The whole TSA security apparatus exists because of Islamic jihad terrorists, and yet, as I have pointed out many times, it will never be adequate to stop those jihadists. The TSA is always prohibiting or restricting or searching things pertaining to the method of the previous jihad attack attempt — shoes, liquids, etc. — but they have no way to anticipate or head off the method of the next attack. And they waste huge amounts of time, money, and resources by pretending that everyone is an equal threat to launch a terror attack — Baptist grandmothers in wheelchairs just as much as young Pakistani Muslim males.
The only answer at this point, and even it is not perfect, would be to institute Israeli-style profiling of air passengers. The Israelis have run an efficient and terror-attack-free air service for years, without all these invasive security measures.
But to emulate them, of course, would mean to recognize in an official way that Muslims are a greater risk to commit terror attacks than Methodists or Mennonites. And in today’s politically correct environment, the Obama Administration and the TSA would rather see another jihad mass-murder of American citizens on the scale of 9/11 or worse than do anything to suggest that.
“Smoke Screening,” by Charles C. Mann in Vanity Fair, December 20:
Not until I walked with Bruce Schneier toward the mass of people unloading their laptops did it occur to me that it might not be possible for us to hang around unnoticed near Reagan National Airport’s security line. Much as upscale restaurants hang mug shots of local food writers in their kitchens, I realized, the Transportation Security Administration might post photographs of Schneier, a 48-year-old cryptographer and security technologist who is probably its most relentless critic. In addition to writing books and articles, Schneier has a popular blog; a recent search for “TSA” in its archives elicited about 2,000 results, the vast majority of which refer to some aspect of the agency that he finds to be ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.
As we came by the checkpoint line, Schneier described one of these aspects: the ease with which people can pass through airport security with fake boarding passes. First, scan an old boarding pass, he said””more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me. Alter it with Photoshop, then print the result with a laser printer. In his hand was an example, complete with the little squiggle the T.S.A. agent had drawn on it to indicate that it had been checked. “Feeling safer?” he asked….
Bruce Schneier’s exasperation is informed by his job-related need to spend a lot of time in Airportland. He has 10 million frequent-flier miles and takes about 170 flights a year; his average speed, he has calculated, is 32 miles and hour. “The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he says, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching–”ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them “””and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”
Remember the fake boarding pass that was in Schneier’s hand? Actually, it was mine. I had flown to meet Schneier at Reagan National Airport because I wanted to view the security there through his eyes. He landed on a Delta flight in the next terminal over. To reach him, I would have to pass through security. The day before, I had downloaded an image of a boarding pass from the Delta Web site, copied and pasted the letters with Photoshop, and printed the results with a laser printer. I am not a photo-doctoring expert, so the work took me nearly an hour. The T.S.A. agent waved me through without a word. A few minutes later, Schneier deplaned, compact and lithe, in a purple shirt and with a floppy cap drooping over a graying ponytail.
The boarding-pass problem is hardly the only problem with the checkpoints. Taking off your shoes is next to useless. “It’s like saying, Last time the terrorists wore red shirts, so now we”re going to ban red shirts,” Schneier says. If the T.S.A. focuses on shoes, terrorists will put their explosives elsewhere. “Focusing on specific threats like shoe bombs or snow-globe bombs simply induces the bad guys to do something else. You end up spending a lot on the screening and you haven’t reduced the total threat.”
As I waited at security with my fake boarding pass, a T.S.A. agent had darted out and swabbed my hands with a damp, chemically impregnated cloth: a test for explosives. Schneier said, “Apparently the idea is that al-Qaeda has never heard of latex gloves and wiping down with alcohol.” The uselessness of the swab, in his view, exemplifies why Americans should dismiss the T.S.A.”s frequent claim that it relies on “multiple levels” of security. For the extra levels of protection to be useful, each would have to test some factor that is independent of the others. But anyone with the intelligence and savvy to use a laser printer to forge a boarding pass can also pick up a stash of latex gloves to wear while making a bomb. From the standpoint of security, Schneier said, examining boarding passes and swabbing hands are tantamount to performing the same test twice because the person you miss with one test is the same person you’ll miss with the other.
After a public outcry, T.S.A. officers began waving through medical supplies that happen to be liquid, including bottles of saline solution. “You fill one of them up with liquid explosive,” Schneier said, “then get a shrink-wrap gun and seal it. The T.S.A. doesn’t open shrink-wrapped packages.” I asked Schneier if he thought terrorists would in fact try this approach. Not really, he said. Quite likely, they wouldn’t go through the checkpoint at all. The security bottlenecks are regularly bypassed by large numbers of people””airport workers, concession-stand employees, airline personnel, and T.S.A. agents themselves (though in 2008 the T.S.A. launched an employee-screening pilot study at seven airports). “Almost all of those jobs are crappy, low-paid jobs,” Schneier says. “They have high turnover. If you”re a serious plotter, don’t you think you could get one of those jobs?”…