“A short history of airport security: We screen for guns, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put plastic explosives in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces — the level of magical thinking here is amazing — and they’re going to do something else. This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.” — Bruce Schneier, security technologist and author of several books on computer security, in an editorial he wrote for the New York Times entitled “Do Body Scanners Make Us Safer? A Waste of Money and Time”
The Transportation Security Administration’s decision to use intrusive body searches and low grade X-rays on airline passengers and some flight crew members has drawn more than its share of criticism.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday the administration was trying to find the right way to respond to terrorists “getting more creative about what they do to hide explosives in, you know, crazy things like underwear.”
Yet it took nearly a year for the TSA to roll out its new search plan. No doubt our enemies shifted gears in a matter of minutes. While the underwear bomb was a dud, a “butt bomb” was recently used in a foreign assassination attempt. The technology TSA uses wouldn’t have detected it.
While the TSA is unable to detect contraband, weapons and explosives secreted inside of a person’s or pet’s body cavity, there’s also the security issue presented by thousands of employees, vendors and contractors who move in and out of airports freely on a daily basis and have access to passengers, planes and cargo.
Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar, one of the country’s most respected experts on organized crime, has warned us about the presence of gang members working at airports. In an Oct. 8, 2008 Police Magazine article, “Gangs at the Airport, Hiring the Wrong People to Handle Luggage and Cargo Could be a Deadly Mistake,” Valdemar wrote: “Airport security means more than just checking passengers for identification and contraband. It should begin with all the airport and airline employees. Ignoring the gang members working maintenance, at the food court, and handling your luggage is a formula for future disaster.”
Background investigations for most workers at airports are considerably lower than other government employees.
And while the TSA is focusing its enhanced search efforts on the flying public, what about the tens thousands of people who come and go in and out of airports when they drop off or pick up passengers? Sure, an airplane being brought down by a terrorist would have an impact, but so would a suicide bomber at a busy airport terminal.
If terrorists want to strike, they don’t need to take a plane down. Under the government’s current very public and questionably effective methods of security, terrorists could accomplish their mission without ever getting airborne.
Why hasn’t the government put an army of federal air marshals on every flight, in the terminals and on the tarmacs?
The TSA has spent spent billions of dollars hoping to catch someone with a bomb in their carry-on. No doubt the terrorists are hatching any number of new plans that may not even involve the airline industry. Then again, their plan may be exactly what we see — an occasional scare and then watching the U.S. government scrambling and spending in hopes they get lucky the next time.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org