Security Theater Quote of the Day

From Joe Huffman, on the TSA’s new attention on powders aboard aircraft:

I wonder if my post contributed to that. I know it got some attention by “government employees”.

If it was my fault I’m not going to say I am sorry. One of the ways you get people to rethink their security systems is to overload them with false positives. If I could only demonstrate that it were relatively easy to bring down a plane by grinding up you hair into a fine powder and making an improvised explosive device out of it using a couple coins as tools…

What Joe is getting at is there’s really no way to adequately protect against the level of threat TSA is trying to protect against. It’s quite impossible to successfully screen for these kinds of items without a body cavity search. It was pointed out by science fiction writer David Brin not too long after 9/11:

Despite the yammerings on TV, a lack of security measures did not cause this tragedy. No, the failure on 9/11 was almost entirely one of DOCTRINE — a policy on how to deal with hijackers that was taught to pilots, flight attendants and the public for forty years.

He goes on to suggest what did work that day — individual initiative — that it was the passengers abroad flight 93 that changed the doctrine within an hour of the WTC attacks after they heard of it on their cell phones.

The doctrinal transformation – or change in the rules of engagement – took place swiftly and decisively, without deliberation by sober government agencies or sage committees. Three average men changed it upon hearing news via their own ‘intelligence network’. They acted as soldiers, heroes, without waiting for permission. It’s called initiative, a civic virtue, part of our national character that doesn’t get enough attention. Not from leaders and certainly not from our enemies.

You can’t defend against the level of threat Joe speaks of, and it’s probably not even worth it to try.  TSA should concentrate on the obvious threats, that can be easily screened for, and not worry so much about the threats you can’t screen for. Air travel is already miserable enough with all the security theater. The last thing we need is more of it.

7 thoughts on “Security Theater Quote of the Day”

  1. When the 9/11 attack happened I was flying every week. Although I’m a big guy and not against self defense, I was in a mindset at the time that had I been on one of those first three planes, I would have been sitting politely in my seat when the plane slammed into the building. It was just what I would have considered “smart.”

    After 9/11 every frequent traveler I talked to agreed — no one’s sitting placidly in their seat during a hijacking again. Whether or not that resolve still exists 9 years later or they (or I) would live up to that commitment remains to be seen. And hopefully will never be known for sure (especially in my case).

  2. The regulations are the reason I use things like tooth powder , solid shave cream and bar shampoo in my carry on.

    I’m just waiting for the day when the alert comes out: Humans are a security threat on all passenger aircraft. Please remove all humans before approaching the security checkpoint.

  3. In another lifetime when I was a student, I had a Stanford roommate who was a Chem-major (and a left-tackle with blown-out knees) and who was following in his father’s footsteps. Pop was a renowned chemist he had worked for the Gubbmin’t during WWII to develop “assets” for the OSS and its operatives in France. One reportedly was an explosive compound that could be baked into bread and later extracted from that guise and used to blow up stuff. Again reportedly;y it was a successful demolition tool and the formulation that remains classified to this day…

  4. The TSA is making the same mistake the French did after WW I. They’re creating a “line” through which no objects can pass (theoretically anyway).

    As we learned from the French mistake with the Maginot Line, lines are not good security. Good security is distributed, redundant, adaptable and layered in depth. There is no possible way the TSA can anticipate threats to aircraft, especially as long as their focus is on things and not people.

    A much better security solution would be to eliminate the TSA check points and use that money for what does work: Investigation and intelligence gathering.

  5. If you have a small number of soft targets, it may make sense to invest heavily in protecting them. But we have a huge number of soft targets. There’s no way we can afford to protect them all.

    And so the rational approach is to change doctrine. What we’re getting is the TSA theater.

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