Friday, December 17, 2010

Finally, An Intelligent Article About Airport Security

In my "day job" as CEO of WeatherData Services, Inc., my speciality is mitigating the risks posted by extreme weather and environmental conditions. The same risk mitigation strategies apply to just about any hazard, including those that are man-made.

As a frequent business flier, I have written about the TSA's "security theatre" on a number of occasions (for example, here and here) and on the TSA's outrageous violation of our privacy rights with its new grope searches and nude machines (examples here and here). In spite of all of the theatre and inconvenience, security is markedly ineffective. Just yesterday, ABC News reported that a loaded gun a passenger forgot was in his carryon bag got through security in Houston (an airport with nude machines)!

Unfortunately, up until now, most media articles on the subject have been little more than rewrites of the TSA's "talking points" for reporters. At last, The Washington Post has written a comprehensive article that looks at both sides of the issue. Some excerpts:

Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks and decades after hijackers first began to target passenger airliners, the United States has invested billions of dollars in an airport system that makes technology the last line of defense to intercept terrorists.

It has yet to catch one.

The result is an emerging consensus among experts and lawmakers that the checkpoint-heavy approach - searching nearly every passenger - may not be the most effective...

Some critics have given the labyrinthine airport security system the nickname "security theater," saying it is riddled with loopholes. Airport workers are not screened daily, making them capable of passing into secure areas with weapons. Lines inside the terminal are vulnerable to a would-be suicide bomber. Packages sent as cargo go through a comparatively light screening process - one that is being tightened but was exploited by al-Qaeda operatives in October when they sent bombs hidden in printer cartridges.

"After 9/11, the attacks failed because of the poor skills of the terrorists rather than anything we've done," said Rafi Ron, former security director at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport. "In every one of these later attacks, the security checkpoint was overcome by terrorists who took advantage of the loopholes."

If the sentiments expressed in the Post's article seem familiar, they are exactly what I, and many other experts, have contended for years. As the article points out, the terrorists have "won" -- we are curtailing our freedoms and spending hundreds of billions for little or no gain.

The article points out that the British are going to relax the silly liquids ban but the U.S. thinks it is "too soon." That's absurd. Either the chemistry exists to make liquid bombs on board an airplane or it does not (I'm in the latter camp). Timing ( = political theatre) has nothing to do with it.

I have written my congressional delegation as well as key congresspeople in other states. I have also written the airlines. Have you? I believe that it is only through sustained pressure from voters and airline customers that we will get intelligent and effective airport security.

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