You can’t imagine how much I detest TSA. OK, maybe you can; I think my contempt is widely shared. It’s the arbitrary rules, the immediate awkward responses to last week’s threat, the implicit understanding that the overbearing security theater is going to continue forever without end, with ever-escalating nonsense, and the fact that you do not dare voice that outrage to the TSA, or they can and will make your travel unpleasant or even impossible. They are anti-free speech and anti-reason.
You know one little thing that just annoys the heck out of me? When I travel abroad, other countries don’t make me take my shoes off to go through security. Are they seriously at greater risk than we are? Or is this just random rules-tossing that we are obligated to suffer through?
One guy who has been fighting back is the security expert, Bruce Schneier. Right now, this week, he’s in a debate on The Economist with Kip Hawley, former head of the TSA, defending the claim that “changes to airport security since 9/11 have done more harm than good“. Schneier is cleaning Hawley’s clock. It’s one of the more entertaining and informative online debates that I’ve ever read.
Of course, it really helps that Hawley’s opening statement is this exercise in absurdity:
More than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals of airline passengers since the 9/11 attacks mean that whatever the annoying and seemingly obtuse airport-security measures may have been, they have been ultimately successful.
You have got to be kidding me. Seriously? That’s your opening salvo? You know, I’ve got this lucky coin in my pocket that scares away tigers. Here’s the proof: I haven’t been eaten by tigers yet.
Schneier, on the other hand, punches hard. I like that in a guy.
Kip Hawley doesn’t argue with the specifics of my criticisms, but instead provides anecdotes and asks us to trust that airport security—and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular—knows what it’s doing.
He wants us to trust that a 400-ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100-ml bottles magically makes it safe. He wants us to trust that the butter knives given to first-class passengers are nevertheless too dangerous to be taken through a security checkpoint. He wants us to trust the no-fly list: 21,000 people so dangerous they’re not allowed to fly, yet so innocent they can’t be arrested. He wants us to trust that the deployment of expensive full-body scanners has nothing to do with the fact that the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, lobbies for one of the companies that makes them. He wants us to trust that there’s a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick), a purse with an embroidered gun on it (Norfolk, VA), a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it (London Heathrow) and a plastic lightsaber that’s really a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth).
If you’d like to learn more about Schneier, here’s an entertaining account of how he taught a journalist to circumvent airport security. There’s one thing you need to know: TSA is a collection of ineffectual buffoons who are keeping themselves lucratively employed by inventing ever more elaborate, clownish schemes that don’t touch the real security issues.