Sep 25 2011
Sadly the United States squandered it’s chance to turn a terrorist attack into a positive learning experience for the world. After the first terrorist attack on US soil since Oklahoma City in 1995, the government and the people wanted action. While it is understandable that the knee-jerk reaction is total retaliation, I believe that the US system of checks and balances should have sprung into action to prevent the conflict of everyday life versus security that we find ourselves in.
As Professor Crowley wrote in his earlier post, “after a decade of achievements, adjustments and missteps, we haven’t decided which is which: what we did right and, despite the best of intentions, what we did wrong; how to balance competing imperatives such as security and accountability, and secrecy and privacy; and how to administer justice effectively, fairly and transparently while remaining faithful to our laws and values.”
One example of balancing security and and accountability is the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA was created following the September 11th attacks and was tasked with ensuring the safety and security of the traveling public in the United States. Airport security checkpoints were redesigned to be “more secure” so that terrorists could not bring sharp objects or weapons aboard aircraft. What ultimately resulted was a cacophony of rules and regulations that has left passengers and security screeners alike frustrated and disillusioned.
TSA rules have slowed down security checkpoints and turned flying into a hassle that many wish they could avoid. This would be allowable if these checkpoints were definitely making us safer, but sadly there have been too many security lapses to prove that. It seems as if every month we hear about a TSA training exercise that failed to catch a concealed weapon. The TSA has also created it’s own scandal with the full body scanner program. These scanners’ effectiveness has not been proved (apparently they don’t work through shiny clothing) and it is still unknown if TSA agents can save and view images of passengers’ nude bodies later.
Aside from the mechanics of airport security screening, there is one glaring flaw with the TSA’s overall mentality. We need to screen people, not their belongings. The terrorists on 9/11 did not have guns or bombs, they used plastic knives and box cutters to take control of the airplanes. Patrick Smith, an airline pilot with a column on Salon.com sums it up perfectly: “TSA’s approach is fundamentally flawed in that it treats everybody — from employees to passengers, old and young, domestic and foreign — as a potential threat. We are all suspects. Together with a preposterous zero-tolerance approach to weapons, be they real or perceived, this has created a colossal apparatus that strives for the impossible.” What the United States should have done in response to 9/11 was adopt an airport security system similar to that of Israel’s. Israeli airport security is complex, but essentially puts virtual rings of security around the planes, with each ring becoming more secure. Furthermore, passengers are all subject to questioning by an airport security guard who judges how they respond and act. Only passengers who act suspiciously or are on a watch list are subjected to extra screening. While there are racial profiling concerns, automated kiosks can ease these fears.
Is there a perfect way to conduct airport security? I do not think so, but there must be a better way than how the TSA’s current system, which still looks and feels as if it were cobbled together overnight even ten years after 9/11.