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Security Kabuki

The reliably entertaining, if not reliably sane, Ann Coulter pens a column this week with a pretty high libertarian quotient:

Last week marked the first official admission that everything government airport screeners have been doing until now is completely pointless — unless you’re an airport security guard with a thing for women’s undergarments, in which case it’s been highly effective.

As we now know, all the ingredients necessary to blow up an airplane can be carried in small liquid containers. Airport security has not even been looking for small liquid containers. Judging from my personal experience, they seem to have been focusing on finding explosive devices inside women’s brassieres.

After five years of submissively complying with bag checks, shoe checks and underwire bra checks, Americans have now been informed that the hell we’ve been going through at the airports (but which the president and members of Congress do not go through because they refuse to fly commercial air) has been a useless Kabuki theater.

Hard to argue with any of that. Her views on ethnic profiling (you get one guess whether she is pro or con) are likely to be more controversial.

15 comments to Security Kabuki

  • Just John

    I’m not sure “useless” is exactly right. Is a bullet-proof vest “useless” because it doesn’t protect the head? I admit some security is silly – oh no, a nail file, have to confiscate that – but I still don’t mind the metal detectors and X-rays. And I think the best way to protect against terrorists is to blow most of them up and have the rest of them decide to become accountants instead.

  • Richard Thomas

    Yes, against determined and competent terrorists attacking an airliner, a bulletproof vest *would* be about as useless as the pointless “security” measures currently being inflicted on passengers.

  • I think she’s mistaken about the ethnic profiling in the airline bombers case. I believe Scotland Yard got its lead from one of the group squawking to the police about the plan, which in turn gave them the probable cause to observe and follow them.

    I could be wrong about that, though.

    – Josh

  • veryretired

    I would be more impressed by these claims that some minor inconvenience boarding an airplane is “pointless” if several, or even one, airplane had been destroyed or hijacked over these last five years.

    Since neither has happened, and it is fairly clear the enemy has not retired from the field, how are all those airplanes taking off safely, flying safely, and landing safely, with living passengers, worthless and meaningless?

    “Hard to argue with”? I’m surprised its not a lot harder to say with a straight face.

    Meanwhile, OT, please read the Open Letter to Grass in the NY Sun. I linked to it thru Powerline.

  • Richard Thomas

    Veryretired, I have a jade monkey at the bottom of my stairs and every night before I go to bed, I rub its head. *That* is why there have been no destroyed planes these last five years.

    The point is that sympathetic magic counts for naught and that’s pretty much all that many of these safety procedures are.


  • Richard Thomas

    Having reread my original post, I realise that a “many” (and accompanying glue words) which I had intended to include were absent. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that *all* of the measures are pointless (though If I weren’t hedging, I would certainly go as far as using a “most if not all”)


  • Richard Thomas

    Or perhaps I was referring only to the pointless measures and not the ones that aren’t pointless (the exact ratio of which would be a separate argument).

    I’ll shut up now.


  • Since neither has happened, and it is fairly clear the enemy has not retired from the field, how are all those airplanes taking off safely, flying safely, and landing safely, with living passengers

    Most of the credit should go to work done far upstream of our airports, work to disrupt the terror networks, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

    I wouldn’t say that all airport security is theater, but most of it is. Certainly things like explosives scanning are useful.

    Regardless, airport security, no matter how tight, will eventually fail against an enemy that is not fighting for his life on a dozen fronts a thousand miles away.

  • veryretired

    Yeah, it’s all worthless, except for explosives screening, of course, and checking for real weapons, of course, and bag sceening, of course, and psych and pattern profiling, of course, and……

    Obviously, the last five years, and all the thousands of uneventful flights, were just luck. Got it.

  • Well, vr, I would certainly list the following in the “pretty damn useless” category, reserved for practices that have very little impact on security but which nonetheless impose a real toll on freedom and on people’s time and energy:

    (1) Random (read: without cause) searches of airline passengers and their luggage.

    (2) Shoe inspections.

    (3) Requirement to produce identification.

    (4) Paramilitary and military presence in airports.

    (5) Confiscation of harmless items never used or useful, really, in highjacking an airplane. Nail clippers? Books? Penknives?

    I can be convinced that x-raying carry-ons and magnetically screening passengers for weapons of some significance might be useful, but really, the better (but less theatrical) route of arming flight crew and armoring the cockpit is likely to yield more benefits. Oddly, though, these more beneficial measures have been taken slowly, if at all.

    No, the predominant consideration in “domestic” security appears to be theater, rather than effectiveness.

  • guy herbert

    I would be more impressed by these claims that some minor inconvenience boarding an airplane is “pointless” if several, or even one, airplane had been destroyed or hijacked over these last five years.

    There are too many other factors in play to draw that conclusion, I suggest. There have been no hijacks, as far as I know. But I’d put that down to the Flight 93 effect. Hijackers can no longer rely on passengers and crew doing what they are told and waiting to be rescued.

    That “the enemy” is really not very good at it (and nor is it a coherent organisation that can build competence) probably helps too.

  • ResidentAlien

    Hijackings haven’t happened again largely because of the simple measure of securing the cockpit door. Some smaller planes still don’t have secure doors. I totally fail to see the logic of banning toothpaste and bottles of water that passengers are swigging from as they board the plane, but leaving some cockpit doors unsecured.

  • Mikey K

    I think the threat of liquid explosives is a little bit overstated. According to an analysis i found liquid explosives are highly unstable, difficult to handle and don’t have a good chance of going off when you need them to. They are not as useful to the potential hijacker as they are sometimes believed to be.

    The hand baggage measures we’ve had for the last five years have not been the complete waste of time: Hijackings, mostly possible because perpetrators managed to carry weapons on board, have fallen to practically zero since 2001.

    Even if liquid explosives are possible it’s a logical fallacy to suggest we should abandon all other security measures because they’re pointless. You do security by risk minimisation, and that means protecting against all the threats you know about as they come to your attention. So if you believe the threat about liquids, you protect against this threat, too, rather than dropping the whole things.

    Neither is ethnic profiling the answer: First of all there are far too many Muslims to investigate all of them. Secondly terrorist groups will very quickly wisen to that and recruit white boys to do the dirty work (like Richard Reid). And thirdly most plots are thwarted by tip-offs from people inside or close to a terrorist group struggling with their consciences (it does happen!), and these people, who are on the edge of coming forwards, are less like to do so if they believe the police are a bunch of racists.

    ps: finally Ann says “Baby formula doesn’t kill people – Islamic fascists [do]” which is not entirely true: It’s well known that breastfeeding is better for the baby’s immune system than baby milk.

  • Mikey K,

    Richard Reid was a convert to Islam, not some freckle-faced gauche undergraduate who thought it would be “cool” to blow up an airliner. It’s going to be difficult to persuade the latter to commit suicide for the cause.

    Besides, profiling will only work properly when used in conjunction with intelligence.