Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA Security Theater

I may be the only known blogger who doesn't have a strong opinion on the TSA's "enhanced" screening. Really, I'm rather ambivalent. Honestly, I have no plans to fly anywhere anytime soon. So if this post ends up having a rather pointless point, well, so be it.

I'm not feeling the 'outrage' about the 'invasion of privacy'. This is likely due to the fact that I'm not a 'modest' person. I'm comfortable with the naked human body in all its forms. The scanner shows what I look like naked? OK, but I doubt that you'll find it all that interesting. And that's true for most of the rest of the population; more of us look "average" than are candidates for modeling careers. Although I might be tempted to go Samuel Wolanyk on them.

There is the concern about radiation exposure, which is understandable. So instead you have the option of the "pat down" groping, which sounds rather invasive. Except that it's standard procedure at many concerts and sporting events (admitted that they're searching for alcohol or weapons rather than explosives), and I haven't heard any screams of protest about that. And, as I said in my previous post, some folks will enjoy getting the rare fondle.

What is more troublesome is that I seriously doubt the effectiveness of these security measure. Our procedures are purely reactive. Shoes came off after Richard Reid. Liquids became restricted after the chemical explosives plot was foiled. Now we are reacting after the 'underwear bomber' tried to blow up his crotch. And the main thing that all three plots had in common? All three were on flights that originated outside the United States. So instead of closing the barn door after the horse has left, we're locking up a barn that never had a horse.

I also have doubts about the competence of the screenings, based on my own most recent experience with air travel last month. Due to multiple snafu's, I got to go through the exact same screening three times in a 24 hour period. Admitted that it was the traditional metal detector rather than the new full body scanners, but here's the point: I have two large metal plates in my right shoulder which were present for all three screenings. The results? One time the machine went off, the next it didn't, and the third time it couldn't quite decide. Flagstaff's Pulliam Airport is tiny, and only has one metal detector, and it was the same TSA screener all three times (who was very polite and amused by our third visit) so the results should have been consistent. I don't know much about the technical side of the new scanners, but given that the country bought them from lobbyist and former homeland security director Michael Chertoff, who's much more 'corrupt' than 'competent', I'm skeptical. And there's the human element. The screeners will be looking at thousands of people a day, which will get rather boring fairly quickly. How much attention will they be paying? They're pretty ordinary folks (at least the ones I've met), not highly paid super humans.

In reality these screening procedures are merely TSA's attempt to appear to be 'doing something' to prevent terrorism. It's an elaborate theater production, because 'doing nothing' is politically unacceptable. Of course, the screenings are also politically unacceptable. Terrorists will continue to terrorize regardless of our security procedures. It's what they do. And the administration will be criticized regardless of their actions or results. That is America today.

As a bonus, Juan Cole explains. Mr. Cole is one of the most brilliant people, always well worth reading, and here he explains the threat of PETN that the screenings are intended to prevent.


Labrys said...

I likewise am not body shy. But I am selective about who gets to touch me. I am mostly outraged that, as you say, it is security theater and not particularly effective. I also have metal in my body, I dislike scanners using x-rays; I distrust people who have to HANDLE a prosthetic leg to know it is one to maintain a device that emits radiation if badly done.

Demeur said...

You are correct in pointing out that it is theater. It is just an illusion of safety. But once the general public looses confidence in the system the game is over. I find it interesting that Israel relies more on interviews with passengers rather than strip searches. I'm sure that is a much better method.

And a Happy Turkey Day to you sir.

urland said...

Adam Savage of the Mythbusters TV show was in Seattle a few days ago giving a talk. He opened with the telling of going through the new X-Ray machine at the airport. He then pulled out two twelve inch razor blades which passed through the scan with no flags being raised. His quote, "What the fuck TSA?".