Why I am right. Again.

Standard security/terrorism/fluff rant ahead. Skip to another post if you have had enough of my ranting on this.

I’ve highlighted numerous times on my site the problems with airline security since the 9/11 attacks – the security theatre that is airport and airline security, the irrationality of travellers, the excessive spending that goes along with the empty and meaningless show of most of the so called security we put up with, and so on – such that I’m sure many people don’t care to read what I have to say any more. But since I care, and since I continue to be right, I continue to post about it. The latest thing to set me off is this post over at The Consumerist about yet another failed security screening test at yet another airport.

I’ve been reading the 9/11 report – both the published report and the graphic adaptation published with approval of the official commision. The first failure of US security in stopping the 9/11 attacks was a failure to properly screen passengers. Notably, some of the terrorists involved in the attack were stopped for setting off the metal detectors. For at least some of these men, security personnel did not properly determine the cause of the alarm. After viewing videos of the screening process for one such incident, a screening expert commented that

…he found the quality of the screener’s work to have been “marginal at best.” The screener should have “resolved” what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.

Now anyone who travelled a lot via airplane at that time knows that this was not uncommon. I do not fault the screeners for being lax, as we Americans lacked the imagination necessary to see this attack as plausable and likely. We were all accustomed to only the most cursory inspections at security checkpoints. After all, it wasn’t like there was any real risk (so we thought) from anything other someone getting luggage loaded with a bomb in the hold of the plane and blowing it up sometime while the plane was in flight. But since 9/11, we’ve known of this risk, and the security screening procedure supposedly has been improved. Hell, a few months ago, travellers had to stop taking liquids on the plane because of some far-fetched plot to blow up planes with implausably built liquid-based explosives. Somehow, we managed to get decent screening procedures in place so no one could take liquids on a plane, even going so far as to require people to dump or dispose of liquids in a public gathering area before allowing them on the plane. Most of the sheep that are the American public put up with it, proclaiming this stupid and risky requirement as good for the traveller. And lo, the planes were flown with dry cabins all around.

So why, why, why, why, why can screeners not manage to catch bombs and guns going through screening after all the money we’ve spent “improving” security? How does one airport manage to have 20 out of 22 banned items make it through 3 separate checkpoints?

Screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport failed 20 of 22 security tests conducted by undercover U.S. agents last week, missing an array of concealed bombs and guns at checkpoints throughout the hub’s three terminals, federal security officials familiar with the results said.

The tests, conducted Oct. 19 by U.S. Transportation Security Administration “Red Team” agents, also revealed significant failures by screeners to follow standard operating procedures while checking passengers and their baggage for prohibited items, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is against TSA policy to release covert-test results.

“We can do better, and training is the path to improved performance,” said Mark Hatfield Jr., Newark Airport’s federal security director, declining to address specifics. “Test results are not a grade or a scorecard; they are a road map to perpetual improvement; any other characterization is simply misleading. We have to challenge ourselves to do better every day and be relentless in that pursuit.”

Whoa! Back the fuck up there! “We can do better, and training is the path to improved performance” is what we get from this? According to the 9/11 report, over 90% of the $5.3 billion the US spends on the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) goes to aviation. And we’re spending shit-tons of that money on this security stuff and putting up with garbage that makes a 300 mile flight take more time than a 300 mile drive. We know that one of the important steps we need to do to protect travellers is prevent weapons (and liquids in quantities over 3 ounces and not stored in appropriate quart-sized clear plastic baggies) from getting on planes, and all we hear from this horrid failure is “Test results are not a grade or a scorecard; they are a road map to perpetual improvement; any other characterization is simply misleading.”? What is this? Do you really need guidance on improvement? Missing 20 out of 22 bombs and guns is not a “Needs improvement” rating. That is a “Needs removed from service and replaced by more competent personnel” rating.

I get that security is hard. I understand that the screening position is not an easy one. I totally understand that mistakes will be made. I don’t ever expect 100% screening accuracy, because there is too much work done daily for there to never be mistakes. What I don’t understand is how screeners missed 90% of the bombs and guns that were run through the checkpoints.

One of the security officials familiar with last week’s tests said screeners at Newark missed fake explosive devices that were hidden under bottles of water in carry-on luggage, taped beneath an agent’s clothing and concealed under a leg bandage another tester wore.

Additionally, the official said screeners failed to use hand-held metal detector wands when required, missed an explosive device during a pat-down and failed to properly hand-check suspicious carry-on bags. Supervisors also were cited for failing to properly monitor checkpoint screeners, the official said.

Well, that tells us what went wrong, but nothing about why. Nor why these people had water bottles – I thought we still were in fear of liquids.

The results point up the continued problems the TSA has encountered as it struggles to keep up with ever-present and changing terrorist threats, aviation security experts said. Those problems, they said, include inadequate training for screeners, pressure from the airline industry to keep passenger lines moving and shortages of security personnel because Congress has imposed a nationwide cap of 43,000 screeners.

There we go. And the truth is, this is what I think anyone could have determined without a test failure – screeners are inadequately trained and over-burdened, and everyone expects wait times to be minimized. And I’ll admit I fit in to this category. The difference between me and others, however, is I realize that all the security nonsense we are put through is nothing more than security theater. I’ve written enough about it in articles on the site and responses to readers in comments. Anyone looking over what I’ve written here knows this about me. Unfortunately, most people seem to believe this crap we are made to suffer through is actually helping. Too many people forget that bad security is often worse than no security.

I say go back to 1995 security regulations and screening procedures, invest the time and money to get enough well trained screeners in place, put hard caps on time spent per day and per assignment at the screening stations. Spend our money on getting better people in the job – and by that I mean training the screeners better, not that the people who work in screening are not able to do the job. Spend more money on our intelligence services, so they are better able to track terrorists and learn about these plots. Get more air marshals trained and in the sky, and let them dress the same way everyone else does. Let’s put our money in to efforts that actually do provide some measure of security.

Of course, no one in charge listens to me, no matter how right I am. And sadly, I lack the drive to get into a high enough office to fix that problem. Until then, I just get to keep ranting, hoping that people at least take the time to think about these things and see what we are losing with litte gained for the sacrifice.

So here I am – right again about the failures of airline security. And no one will listen. And many will think I’m missing something important that makes all the magical fairy-tale crap actually work, no matter how often they are shown it doesn’t.

[tags]Airline security fails miserably – management says “Guide for improvement”, I’m right but no one listens[/tags]