The restrictions on carry-on items are especially burdensome now that most airlines are charging for any checked bags, thus forcing customers to choose between their shampoo and their wallet. I don't have any leg braces that set off metal detectors, but I have had the humiliating experience of TSA agents asking me to take off a sweatshirt or sweater that, while it may have a zipper or buttons on it, is in fact an integral part of my clothing.
(I have noticed that it is almost always male agents who make these requests. I don't think it's always because they're creeps--though some are--but I think it usually occurs to a female agent that women dress in layers.) I usually refuse to strip down to anything past short sleeves, saying that what I'm wearing underneath is "not appropriate." If this doesn't work, I go for the pat down.
All of this would be palatable if I thought these restrictions were working, but I'm just not sure they are. More often than not, I realize I left a lipgloss or water bottle at the bottom of one of my bags, and it escaped security unscathed. I've had to give up a cast-iron pan I got for Chanukah (apparently it can be used as a club?), but gotten through with accidentally packed scissors, aerosol bug spray, and more. And some have speculated that having to worry about all those four-ounce containers distract TSA agents from detecting suspicious activity that might actually signal terrorist intentions. In an article in the LA Times about the undie bomber, security expert (according to the LA Times) Bruce Shneier said:
"This is security theater. We've always known you can strap explosive material to your body without a metal triggering device and get it on a plane. You need to stop terrorists before they get to the airport."In this 2007 NY Times article, Patrick Smith discusses the fallacy of thinking we can head off security threats by making responses in response to things that have already happened. He especially expresses doubt about the liquids ban, citing an explosive expert:
Among first to express serious skepticism about the bombers’ readiness was Thomas C. Greene, whose essay in The Register explored the extreme difficulty of mixing and deploying the types of binary explosives purportedly to be used. Green conferred with Professor Jimmie C. Oxley, an explosives specialist who has closely studied the type of deadly cocktail coveted by the London plotters.
“The notion that deadly explosives can be cooked up in an airplane lavatory is pure fiction,” Greene told me during an interview. “A handy gimmick for action movies and shows like ‘24.’ The reality proves disappointing: it’s rather awkward to do chemistry in an airplane toilet. Nevertheless, our official protectors and deciders respond to such notions instinctively, because they’re familiar to us: we’ve all seen scenarios on television and in the cinema. This, incredibly, is why you can no longer carry a bottle of water onto a plane.”He ends particularly forcefully:
The truth is, regardless of how many pointy tools and shampoo bottles we confiscate, there shall remain an unlimited number of ways to smuggle dangerous items onto a plane. The precise shape, form and substance of those items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials, we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur.
Thus, what most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it’s the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It’s not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it’s too late.
In the end, I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of protest rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation. The op-ed pages are silent, the pundits have nothing meaningful to say.The same author wrote in Salon in 2009 that the TSA's obsession with pointy objects was ludicrous, pointing out that weapons are routinely made in prison from toothbrushes and other benign-seeming tools. "Yet whether by virtue of incompetence or willful ignorance, TSA continues to waste untold time and untold millions of dollars on a tedious, zero-tolerance fixation with blades and sharps," he writes. Elsewhere, a particularly humorous critic of these policies has been Garrison Keillor, who has worried, among other things, that if someone tries to board a plane with a bomb in their colon, we'll all be in for much more unpleasant air travel in no time.
What do you think? Do whiners like me need to suck it up so we can all be safer, or have airport security regulations gone to far in restricting our privacy without benefiting our safety? Do you wish Obama would tackle this, or are there much bigger fish to fry?