Friday, August 11, 2006

Now It's Just Getting Ridiculous

There comes a point where you just can't take it anymore.

I have to fly in a week. If the security screening process is markedly more tedious than it has already been post-9/11, I will be very put out. This is ridiculous. Banning liquids and gels in carry-on luggage? Come ON!

Look. I'm all for being cooperative in these trying times. But it's getting to the point where reasonable people simply aren't going to stand for this anymore. People are just going to stop flying. I'm going back for my 10-year high school reunion, for instance. I'm looking forward to it; it'll be fun. But I don't have to go, and if the airport security screening process becomes much more of an ordeal I, and hundreds of thousands of others, will no doubt decide that such recreational plane trips just aren't worth it.

Let's examine the ways in which these new security restrictions -- and any new security restrictions -- are utter nonsense. Several of these points have been made elsewhere, but I thought of them too:

- Presumably, the existence of liquid explosives was known to security officials long before last Thursday. But they weren't a threat then, and they are now? Come ON!

- The changes are in reaction to terror attempts that have already been made (i.e., shoe bombings, liquid explosives). So, if we follow this path, in fifteen years when either one terrorist group or another has tried everything, the only way we'll be allowed to travel is naked, suspended above our seats in a magnetic field. Check that; we have to make sure nobody kiestered anything with plans to crap it out on the plane and use it for nefarious purposes; we'll all have to fly suspended, nude and inside-out. Obviously you can't react this way to every possible terrorist threat, so why react that way to any of them?

- No terrorist that I'm aware of, in the entire history of the current "global war on terror," has been thwarted during the airport security screening stage. The 9/11 hijackers had box cutters that security missed, would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was stopped by fellow passengers, this latest plot was foiled days before the perpetrators even got to the airport... not only has no terrorist been stopped by the airport security screening process, it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which any terrorist could possibly be stopped by the airport security screening process. Common sense and recent history have shown us that they either succeed, or they're stopped somewhere else along the way.

- When we make it so that you've got to be at the airport for three hours prior to a 50-minute flight, we've reached the point that those we're up against have really changed the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans. And really, that's what they're aiming to do. This is how we react to a terror plot that didn't work? Really? I mean, if there are obvious problems, you fix them. After 9/11, it made a lot of sense to make sure cockpit doors were securely locked and to put more armed air marshals on flights. Throw an air marshal on each plane and a lock on each cockpit door, and it's quite a bit less likely that 9/11 happens. (well, 9/11 itself happens, but, we just remember it as the day after Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey got injured). (sorry. Too soon?)

But will taking off our shoes and not bringing liquids onto planes help stop the next shoe bomber or liquid-explosives-taking-onto-a-plane-guy? I'm no terrorist mastermind, I'm no logistical planner (I once jacked up my car and then took five minutes before I figured out why I couldn't unscrew the lugnuts on the tire I was changing), but, here's how I get around those two brilliant security measures. Shoe bomb: a shoe bomb that's hidden under a false sole of a shoe, and isn't made of metal. Liquid ban: I put a baggie full of liquid in my pocket and don't tell anybody I have it. See? Locked cockpit door and an air marshal packing heat, I'd have more trouble getting around.

- We all know -- or should, if we don't -- that the entire airport security screening process is basically like the chain lock and deadbolt on a front door: it's just there to stop crazy lone nuts from perpetrating crimes of opportunity. If someone wants to rob your house, no matter what kind of security system you've got, they're going to rob your house. The chain lock and deadbolt just stop the neighborhood crackhead from wandering in off the street unabated and making off with your stereo. Same with the security screening at the airport: if some loon is going to try to take a meat cleaver on the plane and hack away at his fellow passengers, they'll stop him. Beyond that, it's just for show. It really is. We all know it. If smart, sophisticated, evil people want to do stuff to our planes, they're going to, and we're not going to stop them at that stage of the game (as discussed above). So since the whole process is basically just a show we put on for ourselves, why make it so horrible?

Finally, we've just got to do away with this imbecilic notion that we shouldn't be profiling at the airport. Paying much more attention to travelers who match the description of the average airplane terrorist (i.e., young, male and swarthy) would make things better for all air travelers, including the ones who match the description of the average airplane terrorist. I'll even throw my hat into the ring as a young white male, since as soon as we start the profiling al-Qaeda will come after the wuss who went to Evergreen State after his dad made him play too many sports in junior high when all he wanted to do was try out for the school play. And, since I match that guy's physical description, it's only fair that I should be subject to extra screening too.

So, we do that, and what happens? Well, let's say it takes you 45 minutes to get through airport security now. Then, let's say we start profiling. Anybody who looks like a terrorist, we take them out of line and give them a thorough screening. Anybody who doesn't look like a terrorist, we give them a quick once-over to make sure they haven't packed an assault rifle or a samurai sword in their carry-on and we send them on their way. Now it takes the non-terrorist-looking folks maybe 10 minutes, and the terrorist-looking guys still get through in 30. It's like an Adam Smith wet dream! So why not do it? Why can't us reasonable people just tell the .5% of people who are offended by profiling -- and the 25% who affect an offended stance because they think they're supposed to -- to kiss our ass? And if they sue, we all just agree to throw those lawsuits out of court and counter sue for court costs and punitive damages for wasting everybody's time?

