Posts Tagged “security theater”
I’ve blogged a couple of times about the joke that is the TSA … you know, the people who make you take off your shoes and your belts, throw away your coffee, scan your innards — and in some cases pat you down thoroughly — before you go into the gate area of an airport. Interestingly, someone who once ran the TSA, from 2005 to 2009, agrees with this assessment. Kip Hawley wrote a book — and penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal — in which he makes this concession (WebCite cached article):
Airport security in America is broken. I should know. For 3½ years — from my confirmation in July 2005 to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 — I served as the head of the Transportation Security Administration. …
More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.
The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.
I applaud Hawley for finally admitting that the TSA does not actually serve its stated purpose and needs to change its ways. But even having given him that credit, I must point out that the man is a brazen hypocrite. Back in 2008, he was interviewed by Leslie Stahl in the course of a 60 Minutes piece on the broken nature of TSA security. In that interview, Hawley insisted to Ms Stahl that everything TSA was doing, was required in order to thwart al-Qaeda … and to skip any of it would be to let the terrorists through and risk another 9/11/2001. He was adamant that nothing TSA was doing amounted to “security theater.” You can read the article on the CBS News Web site (cached)*, or watch the 60 Minutes segment right here:
I invite Mr Hawley to supplement his welcome comments on the TSA’s ineffectiveness, with an apology for having himself been part of the fraud behind it. (I don’t use that word lightly … the TSA is a fraud, in every sense of that word, except for the fact that the people who created and run it will never be prosecuted for having rammed their scam down the throats of American travelers.) Few people have the courage to make such an apology, so I don’t expect Hawley will ever offer it. This, I fear, is the closest he will ever come to doing so.
Photo credit: steuben, via Flickr.
Hat tip: CT Watchdog.
* The CBS article is broken into 4 pages; here are links and cached versions of each: Page 1 (cached), page 2 (cached), page 3 (cached) & page 4 (cached).
Tags: airport security
, airport security theater
, bruce schneier
, kip hawley
, security theater
, transportation safety administration
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Although I mostly focus on religious issues in this blog, I try to think critically about lots of things, all the time. Human beings are incredibly irrational and overemotional over a lot of things, not just religion. One of the things that doesn’t take too much “critical thinking” to realize is a fucking joke, is the absurd “security theater” debacles that crop up all over the country, from time to time. I have blogged about the joke that is TSA, but the full-blown ten-alarm freak-outs that happen go beyond the Homeland Security Dept. or even the federal authorities more generally.
In the last few days, Connecticut has been host to a rash of ridiculous overreactions. A week ago a white powder was reported found at a Meriden courthouse (WebCite cached article). A few days later, a white powder was found at a school in Enfield, and a lockdown ensued (cached). And a white powder arrived at schools in Newington and Madison, today (cached).
I honestly question the official reactions to all of these events. Sure, these things all “might have” turned out to be serious. Those mysterious “white powders” certainly could have been pathogenic or toxic agents that “might” have sickened or killed people.
But in all of these cases — and in many others that I could have listed here, but didn’t bother to — they weren’t. Officials were right to test the powders to find out if they were dangerous … but it turns out, they were harmless. (Curiously, even after testing, we seem never to be told what these things actually turned out to have been. Hmm.)
I seriously question the wisdom of “locking down” a school where a “white powder” has been found. Is it really that great of an idea to lock children into the very same building in which a substance one initially assumes to be dangerous was found? Really!? Somehow I don’t think so. Call me crazy, but I would think you’d want them outside that building, and as far from it as you could get them — if, that is, you truly believed that the mysterious white powder had the potential to kill them.
Also I seriously question the wisdom of closing a courthouse for a day … after it was found that a mysterious white powder was determined not to have been dangerous. What is the point of that? There was never any danger, hence, there’s no reason to continue acting as though there had been one. Grown adults are capable of pulling on their “big boy pants” (or “big girl pants,” as the case may be) and getting back to fucking work, once they realized they’d been hoaxed.
And that, of course, is what this is about. Officials can’t — or won’t — admit they’ve been fooled by things like this. They want us to know they’re “protecting” us; the only way to do that is for them to act as though everything weird that happens is an apocalypse-in-the-making. When they end up with egg on their faces, they can’t just admit they were swindled; they have to behave as though the danger remained — even though they (and we!) damned well know there never had been one in the first place.
I know the old mantra of the “security theater” perpetrators is, “But when something like this happens, we don’t know it’s not serious, so we have to act as though it is!” To that I say, bull-fucking-shit. It takes minutes for someone to come in and test a mysterious white powder to see if it’s dangerous. If it’s inert, the problem is over; vacuum up the shit and let everyone get back to their lives. Why lock down an entire building, over a little bit of white powder inside one room? Why close a building for a full day, after you realize you’ve been swindled? Why the overreaction? Why the tantrum? Why the absurd dance of bullshit that goes on around these things?
I’ll tell you why: Because otherwise, people won’t be aware of our “security officials,” and they won’t have any way to exercise the power they possess. They do this sort of thing, in short, because they can, and because none of us can say boo to them about it while it’s going on. Really, it’s all very juvenile — but no one in authority will ever admit it.
