The Answer to Airport Security

In January 2010 we published a column titled, “The Insanity Called Airport Security.”  Now, just ten months later, we find the American people in near revolt against Obama administration airport security procedures that border on sexual molestation.

As might be expected, critics on the right are mistakenly touting the profiling system used with great success by the Israelis to keep terrorists off El Al’s airplanes.  What they apparently fail to understand is that what works in Israel won’t necessarily work in the U.S.  Israel is just slightly larger than the State of New Jersey and has just two major airports.  The United States has hundreds of major airports and an incurable addiction to whatever is politically correct.    

What seems to escape the bureaucrats in Washington is that their choice is between seeking out and identifying dangerous weapons, devices, and materials, and seeking out and identifying those who are intent upon committing suicide and taking several thousand innocent men, women, and children along with them. 

Anyone who finds it acceptable that two or three bearded men dressed in Muslim garb should be allowed to pass almost unmolested through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, while my 88-year-old mother-in-law is made to rise painfully from her wheelchair to undergo a complete body pat-down, including a thorough inspection of the contents of her bra, is certifiably insane.  But that is precisely what is happening in airports every day of the week, all across America. 

We cannot say this often enough or plainly enough: The screening system that is standard in most U.S. airports today is not designed to keep terrorists with guns, bombs, and dangerous chemicals off our aircraft.  It is designed to be so uncomfortable and so irritating for the traveling public that they will derive a false sense of security from having endured it.  It is a fraud on the traveling public and it is ultimately going to get a lot of people killed. 

The system requires each passenger to remove shoes, belts, jewelry, and pocket change… anything that might contain metal and/or explosive materials… for examination by an x-ray machine (cost: $35,000-$60,000).  These items are then placed in large plastic trays, along with purses, briefcases, coats, jackets, and other carry-on items and the trays are placed on a conveyor attached to the x-ray machine.  Items such as small pen knives and fingernail clippers attached to key rings are considered to be dangerous weapons and are confiscated and discarded.

Next, the passenger is required to pass slowly through a doorway-sized metal detector (cost: $4,000-$5,000) which will sound an alarm if a passenger has any amount of implanted orthopedic prostheses, or even a stray piece of shrapnel in his/her person.  In that event the passenger is taken aside for a thorough going over with a hand-held wand (cost: $200).  

And finally, once these indignities have been endured, the passenger is required to assist a TSA agent with an inspection of the contents of all carry-on bags, briefcases, and purses.  Toiletries such as toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, facial creams, and lotions must be no larger than 3 oz. each and must be contained in a separate 1 qt. plastic zip-lock bag for easy inspection.  Any items larger than a 3 oz. travel size are confiscated and discarded… perhaps set aside for use by the families and friends of TSA employees.

Once the passenger has endured all of these pointless indignities he/she is then permitted to retrieve and replace shoes, belts, pocket change, etc.  Assuming all goes well and that tempers do not flare, the optimum time required for screening… between arrival at the x-ray conveyor belt and the buckling of belts and the tying of shoes… is approximately 4.5 minutes and requires the participation of no fewer than six TSA employees.  It is sheer madness. 

So long as the TSA pursues this misguided approach to air safety they’re going to need a lot of help.  According to a classified TSA report published by USA Today, screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed roughly three out of four fake bombs used in random checkpoint efficiency tests, while screeners at Chicago’s O’Hare failed to detect roughly six out of ten fake bombs.  This is not a record that should give air travelers any degree of comfort.

However, none of the insanity that we’ve witnessed in airport security screening to date can begin to compare with what is now arriving on the scene.  The latest and greatest insanity in airport security technology is the whole-body scanner (cost: $170,000-180,000), a device that allows a TSA screener to inspect the body, sans clothing, of every screened passenger. 

Two manufacturers, Analogic Corp. and Reveal Imaging Technologies, received millions of dollars from TSA to develop the machines, apparently with little or no thought to the serious nature of the inherent privacy concerns.  Did the technology gurus at DHS and TSA really believe that the traveling public would accept the notion of being observed, essentially nude, each time they pass through an airport security checkpoint?  Are they unaware that the all-body scanners now being deployed would have had little chance of detecting the chemical compound concealed in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s undershorts? 

