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About Those Pat-Downs ...

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 3:42 AM

The problem with post-9/11 security is that it's built around an unrealistic goal: zero attacks.

The fear of another terrorist incident has over-saturated the public's consciousness and replaced common sense. Intrusive body scans where images can be saved and distributed later? Pat-downs that border on groping? Oh, it's all okay, as long as it Keeps Us Safe.

Safe from what? Terrorists sneaking chemicals aboard a plane? After the non-starter of the 'liquid bomber' case in the U.K., a ban on containers of more than 3 oz. was implemented - even though the suspects were nowhere near executing their plan, and had been under surveillance for more than a year.

Math is commutative. 3+3+3+3=12. A ban on large containers does nothing to secure the flight against a person/persons smuggling chemical components aboard a flight.

The same is true of pat-downs and scans. Neither Richard Reid nor Umad Farouk Abdulmutallab were detected by airport security - they got onboard and were in the process of trying to detonate a hombebrewed device - which, despite its destructive potential, remains a difficult task. In fact, Abdulmutallab got as far as he did because he wasn't on a watch list, and he never went through a scanner (which wouldn't have caught him anyway).

So the last thing we want to do is add more of the same, right? Apparently not.

The biggest flaw in our security procedures is that it's not open to criticism. Unless we can openly and honestly evaluate the effectiveness of a security measure, we're just doing the security monkey dance and hoping nothing bad happens on our watch.

Thus, we have TSA agents who will adhere to guidelines and ignore common sense - leading to horror stories about nursing mothers with containers of breast milk, or travelers with ostomy appliances being humiliated. We have DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano telling us being groped is necessary for our safety.

Good security begins with recognizing bad and/or ineffective measures and developing good, effective ones.

(It's also probably a good idea not to be mandating the use of scanners built by a company in which former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is an investor - i.e., he profits from any contract to put said scanners in airports nationwide. I believe that's called a conflict of interest.)

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