The Blue Menace

 

Pasted image at 2016_01_06 12_47 PMThe passengers on United 93 removed a major threat to our national security: The potential for commercial aircraft to be transformed into missiles against specific targets. The remaining threat — largely from explosives — is real, but basically limited to the crew, passengers, and people immediately below them. Though nothing to scoff at, the risk to airplanes is no more grave than the risk to other potential targets.

Which rather makes one wonder why we continue to tolerate the existence of the Transportation Security Administration, especially given the risks to liberty it poses. As the Cato Daily Podcast notes, the TSA is now contemplating turning away passengers from states that don’t comply with the Real ID Act,* making it harder to opt out of body scanners. The agency is increasingly the spearhead of the movement to make domestic travel a privilege that can be granted and revoked at the whim of the federal government.

Of course, one could argue that the same is true of our highways, the use of which is conditional upon our education, licensing, and registration. But the analogy breaks down quickly. At least until recently, if you displayed a valid license plate and stayed within the confines of your lane and the law, that was generally enough for you to go about your business at liberty. In other words, travel by automobile still functions largely under a presumption of innocence, and most of the reasons you’d come to the attention of law enforcement relate directly to concern for others’ safety. The contrast to airline security in this regard could hardly be more pronounced.

Airline security is a serious matter. It needn’t be an affront to liberty to have some federal involvement or assistance. (Providing databases of potential terrorists seems like an obvious function, albeit one that’s been abused badly.) But the risks in a post-United 93 world largely accrue to the airlines and passengers. They should easily be able to exceed the TSA’s competency, and moreover, the airlines would have an incentive to innovate and compete against each other.

* I confess I am long overdue to form an opinion about this topic.

There are 57 comments.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    The TSA should be eliminated. Go back to 1980’s Security. It will be fine. TSA stops nothing. Do it by executive order.

    Arm the pilots. Put two Marshals on every flight with the money saved from TSA.

    Boom.

    • #1
  2. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    TSA is the scourge of my existence. It is, at best, security theater.

    Federalization has removed all accountability. Agents can be as snotty as they like. The airports and the airlines have no say. Then they gave them badges and started to call them officers, which they’re not, unless you think of your local mall cop in the same way.

    I especially love secondary screening at the gate. While they were rifling through my stuff I just asked the agent, “So, is this an admission that the full body scan and bag X-ray is worthless?”

    “Of course not!”

    “Then if you did your job correctly why are we doing this?”

    I guess I was lucky he didn’t pull me from my flight but I didn’t care. I am not a sheep.

    • #2
  3. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    Wow, in a couple of days California IDs would be non-compliant with no extension of waiver.  The TSA is really going to declare 30 Million citizens in a mostly democratic State that there drivers licence is no good. I don’t see it happening.

    • #3
  4. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Can’t wait to get back to packing a bag. Nothing like a Sunday PM cavity search.

    • #4
  5. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    EJHill: “Then if you did your job correctly why are we doing this?”

    I like the way you think, sir.

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Jager: Wow, in a couple of days California IDs would be non-compliant with no extension of waiver. The TSA is really going to declare 30 Million citizens in a mostly democratic State that there drivers licence is no good. I don’t see it happening.

    It’s unlikely that that will actually happen, both for the reasons you cite and because the politics will all go badly for the TSA itself (they’ll come off as the bad guys, not the states).

    But it’s still a bad precedent and it’s more likely that the states will find some way to fall in line without causing trouble.

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    TSA is, granted, security theatre, but we are not going back to the days of no checkpoints.  If you want to privatize the process as a matter of principle, I get that.  But don’t expect much, if any, change.

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I guess Tom got on a plane, eh?

    Those of us who fly a lot have spent a lot of time on this rant. The TSA is the archetypal government program: invasive, destructive of our time, paternalistic, insulting, and utterly ineffective.

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Hoyacon: If you want to privatize the process as a matter of principle, I get that. But don’t expect much, if any, change.

