The Illusion of Security

I was riding the shuttle bus from long-term parking into the BWI terminal this morning. An elderly traveller sitting across from me on the bus asked me what I thought about the recent events in Detroit, in which a Delta passenger allegedly try to light a bomb on board the plane. My response was the same as always: we only live under the ILLUSION of security. The fact that there aren’t more examples of security breaches truly amazes me.

I’m confident anyone who really wanted to could at the very least wreak havoc on board a US airliner. Passengers are permitted to carry on 3 ounce containers of liquid. I carry three when I travel, one of which has contact lens solution in it. What if that was lighter fluid or grain alcohol—anything clear and that burns? Who would know? I haven’t even been asked to take my one quart ziploc out of my suitcase in the last year, much less had anyone ask about the contents of those containers. What if I had five of those bottles? What if I had ten friends on board with me that also had five of those bottles. Now all I need is a wooden, strike-anywhere match. I could put ten of those inside an empty chap stick container and stick that in my rectum. Done. Now, on “go” we all jump up, start splashing flammable material around and someone lights the match.

Two weeks ago I was at BWI and I noticed that employees who work on the other side of security—at the Hudson News, or McDonald’s or Sun Glass Hut on the B-Concourse—don’t have to remove their shoes when going through security. I asked a TSA staff member about this. He responded that  “employees” are not required to remove their shoes. I wonder how big a bribe would it take to get an employee to wear a pair of bomb filled shoes through security to be traded with a terrorist later?

Security is an illusion. We pretend it exists because to acknowledge our vulneribability would be to live in constant fear–like living in the village at the base of the dam. You simply can’t think about the consequences all the time. Life is what it is and it involves some assumption of risk. The dam will break or it won’t.

Some folks wonder today whether American’s will tolerate invasions of privacy that would improve safety. I’m sure some are concerned about such invasions but I think most just don’t want the inconvenience of longer security lines. Open a hundred lanes, keep the wait to less that 15 minutes and I’ll gladly show up in my robe and slippers at which point TSA can glove up and give me a physical for all I care. I simply don’t want to be in line for two hours. I don’t want to have to plan to be at the airport today, for my flight tomorrow. If it’s inconvenient, America will show little patience. We say we want security, but we don’t want to be inconvenienced by it. In the end, the illusion of security is sufficient for most.

I recently enrolled two of my kids in the Loudoun County Public Schools just west of Washington, D.C. On my first visit to the schools I found all the doors locked. There was a buzzer and a note: “Please be prepared to show ID to the camera for verification prior to entry,” it read. I buzzed. The red light came on and I was admitted. They didn’t know me. They didn’t ask for ID. I could have had been loaded to bear, strapped with dynamite and carrying bucket bombs, yet they let me in. But it sure is nice to know that my kids go to school where the doors are locked all day and no “bad guys” can get it. Too bad the front office staff from the Loudoun County Public Schools doesn’t work security in Amsterdam. They would have spotted Delta’s terror threat immediately and never let him in the door.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I agree with you. It’s all about creating an “illusion of security.” But why? Because we can’t do what we need to do to protect ourselves without violating the canons of political correctness. Do they try to bomb Israeli passenger jets? We’re concentrating on clear plastic ziplocs so we don’t have to take the more difficult steps. We harass old ladies instead of making sure that Nigerians with clear terror ties are stopped.
    But I don’t agree that we shouldn’t try to protect ourselves. If a serial killer really wanted to target me, he could probably get me at some point during my day, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to stop serial killers. Attacks have been prevented, and I’m sure that all those who would have been killed are grateful.

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