Suggestions to improve the TSA
Some former TSA executive wrote a while back that the two main deterrents to terrorist attacks on planes had already been implemented:
1. Reinforced cockpit doors and instructions that pilots not open the door for anyone.
2. Passengers who will fight back, as we have seen numerous times since Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
Almost all of the rest of the TSA actions in airports is for a grand, and expensive, show - so some people will feel better about flying. But at what cost?
At the OKC airport, these TSA agents are standing in just about the worst place they could find - blocking the trafficway exit lane for deplaning passengers. Just not thinking of their place in the environment and their impact on their surroundings.
Lesson: We are a part of a larger organism, our actions and attitudes affect those around us. Empathy is considerate.
A few days later, at the airport in Newark NJ, I was catching a flight back to OK. I found the closest Security line - "All C Gates" but was directed to a different line in another part of the terminal. I didn't protest the longer walk, I just went along to the other line. There, I asked which line was shorter: Premier Access or Economy. Premier Access, the agent told me. I got in that line, but quickly noticed that the Economy line was moving faster. I mentioned that to the guy behind me who had this pissed off look on his face. He nodded his agreement. A couple behind him commented that someone that got at the end of the Economy line was already at the ID check desk. Okay, this is not good. One line shouldn't be moving that much faster than the other. Our line snaked back towards the TSA Agent who was directing passengers to the one of 4 check desks. I spoke to the agent, Ryan Nankoo, and pointed out he was directing the Economy line to 1 of 3 agents, leaving only the 4th agent to check both the Premier Access and employee lines.
Ryan (in the white shirt and blue gloves) replied, "Just a minute", and went back to directing the Economy line, stepping away and ignoring me. I spoke to him again and pointed out the discrepancy. He gave me some lame excuse, so I asked to speak with a supervisor. The line moved a bit. No supervisor - I didn't even see Ryan motion or call for one. I asked Ryan again. This time his excuse was that the problem was not his fault, it was with the airline's arrangement of the ropes (which, of course it wasn't). Now, I was in the row by the employee entrance - an older agent walked by and I explained the issue to him. He nodded understandingly and said he would take care of it. Our line moved faster - he had told the Economy agent closest to Premier Access to pull some people from the Premier Access line. Soon after, when I looked back, Ryan was again directing Economy line to 3 agents and ignoring the Premier Access line. As a result, the economy line was again moving much faster than the Premier Access line, 3 Economy agents versus 1 for both Premier Access and employees.
Left: existing agent assignments: (Shared 1) and (3). Right proposed: (Shared 2) and (2)
I saw the older man again, thanked him for helping, and had him point out the podium where I could find the supervisor. No one was there, I waited. Finally a very rude agent made me move. He returned and asked what I needed. He pointed to the other side of the security area - that's where the supervisor was. Fine. I explained the issue to the supervisor. He said he would talk to Ryan and he gave me the address of the office in New Jersey to send my suggestion to improve the efficiency of the line.
A thoughtless division of agents among 3 lines: 1 agent for both Employees and Premier Access. 3 agents for Economy.
I realize that as a Government agency, there is little incentive to be efficient - there is no competition and few alternatives for the passenger. We put up with it, we can't boycott, we can't take our business elsewhere; so we shuffle along through an inefficient disrespectful system. Rarely, does anyone speak up in protest.
Lesson: Often, we get just what we deserve.
Assign and apportion the number of agents to more fairly serve all people passing through the security line: 2 agents for Economy and 2 agents for Premier Access and employees. That still doesn't seem fair, but its much better and much more fair than the 1 and 3 split.
My driver's license expired on December 31, 2007. Flying back to OKC from NYC on January 2nd, I was marked for special security screening - the whole package - double pass and hand search of my stuff, thorough pat down. I asked the pat-down guy, "Wouldn't a terrorist make sure they didn't have an expired license or anything to draw extra security screening? In fact, doesn't my stupidity about letting a license expire put me in a category of 'Least threatening'?" That made too much sense, so he just gave me a sheepish 'I dunno' smile. Security measures at airports have been and are absurd and completely unproductive. The article below is about this very issue.
The airport security follies
By Patrick Smith, The New York Times, December 28, 2007, edited by Jim Watson
Airport security remains a theater of the absurd - the changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful, and pointless.
The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels.
In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of "passive resistance." All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail. For several reasons - particularly the awareness of passengers and crew - just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers. No matter that a deadly sharp weapon can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened, asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and loss of our belongings.
The folly is much the same with respect to the liquids and gels restrictions, introduced two summers ago following the breakup of a London-based cabal that was planning to blow up jetliners using liquid explosives. Allegations surrounding the conspiracy were revealed to be substantially embellished. In an August, 2006 article in The New York Times, British officials admitted that public statements made following the arrests were overcooked, inaccurate and "unfortunate." The plot's leaders were still in the process of recruiting and radicalizing would-be bombers. They lacked passports, airline tickets and, most critical of all, they had been unsuccessful in actually producing liquid explosives. Investigators later described the widely parroted report that up to ten US airliners had been targeted as "speculative" and "exaggerated." Among first to express serious skepticism about the bombers' readiness was Thomas Greene, whose essay in The Register explored the extreme difficulty of mixing and deploying the types of binary explosives purportedly to be used. Green conferred with Professor Jimmie Oxley, an explosives specialist who has closely studied the type of deadly cocktail coveted by the London plotters. "The notion that deadly explosives can be cooked up in an airplane lavatory is pure fiction. Nevertheless, our official protectors and deciders respond to such notions instinctively, because they're familiar to us: we've all seen scenarios on television and in the cinema."
The three-ounce container rule is silly enough - after all, what's to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance - but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of TSA's confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you'll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless. But it's going to steal them anyway, and either you accept it or you don't fly.
But of all the contradictions and self-defeating measures TSA has come up with, possibly none is more blatantly ludicrous than the policy decreeing that tens of thousands of airport workers, from baggage loaders and fuelers to cabin cleaners and maintenance personnel, are subject only to occasional random screenings. These are individuals with full access to aircraft, inside and out. Some are airline employees, though a high percentage are contract staff belonging to outside companies. The fact that crew members, many of whom are former military fliers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything our TSA minders have said and done since September 11th, 2001.
What most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it's the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It's not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it's too late.
I'm not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American's acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. The voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation, the op-ed pages are silent, and the pundits have nothing meaningful to say. How we got to this point is an interesting study in reactionary politics, fear-mongering and a disconcerting willingness of the American public to accept almost anything in the name of "security". Conned and frightened, our nation demands not actual security, but security spectacle. And although a reasonable percentage of passengers, along with most security experts, would concur such theater serves no useful purpose, there has been surprisingly little outrage. In that regard, maybe we've gotten exactly the system we deserve.