This post was initially made on Nov. 29 of last year, following the brouhaha over TSA’s Thanksgiving body scanner/patdown policies. In light of today’s terrorist bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, we thought we’d put it up again – since what we predicted in this post seems to be pretty close to what happened in Moscow, with devastating results.
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), speaking in January 2010, goes through the story of the Underwear Bomber last Christmas. See if you can figure out how far we’ve come in airport security in the past year and whether we’ve done anything to alleviate the real problems…
So far the body scanners and gropings are only an inconvenience and the Thanksgiving travel rush wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It seems the main reason that was the case is in lots of airports around the country TSA departed from its advertised procedure and didn’t force people into the Hobson’s choice of TSA peeping vs. TSA groping. It’s a typical bureaucratic response to an outside stimulus – exposed to cold, the blob shrinks until the CO2 from the fire extinguisher is no longer applied to it, and then the blob continues to grow. No policy changes are really made. Nothing is done to actually address the problem of terrorists seeking to kill us. What TSA did, instead, was to bend its own rules so as to relieve pressure on itself in the face of public outrage and attention.
Are we safer? Are we addressing any of the items Rep. Poe is talking about?
Let’s put forth a hypothetical you won’t like. Trust me – you won’t like this one at all.
Let’s say we all get used to the gropings and the nudie pictures from the body scanners. And let’s say TSA goes back to its policy of applying them to everyone who wants or needs to get on a plane. And let’s say on a busy travel day at a busy airport we have a full labyrinth of travelers waiting to be processed through TSA security.
A bottleneck, one might say. At a Dulles or Hartsfield or DFW or O’Hare, you could be looking at hundreds of people bunched up and waiting to be scanned or patted down.
Hundreds. More in one place, in fact, than are on an airplane.
Now let’s say a Muslim jihadist shows up with a bomb vest and/or a rolling bag full of PETN. He goes about 2/3 of the way through the line, and then he’s detonated by cell phone.
How many casualties then? How big an incident?
And what happens to TSA’s airport security? They’ve established a procedure which has now directly enabled a mass-casualty terrorist attack. They’ve put Americans at risk, and the enemy has exploited that weakness.
So where do you go from there? You can’t run Security Theater anymore, can you? You now know that you can be hit at the concourse even easier than on a plane. Do you set up roadblocks to keep people out of the terminal building until they pass through security screening? Do you redesign airports to route travelers one by one through bombproof tunnels?
Or do you just not have air travel anymore?
The point is, only one thing is going to work. And that is for airport/airline security to know who is getting on planes and to have the power to refuse service to people who represent a risk.
We’re somewhat lucky, in that the universe of people willing to blow themselves up on a plane or in an airport is not a particularly large one. Neither is it a particularly exclusive one. The 9/11 hijackers notwithstanding, your typical jihadist operator is a lot like Faisal Shahzad or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – namely, a dunce who gives off warning signs like they were fireworks on the Fourth of July. All it really takes is someone unafraid to call such a perpetrator out when he presents himself.
When Abdulmutallab’s father denounces him to the State Department, he needs to be refused permission to board a plane headed for the United States. Period. When Shahzad goes to Pakistan for jihadist training and stops paying his mortgage as a result, he needs to be put under surveillance. Period.
You can and should have airport security. It needs to be conducted by the people most affected by both the threat of losing a plane full of passengers and committed to the smooth operation of American air travel – namely, the airlines. They can’t afford to have their planes hijacked or blown up, so they’re going to be in the business of finding smarter and better ways to keep that from happening.
But the government’s role needs to be what it’s always been – namely, finding out who the bad guys are and neutralizing them before they can do anything to the folks. And that means aggressive intelligence operations against our enemies. Keeping America’s enemies from coming here. Breaking up terror plots in American Muslim communities, since those who threaten us are, in fact, Muslims. Maintaining and providing a threat database to the airlines so they can do a creditable job of security.
This is workable and it’s intelligent. But it’s not politically correct, and it’s also a security program which doesn’t conform to the capabilities of the semi-skilled, soon-to-be-unionized hourly bureaucrats at the TSA – who are able to conduct de rigeur patdowns and look at body scanner pictures but apparently not to discern with professionalism which passengers by their behavior need those patdowns and scans.
As such, it’s going to take something horrible happening before any sensible change is put in place.
Let’s hope that’s not needed. We’d better expect otherwise, though. Our noses are wide open.