Security Theater in One Lesson

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    I think the whole thing is stupid and they shouldn’t be doing it but you can bet your bottom dollar that given the choice of backscatter xray, the groping, and not getting to my destination I’m going through the scanner without even making an unhappy face.

    The people who are getting groped are clearly choosing the wrong bad thing. Still while not at the airport I am on the side of stopping the madness.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Some of the people who get groped — like the bladder cancer survivor whose urostomy bag got torn out — were unable to pass the initial electronic scan, owing to medical devices. It’s not as if they had a choice.

      Others are opting for the grope on purpose, as a way of being a wrench in the system. I applaud them. Let’s make this difficult all around and end the stupidity.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        If you want to truly the stupidity then we should let the gov’t profile passengers like El Al does, so they can focus on those populations that produce the terrorists.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          We have some amount of profiling already, in the form of the no-fly list. It does have its problems, and I worry about them, but I’m not really suggesting we scrap it. Going beyond that seems imprudent to me, and I doubt very much that El Al’s profiling is consonant with the type of profiling that many Americans would like to see.Report

          • My understanding is that El Al’s profiling is not inherently racial or ethnic in nature, but rather it is the same kind of profiling that police detectives use to catch criminals. In addition to “on-paper” profiling of passengers ahead of flight time, face-to-face interviews are conducted at the airport using behavioral profiling methods.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

        I didn’t mention them. But I feel for them and while I didn’t see the big deal when people first started complaining I get it. I’m down, lets stop doing this. I was especially horrified by the story of the rape survivor that they groped.

        Please keep making noise and protesting.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    This was inevitable.

    After 9/11, most folks (not people here, of course) supported the idea of really, really heightened security. And by “heightened security”, I mean “profiling, profiling, and more profiling.”

    Well, of course, profiling didn’t happen.

    People saw little old ladies with blue hair getting her bags tossed. “I don’t approve”, most folks thought, “but this will allow the TSA to say that they aren’t racist when they finally get to the guy worth profiling in line.”

    The guy “worth profiling”, of course, was not a threat either. As such, maybe he was pulled aside and maybe he wasn’t… random searches being random and all.

    Most folks didn’t like the idea of the TSA because they wanted their own junk touched, they wanted something that would happen to the guy “worth profiling”.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    What particularly bothers me is that there are reports that male TSA guards are giving “enhanced” physical screenings to female passengers, and potentially children. I simply could not stand there and watch a male TSA agent touch my wife’s or daughters’ breasts or genitals. And I’m not going to allow them to take nude pictures of my underage daughters without yelling about child pornography.

    Does this mean I can never fly with them again?

    I don’t think everyone opting for the pat down is a good solution. If people are comfortable with that, ok, but frankly I’m not, and I think there are a whole hell of a lot of people that will feel sexually violated as a consequence of such a pat down. I think the only alternative is to stop flying–to simply boycott air travel until the airlines get frantic enough to demand changes. I’ll take the extra time off to drive or take Amtrak, rather than put up with a public sexual assault on me, my wife, or my children.Report

  4. I’ve been a regular reader of Schneier’s blog since before it was a blog, back when he sent out monthly newsletters. I can’t recommend it enough if you’re even marginally interested in security.

    Profiling, like any other security measure, is only as effective a tool as the target space allows. It is axiomatically true that badness follows the path of least resistance in a security system. If you only do enhanced screening of a certain sub-population, the bad guys *will* begin to bypass the security process by leveraging access to another sub-population.

    This has happened. People have put bombs in other people’s luggage.

    Israeli airline security is effective for a lot of different reasons (and profiling is one of them); however, it’s just not the case that the set of Israeli methodologies will work… at all… anywhere other than Israel. Even setting aside the fact that Israel has a different approach to civil liberties (constitutionally) than the U.S.

    There you have essentially three populations: Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs, and “everybody else”. The vast majority of travelers are either Israelis or “everybody else”. The *vast* majority of potential security threats are Palestinians and other Arabs. From the standpoint of “terrorism”, the threat is actually statistically significant (albeit only marginally so).

    You have a limited number of airports, with a limited number of security screeners necessary to cover those airports. Those screeners have all done military service (required in Israel) and have a substantial amount of additional training. In addition, the vast majority of potential security threats are *not* frequent travelers due to economic reasons.

    So, you have a huge population of white hats, and a very small population of black hats, almost all of the people who wear black hats are of a readily recognizable group, and the entire population, itself, does not require a large body of people to sift through. Israel has 7.3 million people, and a whopping grand total of **12** international or domestic airports. I’ve never been able to find reliable numbers for how many person-trips per year Israel has out of its airports, but whatever it is, it’s vanishingly small compared to the 730 million person-trips per *year* in the U.S. We have over 200 non-military airports in the state of California alone.

    Here, we have a statistically negligible threat of terrorism, with a black hat population that is not of a readily recognizable group, and the entire population itself is enormous, requiring a huge supply of screeners.

    Training our airport screeners as well as Israel trains theirs would give us much better screening. It’s logistically impossible.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      Yes, this is a really important point. A lot of people seem to think that it’s a matter of putting away the folder that says “Backscatter option” and picking up the one that says “Israeli option” when it’s really not that simple.

      As a side note, I’m not so sure the Israeli option would even solve the current “Big Brother” problems. I’ve had some experience flying El-Al. And even though I’m an extremely Nordic looking Jew who was flying with a large Birthright group of friends, I didn’t pass the initial screening because I didn’t regularly go to temple and hadn’t been Bar-Mitzvah’ed – the other people failing with me were in the same boat, either Christian or not sufficiently Jewish. This meant we had to wait in a cordoned off area for everyone else who was going through the screening to finish (at least an hour) so our bags could be re-scanned, emptied out, and repacked; and then ceremoniously escorted directly to the plane by guards without being allowed to use any of the terminal facilities (like getting my usual three martini’s). The whole experience was extremely negative and the religious subtext that formed the basis of the profile was pretty degrading – and this is all given the point of the trip was to reconnect with my heritage. I’m not convinced that most Americans would be any more comfortable going through that than a pat-down.

      Rather, what I think most people are saying when they champion “profiling” is not to stop invasive procedures, but to just do them to someone else.Report

  5. Avatar zmanbeachcomber says:

    what they need to do is bring over a bunch of security experts from israel who deal with this every day and draw up a plan based on there security. this grouping is getting out of hand. I have a 10 year old grandson and he was taught not to let anyone touch him on his private parts by anyone since he was a toddler except for his parents. now you have the goverment felling you up and its not consided sexual assult. if you did that in the workplace you be up on charges, locked up and sued. and another goverment agency would take there case. its called theE.E.O.Report

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