America’s worst terrorist attack was perpetuated by Muslim extremists wielding box cutters. In a sense, that means the screening measures before the fateful flights were successful. The terrorists didn’t get “proper” knives, guns or explosives on board. In fact, forget about carry-on weapons. If the security men had, if they’d concentrated on the passengers rather than weaponry, 2819 innocent people may not have died in horrific circumstances. No really. One of the security men later admitted he didn’t stop a terrorist because he was worried that he’d be accused of racial profiling. So today’s news that TSA’s security has more holes than a termite infested roof beam is not as big a deal as it sounds. It is, in fact, bigger. First, the facts via ABC news . . .
Last fall, as he had done hundreds of times, Iranian-American businessman Farid Seif passed through security at a Houston airport and boarded an international flight.
He didn’t realize he had forgotten to remove the loaded snub nose “baby” Glock pistol from his computer bag. But TSA officers never noticed as his bag glided along the belt and was x-rayed. When he got to his hotel after the three-hour flight, he was shocked to discover the gun traveled unnoticed from Houston.
“It’s just impossible to miss it, you know. I mean, this is not a small gun,” Seif told ABC News. “How can you miss it? You cannot miss it.”
Some of you people just about missed it. As the Talking Heads also sang, take a look at these hands. In other words, how about closer scrutiny of the hands putting the carry-ons on the conveyor belt rather than what they put on the belt? The idea that you can screen every passenger on every flight and catch any and all contraband by methodical but mostly mechanical observation is fundamentally flawed. To wit:
According to one report, undercover TSA agents testing security at a Newark airport terminal on one day in 2006 found that TSA screeners failed to detect concealed bombs and guns 20 out of 22 times. A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today revealed that undercover agents were successful slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles’s LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago’s O’Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times . . .
“Too often guns and knives and fake explosives get through the checkpoint,” [Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Clark Kent] Ervin said. “And what is particularly concerning is that nine times out of 10 the checkpoint is the most critical layer of aviation security.”
Why, you may ask is this coming out now? Is the U.S. finally considering implementing Israel-style pre-boarding interrogation, using profiling? Nope. It’s Ervin and his homies offering the media an excuse for amping-up their more aggressive “pat down” techniques.
While it may seem odd for a traveler to walk into an airport with a gun in his carry-on luggage, Soule noted that it happens more often than most people think. Posted on TSA’s web site is a count of handguns confiscated by screeners at security checkpoints each week. During the first week in December, screeners found 14 firearms, the website says.
Unfortunately for lovers of statistical investigation, rational analysis, informed debate and public policy decided on that basis, TSA doesn’t release the results of the mystery shopping non-terrorists. The Powers That Be reckon that revealing their failure rate would embolden the terrorists, who have real problems with motivation (apparently).
“Those results aren’t going to help terrorists figure out how to better attack us, and they certainly aren’t going to give them any more motivation to try than they already have,” [Senator Charles] Grassley said on the senate floor in September. “Keeping the results secret will accomplish one thing, however. It will ensure that the public has no idea how effective our airport screening strategy actually is.”
Until they find out. One way or the other.