Friday, November 19, 2010

The TSA Needs To Go


ANOTHER REASON NOT TO FLY, or fly as little as possible during the holidays. Opting out of full body scans and then having to go through this kind of invasive physical nonsense, especially if you're a U.S. citizen and frequent flier, is simply beyond the pail and frightfully expensive for American tax payers. I sincerely hope the newly configured Congress will do whatever is necessary to initiate the kinds of airport security measures that are effective and appropriate in this country. It will necessarily include ethnic/geopolitical profiling and taking many cues from the low-tech security protocols which have been so effective in Israel.

I've flown in and out of Tel Aviv twice now and both times I was personally interviewed by extremely well trained security personnel who know how to spot trouble. I also went through the traditional old screeners. Security was also extremely tight to get onto the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. If we don't begin to follow Israel's common sense leads, airlines will go bankrupt because much of the flying public simply won't put up with this for long. That includes me. The same goes with this health care sham, as more IRS agents are hired for similar reasons. This growing police state needs to end and end now.

One final observation: I think allowing airports to opt out of using TSA screeners is fine as a temporary measure. However, using private contractors only shifts the invasion process. We've got to find ways to get the job done with a greater bang for our tax buck and less hassle for the majority of the low risk flying public. Treating three year-olds like suspected criminals is not going to fly with the public for long.

The next terrorist attack will be much different and most likely light years away from the nearest airport. Oh, let us count the ways it could come.

FINALLY from Nick Baumann writing at Mother Jones comes A Five Point Plan to A Sane Airport Security System:

...I asked Goldberg, security expert Bruce Schneier, and airline pilot (and security critic) Patrick Smith about what their ideal airport security schemes would look like. After speaking to them, I think Kevin is missing the point: the elimination of existing useless security procedures is the heart of the plan. It's not about doing something "instead" of the current system—it's about not doing things that are wasting money and time and not making us safer. It's quite possible that we're already as safe as we're going to get—and every subsequent airport security "improvement" is just reducing our freedom without improving security.

Schneier is famous for explaining that "exactly two things have made us safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else is a waste of money." All three experts favor scrapping most of the security measures that people hate—and not necessarily replacing them with anything. Ideally, the money that was saved wouldn't be spent on airport security at all: it would be spent on trying to stop terrorists before they got to the airport. That means better-funding law enforcement and intelligence.

All that said, Goldberg, Schneier, and Smith did offer some suggestions for new or different security procedures to use "instead" of the methods we're currently relying on. Here are a few options:

1. Enhance baggage security. All three experts mentioned this. Baggage is where the greatest danger is, and where airport security resources should be focused. "Right now the biggest threats are still bombs and explosives. That's the path of least resistance," Smith says. "All luggage going on passenger planes should be treated the same, and scanned," says Schneier. Making sure that a passenger's bags never, ever fly if he doesn't is also key. And we could do more. Here's an excerpt from a 2006 article by Schneier:

If I were investing in security, I would fund significant research into computer-assisted screening equipment for both checked and carry-on bags, but wouldn't spend a lot of money on invasive screening procedures and secondary screening. I would much rather have well-trained security personnel wandering around the airport, both in and out of uniform, looking for suspicious actions.

2 .Pay more attention to airport workers. Schneier was an early advocate of background checks and increased screening for airport employees. If you're screening pilots, it's "completely absurd" not to screen the guy who is loading food on the plane, Smith says. This has improved in recent years, and the TSA now conducts random screening of airport employees. That could be broadened. Goldberg suggested considering biometric IDs for airport employees.

3. Randomize enhanced screening. Schneier has suggested that any "enhanced" screening of passengers be "truly random." That means that while the majority of passengers wouldn't face the invasive security checks they face now, every passenger would face the risk of a thorough search. Terrorists can't avoid or plan for truly random enhanced searches, like they can with protocol-, background-, and profiling-based searches. You don't want terrorists to be able to plan their way around your security. You want them to have to get lucky.

4. Make security lines less vulnerable. The huge lines of people waiting in airport security lines are themselves a huge target. "If you want to terrorize the country, you don't have to take down an airplane, you can just take people down in a security line," Goldberg says. "All these people packed in tightly waiting and waiting and waiting... The next day all the airports in America will be closed." Moving people through security quickly and efficiently will make the security lines themselves less of a target.

5. The Israeli model is unworkable on a large scale. But that doesn't mean you can't replicate parts of it. Some people believe that America should move to the Israeli model of airport security: intense screening based on asking passengers many, many questions and assessing their responses. But the experts I spoke to don't think that plan is workable in the United States. Israel has one medium-sized airport, and it would be next to impossible (and incredibly expensive) to enact Israeli-style security procedures in a country the size of the US. But that doesn't mean you couldn't have more (well-trained!) people observing passengers' behavior or asking key questions of randomly selected passengers.

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