I just flew out of San Francisco and opted out of the nude scan they do. I always opt out of the nude scan but today it had an added bonus of getting me through the line quicker. The naked scan machine in my line had some kind of backlog and so I notified the guy at the front of the line that I'd be opting out in any case -- I flew right through security. Partly that was because my assigned TSA massage therapist was not doing her job as thoroughly as others have. I've been left in tears before by an over-aggressive freedom fondle (in Philadelphia, if you're curious). Here it was a minor inconvenience. Sure, she glided her hands over and under my bosom, but she left other zones more or less untouched.
There is a lack of consistency in airport security, you all have noticed. Over at Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg interviews John Pistole, the TSA’s administrator, who formerly helped lead the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts, about the latest al Qaeda underwear bomb plot. It turns out that the underwear plans we intercepted showed that someone could set off a bomb wearing nothing other than typical-feeling underpants. He leaves open the possibility that TSA screening might have found a bomb such as this, but it's hardly even close to a probability.
Since it is intelligence, and never TSA screening, that leads to success in the Global War on Terror, Goldberg has some additional thoughts:
As a frequent flier who generally chooses the pat-down over the scanner (I find the scanner even more humiliating than a federally funded groping), I can say that on some occasions the manual search I experienced was so rote that I could have passed through security with a bag of grenades down my pants. And the devil’s workshop operating in Yemen under al-Asiri’s direction is the obsession of counterterrorist forces worldwide precisely because it is focused on designing a bomb that will defeat airport security.
Which suggests an obvious conclusion: The existence of this latest iteration of the underwear bomb is, as the security expert Bruce Schneier argues, an advertisement against increased airport security -- not in favor of it.
The chance that the government would actually ratchet back security is close to nil. But when even the head of the TSA admits that its technology might not be able to stop innovative new bombs, it might be time to look at our counterterrorism spending priorities -- and focus more resources on stopping embryonic plots and less on harassing my mother-in-law.
The operation against AQAP’s newest bomb was a success precisely because it took place so close to the source of the plot. As Schneier points out, terrorism isn’t easy. Most plots fail, and fail early. If an underwear bomber reaches an airport, and is only a couple of hours away from boarding a plane he plans to destroy, it means that he and his co-conspirators have brought a complicated plan to maturity despite the best efforts of the most sophisticated counterterrorism campaign in history.
In other words, if the only thing standing between the bomber and his target is a TSA pat-down, bet on the bomber.
The more I travel, the more I have come to the understanding that TSA and its groping and nude scans are little more than extremely expensive and invasive security talismans -- objects and rituals that are designed to make us feel safer as opposed to be safer. Unfortunately, these are talismans that many love and value. Something tells me we'll never be rid of them.