Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Continuing Problem of Airport Security Theater

Jeffrey Goldberg chose to be frisked over going through a backscatter "strip search" machine principally as fodder for his column, but he makes valid points about this latest step in the multi-billion dollar security theater industry:
At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them -- the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down -- said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. "No way. You think Congress would allow that?"

I answered, "If you're a terrorist, you're going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina." He blushed when I said "vagina."

"Yes, but starting tomorrow, we're going to start searching your crotchal area" -- this is the word he used, "crotchal" -- and you're not going to like it."...

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. "Nobody's going to do it," he said, "once they find out that we're going to do."

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? "That's what we're hoping for. We're trying to get everyone into the machine." He called over a colleague. "Tell him what you call the back-scatter," he said. "The Dick-Measuring Device," I said. "That's the truth," the other officer responded.
Goldberg argues (in part for the reasons suggested above) that embarrassing frisks and backscatter machines aren't going to work.
By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them. Plots must be broken up long before the plotters reach the target. If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane.
His colleague, James Fallows, is similarly skeptical of airport security theater.

Meanwhile, the latest and greatest threat to air travel isn't coming from passengers - it's coming from unscreened and poorly screened air cargo. There has been some progress and, as of a cpuole of months ago,
Asked about the cargo shipped on passenger jets, Nicholas Kimball, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, drew our attention to the fact that 100 percent of the cargo loaded into the holds of passenger jets alongside luggage in the United States is now screened at some stage. In January that figure was said to be “at least 50 percent.”

But in a statement earlier this month announcing that accomplishment, the agency acknowledged that one part of the loophole had yet to be closed: cargo loaded onto jets flying passengers into the country from abroad does not have to be screened.
But let's not pretend there was no advance notice of this issue or that nobody saw this coming.

Why do we invest billions to inconvenience and embarrass travelers, the vast majority of whom could easily be ruled out as terrorist suspects by far less intrusive measures, while procrastinating on closing serious security holes? (Focus on passenger security left ‘door open’ for cargo attacks: pilots’ union.)

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