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March 30, 2012

"Exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11:"

reinforcing the cockpit door,
and convincing passengers that they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we are done. All the rest is security theatre. -- Economist Debates: Airport security: Statements

Posted by gerardvanderleun at March 30, 2012 3:43 PM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

In your face, azlibertarian.

Posted by: B Lewis at March 31, 2012 8:12 AM

Still butthurt, are you?

The article Gerard posts here in his Side-Lines is an interesting debate, sort of like the one I was trying to attempt in our earlier engagement.

And in those debates, you're going to notice something: Two sides. One of those sides says that TSA screening is an ineffective intrusion into our privacy, and another that says that we have kept terrorists from repeating themselves.

I asked, and never received an answer to, the following question: "So when you look at exactly who our enemy is, what they are capable of, and then deride what it is the TSA is charged with doing, what is the alternative?"

Both of these debates center on the middle ground between absolute freedom and absolute security. Either extreme is possible, of course. But when you achieve that extreme, you will then have to live with consequences of that extreme.

And so when I asked "what is the alternative [to the TSA]", that is what I am attempting to get you to answer. What would happen if we did not search children for prohibited items? How is it that the elderly or the infirm are incapable of terror? Are our Islamic-extremist enemies represented in all races? It was you who suggested that we "put all Muslims in the United States into concentration camps" [Gotta love the liberty there]. But once you've opened up your camps, how are you going to be certain that all of those you would put into these camps are the terrorists you seek to protect yourself from?

Prior to 9/11, it was perfectly legal to pass through an airport security screening with a knife--as long as the blade of that knife was less than 4 inches long [I traveled with a pocketknife with me for years]. I had the freedom to travel with this little tool that I was able to make regular use of while away from home. However, when a group of hijackers used knives, very much like the one I had carried for years, to simultaneously hijack 4 planes by killing enough of the crew and passengers, and in-so-doing transform those planes into de facto WMDs, they were able to kill thousands on the ground. Knowing this, how can we now allow anyone to carry a knife again on a plane? How do you balance the freedom to carry that little pocketknife against the thousands of lives that an illegal use of that knife might cost? I think that the security screening has to look for knives (and liquid explosives and PETN packed around your genitals or into your toddler's or grandmother's diaper), or else risk the consequence again of many thousands on the ground losing their lives when the next hijacked plane hits a densely populated area. And this needs to be said too: While you can chafe at the loss of freedom and the intrusiveness of TSA screening, you should know that if the terrorists do succeed in taking over another airplane (perhaps they'll bring more knives than the "Let's Roll" passengers), the military is going to shoot down that plane. American civilians are going to be killed by the American military so that an order of magnitude greater of other Americans on the ground will not die.

When you look at what our enemy is most opposed to, you find that it is our freedom that they hate the most. And they will use what we treasure the most as a tool against us. Sun Tzu said "So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak." Our wish for un-hampered freedom, [which, in the context of airport security screening, is a unintrusive screening (an oxymoron, if you ask me)] is a point at which our enemy sees us to be weak. Alinsky Rule 4 says "The fourth rule is: Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

This is what our Islamist enemies would wish that we would do. Keep all of our freedoms, and use these freedoms as a means of entry into what they see as the heart of the beast.

Posted by: azlibertarian at March 31, 2012 12:59 PM

zlibertarian: U MAD BRO?

Posted by: B Lewis at March 31, 2012 3:37 PM

azlibertarian,
Do you think the TSA needs to treat airline pilots like the passengers? Why, pray tell. The pilots need no weapons to bring the airplane down. All they need to do is fall on the yoke. If the airline has not done a decent job of background checks on them we're all screwed. I'm a retired major airline pilot. When I was still working we had fingerprint readers in SFO that let us access the secure area. Then TSA said it wasn't good enough. What kind of thinking is that? Their idiocy is based on egalitarianism, not security.

What the heck is wrong with a trusted passenger program where people pay for a background check just like we went through a Top Secret background check in the military. Then they need only go through a magnetometer and bag x-ray? It would speed things up immensely as I believe at least 50% of passengers would enter the program.

What is wrong with profiling? 100% of the male passengers between the ages of 14 and 55 not in the trusted passenger program get the full magilla. Women between those ages would be randomly selected (say 50% or so) and TSA would purposely screen those of middle eastern descent. Yes, it's discriminatory. But wouldn't that encourage those of middle eastern lineage and Muslim leanings to work to discourage the lunatics in their religion? You know, so they wouldn't be discriminated against. Children could be selectively screened based on profiling or just randomly so to make the use of children less enticing. Random screening of old timers would discourage that line of attack. There are much better ways of doing this and still maintaining as much security as we now have - which, IMO, is not that great.