Of course we should profile at the airport. I can't say it any better than the great Adam Carolla did on his radio show Thursday morning, so I'll just transcribe his rant:

I've said it many times: all those ACLU pusses who don't like the profiling? I pray that your child is abducted and the FBI guy comes over to try to find him in the first crucial 48 hours and then says, "Oh, sorry hippie. Can't profile. Normally I would narrow it down to a handful of white guys who lived in the neighborhood who had contact with your family, because that's how it works, you profile. But, for you? No profiling. We're gonna start searching everybody. Get old Asian women who live miles away; let's start with them." Meanwhile, your kid will die, buried alive, starved of oxygen.

Anyway. If there's something we can do, some way we can show the airlines and the government that this way of handling airport security threats is unacceptable, please let me know. They've kind of got us by the balls, since we have to fly, and to do that we have to go to airports. But like I said, people are just going to stop flying when they don't absolutely, absolutely have to. It's going to get to the point where it's just not worth it.

Also, none of this has anything to do with George Bush. So just stop it.

Great post. Just excellent. Perfectly said.

Now, to the points:

-My first thought was to boycott flying, too. But, luckily, I get to wait on this decision. My next flight isn't until the end of October, so there's a chance this might settle down by then. A friend flew to New York on Friday, and I can only imagine the hell she went through. Likewise, I don't envy you having to fly next week. (I was smart and returned to my hometown eight months early for the reunion. It's kind of odd that yours is now the third high school to have chosen the identical weekend.) Anyway, on the boycott: I realized that TSA is the one torturing us, and the airlines are the ones pressured by people who quit flying. So it's sort of hard to get the message through. If we all quit flying, TSA's first response would probably be, "Sweet! With half as many passengers, we can spend twice as long on the cavity search."

- You're absolutely right that the security screening checkpoints are just for show. I was thinking about it after I posted my take on this, and I realized that I left out that key detail. It's important, because it explains why we have an imbecilic, ineffective, irrational response like banning fluids from carry-on luggage. There's a reason you don't see people picking apart the rationality of window dressing -- if it's just for show, it doesn't need to be rational. The TSA simply wants to look like there's a reason it exists, and the administration wants to look like it doesn't ignore the signs (well, unless those signs come from meteorologists), so... a very swift, but very absurd, window dressing response.

(And I don't mean to pick on Bush here -- except for that Katrina zinger! -- this is a problem endemic to the entire TSA/DHS bailiwick, which, even though he created it, is not under Bush's control any more than Clinton's libido was under his control. Security stooges and guys who flunked out of Quantico are making the calls at the security screening level, and they're operating out of insecurity and ignorance, and they're creating and perpetuating the window dressing situation. That Bush is president is just an unlucky coincidence. For us. And him.)

-Late last year, the TSA actually tested out a pilot program called Registered Traveler. You complete an exhaustive background check, give them all your fingerprints and a retina scan, and you can swipe a card and breeze through security. Then, like everything else, "privatization" became the watchword. In January, they began formulating guidelines to turn the program over to private companies which would manage the background checks and the ID cards. The program I located via Google was by a company called Verified Identity Pass and came with an $80 annual fee. TSA hasn't officially put out its guidelines yet, so theoretically there's still a chance it won't go that way, but the very possibility that TSA might farm out a contract to a firm that can charge you for the right to do all your security-screening cooperation ahead of time -- that's just ludicrous beyond belief. Anyone participating in the program is doing TSA a favor by handing over extra information and thinning out the screening line. The price to be paid for this should be the surrendering of all that personal info, and that's it. (I think most of us -- the non-swarthy -- would gladly pay it.) There's absolutely no reason for anyone to be turning a profit on this idea. And after seeing what Diebold did for electronic voting, I shudder at the thought of VIP securing the intimate personal information of thousands of travelers.

I remember a Dave Barry column in which he bemoaned the fact that, in addition to the posted speed limit on a given street, there is a second actual speed limit. Cops won't pull you over if you exceed the posted limit by a little bit (except in Texas), but you get a ticket if you pass the actual limit. He suggested that they could supplant their speeding ticket revenue by erecting a roadside booth where you could pay a few bucks and have a cop whisper the actual speed limit in your ear. The Registered Traveler program sounds exactly like someone charging a fee to whisper in your ear that (as Joe has pointed out) the security screening emperor has no clothes.

- "Get old Asian women who live miles away; let's start with them." That does it; I'm writing in Carolla for every midterm race this year.

- None of this has anything to do with W. True enough. I admitted this earlier. But I think people can be given a pass for thinking of him when they see people unreasonably inconvenienced in the name of "security"; when they see fear used as a motivation for anything -- especially fear that, for logical people, is unfounded; and when they see a window dressing propped up as a response to an actual problem. He didn't invent any of these things; he didn't necessarily apply them to this specific situation; but he sure did make them popular.
The Sunday Mirror tabloid asserted that a female suspect in custody may have been planning to use her own baby as a diversion to smuggle a bomb onto the plane

That does it! Ban babies from the passenger cabin. (You can still put 'em in your checked luggage, though.)
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