    I fly in Europe, where many airports have privatized security. Heathrow works MUCH better than the TSA.

    • #9
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    iWe:

    Hoyacon: If you want to privatize the process as a matter of principle, I get that. But don’t expect much, if any, change.

    I fly in Europe, where many airports have privatized security. Heathrow works MUCH better than the TSA.

    You’re in Europe, so the only variable isn’t privatization.  The privatized screening process here that existed pre-box cutters was just as incompetent in a world with far fewer concerns.

    • #10
  11. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    Hint to presidential candidates: A surefire way to win an election is to run on a campaign of ending the TSA.  Besides being a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, this is a bitter complaint of a sizable fraction of the population.

    “But we can’t eliminate airline security!”

    “Police officers fly for free.”  Problem solved.

    • #11
  12. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    What burns me up every time I see it is veterns having to remove prosthetic limbs to put them through the x-ray. Is there no room to exercise a little bit of intelligent discretion?

    • #12
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Hoyacon:

    iWe:

    Hoyacon: If you want to privatize the process as a matter of principle, I get that. But don’t expect much, if any, change.

    I fly in Europe, where many airports have privatized security. Heathrow works MUCH better than the TSA.

    You’re in Europe, so the only variable isn’t privatization. The privatized screening process here that existed pre-box cutters were just as incompetent in a world with far fewer concerns.

    When the screener is working, ultimately, for the airlines (which pay the landing fees to the airport, and do NOT want security delays), then they are working for the flying public. That means that customer service means something.

    TSA employees do not answer to travelers.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    You can still MacGyver ordinary objects into weapons and get them on a plane. But 90% or more of all problems were fixed merely by adding locks to the cockpit doors.

    But governments don’t like solutions that easy.

    • #14
  15. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Though nothing to scoff at, the risk to airplanes is no more grave than the risk to other potential targets

    This is exactly right.  A terrorist can kill you at a sporting event or a mall or your office easier than he can kill you on an airplane, even if you eliminate the TSA.

    • #15
  16. David Sussman Contributor
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    EJHill:

    TSA is the scourge of my existence. It is, at best, security theater.

    Federalization has removed all accountability. Agents can be as snotty as they like. The airports and the airlines have no say. Then they gave them badges and started to call them officers, which they’re not, unless you think of your local mall cop in the same way.

    I especially love secondary screening at the gate. While they were rifling through my stuff I just asked the agent, “So, is this an admission that the full body scan and bag X-ray is worthless?”

    “Of course not!”

    “Then if you did your job correctly why are we doing this?”

    I guess I was lucky he didn’t pull me from my flight but I didn’t care. I am not a sheep.

    Wasn’t it like this before TSA? I seem to remember the level of dissatisfaction lead to arguments whether private union/non-union companies were each more efficient.

    • #16
  17. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    iWe:I guess Tom got on a plane, eh?

    Those of us who fly a lot have spent a lot of time on this rant. The TSA is the archetypal government program: invasive, destructive of our time, paternalistic, insulting, and utterly ineffective.

    Don’t forget about the socio-political aspects of the nightmare of flying. I will never forget the severe interrogation and minor threats of detainment that I received at CDG airport in 2010.

    I was patted down three times before I was able to board by an obnoxious woman who visibly recoiled when I snarked:

    Did you just see the three young Arab men that boarded the flight? Any concern about profiling them? Or are small, blonde American women your prime suspects?

    There was an audible gasp from the entire group of Parisian TSA agents after those bon mots were uttered; my husband had to get off the plane (he, of course, had been waved through) to rescue me.

    • #17
  18. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    David Sussman:

    Wasn’t it like this before TSA? I seem to remember the level of dissatisfaction lead to arguments whether private union/non-union companies were each more efficient.

    There are currently in the neighborhood of 15-18 privatized airports, including a couple of large ones.  They p*** people off as much as government screeners.

