The TSA

I don’t usually talk politics and such on here, but I feel I need to put a few things out there…

First off, lets go ahead and get the bit about people who trade liberty for security deserving neither.  I believe that.  If we have to live in fear, like slaves, to a huge machine of rules and regulations then the terrorists have won.

Second, to all the people who are supporting the TSA and their new scanners and pat downs with the defense of “We need to prevent another 9/11” … you are disgracing the memory of those who died.  Want to prevent another 9/11?  One, make the cockpit door stronger to the point where it cannot be battered down, and any explosive strong enough to open the door will also damage the plane enough that getting inside the cockpit is useless.  Two, a new policy where the pilots enter the plane first, close and lock the door, and they don’t open it unless one of the cockpit crew is in medical distress.  In future plane designs/redesigns, give them their own bathroom and a place to store a meal so that they don’t need to leave nor does anyone need to come in.  Done.  If terrorists cannot get into a functional cockpit, they cannot use the plane as a weapon and you have prevented another 9/11.  No amount of confiscation of nail clippers and water bottles and junk touching pat downs will prevent another 9/11.  Did you know that a properly folded copy of the Sky Mall magazine can be used as a weapon?

It’s all security theater, and if it makes you feel safer then you don’t understand what is going on.  Mostly though, as with many things, this is about money.  By mandating that every airport needs to have these new scanners they guarantee sales of the scanners.  The enhanced pat down exists mainly to make using the scanner feel like the better option, and they released these new regulations during the holiday season because they knew people would put up less of a fight if fighting meant missing a flight home for turkey and pumpkin pie.  And if you want to avoid all this drama and just skip flying… you are much much more likely to be killed in a car accident than you are to be killed by terrorists on a plane even without the new enhanced security.

I guess what I’m saying is… take the train.  I also hear that trans-Atlantic cruises are nice.

4 comments

  1. Tesh says:

    “It’s all security theater, and if it makes you feel safer then you don’t understand what is going on.”

    Exactly. Also, as I’ve noted in more than once place, smart terrorists can find softer targets and easier ways to kill people. Terrorism isn’t just about killing people, it’s about disrupting an enemy. The TSA mess leading to greater statism means the terrorists are winning without lifting a finger.

  2. Chas says:

    Actually, its a bit more complicated than that.

    1) Most of the policies you talk about are already in place. The security measures being used aren’t currently focused on preventing another 9/11. They’re about preventing another Lockerbie. It only takes a small amount of explosives to breach the frame of a commercial aircraft– enough that you really could hide it in the casing of a candybar-style cell phone– and taking a couple hundred people out is a pretty high achievement itself for some terrorists.

    2) Our baggage checking equipment is rather robust. Our shoe-checking can identify even formed explosives packed there.. but if there’s a hole elsewhere, they’re not going to catch anything. This isn’t a case of “90% effective” means that 90% of all bombers will be detected. This is a case where “90% effective” means that 100% of the attempts will use the 10% that isn’t effective. The failed underwear bomber showed how form-fitting (and nonmetallic) those charges can be. The “test objects” that we hear about are JUST the ones that make it to the press– any good militant tactician is going to be setting up dozens of things to see what’s triggered and what isn’t. Its common “probing” standard practice.

    3) You ARE right, though– it IS a matter of determining how much risk we as a country are willing to accept in our travels. Automobile travel is still much more dangerous and more likely to end our lives. Terrorists WILL find other venues to kill people- if planes get too hard to hit, then they’ll try another location… but planes are a damn tempting target because there’s not much safety at 50,000 feet. You detonate a cellphone sized charge while sitting in the window seat of an Airbus A380, you kill 500+ people. You detonate the same charge in a full train, you kill maybe 5, injure at most a dozen more. Heck, the Iraqi bombers that detonate in dense marketplaces- killing a dozen and wounding several dozen more- are usually wearing explosives on their body equivalent in size and weight as 1-2 10lb potato sacks at the market. Compare that to under a lb smuggled onto a plane… killing many more…

    3) I’m against the full-body scanners as they’ve been implemented– There was “smart” technology that had the ability to blur out most private details, making an image no more intrusive than a swimsuit. It only showed the areas when something anomalous was detected in that area. It was proven through testing and field tests that this less intrusive “virtual strip search” was just as effective as the ones that exposed everything… it was even reported as such– and it was WIDELY REPORTED a year ago, before these million-dollar purchases were made. THE GOVERNMENT EVEN EXTENDED THE PERIOD FOR PUBLIC COMMENT before committing to these purchases. At that time, polls showed support for the non-concealed virtual strip search and surveys showed that even if there was no proven benefit to the ‘everything shows’ method, people FELT it was more effective.

    4) You’re half wrong on the security theatre for market reasons. The airports have already bought the scanners… that’s old news. The surge in scanner purchases has come and gone, and now the scanner-salespeople need another way to get the government to give them money– by buying “upgraded” models after the public outcry rails against their previous purchase. The fear-profiteering machine has may layers and you’re chasing some long shadows, right now, rather than the actual target…. but you’re on the right track.

