Airport "Security" - an Oxymoron

In a USA Today editorial Monday –http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-11-15-column15_ST1_N.htm?csp=hf – Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano unintentionally illustrated what’s wrong with the current approach to protecting the traveling public – it is focused on all of the wrong things. And “things” is the operative word here. Because in spite of all that we have learned from some of the best security experts in the world, we continue to look for “things” – nail clippers, pocket knives, razor blades, toothpaste tubes or bottles of shampoo that are “too big” and on and on.

And now, in the unrelenting search for some little “prohibited” item, the TSA has decided to subject passengers to ever more intrusive, annoying, and humiliating procedures, with little guarantee that such measures will stop any determined terrorist from getting on board. And thwarting terrorists is the point, or at least it should be.

This obsession with focusing on the tools of the violent perpetrator, instead of the perpetrator themselves, is nothing new. The people behind the airport nonsense have long used the same flawed reasoning in their approach to dealing with ordinary violent crime. Rather than using tried and true methods of preventing and deterring crime, they invariably push for yet more “gun control” – once again, focusing on the tool instead of the criminal.

The predictable result of such an ill-considered approach is to disarm only the potential victims of violent crime, in the vain hope that they just might prevent some “prohibited” person from getting their hands on a gun. Yet no matter how ineffective such laws turn out to be (see the History Channel’s “Gangland” series), they persist in thinking that forcing innocent citizens to jump through ever more absurd hoops will somehow make a difference. Just as they do at the airport.

Oh sure, Ms. Napolitano also talked about terrorist “watch lists” and other such intelligence based activities (which I fully support), but when it comes to airline passenger screening, she admits in the article that American security procedures focus almost exclusively on trying to “detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats.” As my Israeli friends say, “You Americans look for weapons – WE look for terrorists.”

On El Al, Israel’s national airline, you even get real steak knives! Because the Israelis know that the most squeaky clean, unarmed terrorist who passes the “screening” with flying colors and gets on board an airliner can, and more importantly, will do far more catastrophic damage than your 74 year old grandmother would do, even if she were allowed to get on board with a Glock in her purse.

Frisking grandmothers is bad enough, but man-handling a terrified 3 year old girl, as was caught on video last week, is simply inexcusable. Is some screening warranted? Of course. But unless and until we learn to abandon our politically correct position of “treating everyone the same” and begin to focus on the real threat, the terrorists, and adopt real solutions – like profiling – we will be trading more and more of our freedoms for a false promise of security.

John Caile