Before 9/11, the reality of airport and airline security was that it was nothing more than a psychological attempt to deter emotionally disturbed people from hijacking a plane. Now, nine years after 9/11, there are those who would argue that airport security has evolved into nothing more than an attempt to make people who don’t fly very often feel better.
However, those of us who travel frequently KNOW better.
To be fair, we haven’t been attacked since the tragic events unfolded on 9/11. But just as the absence of an accident doesn’t presume the presence of safety, the fact that we haven’t been attacked doesn’t presume the presence of intelligence or common sense when it comes to airport security.
The events of 9/11 created one of the largest federal bureaucracies in history, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Despite all good intentions, both agencies have responded by reacting to threats, rather than anticipating them. But those reactions have no real basis in common sense.
Remember Richard Reid? Yes, he was caught and subdued before he had the opportunity to detonate his shoe bomb. The TSA’s reaction is that we now have to put our shoes through security screening.
Now guess what? If we screened Reid’s exact shoes today, the system could still not recognize the plastic explosives inside.
When British authorities arrested a team of suspected terrorists who were allegedly planning to mix chemicals on board commercial airlines to make bombs, the immediate reaction was to ban all liquids. The cynic in me somehow suspects this is a conspiracy by retail drugstores to sell more moisturizers, potions and lotions.
Who could forget the underwear bomber who was caught last Christmas? His own father went to U.S. officials weeks before his attempt to warn them about his son. Yet that information never got through the bureaucracy to make sure the guy never got on the plane in the first place. To make matters worse, an airport security officer with even the smallest degree of intuition would have been alerted to a man traveling from Africa through Amsterdam on a one-way ticket purchased with cash, with no checked bags and not even wearing winter clothing on Christmas Day.
And then, when they reconstructed his actions on the plane, he removed a blanket that covered his lap about an hour before landing, stood up and then tried to detonate the crude bomb. The knee-jerk policy reaction from the TSA and the DHS was that no passengers could bring on any carry-on bag, no briefcase, no blanket, not even a book, and that we couldn’t stand up during the last hour of the flight.
I actually believe that if the Christmas underwear bomber had launched into a chorus of “Mary had a little lamb” as he stood up, there would have been an immediate security rule banning singing onboard planes.
Instead of turning our front-line security personnel into robotic morons who are still strip-searching nuns looking for tweezers, let’s allow them to think intelligently, to make decisions based on intuition.
When you go to board an international flight, agents ask you the same dumb questions. Have you packed the bag yourself, was it with you at all times, and did anyone give you anything? All you have to do is say “Yes,” “Yes,” and “No,” and you’re good to go. Even if you don’t speak English, you can be trained in the Yes, Yes, No answer regime.
Want better security on flights? Forget about undercover air marshals. Put those air marshals in uniform and put them in the front jump seat, facing towards passengers.
And despite people like me and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) kicking and screaming for the last nine years, the airlines still aren’t in total compliance of inspecting the cargo that sits in the belly of the very planes we fly every day.
Don’t even get me started on our ports and our mail system. The fact is, let us not forget that terrorists go for the path of least resistance–not the most.
Can we get 100 percent safety? No. Can we try to get a little more intelligent? Absolutely.