Ever since the inception of the Department of Homeland Security, I have been a skeptic. As I watched the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) evolve since the attacks in 2001 it always seemed to be a reactionary organization and one run with a decided absence of logic.
Let’s talk liquids. Can we be real here? There are plenty of liquids that can do a LOT of damage without a lot of quantity. There are plenty of liquids that can be mixed and not have an immediate reaction that can do a lot of damage. So why the restriction? OK, if someone is coming on board a flight with a 55 gallon drum—we need to talk. But a full-sized tube of toothpaste? A bottle of shampoo?
Let’s talk electronics. Removing the laptops from their cases. Are the multi-million dollar scanning devices unable to somehow penetrate a nylon or leather carrying case yet fully able to penetrate a carry on suit case? Why is the US one of the few countries worldwide that requires this? And why is it exempted for some airports? And some travelers?
Let’s talk shoes. One guy tries to sabotage a plane with a failed attempt at exploding his shoes and now we all must go barefoot through security. Well, some of us do. And only in some locations. But elsewhere in the world—not so much.
Let’s talk TSA Pre-Check. This program blows my mind. With it, you can zip through security without removing your shoes, belts, laptops, liquids, and jackets. Sweet. For a $85 fee and a personal interview and background check you can zip on to your flight. It might make sense, but Southwest issues the Pre-Check authorization on many boarding passes. I have flown Southwest and received the designation on my outbound flight to Florida, but not my return. Why is that? Am I more of a threat on the way back? And how does my girlfriend’s underage daughter on her first flight get the authorization, yet her mother does not?
Now, I hear that the TSA is considering eliminating screening at many smaller airports to concentrate on the larger ones! Does anyone see any loopholes there? The TSA has said that the reductions will be at smaller airports that do not handle the larger jets. The logic there is that a smaller jet cannot cause the damage a larger one might. I guess they feel that a smaller jet loaded with a chemical agent (undoubtedly in a full-sized shampoo bottle) would not be a threat if it crashed into a NFL game…or any moderate sized city. I guess the TSA logic is that the terrorists looking to use aviation for attacks don’t want to go to anything but the biggest airports. How flawed can this agency’s logic be? Then again, it all may be a ploy to get an increased budget—nothing has been settled yet. In fact, the TSA seems to be backing off this stance since the CNN report. Initially, spokesperson Michael Bilello said that the TSA would need to “conduct a risk assessment before making any decision to pull out of an airport.” But now, they are backtracking a bit more. In an August 3rd statement they said “No decisions have been made. Any assertions to the contrary simply aren’t true. TSA is committed to discussing possible ways to be more efficient in the best interest of taxpayers and the American people.” And to backtrack a bit more, in an August 8th statement they said they “will not be eliminating passenger screening at any US federalized airport.”
As I look back on all this foolishness, I have to wonder if it is all a bit of theater. Travel is part of my livelihood so I do not say that with abandon. My calculator does not handle numbers as big as the numbers it has cost to “make Americans safe” in the airports. While the loss of any life or property to a terrorist attack is tragic; I ask myself if we are any safer now than we were on September 10, 2001. Fighting terrorism is a lot like plugging a dam or playing Whack-A-Mole. We do not have the ability to replace a dam (eliminate terrorism) so when it springs a leak (commits an act of terror), we react accordingly and plug the dam hole (mitigate the weakness)—which is exactly what we had been doing for decades prior to 2001.
I guess in the end, the best we can hope for is solid advice based on facts and legitimate intelligence from the TSA. But until such a time rolls around, I guess we will need to deal with talking out of both sides of their mouth and walking barefoot in the airport.