    5) I’m a big believer in Franklin’s “people who trade liberty for security deserve neither” philosophy, but I don’t think it applies well in this instance. “Liberty” is the freedom to do and act of your choosing. Part of air travel itself is choosing to restrict your liberty so someone else can take you someplace– you decide to restrict your liberty to sit where you’re told to sit, stay seated when told to be seated, and behave largely as you’re asked to behave. The entire process is about voluntarily restricting ones’ choices in exchange for the convenience of a quick trip that you don’t have to drive/walk yourself. Airport security scanning (whether private or government) is just another part of it… and as you hit on at the end of your post, you have the ultimate luxury of choosing to opt out of it entirely- of NOT momentarily trading our liberties for travel.

    Me? I just don’t fly. If I ever have to, I accept that I’ve asked someone else to take me somewhere, and that means that I’ve got to abide by some of his rules. I still have the ultimate liberty to just ask someone else instead.

    • Jason says:

      I would have no problem if this was the airlines spending their money and they raised airfares to recoup. But this is taxpayer money.

      Think of it this way, even if what you say is true and all this is prevent another Lockerbie. How often did a Lockerbie happen prior to the new expenditures? Even with all the terrorist attacks and even if you include 9/11 into that total, the average death toll from airline incidents is a fraction of the death toll from driving automobiles, and the US isn’t spending tax payer money on road side seat belt detectors and mandatory in-car breathalysers, which would arguably save more lives per year than the new body scanners in airports.

      We are spending the wrong money to solve the wrong problem just because it makes people, in general, feel safer without actually making them even a single fraction of a percent safer.

  3. Chas says:

    The TSA screening budget isn’t taxpayer money. It comes from the Airport Authority.

    Before the TSA, there were privately-run airport screeners. Their policies and standards weren’t uniform, so it was possible for someone to ‘shop around’ to the best place to attack. There was also no method of accountability– if the screening company was in violation, it lost its contract, usually disincorporated, and the execs then re-incorporated as a new company to bid on the next screening contract.

    Furthermore, the security staff were just that- security- with very deputized authority to detain, arrest, and only limited contract-based search authority. They usually had to call on a much smaller “airport police” staff to back them on any incident. Only the customs screeners in international flights were government. This made it difficult for them to legally hold someone that they found suspicious.

    The TSA was intended to eliminate those problems. A single central authority with a single standard that’s enforced at all locations, every employee directly accountable to the government, every officer with the legal rights to detain and arrest. When it was founded, all airport authorities re-allotted their budgets (and then some) to the federal agency and agreed to continue to do so to retain their FAA licenses to run an airport facility.

    Congress is free to add MORE to the screening budget, though, and I’ve heard that they did provide “grants” to many airports to help budget the scanners (conveniently, the committee members that voted for this had in their districts either the airports in question or the businesses making the scanners), but largely, the Screening process of the TSA is not directly taxpayer-funded. Other parts, like the TSA Administration and air marshals, I’m not as certain. I had heard that the Air Marshal budget is paid via fees by the airlines, but haven’t confirmed that.

    Again, though, you raise valid concerns regarding the risk vs the investment. Lockerbie happened a long time ago, but international flights always had high level of scrutiny. Large fuel loads guaranteed long ranges for hostage/escape attempts or human missile explosives. Domestic flights were largely ignored pre 9/11 as unlikely targets. Before the screening in international flights picked up, the early 70’s saw a rash of airline takeovers, flown to “revolutionary” countries, and very botched hostage rescue operations. After the international screening processes, it dropped.

    It’s obvious that we need SOME screening to reduce the frequency of attack, as worked for international flights, but not TOO MUCH screening that it becomes a hindrance or personal invasion. The question is how to strike that balance.

    The trick, from a good security threat-vs-cost point of view, is never invest more in security in protecting something than its worth. What’s lost when a plane is destroyed in a 50,000ft bombing? A plane- an airbus A380 costs about $350m. A trained crew and passenger manifest- The same plane can hold 525-853 passengers… and due US law and settlement authority, every one of those can sue the terrorist state (usually uncontested) and the US then pays out the $$ out of the treasury budget (our taxes) then tries to recoup the loss from the “terrorist state” diplomatically/militarily. The average 9/11 settlement was 1.6 million, so that’s $840m to $1.364b. That doesn’t include the insurance payouts, either. Add in the loss in public confidence, which can easily be billions of dollars in reduced air travel after even a Lockerbie incident, and things start to add up. How many of these incidents, on average, would we expect annually with NO security? How many should our security practices prevent? How much does that save? How much does that security cost?

    Reality, though, is we’ve hit the ugly beast of political grandstanding interfering with a good security calculation. Someone wants government money & gets a politician to propose it. If other politicians oppose it, they’ll be labeled as “risking our lives to save a buck” when something happens– regardless of whether or not the $$ investment could have prevented what happened. It doesn’t matter. Scared people and emotionally hurt people want their pain validated. They act out– and that politician that voted against said security measure is out the next election. Responsible governing isn’t rewarded in this nation– fearmongering, hatemongering, and playing up peoples’ sense of marytrdom and self-sacrifice are…. and that again brings us back to the biggest problem we face– it isn’t the uniformed authorities bent to take away our liberties… it’s the irrational idiots that voluntarily serve it out to them on a goddamn platter.

    😀

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