Transportation Security Administration

An Open Letter to the TSA

Dear Transportation Security Administration Must we learn everything the hard way?

I don’t want to stand in a security line for 2 hours.

Also, I don’t particularly want to explode.

Fortunately these things do not have to be mutually exclusive.  There is a solution to this problem.  There are probably multiple solutions.

Steve Breen

So far, however, the solution to our safety issue has not been a solution at all.  So far what we have done is reactionary overreaction.  (That is a phrase that just rolls off the tongue.)  I suppose it is a problem inherent within the democratic process.  All of our people in charge depend on being elected, which is good.  However, it motivates them to make a show.  What is important to politicians is that, even if nothing is actually accomplished, it looks like something important has changed so those depending on votes can be lauded for their efforts.  Even in the face of very good evidence that what has been done is ineffective, politicians laud themselves because perception is much more important than reality when you need votes from a largely uninformed public.

In the case of airport security, however I think the show has actually made us less safe.

Borrowing from a recent conversation and this article by Cathal Kelly in the Toronto Star I would like to make three suggestions.

First, share information. No need to rehash all the mistakes from the underwear bomber.  The fact is, if there was intergovernmental communication this wouldn’t have happened.  There are probably 1000 programmers who could develop a sharing system that is both simple and effective.  Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, could have been stopped by a FBI/CIA/DHS version of Digg.

Second, look at people. I don’t mean through the body scanner, I mean look at their behavior.  Right now there is only one real point of contact in an airport, the person who looks at your boarding pass and driver’s license.  And that’s not a very careful look because of the long line of people behind you. The other people in the security clearance are focused on the bags, facilitating shoe removal, and patting down Granny.  One thing I know is this.  If I was gifted at card counting, every casino in Las Vegas would know who I was as soon as I walked in the door.  They would certainly keep track of me.  And although all those casinos are in competition (allegedly, our government agencies are not) they would all know me.  I understand that casinos are better funded than the DHS, but safe flights are much more important.

I’m not too overly worried about the body scanner because I know that nobody really wants to see me naked.  In fact, having been to the beach, I know that we really don’t want to see almost anybody naked.

Third, crowds are inherently dangerous. Here is a quote from the above article “Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.”  Bombing 200 people standing in line at a security checkpoint is just as effective as blowing up the plane.

There needs to be some sort of speed pass system for frequent flyers.  That alone would help alleviate much of the congestion at the lines.  I ahve flown 6 times in the last 5 years so this suggestion will only help me by clearing out those people who really pile up the miles.  But it only makes sense for there to be a system in place for those people.

I’ll end with a slightly more upbeat note.  I actually believe that there is almost no danger of a hijacking on board an airplane today because of the events of 9/11.  A plane full of passengers realizes that you cannot stab them all into submission.  So the box cutters used in those attacks will not work.  The cockpits are safer than before, and the presence of air marshals has helped.