Most importantly, are they unaware of the details surrounding the August 28, 2009 assassination attempt on Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef?  In that instance, Prince Mohammed was receiving guests in his palace in Jeddah when he was approached by a suicide bomber who had successfully bypassed palace security protocols.  The assassin was not carrying a weapon or parcel of any kind and he had no explosives strapped to his body.  The assassin carried his explosives stuffed into a major body cavity.  (No, it wasn’t an ear, a nostril, or his mouth) 

At the risk of being a bit indelicate, it should also be noted that, at a time when Islamic groups are seeking to have women in full Muslim garb exempted from the full-body scan and the full-body pat-down, Jihadists are busily recruiting female suicide bombers.  Clearly, those who are willing to die in the senseless killing of innocent people would not find the use of body cavities for the storage of explosives to be too offensive for their own “sensibilities.”  Need I say more?

What is needed to restore a degree of sanity to our airport security operations is an entire change in direction.  Instead of spending billions of dollars in a fruitless search for a magic device that will keep weapons and dangerous materials off our airplanes, we need to adopt a totally new attack.  Instead of looking for “stuff” … weapons and explosive compounds… we need to be looking for people who seek access to our airplanes for purposes of evil intent.

By far the best available technology to fill that need is the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) (cost: $10,000-12,000), now used by more than 1,900 state and local law enforcement organizations, and by Special Forces interrogators (Navy SEALS, Green Berets, etc.) in Iraq, Afghanistan, and GTMO.  A major airport with six security screening lanes could be equipped for less than $75,000, as opposed to the $1.38 million cost of what the TSA is now purchasing and installing.  But what is more important is that the CVSA system would be far more effective in screening out those who are intent upon injuring or killing their fellow passengers.

The CVSA is proven 98% effective in civil law enforcement investigations and in military interrogations of terror suspects… far more effective than the 60%-75% failure rate of the TSA’s own self-imposed efficiency tests.  Passengers could be screened in less than 30 seconds each, compared to the 4.5 minutes required to move through the current system, and the number of TSA employees could be reduced by half, or more.

Armed with a single CVSA unit and a small microphone, a TSA agent could take each passenger behind a screen and ask, at random, a series of three or four questions selected from a list of pre-prepared questions.  For example: 1) Did you drive your own automobile to the airport today?  Yes or no.  2) Did anyone assist you in packing your bags?  Yes or no.  3) Did you have eggs for breakfast today?  Yes or no.  4) Are you in possession of any weapon or substance that could be used to injure other passengers?  Yes or no.  If the CVSA detected deception in response to any of the operative questions, which it would be certain to do (unlike the polygraph, the CVSA cannot be defeated), that passenger could then be taken aside for a thorough search of his/her person, clothing, and luggage… both checked bags and carry-ons.

Unfortunately, the DHS and the TSA appear to be afflicted with a highly contagious Washington disease, causing them to become convinced that, if it doesn’t cost at least a million dollars a copy, and if they didn’t invent it, it can’t be worth a damn.  So, while DHS and TSA technocrats make repeated trips to Capitol Hill, carrying away billions more to support their fruitless search for the ultimate magic machine, they continue to ignore the obvious answer to their search, the elephant in the living room, the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer. 

It has been said that the first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you find yourself.  Clearly, the technology researchers at DHS and TSA are captives of the environment in which they exist.  Let us hope that the day will come when they recognize their mistake.  And as we wait for that day to arrive, let us hope that the American people don’t have to pay too high a price for their incompetence.

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1 Response to The Answer to Airport Security

  1. Lloyd says:

    Paul, it seems that there might be another force at work here. We know that the federal government is essentially one big union, and like any ponzi scheme, a union must continually grow its membership or face extinction as its required payouts exceed its income. What better way to grow the federal government union rolls than to create a need for large numbers of mostly unskilled laborers? Your description of the average screening process needing six TSA employees drove that thought home with me.

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