One of the persistent thoughts I indulge as I while away time standing in line at airports: None of this makes us a durn bit safer.
It’s all for show–taking nail scissors from granny, refusing to allow toddlers with names similar to terrorist on planes, and making me take off my sandals–none of it makes a difference.
In fact, I’ve always wondered what the security folks might do if they did spot a genuinely suspicious person. Ignore him for fear of being accused of profiling?
Iconoclastic New York Times columnist John Tierney–he’s one of two–writes about the inherent faults in the way we handle airport security today:
Under its new leader, Kip Hawley, the T.S.A. is finally considering proposals to speed up the screening process by ignoring scissors, small knives and other items now on its verboten list. That would be a favor to airplane passengers, but it would take a lot more to undo one of the costliest mistakes Congress made after Sept. 11: the creation of the T.S.A.
Congress ignored the lessons from Israel and European countries, which have learned the hard way not to rely on government workers to screen airline passengers. The overseas airports switched to private companies and let the national government concentrate on being a watchdog – a job it could do much better when it wasn’t overseeing its own workers.
But Congress insisted on creating a new federal airport security agency in charge of everything: making the rules, enforcing them and running the system. It was supposed to be a new kind of streamlined agency, exempt from some federal work rules. But a former T.S.A. official told me he was amazed at how quickly it had turned into a Soviet-style bureaucracy.
’It became this centralized risk-averse organization trying to create a cookie-cutter model for all the airports in America,’ he said. He praised the T.S.A. screeners, but added: ’The billions being spent aren’t buying more security because they’re looking at things rather than at people. Rather than treating every airline passenger as a potential terrorist, you should husband your resources and concentrate on the higher-risk passengers.’
If it didn’t spend so much time and money examining business travelers’ laptops, the T.S.A. could focus on real threats, like bombs in baggage, but it’s been slow to set up a registration system allowing frequent travelers to bypass the screening. So they wait in line with everyone else because the T.S.A. doesn’t give airports the flexibility to add screeners quickly at busy times.