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Save us from the pointless burdens of the TSA


The people shuffle along, shoeless, ready for their full-body check. Their belongings have been taken from them. If they question any part of this, in any way, they are quickly removed and taken to an undisclosed location.

No, it’s not prison — it’s the security check at your local airport. Why do we stand for it?

The Transportation Security Administration was established in the wake of 9/11, when Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. Before that, private security agencies hired by the airlines handled security at the airports.

After the attacks, people demanded the government “do something” — and “something” is exactly what it did: It took over the role of airport security and bloated it to its current size, with more than 50,000 employees and a budget of more than $7 billion.

It’s now fully 18 years after 9/11. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our airport-security system and realize that what we implemented in our most fearful moments no longer serves us well.

For one thing, it doesn’t seem to work.

Internal investigations of the TSA consistently find that it routinely misses more than half — and sometimes as much as 95 percent — of explosives and weapons in undercover tests. These kinds of numbers should be extremely concerning to anyone worried about security at our airports.

Then there are the real misses: Just this year, a woman passed through TSA’s security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with a gun in her carry-on bag. She flew to Tokyo, Japan, where the gun was then discovered.

That’s just one we know about. How many other times has this happened and no one reported they had flown with their weapon?

Yet the TSA is frequently concerning itself with nonsense. In late August, its Twitter account let a traveler know that a souvenir “thermal detonator” soda bottle purchased at Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy Edge wouldn’t be allowed in checked or ­carry-on bags because “replica and inert explosives” are not ­allowed.

That quickly triggered comments noting not only that there can’t be a replica of something fictional but also that people had already traveled with these items in their luggage. Under pressure, the TSA reversed itself.

Everyone has a story of TSA insanity. My husband once had to dump his hummus snack because agents ruled it a liquid. It is not a liquid.

When my daughter was 5, she had her hands swabbed for bomb residue. I have to remember to carry socks in my handbag on summer trips, lest I end up having to walk barefoot through the scanner because the full-body scanners, nicknamed “the naked scanners,” somehow can’t scan through shoes.

Agents take away lighters, despite the fact that the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, used matches. — and matches, inexplicably, are still allowed. Confiscation bins at airports are overflowing with nail clippers and sunblock. It makes no sense.

A 2011 Vanity Fair piece by Charles C. Mann, where he extensively interviewed security expert Bruce Schneier, made the observation that terrorists are far more nimble than we are.

“Even if the TSA were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets — shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally,” the piece points out. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier noted. “Congratulations!”

This has certainly proven true as radical Islamic terrorists, not to mention homegrown domestic terrorists who shoot up Walmarts and schools, have focused on other targets in the last decade, like the Boston Marathon or the Pulse nightclub. We’ve over-focused on airports at the expense of other sites. Schools, movie theaters and other public spaces could use some of the TSA budget for extra security.

Anyway, what the 9/11 hijackers had, more than anything else, was the element of surprise. The terrorists were able to pull off the attack because people couldn’t imagine that hijackers would turn the planes into missiles. As soon as people understood that to be a possibility, such as the people on the fourth plane, they fought back.

The two high-profile airplane-bomb attempts since 9/11, the “shoe bomber” and the “underwear bomber,” were both subdued by other passengers.
We’ve learned our lesson on how to fight back. Let’s end the TSA and prove we’ve learned something about our security, too.

Twitter: @Karol

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