Monday, November 8, 2010

The Terrorists are Running the Asylum

Actually, I sort of feel sorry for the TSA. Their job is to screen millions of airline passengers, with a 100% success rate. Since that's obviously a fool's errand, their real job is to keep us mollified that they're doing enough every time there's a terrorist attack, and meanwhile try to convince us that there is a such thing as going too far in the name of security.

They started out with only the first one, I think. After Richard Reid, they had everyone remove their shoes before getting on flights. It was a perfectly logical course of action for them - a reaction to exactly the attack that had occurred, so we could be confident that that would never happen again, and just enough inconvenience at security checkpoints that we felt safer. Their reasonableness, in fact, was their only mistake, even though they didn't realize that for several more years.

The analogy of a frog in a boiling pot of water is ridiculously overused, but also fits this situation. By taking a series of reasonable steps to individual threats, the TSA can slowly turn up the temperature of airport security, and we'll all go along with it and accept it as necessary. In fact, that's not in their best interests - in the long term, they need us to realize that there are things we're just not willing to do for more security, or they're going to be in an awkward position in the long run. Looking at it from this point of view, the best course of action for the TSA would have been a dramatic overreaction, which would convince us that they were going too far, so that we could all take a breather and then tone things back down.

Banning liquids on flights was a good move, crazy and arbitrary enough (and in response to a narrow enough threat) that we should have all woken up to the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, you can still take several smaller bottles onto a flight; it's a huge inconvenience to you and me, but won't stop a motivated attacker. Who could possibly accept that? But nope, it wasn't far enough, and now we're all used to it. The bar has been raised, and they're going to have to really go over the top if they want a backlash that will let them finally restore sanity to airports.

So fast forward to a year ago. In response to the Underwear Bomber (a suicide bomber who failed to even kill himself. Terrifying!), they've begun installing new X-ray machines which can literally see through our clothes. They claim there are safeguards in place to keep airport employees from looking at our naughty bits, but it would seem that the safeguards aren't too hard to disable, and there's already been one case of security personnel saving nude pictures of people for their own use.

This is the TSA's Hail Mary pass. The government is literally paying people to look at pictures of naked children. If they have any sense, their next move is going to be to wait a few more months, and then uncover a pedophile ring that's been saving pictures from the new X-ray machines. With any luck, that will be a big enough jolt for people to realize that security is about tradeoffs, not absolutes, and that we'll never be 100% effective in preventing terrorist attacks. If we can get past that, we might even be able to have a meaningful national conversation about a reasonable level of security.

In the meantime, though, I should reiterate: The government is paying people to look at naked children. Courtesy of terrorists, even. I don't know when we're all going to get hit with a jolt of sanity, but it can't happen soon enough.

1 comment:

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