More Disinformation on TSA
links to an article by Brock Yates
on airline security. For those of you not up on things automotive, Mr. Yates is an editor for Car and Driver
. He has forgotten more about cars than I know. But I think I have one up on his on the airline security front. He writes:
I was delighted to learn that the Dick Tracys who man our airport security checkpoints confiscated 16,000 knives over the Thanksgiving weekend. Of course a vast majority of those weapons were not Bowie knives, machetes, stilettos or switch-blades, but rather pen-knives, nail scissors, Swiss Army Knives and letter openers inadvertently stowed in normal folks luggage.
As far as he goes, he is correct. We take a lot of "inadvertent" Swiss Army knives on key chains. But even if I totally conceded that the above statement is 100% true we are still left with a percentage of those items that were Bowie knives, machetes, stilettos or switch-blades. Some of those may not have been "inadvertent" items. In fact I know some of them weren't because I was at the airport taking them away.
Any you know why the ban is for all knives? Try writing a definition of what knives you will allow and which you won't. And make it simple enough to be easily understood by 51,000 different screeners with no room for ambiguity or debate. It can't be done. And you'd feel horrible if that knife you defined as "safe" was used to commit a violent act on an aircraft.
This implied vigilance by the FAA's gimlet-eyed Fosdicks is yet another example of how misguided and marginally farcical the entire Homeland Security agenda truly is. While airport personal are routing grandmas with walkers and midwestern ministers, who knows what kind of dirty bombs are being loaded into the cargo bays or who is lurking around the runway perimeters with hand-held SA-7 missiles?
See, I start having problems with people who want to discuss the topic of airport security and don't get the basics correct. TSA is not part of the FAA. We are a separate agency in the Department of Transportation and will soon be in Homeland Security. FAA has nothing to do with us.
He also sets up two strawmen. The first is that the TSA is "routing grandmas with walkers and midwestern ministers". Yes, we do screen those people because we screen everyone. And the thing about security work is that 99% of the time (or more) nothing is happening. There is no terrorist. But you have to treat every alarm as a possible threat. So if grandma sets off the metal detector, we are going to find out why. We don't know whether her grandson asked her to carry his 357 for him without telling her it was in the bag. After seeing 6 year olds overseas with explosives strapped to them we can't assume the kids aren't carrying something as well. If we give a group a free pass how long before the terrorists figure that out and use it?
The second strawman is the fact that cargo is unscreened and the fact that the airports are in danger from hand held SAMs. Before the details, note that on 9/11 the terrorists did not use a bomb in cargo or a SAM. They came through checkpoints and hijacked planes. Does Mr. Yates think we should have responded to that by leaving the passenger screening the same and concentrating on other avenues of attack?
Cargo is a problem. So is checked baggage for that matter. TSA is working on checked baggage, and I'm betting Mr. Yates won't like having all his bags inspected come the new year. TSA is working on cargo as well, but there is only so much money in the budget so that might take years. And all of that does nothing to solve the problems of cargo containers at the ports or open borders to the north and south. Given the size of the problem it makes sense to have a serious national discussion about where to spend our security dollars.
As for SAMs that is in many respects a more limited problem. There are only so many SAMs around and it does take skill to use them effectively. Plus it is far from an automatic kill on a large jetliner. Trying to defend against SAMs at each airport is pretty much futile- it will take more resources than it is worth. Far better to work on counter-terrorism and deny the terrorists the weapons through active use of intelligence resources. If you want to learn more about this topic, I recommend Three Decades of Missiles versus Airliners
by James Dunnigan as an excellent starting point.
I have a friend who is the chief pilot of a Fortune 500 Company. He flies a new Gulfstream IV executive jet and like his commercial pilot associates, is subjected to the same security checks as normal passengers. He has more than once been forced to surrender his nail clippers, pen-knife and toothpick holder before boarding his own aircraft.
At my airport we do not screen the executive jet pilots or passengers. If any screening goes it is done by contractors, not TSA. But if Brock's friend came through our checkpoint, he would be allowed to retain his nail clipper and toothpick holder. But no knives. No one is allowed to bring a knife through.
He muses that on the cockpit bulkhead of every large jet is a giant, titanium-bladed fire ax that, in the hands of a madman, could literally tear the fuselage in half. That weapon, thanks to the genius bureaucrats who run airline security, is permitted on board.
Often people wonder why the flight crew must be screened for the same reasons Brock's friend raises. The pilot already has control of the aircraft, for example. There are several reasons we screen all flight crew, but the critical one is that the screeners at the checkpoint don't have any way to verify who is a real flight crew member and who is an imposter. It is much easier and safer to just treat everyone the same- one set of rules for all.
I'm with Yates on all the things we are not doing. I just wish he had more understanding of what is being done and why.