That airline security is largely theater is a given. As has been covered previously by others, precluding cockpit access by anyone but pilots is the safest and sanest security move post-9/11.
The rest of the processes are not ill-intended, just largely ill-conceived. Thanks to Richard Reid we all have to take off our shoes for screening before we are cleared to fly. Thanks to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, well, I’d rather not imagine what sort of scenery we’ll be subjected to at TSA screening points going forward, or if a female suicide bomber with PETN-filled breast implants decides to board a plane (it’s like Larry Flint is the new KSM). The problem with responding to the last attack is that it leaves you open to the sufficiently novel and imaginative, like, flying airplanes into buildings.
What has been revealed so far is that what should have worked didn’t. What could have prevented there from being a near-miss in the first place was the rapid and effective sharing of information between state organs that are a part of the most significant information enterprise in the world: the US intelligence community. Instead we find that we have multiple lists maintained and accessed by multiple entities, none of which is encouraged to make maximum use of the information provided by others. Standard bureaucratic operations dictate that the bigger your list the better; who cares if the data is valid or if anyone actually looks at it?
Yet stopping the Christmas plot didn’t need to involve a security apparatus of any kind; if it’s true that Abdulmutallab didn’t have a passport it boiled down to a practical matter: you aren’t allowed to fly between most countries w/o a passport. Not much of an issue in parts of the world where borders are more concept than concrete, but we’re talking about the airline-security-sensitive US here. All it really took to prevent a catastrophe was a gate agent who was willing to give Abdulmutallab a virtual smack up-side the head for trying to pull a fast one.
Which brings us to the question: what else could we be doing to improve airline security that a) are free or nearly so, b) make air travel more efficient/effective, and c) spur a change in attitude amongst those who should be making us more secure? I can think of five off the top of my head that fit multiple categories:
- If it is not already so, codify in law and/or airline regulation that if you don’t have a passport or visa for the US, airlines or airport authorities outside the US cannot let you on a plane to or transiting the US. If implemented, we’d never have heard of Umar Abdulmutallab nor would the prospect of TSA cup-checks be on the horizon. $1M fine for each violation; every year an airline is error-free earns it one month relief from 9/11 security tax.
- Pay annually a cash bonus equal to one year’s pay for the ten government or contract employees involved in air/border/immigration/homeland security that make the most effective use of _all_ available information on travelers, immigrants, etc. regardless of the information’s source. There are enough collaborative tools and other mechanisms available to determine this definitively. For a mid-six figure sum we could stop more near-misses and uncover more anomalies than a brigade of TSA screeners.
- Crowdsource a programming effort to develop an algorithm (which would then be freely available to airlines) that is included in boarding pass issuing routines that truly randomizes who is subjected to enhanced screening. No more profiling of any sort. No more using TSA procedures against itself or flying-while-ethnic. You can’t game the system if you have no idea who is going to get popped.
- $5M fine per-individual for any airline or airline service industry firm that hires – knowingly or unknowingly – an illegal alien or anyone otherwise unauthorized to work on a flight line or in a plane-servicing role (including cleaning, catering, etc.). Fine revenue would be earmarked to fund TSA Red-Team and GAO investigations of the airline industry.
- Since the government is fond of looking to all sorts of unusual sources for security ideas, why not work with designers to create non-metalic clothing and accessories (belt buckles, watch bands, shoes, etc.) that could not be turned into or house weapons, thus precluding the need to partially disrobe at TSA checkpoints?
I’d love to hear your ideas. The best idea to come in before 1/1/10 will get a signed free copy of Threats in the Age of Obama.