Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Airline Security - Firing With The Safety Off

I have watched in wonder in recent days, the changing position of our government since the failed attack against a US airliner in recent days. I was amazed when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano initially stated that "the system worked". I was amazed again when less than 48 hours later, the President ordered a review of all of these same procedures because of "a systematic failure". 

What I found truly amazing however, was the bravery shown by passengers in this recent attempt. This is bravery far too often glossed over by government bureaucrats in their vain attempts to seek personal glory or political cover. This is bravery that has nothing to do with the TSA screenings, Homeland Security, or the continuing failure of airline security regulations and procedures in this country. This is bravery perhaps inspired by that of similar passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into the fields near Shanksville, PA on 9/11 when terrorists attempted to use it as a weapon targeted at Washington DC. For the situation that we find ourselves in today is as much a part of the horrors of that day as any that have come since. 

The Bush Administration did what was necessary in the days that quickly followed, securing the country and the safety of air travel. It followed up on that success however, by subverting the very freedoms that it was seeking to protect in the name of such safety. The "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" (USA Patriot Act of 2001) provided the federal government with the weapons for that protection and an equal amount of intrusion into the rights and freedoms of American citizens. 

Created in the same period in history, we saw the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November of 2001. This in turn led to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to take over airline security from private companies that had previously taken care of it. Though originally part of the Department of Transportation, this government airline security arm was moved under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security (yet another agency created in the wake of 9/11), as the primary weapon to insure the safety of air travel. 

Eight years later with the Patriot Act well-established and as today's politicians seek continued expansion of the Federal bureaucracy and budget, I have to ask myself whether the creation of and reactive restrictions under TSA and Homeland Security have truly made air travel any safer. We take our shoes off because someone used shoes to smuggle explosives, getting past TSA. We carry smaller bottles of liquids to insure that sufficient combustible chemicals are not contained in our carry-on luggage, because someone got past TSA. This latest attempt involved an explosive device contained in a passenger's underwear, which begs a serious question of what new humiliations could be heaped upon us by TSA as a consequence. (I don't know about you, but I'm not putting my underwear on the belt, even though it would prove to my mother that I wear clean ones when I travel in case of an accident.) 

So as we congratulate ourselves on another unsuccessful terrorist attack on one of our airlines and as our government once more wrings its hands and delivers yet further regulatory abuse to air travel in this country and abroad, perhaps it is time to rethink the process. As even heavier artillery in the government arsenal seek to make the process more cumbersome, more intrusive, and more expensive to the airlines and the taxpayers; perhaps it is time we reconsider the failed path that we have been following. As we witness the continuing failure of the policies used to protect us, perhaps it is we instead who should be afraid of the all too imperfect weapons we continue to use in attempts to thwart this terrorist threat. 

Maybe there is something to be learned from the story of "The Hunt for Red October" (the movie of which has been on recently and struck a chord with me on this), when the V K Konovalov (a Russian attack sub) launched a torpedo at the titled submarine with the safeties off in an attempt to once and for all end its threat. That weapon, having missed both the Red October (its intended target) and another submarine (the USS Dallas) now continued on, searching for any target of opportunity. In the end, it chose those very same people who first sent it on its way. Perhaps we should use it as a teaching moment, when we listen to the words of the first officer as he scolds the captain of that Russian submarine for firing a weapon without understanding where the damage would actually occur:

"You arrogant ass, you've killed us!"


Anonymous said...

the TSA is purely security theater for the ignorant masses. it's trying to sell the idea of saftey to people who can't accept that we live in an unsafe world. really, this opinion piece by one of the foremost voices in security puts it best:

Mesmerix said...

One of the TSA's new directives in response to the underwear bomb is...

"Perform thorough pat-down of all passengers at boarding gate prior to boarding, concentrating on upper legs and torso."

This is for 100% of passengers on international flights coming into the USA. I don't know about you, but I won't be flying overseas while this order is in effect. I have certain standards for my personal space and dignity, and the last thing I need after paying hundreds of dollars (sometimes into the thousands) for an international plane ticket is to be subjected to molestation by security personnel. The invasion of privacy is just appalling.