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June 16, 2005

The Talismanic Security Agency

At some point, I trust, we will be serious about serious measures to increase airline security, and stop being serious about unserious measures. Alas, that time is not now:

If you happen to be reading this while standing in one of those disturbingly slow, zigzag lines at airport security -- looking repeatedly at your watch, wondering if this time you really will miss the plane -- here's something to make you feel worse: Almost none of the agony you are experiencing is making you safer, at least not to any statistically significant or economically rational degree. Certainly any logical analysis of the money that has been spent on the airport security system since Sept. 11, 2001, and the security that the system has created, must lead to that conclusion.

This is not to say that the uniformed screeners aren't more professional than they were in the past or that their presence doesn't create a degree of psychological comfort, both for government officials, who can claim to be doing something to keep us all safer, as well as for those passengers who continue to believe that engaging in ritualistic shoe-removal gives them mysterious, magical protection against terrorism. On the grand scale of things, though, that's all it is: magical protection.

In fact, outside inspectors have found, over and over again, that federal screeners perform no better than the private screeners they replaced.

...

Probably the most significant measure taken in the past four years was one funded not by the government but by the airline industry, which put bulletproof doors on its cockpits at the relatively low price of $300 million to $500 million over 10 years. In extremely blunt terms, that means that while it may still be possible to blow up a plane (and murder 150 people), it is now virtually impossible to drive a plane into an office building (and murder thousands). By even the crudest cost-benefit risk analysis, bulletproof cockpit doors, which nobody notices, have the potential to save far more lives, at a far lower cost per life, than the screeners who open your child's backpack and your grandmother's purse while you stand around in your socks waiting for them to finish.

In defense of the politicians responsible for this:

One of the key functions of a government is to engage in wasteful and idiotic expenditures because "the people" demand "action" on such or such, even if that "action" is almost wholly futile.

That's just. The fuckin'. Way. It is.

Columns like Applebaum's are similarly futile. She's right, but who cares?

We all know what we need:

1, Racial profiling

2, Armed pilots and (some) armed flight attendants, at least those who have shown proficiency in the most important aspect of gun handling -- retaining your gun from an attacker who wishes to take it away from you. And-- controversial, no doubt, but needed -- a special program allowing frequent air-travellers with no criminal history and proven gun-handling skills to carry while on board (so long as they arm with frangible amunition).

3, Norm Minetta's head on a silver platter.


We'll get none of these things, of course.


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posted by Ace at 03:33 PM

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