Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Security Theater"

Undercover agents were able to sneak 90% of weapons, bombs, liquid explosives and IEDs past security checkpoint screeners at Denver International Airport and 15 other airports around the country, according to a story leaked to a Colorado TV station by one of the agents.

I don't find this news surprising. While security at NYC airports routinely takes me less than five minutes to pass through, with a minimal amount of hassle, that's never made me feel relatively less safe than I do at airports like DIA, where they employ grim-faced, power-thirsty nitpickers to hassle and frustrate fliers -- because I don't think it matters much either way. No offense to the TSA, but most security screeners don't seem to be educationally qualified to outsmart a determined and wily terrorist. And security institutionally has always operated in an offensive, as opposed to defensive, manner with regard to thwarting terrorism. If the terrorists try to sneak in a shoe bomb, they start checking shoes. If a terrorist tries to make a bomb out of liquids, we start using travel sizes and having our Immodium and personal lubricants and other embarassing items hand-searched by bored TSA workers who toe the line on whatever the latest inane policy is but don't seem to employ any ingenuity or intuition with regard to something that might actually pose a new, previously un-thought of threat.

I've always found security at DIA to be particularly vexing. Lines are interminably long and the agents there are (seemingly) far pickier about what you can carry onto airplanes than they are here in good old New York, a place that you'd think, after Sept. 11, would have a much greater impetus to be thorough. I've sat at DIA while a security agent unpacked and repacked my carry-on bag four times - ON VIDEOTAPE-- in search of a cuticle trimmer that was stuck in the lining, spreading dirty clothes and camping gear out over a huge table while berating me for not knowing how to get to the offending item. A hatchet-haired TSA agent confiscated a jar of onion and pickle relish from Harry & David for being a few ounces over the size limit -- I guess they feared I'd brain a flight attendant with it, or something, or perhaps just mix it with some cream cheese for a delicious in-flight snack.

The list goes on, and with it I won't bore you, but I've always felt that I were participating unwittingly in some kind of absurdist government experiment designed to test the limits of human patience and stupidity and lull the unquestioning masses into a false sense of security.

Which is why I found it appropriate that the agent quoted in the article referred to what happens at our nation's airport lines as "security theater." An apt description, and a scary one.

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