Let us hope the jihadis never get the idea of blowing themsleves up in the midst of the queue for the TSA security setup at ORD/SFO/LAX/or?? during the peak of the Thanksgiving or Christmas travel rush. Think what that might do to the airline industry and the TSA's reputation.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at March 31, 2012 7:24 PM

Seeing that TSA hasn't caught one of the post-Sept 11 terrorists attempting mayhem I say return to the Sept 10 protocol. Let's be extra cautious and prohibit knives and box-cutters in addition. The added effort needs to be with luggage and those with free access to the aircraft. Airport workers, catering, cleaning, fueling, baggage and maintenance people could smuggle something the size of a residential water heater into the aircraft cabin or cargo area and almost nothing is stopping that to this day. Compare that to the obsession over nail clippers and 3 ounces of liquid.

This security loophole has been shouted toward the FAA at least since the Lockerbie bombing of PanAM 103 in 1988.

Posted by: Scott M at March 31, 2012 9:00 PM

Posted by: Rocky at April 1, 2012 6:24 AM

Jimmy J,

You seem to be making the opposite argument that Scott M is making. Scott says that "airport workers...[can] smuggle something the size of a residential water heater into the aircraft cabin or cargo area and almost nothing is stopping that to this day". You're saying that pilots ought to be excluded from screening, because with no weapons at all, they possess the tools to bring down a plane.

You ask why the TSA ought to treat a pilot in the same way that it treats passengers. You don't say how long you've been retired, but if you don't know already, the TSA doesn't treat pilots and passengers the same. We are transitioning to CrewPASS. Personally, I've been against CrewPASS. The recent JetBlue story could have been worse...what if this Captain had been another Auburn Calloway? You're right that no background check will get into the heart of a pilot who is bent on taking down a plane (I'm thinking EgyptAir 990now). But I don't think that is a reason to not look for other pilots who might bring unauthorized weapons in.

I wouldn't mind a TS-level background check to avoid certain elements of TSA screening, but I doubt that the costs of this check would be what most (or 50%) of passengers would pay.

As I mentioned in the earlier thread, Israeli-style profiling one way to skin the cat, but it is also incredibly expensive. I don't think the discriminatory nature of profiling is one that most Americans would support.

For what it's worth, while a discussion of TSA security is always a popular one, I think that TSA screening/Air Marshalls/Passenger involvement has meant that terrorists will move towards softer targets....malls, sports events/concerts, subway systems, or other targets with a number of people in confined areas.

Posted by: azlibertarian at April 1, 2012 3:19 PM

I'd rather ride an airliner down in flames than watch a policeman stick his finger up my kid's ass.
Fuck the TSA.

Posted by: B Lewis at April 1, 2012 11:25 PM

I can sincerely appreciate that, BLewis. I too don't want myself, or my family unnecessarily groped.

However, how many of the families of the victims of 9/11 and Lockerbie...people who, on the day they were killed, were simply going about their daily lives on the ground...would rather have had more airport security, and not less?

Posted by: azlibertarian at April 2, 2012 5:32 AM

azlibertarian,
I retired in '93, so am only going by what I have seen in airport security as an outsider. I travel at least five times a year. Seldom on a pass - retirees get low priority. So, I buy tickets just like the good people I delivered to their destinations for 25 years. I would gladly pay $500 for a one time background check to avoid the bullshit that is now taking place. It is security theater and very bad theatre at that. I believe that the high frequency business travelers who make up at least 50% of airline volume would opt for same in a heart beat.

You say, "I think that TSA screening/Air Marshalls/Passenger involvement has meant that terrorists will move towards softer targets....malls, sports events/concerts, subway systems, or other targets with a number of people in confined areas."

I would have thought the same thing. But it hasn't happened. Why? What is their fascination with airplanes as targets? My guess is that they notice that airplane bombings/hijackings have a strong psychological effect on the population at large. Thus, with very lttle effort (just the threat of bombings/hijackings) they can and have created a situation where we treat every passenger as if he/she is a terrorist and spend billions trying to defend against that one threat. When one looks at the overall affects they have, with only a threat, they have forced us to act in paranoic ways.(Don't for a minute tell me that treating every passneger as a potential terrorist isn't paranoic.) The are winning and quite cheaply at that.

I also believe one reason they don't attack softer targets is that it might really get people pisssed off with subsequent dire consequences for the Muslim world. A series of attacks on malls, would, IMO, bring a demand for the governmnet to get off the defensive (the TSA procedures are defensive) and go on the offensive. What we have done on offense thus far in the ME is try to prosecute a limited war without the aim of unconditional surrender. It is Vietnam all over again. Except now, when we walk away from the fight, our enemies are here among us and will follow us.

We are screwed until our leadership starts to understand what fools they have been. The jihadis spend a few bucks and we react by spending billions to try to erect some kind of leaky fence. The only solution is for the Muslim world to fear what a terrorist attack on any non-Muslimm will mean for the Mulsim world. If they don't suffeer the consequences of the barbaric acts of their jihadis, nothing will change.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at April 2, 2012 9:13 AM