Aviation Security: A Nation of Boobs
Scrolling through Russ's blog on the Northwest Flight 253 terrorism incident, I noticed readers made this comment in the context on how inane aviation security has become: "Well, what would you do?"
First, in reading over the timeline on this incident, I was stunned by the realization that we have become a nation of incompetent boobs. We can't reasonably secure our air transportation system against even the most unimaginative attacks without the agencies charged with doing it subjecting us to rules that are universally seen as ineffective and idiotic on their face. We pay government employees a lot of money to waste our time with shoe x-rays and toothpaste segregation. They waste more of that money harassing the people who use small airports. We can't fix our bridges, regulate banks against rapacious greed or even do the basic important stuff, like figure out what to do about immigration. It's sad, really. We all have a role in this because we continue to elect people who put ideology and political power above governance, on the left and the right.
So, if I were in charge, I'd first fire Janet Napolitano. She might have been a great governor, but what the DHS job needs is a cop with agency experience. I can think of two: Ray Kelly and William Bratton. Both are tough guys who know law enforcement. Our biggest mistake was to militarize counter terrorism as a primary response and then call it a war. It is, in the end, a law enforcement problem and within that context, it is an intelligence problem.
DHS knows this, too, otherwise it would not have had Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab on a watch list. It was too incompetent and too bound up in interagency squabbling and bureaucracy to carry out its prime directive: keeping bad actors away from the transportation system. Instead, it reacts with moronic directives like prohibiting passengers from going to the lavatory an hour before landing. This is so lame it makes me embarrassed for our country. I'm less hardover about the supposed loss of liberty—seizing your toothpaste is hardly unlawful search and seizure—than I am the towering incompetence.
It's no better in Canada, where the security apparatus reacted by at least temporarily banning carry-on luggage entirely for U.S.-bound passengers, with the pathetic claim that security lines now move much faster. Try that in the U.S. and the airlines can probably say goodbye to half of their business travelers, the market segment that keeps the industry afloat.
I'm writing this blog in Tampa Airport, where I have just come through TSA security on my way to a business appointment. It wasn't as bad as I expected. My bag got swabbed because it's loaded with camera gear. It could have been worse, but we now know and have known the whole of TSA is an expensive, embarrassing sham.
So with Napolitano on her way back to Arizona, here's what I'd do. I'd direct the new guy to develop a behavioral profile system that would stand a court test. (And please, spare me the cliché about "political correctness.") Profiling will get challenged in court, but I think there's a taste for it now that we're all getting tired of DHS punishing the innocent citizenry with pointless rules in reaction to its screw-ups and mishandling of the basic intelligence on which counter terrorism should run. I'd stop x-raying shoes. I'd stop the silly practice of limiting toothpaste and shaving cream to three ounces.
TSA spends vast sums of money x-raying, probing and poking the same frequent travelers over and over again. Some time ago, an express ID system was proposed for people willing to submit to security checks. It went nowhere. I'd revive it.
I'd further develop the equivalent of an internal affairs division for DHS and start firing a lot of workers and managers for just basic incompetence. We've all seen this when slogging through the lines, but the worst of it is the rudeness and lack of consideration many of these workers show toward the people they are paid to protect. They are becoming as bad as Customs agents. There are exceptions, I will concede, but they seem fewer and farther between.
I'd give that internal division the power to force these agencies to do the hard work of front end intel and to develop ways of acting on it rapidly. I'd look for a plan in 60 days, results in 90. I'd further direct them to step up intel efforts to track a potential nuclear or radiological attack. A downed airliner would like a pinprick compared to a loose nuke.
I'd also direct DHS to get off its duff and get its high tech watchlist/no-fly database technology in place. It has been delayed for years, again because of incompetence and agency infighting. If an online seller of shoes or car parts can put together a system that pulls up your name and address when you phone in, can't our government figure out and implement a workable means of getting its intel into the field?
Further, dogs have been proven to be reliable detectors of explosives. They'd have caught AbdulMutallab's crotch caper if he'd shown up at the airport out of the blue, which he didn't. An expansion of the canine program has been proposed but, again, DHS botched this. We won World War II in less time that it has taken DHS to implement these meaningful security improvements.
It's fashionable to be cynical about all this—I certainly am—and to complain about the hackneyed political correctness. But as a nation, we have to do something about it and the first step is to just stop looking like such bumbling idiots.