controls of an airplane, then fly it around for a while, and finally blow it up over the Atlantic. It’s reminiscent of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine attacks the theory that an elderly couple running a nearby cobbler shop had shut it down just to abscond with Jerry’s shoes:

ELAINE (amused): So. Mom and Pop’s plan was to move into the neighborhood…establish trust…for 48 years. And then, run off with Jerry’s sneakers.

KRAMER: Apparently.

ELAINE: Alright, that’s enough of this.