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Following on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health that “concluded there is no evidence that the [TSA’s] measures actually increase the safety of the passengers”, we now have an airline pilot delivering a salvo against the TSA in a blog post on the New York Times website (via boingboing):

Thus, what most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it’s the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It’s not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it’s too late.

In the end, I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of protest rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation. The op-ed pages are silent, the pundits have nothing meaningful to say.

(“I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated.” That’s a good point. I suspect the reason is that no one in the mainstream press wants to make an issue out of this, because of some reader responses. I’ve seen a few nasty responses when I put up these types of blog posts, that I’m advocating something like forsaking America’s Great Liberty, etc. This is nonsense, of course. I’m advocating better security, not wasteful security.)

The reality is that reason has left the table, and has been left with fear.

The illogic is plain to see everywhere:

– If these security measures are so important and life-saving, why is it that airline personnel have to go through a security check, while airport personnel don’t?

– Where is the real proof that the liquids ban do anything to prevent a binary explosive from being created in a toilet? (Not that it’s even likely that this is possible.)

– Why is it that when I was in Vienna recently, there was an army guy walking around with an Uzzi, but I didn’t have to take my shoes off? Only when I landed in the US did I need to have my shoes checked. Vienna — gateway to the Middle East, and they’re not worried about shoes?

– And what is the real number of confiscated illegal goods? It’s supposed to be “in the millions”, but how many of those were hair spray bottles and lighters?

As someone involved in security, I get the problem. But also, as someone involved in security, I am aggravated by unnecessary actions, because putting aside the hassle factor, unnecessary actions actually degrade your security posture. By focusing on confiscating perfume bottles, the TSA isn’t spending the time on doing the right things. Even something as simple as having a trained agent simply look at passengers is a powerful measure. Can’t do that if you’re worried about shampoo and removing shoes.

To the TSA folks that read this blog: Peace. I’m not attacking you. I think you’re all dealing with an enormous task, and I respect the hard work you have to do — often without any thanks. So thank you for the hard work you do — really. But I’m trying to help you here.

Let’s rethink airline security. Let’s focus on what has really worked and makes sense (good intel, locked cockpit doors, higher passenger awareness, x-raying of checked bags, etc.) and get rid of the purposeless additional cautions. Because that’s making us less secure, not more.

Alex Eckelberry