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Airport security kabuki theatre

Even if checking every passenger exhaustively was the right way to thwart terror, why would any serious government issue a press release about it, informing the terrorists that you were on their case and keeping them up to speed on the things you’re looking for? They didn’t do that with Bletchley Park and the Enigma codes. Leaving aside the possibility that our leaders are just plain dim, we must assume their statements are a clever decoy. In that case, everything that we must endure at Stansted and Heathrow is pure ‘security theatre’. This would not be unusual. Much of what passes for ‘security’ and its kissing cousin ‘safety’ is little more than an elaborate show.

- Michael Hanlon. He has a book out with a co-author about safety issues, which looks interesting.

15 comments to Airport security kabuki theatre

  • Dave Walker

    Bruce Schneier’s written extensively about “security theatre” and the TSA; see “lots of stuff” at http://www.schneier.com/ .

    Interestingly, nobody in the media seems to have mentioned that the new procedures around having passengers start up their electronic devices has been in use in Germany for many years; the first time I had to start my laptop up at airport security was when changing ‘planes in Munich nearly 15 years ago (and as the laptop in question was a SPARCBook, seeing the process of OBP booting into Solaris 2.6 confused the security officers migtily).

    The Bletchley analogy doesn’t work very well, though, as there is no presumption on passengers maintaining secrecy regarding the security procedures they are required to participate in. A Bletchley Park process would require every passenger to sign the Official Secrets Act, for starters.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m not quite sure what the government’s angle is on this. I suppose the creation of the TSA allowed them to expand the government client state, but it also massively pissed everyone off. Perhaps it allows them to desensitise the public to being treated like prisoners? It certainly doesn’t achieve what it pupports to achieve, so I’m left scratching my head as to why they’re doing all this.

    El-Al has never been hijacked, and they never did this kind of bullshit. Their checkpoints all have incredibly scary Mossad agents on them, their planes all have incredibly scary (armed) Mossad agents on them. They profile. They collect intelligence. They know the terrorists are coming before the terrorists do.

    Why are we patting down 80 year old white grannies when not a single terrorist event has been perpetrated by them? Terrorists are all young, nearly all male, and with the exception of adult converts almost invariably Arab or North African. Why do we ignore this very useful information in the name of “equality”? Why are the TSA making children cry by groping them? Profiling works, and should make all of this unnecessary. Of course, this would mean that no matter what you do going through checkpoints is going to suck if you’re Arab. Given the last 15 years, is that really such a bad idea?

    Alternatively:

  • Roue le Jour

    Why would any serious government…

    Because it’s better to discourage them from trying by telling them that you are on to them than it is to hope you spot the bloody thing before it’s too late.

  • Deep Lurker

    I don’t think the TSA is “security theater,” I think it’s real security. It’s just not security aimed at stopping terrorists.

    The elite authorities have this primal horror of ordinary persons using violence in self-defense. Thus the pre-9/11 line of “in the event of a hijacking, stay in your seats, with your hands folded in your laps, and wait for the Official Authorized Experts to deal with the situation.” Today, the elites mourn that they can no longer use this line, but they are still desperate to do anything – anything at all – that will let them avoid admitting that at least sometimes the best response to a hijacking attempt is for ordinary people to spontaneously rise up and apply violence to the hijackers.

    Thus the antics of the TSA, designed to both remove the ability and to suppress the desire of ordinary people to fight back against terrorists. It isn’t there to prevent another Twin Towers. Nor is it there as mere security theater.

    It’s there to stop another Flight 93.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Jaded Just one comment about profiling and it sucking being swarthy skinned. The truth is that those swarthy skinned individuals are better off too in an absolute sense. If the airport security just checked that 1% of passengers, then the line would move through 100 times more quickly. That means even though you are slower than everyone else, you are on net faster than if everyone was checked. Is it better that some are rich and some are poor, or better that everyone is equally poor, even if they are equally more poor than the poorest in the first option?

    I was in a security line recently, and so, needless to say, had a lot of time to think. I was particularly amused by the lady whose job it was to stand beside this tablet device and touch it for each passenger to produce a big arrow indicating which line they had to go in. That is all she did, all day long. I bet she goes home feeling a lot of job satisfaction.

    However, the free market solution seems to be pretty obvious, insofar as you even think it is necessary to check passengers getting on planes. There are usually several lines in an airport, so allow private companies to compete for the lines, pay rental on the space, and they get say $10 for every passenger they check (currently the TSA charges about $50 I believe.) Then the regulators can send in test agents through the line carrying illegal items. The company that fails to detect them gets a $100,000 charge (based on the rental contract they signed.)

