Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport Security We Can Live With

For being so intent on infesting the airwaves and Internet with objectionable programming, America's media companies are sure fired up about protecting the flying public's decency.

With news organizations currently hyperventilating over new security measures at United States airports, you'd think the TSA was running a pilot program for the next sex-themed show on the Fox network.

Granted, the near-nude imagery generated by the TSA's new full-body-scan X-ray machines, combined with the "intrusive" pat-down of erotic zones, make for some attention-grabbing headlines. It's not hard for news organizations to capture viewer interest with photos of hands between thighs and curvaceous female reporters posing for the salacious full-body X-ray.

Hype or Help?

But how much of all this is hype? Do these new security measures actually increase air travel safety? Or are they simply the next generation of sugar-coated security on which our government has been wasting billions to create the illusion of a proactive anti-terrorism bureaucracy?

If you believe Homeland Security and the TSA, yes, these new screening methods represent the latest and greatest advancements in our security arsenal. However, at what point do we make the cure worse than the disease? What else might the TSA find to be more effective in screening passengers before enough of us decide it's simply not worth the bother to fly anymore?

1. Where should airport security start? When a passenger purchases a ticket? Why not mandate that any tickets purchased within 48 hours of a flight be purchased exclusively online? This would give the airlines more time to run passenger checks against government lists of terror suspects.

2. If a passenger purchases a ticket within the 24-hour window before a flight's departure, the purchase should be immediately scrutinized against the government database.

3. The TSA's current infatuation with lotions and fluids isn't worth the confusion, distrust, and anxiety it causes. Too much passenger cooperation and good-will is lost by the Baggie police. Wouldn't it be easier to introduce better security measures if passengers weren't already encumbered with such silly requirements as packing their deodorant in their checked baggage?

4. The plain and simple fact is that 99.999% of the flying public simply wants to get to their destination, not blow up a plane. What characteristics do the 0.001% of passengers who want to blow up a plane share? They're Muslim males. If this isn't clear-cut logic for racial profiling, I don't know what is.

However, how do you pick out male Muslims? You can't just use physical appearance as a guide. What about WASPs who convert to Islam? You can't even rely on Muslim terrorists to follow the Koran's teachings about male supremacy; what about the increasing popularity of female suicide bombers? These and other complications to the racial profiling argument mean that instead of picking out generic Arab-looking people from airport security lines, the burden of suspicion rests squarely on the no-fly lists being compiled by the federal government. But is this list as accurate as it can be?

5. Have you noticed a trend in my suggestions? Increasing reliance on the government's no-fly list. Yet anecdotal evidence has portrayed this list as a comedy of errors, which is why Americans are rightfully afraid of our government's takeover of healthcare. Isn't it time the government either fished or cut bait on running the no-fly list themselves? If private insurance companies can create massive algorithms for identifying and managing their customer base, why can't the government do the same for suspected terrorists? Surely there are fewer suspected terrorists in the world than there are life insurance customers. And if the government can't do it, and private industry can, then what changes need to be made to fix that scenario? Surely the Baggie police and intrusive body scans aren't sufficient stop-gap measures.

6. Since airlines have a vested interest in the integrity of the no-fly list, they should have a say in how it is administered. Maybe they should maintain the list themselves. Since it will be used to conduct forms of racial profiling, I don't know about the legal implications of removing the government completely from the picture, especially since the list will still rely heavily on secret CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and Homeland Security information. But maybe the airlines have expertise and insight on how to make the list serve them - and us - better.

7. At the end of the day, how many terrorists have been detained by the genital pat-downs, detailed X-rays, shoe removal programs, and fluid bans? This past Christmas in the skies above Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a bomb in his underwear that - pardon my vivid imagination - a brush of the back of the hand probably wouldn't have detected. What about the fact that the TSA's new full-image X-rays don't detect items hidden in body cavities anyway - where they'd also be hidden from a pat-down?

Doesn't weeding out suspects before they even get to the airport make more sense?

The Weight of the Matter

Whether we Americans like it or not, our economy needs to have a vibrant airline industry to not only provide travelers with reasonably-priced aviation options, but also fulfill its diverse economic and innovation opportunities in the international aviation industry. Increasingly, however, our government's bureaucratic restrictions and oftentimes silly hoop-jumping in the name of safety only fetter the airlines with unavoidable rules. Rules which discourage business people from flying when they could teleconference instead. Or which discourage pleasure travelers from flying when they could drive in almost as much time as the combined flight and security line. With all the luggage they want. And deodorant.

As it is, we've got security gates rusted in their "open" positions at one major airport in Michigan (for security reasons, I won't tell you which one) and a vehicle gate so flimsy a speeding pickup truck, whose driver was attempting to evade police, crashed right through and onto the grass by a runway, within yards of passenger jets waiting to take off. This spectacular violation of security - which airport officials have tried hard to downplay - took place right here in Texas, but again, I won't tell you where.

You see, the TSA has decided the easiest way to try and secure our skies is by accusing all of the flying public and subjecting them to extraordinary searches in public. That's because you and I are bigger patsies than the government regulators who are responsible for making sure our tarmacs, runways, taxiways, and other airport infrastructure are terrorist-proof.

Do airlines let the TSA perpetrate this charade because they know it's cheaper than upgrading our many airports with more robust security measures?

Or are all these new "invasive" body searches maybe a subversive tactic by Michelle Obama's fitness gurus to get us all to lose weight?

After all, I don't think I'd mind as much if some TSA worker saw my body mass on a computer screen if there wasn't so much of it for them to look at.

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