    • #18
  19. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Hoyacon:

    David Sussman:

    Wasn’t it like this before TSA? I seem to remember the level of dissatisfaction lead to arguments whether private union/non-union companies were each more efficient.

    There are currently in the neighborhood of 15-18 privatized airports, including a couple of large ones. They p*** people off as much as government screeners.

    Security at SFO is done by a private company.  Can’t say I’ve noticed any real difference from other airports.  The security experience on my last flight from there was worse than average.

    • #19
  20. muckfire Inactive
    muckfire
    @muckfire

    What I hate the most about the TSA in The San Antonio airport I frequent is their fans. I kid you not, there are at least a half dozen $250 Dyson ten inch desk fans on top of all the x-ray machines. The fans are the little utterly wasteful government cherry on top of the crud sandwich the TSA makes me at the start of each trip.

    • #20
  21. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    The most enjoyable international airline experience I have ever had is with El Al; no political bias here on my part (promise!), but Israeli security knows what the hell to look for.

    Blonde conservative Republicans are not on the list.

    • #21
  22. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    I’d prefer not to fly.

    • #22
  23. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Ryan M:I’d prefer not to fly.

    For once, you and I may agree on something, but I refuse to allow derelicts to rob me of one of my greatest pleasures- world exploration.

    • #23
  24. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    muckfire: What I love the most about the TSA in The San Antonio airport I frequent is their fans.

    I am not a fan.

    • #24
  25. jerseyguy Inactive
    jerseyguy
    @jerseyguy

    I think people miss an important point when they argue that we shouldn’t be so concerned about plane security because terrorists can strike anywhere.  While that is true, it remains remarkable just how much they like to try to blow up planes.  And arguing that one shouldn’t care more about being blown up in a plane than dying another way is akin to the arguments people deride that people are too scared of terrorism when other things (car accidents, etc) are more dangerous.   My bottom line: we’re right to focus on planes because terrorists do and because most people won’t fly if they expect a plane or two a year will get blown up without security–rational or not.

    • #25
  26. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    jerseyguy:I think people miss an important point when they argue that we shouldn’t be so concerned about plane security because terrorists can strike anywhere. While that is true, it remains remarkable just how much they like to try to blow up planes. And arguing that one shouldn’t care more about being blown up in a plane than dying another way is akin to the arguments people deride that people are too scared of terrorism when other things (car accidents, etc) are more dangerous. My bottom line: we’re right to focus on planes because terrorists do and because most people won’t fly if they expect a plane or two a year will get blown up without security–rational or not.

    There’s nothing that I’ve read that indicates that TSA is actually keeping planes from being blown up, however.

    • #26
  27. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    While Tom rants about the TSA, it seems that the real issue is that the government is requiring a uniform driver’s license.  The states cannot decide what they want to do regarding who they allow to have a D.L.

    I live in New Mexico.  This issue came up a couple of years ago and I was ticked off that NM had DLs that could not distinguish between a legal resident and an illegal border crosser.  I went and got a passport.

    The more I thought about it though, the more I disliked that the Federal Gov’t was the arbiter of what constituted a valid DL.  We are coming to the point of being required to provide “papers” in order to do anything.

    • #27
  28. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    The TSA should be abolished.

    • #28
  29. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Frozen Chosen:

    There’s nothing that I’ve read that indicates that TSA is actually keeping planes from being blown up, however.

    I’m really uncomfortable appearing to defend the TSA bureaucracy, but are we just supposed to assume that the fact that nothing has happened in the air since 9-11 (in this era) is dumb luck?  As I said earlier, it’s security theatre, but I’m guessing that, in addition to annoying a lot of people, they’ve dissuaded at least a few bad guys.  Them’s the odds.

    • #29
  30. Sowell for President Member
    Sowell for President
    @

    Where do you have to travel? Sit down, finish your dinner, do your chores, brush your teeth, and be good to your little brother. If you have spare time, read a book – quietly. And save your pennies.

    • #30

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