Airport security - 5 years after 9/11

Having traveled this past weekend, it's hard to escape thinking back to five years ago and wondering whether we're truly any safer when we fly. Sadly, my experience said the answer was no.

When you first check your bags, you're already knowing that not every bag is being screened; far from it in fact, the percentage is more like somewhere in the 20%'s. Judging from the demeanor of the ticket clerks, they're more interested in whether your luggage exceeds weight restrictions than if it has a bomb in it. But they do ask you whether anyone else has handled your bags (has anyone ever answered yes to this question? If so, should they be allowed to interact in free society?), so I guess it all works out.

If you look at the security area, it doesn't feel any better either. No offense to anyone that works in this area, but I hardly feel like these are the super sleuths that could stop a terrorist plot. Maybe security isn't privatized anymore, but the TSA sure doesn't seem to have enhanced the prerequisites for the job. They still spend almost no energy viewing the x-rays of your carry-on baggage. If you set off the metal detector, they wand you with all the precision of a Daniel LaRusso wax on/off, sometimes taking as long as six seconds to complete the examination.

You can make the case that they've responded to unique threats with new measures, and I guess if you consider giving extra examination to people's shoes and giving their clothing a "puff" of air designed to detect explosive gels a response, then they've accomplished something. But in the five years since 9/11 Homeland Security has not shown one ounce of creativity in trying to get ahead of the terrorist threat and come up with procedures that could thwart any potential new methods of terrorism. All they've done is react to threats that have already occured, and even at that they still haven't done the complete job; gel explosive detectors are installed at the White House, but not in our airports.

(Side note: If you think that the new gel detection is working, check out the story below from Peter King at

...a fortyish man, traveling in business togs, put his briefcase, laptop and shoes on the security belt and walked through the X-ray machine. No beep. He collected his stuff, walked a few steps down the line, put his laptop back in his case, and then took a tube of toothpaste out of one pocket and a bottle of contact-lens solution out of another, then put both in his briefcase. That sort of defeats the purpose of the anti-liquid rule and pretty much makes a mockery of it all.

There's still no uniformity in airport security policies. Some have two people check your ID, some one. Some have two people check your boarding pass, some one. Some have the gate clerk check your ID when you board, some don't. It's totally confused and chaotic. Why there can't be a consistent policy is beyond me.

And this is just air security. What about rail travel? Greyhound? How about our ports (you know, the places that we wanted the Saudis to control, where we only check 5% of the crates that come in)? Mail? Bridges? National monuments? Are we any more prepared for a truck carrying explosives in rush hour traffic (bet you forgot about that oldie, didn't you)? Bioterrorism?

Bush supporters will say that we're safer because no one's attacked us since 9/11, and they'd be right, except that no one attacked us before 9/11 either. No one's going to try and hijack a plane anymore just to free their oppressed political prisoner friends or for cash, because they know passengers would take them down in a heartbeat (which, by the way, shouldn't be a national security policy in the first place, we deserve more than 'you better take care of them yourselves'). And every supposed terrorist plot that has been "thwarted" in the past few years has turned out to be either hatched by a gang that couldn't shoot straight, or completely overblown by the authorities (and unfortunately, usually exploited by the administration for purely political purposes).

While we should mourn those who were lost in the 9/11 attacks, we shouldn't in any way believe that the job of national security is complete. It's not even close. In a lot of ways, it's barely even started.

UPDATE: I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the proposed "advance security check" plan that the TSA is considering, where for an $80-100 fee you can submit photos, fingerprints, etc., and the government will do background checks ahead of time, so you can just zip right past all the airport security obstacles.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Because the government has never missed anything in a background check before. And no one has ever taken an assumed identity before. This makes perfect sense. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself. Oh wait, I know why. Because I have two active fucking brain cells, that's why.

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