Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA screening? A better way

To a growing number of grumbling travelers, airport security screening is a humiliation if not borderline molesting.

To civil libertarians, body scans and pat-downs are violations of privacy without probable cause. To many terrorism experts, the system spends too much time and money looking for dangerous things, rather than dangerous people.

As non-government specialists point out, by the time an explosive-laden terrorist reaches an airline boarding gate, it's too late: a terrorist could detonate a body explosive and wipe out far more people in a terminal than on a single airliner.

The breakdown, experts say, is in field intelligence—detecting plans well ahead of a suicide bomber's being planted on an aircraft.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration have had blemished reputations from the outset. Homeland Security in the Bush years was suspected of using terror threat color codes to create false emergencies to divert attention from unwanted political news. TSA was mocked for trivializing searches for explosives and weapons—baby milk, fingernail clippers, bottled water, shampoo.

Mocking intensified when airline pilots were required to pass explosive screening, even though pilots fly aircraft filled with thousands of gallons of explosive fuel. On-duty pilots now are exempted.

Screening deficiencies and shrinking public support feed the aims of terrorists by sowing public disrespect and political criticisms for measures supposedly created to protect Americans.

Are there better ways? Probably. Making sensible changes pronto is essential.

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