Update: The rocket scientists in charge of these white powder freak-outs, are still freaking out — even after any danger has been ruled out. Some of the schools affected will remain closed for the rest of the week — even though the powder has proven harmless (cached). Why? I have no idea. I can only assume it’s in order to maximize hysteria and inconvenience in those communities.
Photo credit: PsiCop original.
, anthrax hoax
, anthrax prank
, anthrax scare
, enfield CT
, freak out
, freak outs
, freaking out
, homeland security
, madison CT
, meriden CT
, mysterious white powder
, newington CT
, security theater
, white powder
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The very same day I post about the scam which is daylight saving time, comes an event in my home state of Connecticut, which shines a massive floodlight on yet another scam: The supposed “security” meant to protect us from terrorist attacks. The venerable Hartford Courant provides this incredibly brief story on the incident (WebCite cached article):
State police say a harmless snowglobe in a carryon bag caused a partial evacuation at Bradley International Airport.
State police Lt. J. Paul Vance says a Transportation Security Administration worker spotted something that looked suspicious while screening bags and alerted state police shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday.
Vance says Terminal A was evacuated as a precaution but was reopened about 45 minutes later, after authorities determined the snowglobe did not contain explosives and was not a danger.
Full disclosure: I live near Bradley and have been there many times. What you may not know about it is that an evacuation of Terminal A is NOT a “partial” evacuation. It is a “full” evacuation. That’s because, as of this summer, ALL passenger flights go in and out of BDL though Terminal A. That’s right, Terminal A is pretty much the entire airport! The “old airport,” Terminal B, has been closed for months … and for a couple of years prior to that, only one airline used it, that being American Airlines.
I almost cannot believe the Courant purposely downplayed this event by using this wording — but they did. It’s inexcusable, but not surprising.
The cold hard fact is that airport security is nothing more than “security theater,” intended to make travelers feel as though they’re safe, when they’re not.
Second point of full disclosure: I happened to be traveling during the holidays in 2009, when a young man from Africa shoved explosives in his shorts and tried to set them off on a flight into Detroit (cached article). My return trip included extra security measures ostensibly designed to deal with that (cached). However, I can attest that, had I also packed explosives in my shorts, not one of the “extra” measures they implemented, would have even come close to finding it. All TSA did was add time and complexity to everyone’s travel, without adding so much as a micron of actual, extra “security.”
As CNN’s article on that event shows, the government actually had had all the information it needed to have prevented that young man from getting on the airplane … but they chose to do nothing about it.
And that, Gentle Reader, is what makes all the “security theater” a meaningless exercise. Real “security” means not letting the terrorists anywhere near an airport in the first place. The measures taken to — supposedly — detect weapons and explosives in the airports, are useless, if a terrorist is sufficiently driven to slip it through.
Although “security theater” is most noticed in airports and in aviation, it does crop up in other places too, such as in large-city mass transit systems. The same principle applies to all settings, though: True security lies in keeping terrorists out of public venues entirely, not in dealing with them once they’ve already arrived.
At any rate, authorities tend to go overboard when faced with “suspicious” packages and devices. They say it’s due to being “cautious,” because — it is said — IF the “suspicious” item turns out to truly have been dangerous, but no action had been taken, and someone was hurt or killed, there’d be hell to pay. While this is true, it’s also a fallacious false dilemma. There IS a large middle ground of possible choices between these two extremes; various shades of action that span the continuum between doing nothing and shutting down an entire airport. For example, there’s cordoning off the immediate vicinity of the device, calling in the bomb squad, and carting it away safely, but with everyone kept at a safe distance, with most people able to continue with their business. (Bradley’s Terminal A is a very large building, so there’s plenty of room to work with, if officials wanted.)
The reason that this sort of discreet measure is never taken, is because officials don’t want to use discreet measures: They want everything they do to be seen, to be seen BIG, and to be as noticeable as possible, so that everyone knows they’re doing their jobs. Quietly controlling the situation and removing the device with a minimum of trouble, is the opposite of that, and therefore is unacceptable.
The problem with idiotic hypersecurity debacles such as the snowglobe that closed Bradley International is not merely that they’re laughable or inconveniences for travelers. There are very real costs involved in closing airport terminals. Planes, for example, cannot fly in or out of them; this means airlines must incur the costs of shuffling airplanes and travelers around. Concessionaires cannot sell to empty terminals; this means a loss of business for them. I could go on, but won’t bother … you get the picture.
The “security theater” which has become a national obsession since September 11, 2001 is indeed a scam and a joke … but you need not just take my word for it. Folks much more expert on the matter than I, have weighed in, and they agree. See e.g. this 60 Minutes report on it (cached), as well as this report by The Atlantic (cached).
It’s a sad day when a mere snowglobe … someone’s harmless souvenir … can cripple an entire international airport. Unfortunately this kind of pathetic, laughable sham happens all the time in the US. But it shouldn’t. It’s a scam Americans should no longer tolerate.
Photo credit: Tenineight.
, bag screening
, bradley international airport
, governmental scam
, security theater
, snow globe
, terminal a
, terror prevention
, transportation security administration
, windsor locks CT
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