Tuesday, October 21, 2003

No Such Thing as Foolproof Security

...if anything in this life is certain - if history has taught us anything - it's that you can kill anybody - Michael Corleone, Godfather II

...all someone needs is a willingness to trade his life for the President's... - Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), from In the Line of Fire

These quotes came to mind as I read the story and discussions over the recent "compromising" of airport security where a college student snuck boxcutters past airline security onto two Southwest Airline flights. There was the predictable political response that "someone should be fired" and other finger pointing towards the TSA, Homeland Security and other agencies.

The fact of the matter is that there is no foolproof security system, especially when it comes to public transportation. It is a physical impossibility to screen every passenger, every piece of luggage. By default this means it's possible to get contraband onto an airplane.

This issue points out the fallacy of our current airport security - focusing only on the weapons rather than also trying to screen the people who would use them. As the above quotes point out, there is no foolproof security system, even when all you're guarding is one man. This is why the Secret Service takes seriously any "threats" made against the President and canvasses locations for known loonies days before a President arrives on the scene. The Service profiles and keeps close tabs on anyone who they think might want to hurt the President.

The same can't be said for normal Americans who travel. We have to rely on a system designed to catch every weapon that comes through it, when this is, in fact, a physical impossibility. A better method - to do additional screening of those whose profile matches those who have done harm in the past - has been deemed "bad" in our society, making us less safe.

Box cutters don't down airplanes, Muslim extremists down airplanes. The student who snuck the weapons had no intent to harm, making the box cutters innocuous devices. On the other hand, innocuous devices can kill - a metal ball point pen can be stuck into the jugular. It's people who want to terrorize and kill Americans using any tactic available that we need to stop. If we stop them, the periodic stories of contraband getting through (and this will never end) will continue to be college students with an axe to grind rather than someone who wants to create real harm.

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