The myth of airport security

Director’s note: The following analysis was originally written during the Christmas holiday air travel season. The author is a screenwriter by profession, and uses his professional insight to address the “myth” of airport security. This issue is more applicable today than ever – and provides valuable insight into airport security issues. — Doug Hagmann

By Gary Rudick

27 January 2009: Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab and his predecessor Richard Reid have been successful failures, they failed to detonate their respective bombs but they were successful in causing a reaction in security, which gives them an intelligence win. If they do this, then we do that.  In fighting, one often throws a punch that is not intended to hit its target in order to setup another punch that will connect with more impact.

The holiday travel season with its increased crowds at airports and other transportation hubs, warrants that security receive extra scrutiny at this time. The recent unintended disclosure of security procedures should not concern anyone, because whatever those procedures may be, they are not capable of the protection that people want. Currently, airport security can be thought of as a chain-link fence, which is to say there are more holes than fence. The large things are kept out but small things can easily pass though and putting up more chain-link fence cannot fix that fundamental flaw.

What we need and what we expect is to have brick-wall security.

I am not a security expert, nor am I someone who has traveled extensively. I am a screenwriter, however. As a writer I am always pushing myself to think creatively or failing that, re-purposing prior creative ideas, quoting Albert Einstein “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” However, security through obscurity often leads to neither security nor obscurity.

As a youth, I watched television shows like “MacGyver” and played with toys like Legos and the Rubik’s Cube, that pushed the creative engine in me to examine all puzzles in daily life. Recently, while I was waiting in yet another long airport security line, I came to the conclusion that there is no airport security, despite what other more credentialed security experts have referred to as the “security theater.”  I very briefly considered the ease in which a harmless but powerful wake-up call demonstration could be performed, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in court and/or prison for essentially yelling, “Boo(m)!” , so I decided to write this op-ed instead. Art imitates life; life imitates art. The film “In the Line of Fire” showed that assassinating the president was a trivial matter.

Before you disagree, do not focus on the details of the assassination, but examine the strategy behind the plan. If you require some assistance, you can look at another film, “Troy”, which shows us that as humans, we are always vulnerable to our own social nature, as the recent White House party crashers showed us all too well. All successful killers and terrorists take advantage of this weakness.

TSA: Targets Standing Around

We all know what happened and how it happened, the it is 9-11 and what happened is nearly 3000 people were killed and the how is terrorists crashed airplanes into buildings. Increased security has been in place since that day, but what are we actually securing? The Transportation Security Administration says that “Your Safety Is Our Priority”, but an open minded analysis of security by this traveler, says otherwise.

The tragedy of 9-11 has been misidentified as planes crashing into buildings.

To be quite honest if all the terrorists had done on 9-11 was destroy a few planes and a few buildings, it would’ve just been an act of mass vandalism not mass murder. The security paradigm at all airports is dedicated to protecting the airplanes, not the traveling public.

Currently, terrorists are trying to get explosives onto planes in liquids and in shoes. It’s only a matter of time before they realize it is an unnecessary hurdle. Prior to boarding the plane the passengers are in the airport. Does anyone really believe it matters where or when you are killed? In the air or on the ground, dead is dead.

You should feel rather safe on the airplane, before you get on the plane is another matter, however, as security has now mandated that many concentration points are now available at the airports on the ground not just in the air. The security checkpoints have become choke-points where masses of unscreened people are gathered with the TSA (Targets Standing Around) agents, a large target for a suicide or non-suicide bomber to kill before any security challenges.

Banning of carry-on luggage would appear to be the quick, if painfully frustrating, fix, but that is not the case, nor would making the security lines start at the terminal entrance, and forcing people to wait outside, nor starting the security line at the airport entrance.

Moving the problem around does not solve it. The problem is that increased security screening has actually made airports a more attractive target than the airplanes. The fact that we haven’t had a 9-11 level attack at multiple busy airports, I can only attribute to the fact that the remaining active terrorists aren’t terribly intelligent. If I may again quote Albert Einstein, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” If you want to be scared of something, be scared of the free travel tools that reveal security line wait times. The days of arriving five minutes before takeoff are long gone, likewise the unique appeal to terrorists of attacking planes as a concentration point of people.

Airplane Security and Airport Security

Did you ever try to eat the good half of a half-rotten apple? As President Lincoln quoted Christ, “A house divided cannot stand.” Likewise, you cannot have secure and insecure halves of airports. What real and effective security needs to strive for and hopefully accomplish is a more distributed and streamlined security beyond the perimeters of airports before any traveler can be in contact with other travelers.

Frequent traveler pre-screening needs to be expanded to include infrequent travelers. This needs to be combined with an Israeli-style model of profiling travelers before, during and after their airport visits. Everyone’s privacy need not be surrendered, but it should at least be determined whether or not you are a Trojan Horse trying to get through the brick wall.

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