Monday, November 22, 2010

The TSA: Making Dumb People Feel Safe Since 2001

To any air travelers who have had their sunscreen, toothpaste thrown out, or their water bottles forcibly emptied at the security screening, the notion that the Transportation Security Administration's policy, and the TSOs that enforce them are stupid is nothing new. With all of the recent news about full body scanners and the enhanced pat-downs/groping that travelers are now facing, isn't it time that Americans asked themselves why they put up with this nonsense?

The reactive nature of the TSA is embedded deep in the heart of the problem. Once upon a time a man, on a flight from Paris, tried to light a fuse connected to explosives in his shoes. As a result air travelers must now remove their footwear and place it on the x-ray machines, walking barefoot across a filthy floor, possibly contracting all sorts of foot and skin infections. At the time the TSA also decided to ban cigarette lighters, but not matches, for all the sense that made. Perhaps the Bic lighter company had a good lobbyist, or perhaps the TSA is just plain stupid, but they finally reversed course on the lighter ban in 2007.

Next came a plot by more than 20 people from the UK, who intended to detonate liquid explosives on board transatlantic planes. Once again acting in a reactive manner, the TSA quickly banned all liquids and gels from carry on luggage. For some reason the TSA could not conceive of a way for the "evil doers" to detonate some liquid or gel explosives that are in checked baggage, but the end result is that if you want to plan ahead for your trip, perhaps by purchasing sunscreen or toothpaste before you get somewhere that you want to protect your skin or not have awful breath and gum disease, you'd better have a checked bag.

Finally, the Christmas day bomber with his underpants explosives rocked America's collective peace of mind. Another failed attempt but this one had the explosives moved from the shoes all the way up to Mr. Abdulmutallab's tighty-whities and so, once again American air travelers must submit to another demand by the TSA: get naked! Well, not exactly, but the images from the full body scanners make passengers appear naked. There is an alternative though, for those who are worried that images of their naked bodies will be misused and that is the all new all different pat-down. These invasive open-palmed searches of groin and chest have been likened to molestation and groping and humerously parodied by Saturday Night Live (sorry non-US readers, Hulu is not available but here's a description).

What all of these events demonstrate is that the TSA has no ability to thing proactively. They are only able to attempt to come up with rules and regulations to thwart the last attack. I mean, how many attempted shoe bombers have their been since Richard Reid? Many other countries do not require passengers to remove their shoes during security screening and yet somehow they have managed to not have their planes be detonated by shoe bombers.

The underlying problem is that the TSA is not actually trying to make passengers safer when they fly, but rather to make the majority of them FEEL safer. By telling people that liquids pose a risk, and then visibly removing liquids from passengers at the security gate, they create a false sense of safety for the dumbest among us. The same is true for removing footwear and placing it on the scanner. Once again the dumb dumbs get to think they are being protected as thousands more travelers contract foot fungi and other podiatric ailments.

Remember, you are not safer because I had to empty my Nalgene. I am not safer because you put your toothpaste in a plastic ziplock bag (which is disgusting by the way). And no one is safer because some TSO drone with a GED looked at their shoes in the x-ray machine. If we want to be secure, then we need to hire and train the right kind of people to screen air passengers. We should be looking to countries like Israel that have developed a very effective system of passenger interviews that allow them to detect potential threats based on their reaction and not from looking at their penis in a full body scan.

So let me just say this to the "evil doers" out there. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not stick explosives up your butt or place them in body cavities because if you do, and then the TSA finds out, it is not going to be a pleasant experience to fly from a US airport.

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