Another day, another embarrassment for the TSA. The arrest yesterday in San Diego illustrates what a joke the agency is. A passenger refused the scanner and was told to submit to a pat-down. He stripped down to his underwear and handed the screener his clothes for inspection. A supervisor was called over and demanded that the passenger put his clothes back on so the screener could turn right around and pat them down. What? Are you frigging serious? If this doesn’t illustrate how ridiculous the agency is, nothing will. Naked except for his underwear. His clothes in their possession for inspection. What was the most important factor here in the eyes of the TSA? That he submit. No common sense allowed here.
Wouldn’t it be something if people took the opt-out on Nov. 24th a step further and did the strip down? No indecent exposure. No reason for a pat-down. Better yet, come to the checkpoint only wearing underwear so they can’t demand you put your clothes back on.
Look, let’s be practical here. You can’t go half-ass on security. If security were really the goal here, why aren’t we going all out? The newest technologies are the backscatter and millimeter wave scanners. They work fine for detecting articles hidden under clothing. What would a real terrorist do to get a bomb on board? Use a condom or tampon and carry it in a body cavity. Some will go to the extreme of surgically implanting a device so even a cavity search will fail. A bit graphic, yes, but it’s reality. The fact is if they aren’t doing full-blown strip searches including cavity checks, they run the risk of missing something. Which is it going to be, security or not?
There are other technologies available to fill these gaps. Bomb sniffing dogs are a great tool. Walk-through sniffers can detect trace amounts of explosives on your body or clothing. Re-inforced cockpit doors are already in place. Air marshals can be placed on flights. Thorough interviews with every passenger has been effective for El-Al. Each one of these options comes with substantial cost. The argument can be made that you can’t put a price on safety. We should spend whatever is required to ensure it. Maybe, but El-Al has 10 million passengers compared to our 600 million.
There are significant issues to address. Our culture and ethics. We simply won’t stand for such an invasive procedure as a cavity search in exchange for the ability to fly. The administration won’t allow policies that El-Al implements such as profiling and even denying certain ethnic groups the right to board at all. What we’re left with is only marginal security at best. We’re playing percentages. For guaranteed protection, we would have to implement all of the above listed methods and technologies for every passenger on every flight. In the case of the pat-downs, you’re really only searching for weapons, not bombs. Perhaps they should make the scanners mandatory including a sniffer. A box cutter these days is useless. Even a handgun. The passenegers are going to take that guy out. They could look into ways to make the cockpit even more secure so any potential threat from those type weapons getting by security and on the plane is negated. The focus would be on locating bombs that can bring a plane down without accessing the cockpit. Holland uses a scanner that looks cartoonish, but still is able to locate explosives on your body.
When you pick and choose, you end up with the current system. The TSA humiliating passengers. Molesting young children, the elderly, the handicapped. The TSA likes to point out that this is necessary because Al-Qaeda has used these methods previously. But you can’t have it both ways. If the goal is to protect against any possible scenario, then the only way to do so is to go all out as listed above.
Where would that leave us? The passenger threat would be eliminated as much as possible. You still have checked baggage issues. You can’t take any chances if this is your policy. Air crew could potentially be bought off or compromised in some way. Is this likely? Of course not, but it’s a possibility. As it is with ground crews and baggage handlers. Airport employees aren’t subject to any of these kinds of screening prior to starting their shift. They rely on background checks. Can you guarantee there is no possibility of a breach here? No, you can’t. You can reduce probability, but not possibility. Every person that does or could potentially come into contact with an airplane should be subject to the same level of pre-screening every single day. Only once they are in a secure area and passed through the whole nine yards including the cavity search can we be sure there is no threat.
That’s never going to happen. And even if you removed every possible threat scenario for a bomb or weapon to get on the airplane, you still have other scenarios. The terrorists could compromise the pilot. He could pass all the pre-screening and still fly the plane into a target. The same can be said for cargo planes and even other forms of aviation. The fact is that you can never remove every single threat scenario. The costs for doing every step possible would be astronomically high. The original intent of the TSA was to instill confidence to the general public that is it relatively safe to fly. It’s primarily an economic reason. We could institute all of the steps listed above or even more to 100% guarantee safety if that were the goal. But it’s not and never was.
Which brings us back to taking the most practical route. Re-institute profiling. Target the most probable possibilities. Could it ever happen again? Obviously, just as you could get struck down by lightning anytime or anywhere. You do the best you can with-in reasonable means. I think the public could live with that. What we’re doing now is pissing off the entire flying public and still not providing any real level of security. It’s a loser anyway you look at it.