On Sunday, the editorial page of the New York Times called out the Transporation Safety Administration (TSA) for its security theater hassles at our nation's airports:
The chance of dying in an airplane is vanishingly small. The chance of being killed by a terrorist in an airplane is smaller still. Mark Stewart, a civil engineer who studies probabilistic risk, has put the odds at one in 90 million a year. Looking at these figures dispassionately, one might wonder if the Transportation Security Administration has found the right balance between safety and convenience with its notoriously burdensome airport screening procedures.
No need to wonder; the answer is NO.
The Times then properly goes after the TSA's new PreCheck system that aims to marginally speed up security lines for those American who consent to being fingerprinted and pay $85 for a five year dispensation:
PreCheck will provide a measure of relief for anyone who signs on. But it is absurd for the T.S.A. to demand background checks and fingerprinting for what amount to small modifications in the screening routine. The agency could relax airport security for everyone without gravely endangering the traveling public.
The former head of the T.S.A., Kip Hawley, has argued that the agency should allow passengers to carry on all liquids, in any quantity. As a safeguard against explosives, passengers would simply have to put their liters of Evian in gray bins and pass them through scanners. Mr. Hawley sees reasons for keeping footwear checks, but those, too, are of questionable value. Passengers do not remove their shoes in the European Union, or even in Israel, one of the world's most security-conscious countries, with a famously stringent screening process.
It is time to stop pretending that annoying protocols like these are all that stand between us and devastation. The most effective security innovation post-9/11 was also the simplest: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, which has made it virtually impossible to hijack an aircraft.
As things stand, the T.S.A. asks its officers to enforce rules of questionable utility while giving them remarkably little discretion; they're more like hall monitors than intelligence personnel. That is a huge waste of human talent and a source of inefficiency. At Heathrow Airport in London, passengers need to remove their shoes only if asked to do so by security officers. Imagine that: a screening agent entrusted with the solemn power to wave through a teenager in flip-flops en route to Honolulu.
I would prefer to imagine that the whole agency is disbanded as a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.