Monday, March 30, 2009

Your TSA Security Is An Illusion

Every couple of months or so, I get to experience the ridiculousness that is airline travel in our country today. This past weekend included two of those moments, going out to L.A. on Friday and coming back last night. Now I'll exclude the parts about how a few thunderstorms were able to delay my fiancée and I from getting home by a few hours, thanks in part to a needed refueling after circling Pennsylvania for an hour. That's a whole other story.

The focus I have is for the Transportation Security Administration. Almost every single time, I whisper under my breath, or at least loud enough for people in the immediate vicinity to hear, that this process of taking off our shoes and ditching water bottles is a complete farce and that TSA does nothing to ensure our security. The only thing they do is make some of us feel safe. Having flown to several other countries, I'm aware that the TSA is not the gold standard in airline safety. No one makes that more clear than Israel in my opinion. So I was amused to see an article from the Jerusalem Post late last night telling Israelis (and anyone who wanted to read it) what a joke America's guard at the airport really is.

From The Jerusalem Post:

While US Transportation Security Administration officers relentlessly made sure that my 83-year-old, wheelchair-bound mother-in-law was not smuggling a shoe bomb onto her plane recently, was anyone thwarting an attack by a real terrorist? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Living in Israel, a country where every supermarket and café has a guard with a metal detector, I looked in vain for real security at the four US airports I passed through last month. It was clear that the TSA is mostly engaged in providing an illusion of security, while ignoring real threats.
Exactly! So how can it be done differently, if we really wanted to ensure our safety at the nation's airports?

ALL THOSE BILLIONS of dollars, all that high-level training in shoe and water bottle scrutiny, is invested in guarding the wrong place. No suicide bomber in his or her right mind would try to slip an explosive device past the TSA at the sensitive entrance to the boarding gates. A terrorist doesn't have to, for the TSA guards the wrong perimeter.

The boarding gate is the final hurdle for a terrorist whose particular preference is to slaughter innocents only in the air. A much easier target is the unguarded departure hall, which is freely accessible to the public at US airports.

At Ben-Gurion Airport, to get as far as the boarding gate, a passenger must first pass through several concentric rings of security checks. Unlike at US airports, vehicles approaching Ben-Gurion are checked at the outermost perimeter by guards armed with automatic weapons. Passengers dropped off with their luggage are then given the once over by more subtle plainclothes guards as they enter the terminal.

Before a passenger can approach the ticket counter, he or she is briefly, but carefully interviewed by another security guard. Then the luggage is X-rayed. Even the ground stewardess at the counter is trained to look for anything suspect about the passenger, including the travel documents. Then the passenger must show passport and boarding pass again before doffing shoes and being body scanned, and proceeding to yet another check at passport control.

That is how security it is done. If the Department of Homeland Security really wanted us to be secure and not just in our minds, they'd emulate Israel. Now if DHS doesn't care about bombs blowing up at JFK, O'Hare, LAX, etc...can I please leave my shoes on as I carry my drink through the metal detector?