    Now they are accountable for failure to detect the contraband, plus the length of the line at each lane is a very easy way for passengers to determine which of the competing companies to use.

    Some might even charge more for a premium service. Some might institute faster service by pre checking. Customer service might actually be important, and failures would be both visible and costly (neither of which is true right now.)

    Does someone have the phone number of the Homeland Security? I’m sure they would be all over this idea :-)

  • NickM

    I swear I am not making this up. A few years back I went through the TSA checkpoint at Ft Lauderdale where they confiscate liquids and the “officer” in charge was swigging a (presumably confiscated) can of Guinness. I also assume that if I or anyone else had remonstrated with her I’d be taken aside for “questioning” for just long enough to miss my connecting flight. They are just an Empire of Dirt.

  • Fraser, there is a much simpler free-market way: let insurance companies deal with it. Your plane is highjacked or gets blown up, your insurance premiums skyrocket. I bet airlines will very quickly find the most efficient ways to ensure maximum possible safety of their passengers, at a minimal inconvenience to the same.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Alisa
    I guess my response would be that the planes on 9/11 were insured.

    Which is to say, the memetics of airline travel is that the cost of a human life is infinite, and consequently uninsurable.

    The suggestion I made allows the continuation of the security theater, however it is optimized to actually achieve the alleged goals, and do it in such a way so to minimize customer inconvenience.

  • Fraser, I am not familiar with the airline-insurance market, but some how I suspect that it is far from free (not to mention the airline market itself). So the point is not whether the airline are insured or not, but whether the relevant markets are free. That, since the issue of free-market security was brought up.

  • Jerry

    On the west side of the pond ‘EVERYONE must be treated the same’ is the supposed number one rule. Therefore, 5 year olds, as well as 96 year olds invalids, MUST be treated the same along with everyone else in between.
    To do otherwise ( ESPECIALLY profiling ) invites screams and headlines of racism. An accusation that is to avoided at ALL costs.
    At least anthrpologically, there are MANY groups that scream racism at any and every opportunity even though they are not a ‘race’ per se but because they have learned that the charge almost always immediately stops any further ‘discussion’.

    Agree with Deep Lurker on several of his points. The elites do not want another 193 lest the lower classes might start getting the idea that maybe, just maybe, the whole ‘wait for the authorities’ crap is just that and there are situation where we can take care of ourselves just as well if not better thank you very much ! Anyone with a bit of thought &/or training can tell you that there are weapons that can be ‘improvised’.

    The whole thing is to keep the masses believing that SOMETHING is being done to keep them safe.
    Pssst – don’t tell too many of them that 7 miles in the air, going 500 mph in an aluminum tube is somewhat dangerous to start with !! – just kidding !!!

  • “In the very unlikely event…that all four engines fail…We’ll go straight into the ground like a fucking dart.”

    -Billy Connolly

  • Deep Lurker

    @Jerry: ‘EVERYONE must be treated the same’ – except for those on the “no fly” list. Which list is both evil and stupid as an anti-terrorism measure, but makes sense if the purpose is to create a precedent and mechanism for suppressing dissidents.

    Leaving aside the civil and human rights aspects, what would make sense as an anti-terrorist measure is a secret watch list that tracks suspects while letting them go on their way without ever revealing that the suspects are even under suspicion.

    But that would require government agents to do more work, with less of that “exercise power over the peasants” perk that makes government employment so attractive to those government agents. And as I mentioned, it doesn’t give nearly enough scope for the suppression of dissidents “when the time comes.”

  • nemesis

    I worked for an airline out of Heathrow in the 1980s. We were told that because there was very little visible security at the airport terrorists didn’t bother because the assumption was that there must be very sophisticated undercover security (which was not the case at all). Things gradually changed over the years from the sublime to the ridiculous situation we have now.
    Far better, I think to keep them guessing.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JV, a most interesting video.

    Perhaps the TSA checker could also be holding a toy poodle or some similarly-sized Canine Test Device (so that the additional bulk will not impede the traveler’s required execution of the Human Upper-Body Grasp). Clearly this is one area where the slab-of-bacon could be problematical, but I think normal people would be very happy with the substitute. (Have you hugged your dog today?)

    In fact, rather than mechanically dispatching the suspect, perhaps he could be detained and interrogated by a well-trained mastiff, a Police Dog (German Shepherd), or best of all, a rottie when true catastrophe would result from missing a Bad Guy. I understand they have the strongest jaws.

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