A couple of years ago my wife — who may be the least likely person on the planet to commit an act of terrorism — was randomly pulled aside at airport security for a thorough screening. Seeing that the process was going to take awhile, I took a seat on a nearby bench where a TSA officer was taking a break.
I told the officer why I was waiting. He smirked and told me he had been in the military and knew a little bit about security. Then he waved his arm at the ranks of screening apparatus and long lines of haggard airline passengers and said something like: "This is all a joke. I can think of a hundred ways to sneak a weapon through all of this."
Something tells me that young man is not still employed by the TSA. Either he would have tired of the empty exercise and found more fulfilling employment or his supervisors would have punished him for his honesty. However things have turned out for him, his analysis has proved to be disturbingly accurate.
A report leaked out of the Transportation Security Administration reveals that a team of investigators from the Department of Homeland Security managed to sneak weapons and fake bombs past airport screeners in 95% of their attempts to beat the system. That means what many of us suspected all along has now been confirmed. All those expensive body and baggage scanning machines, all that intrusive rummaging through luggage, all those intimate pat-downs of little kids and grannies, all those nail clippers confiscated, all those bottles of liquids seized, all those shoes and belts taken off, all those laptops pulled out and all those thousands of frustrating hours wasted in line have been mostly for show.
Millions of American citizens have been unwittingly turned into non-speaking extras in an epic theater production staged by our government in airports across the country. The goal has been to trick a few would-be airplane bombers into thinking they will get caught and to create an illusion of safety for innocent air travelers. That charade has been exposed.
Now what happens? The current Senate confirmation hearings of U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter V. Neffenger, President Obama's nominee to take over as TSA administrator, should become a forum for debate about how to radically alter the way TSA operates. In a perfect world, such a debate would lead to wider examination of the country’s vast, fear-driven, money-sucking national security system that metastasized after 9/11 into a bureaucratic colossus, but that is likely too much to hope for.
There have got to be smarter ways to provide real security at airports. Treating the 99.99% of travelers who just want to get from here to there like criminal suspects has always been offensive. Now we know it is also woefully ineffective.