Security Theater of the Absurd

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I sighed with relief a few weeks ago when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cleared mouthwash and mascara of conspiring to blow planes sky-high. Now I can open my medicine cabinet each morning without fear of becoming the latest casualty in the War on Terror. Perhaps the TSA was inspired by Fashion Week’s safe run in New York last month: hundreds of lipsticks lurked backstage, yet nothing exploded but tempers.

The TSA’s jihad against toiletries and cosmetics was ironic because any theater needs make-up. And that’s all airport security is: theater. Author Bruce Schneier coined the term to describe highly visible but vain security; Wikipedia illustrates its entry on "security theater" with one of the TSA’s silly signs. Not only has the TSA’s troupe failed to catch a single terrorist, it gulls passengers into believing that robbing folks of liquids and gels somehow protects them. It also teaches Americans to equate “airport security" with charades that upset, frustrate and intimidate the innocent rather than with unobtrusive, effective measures from the private sector that would indeed improve safety. And the TSA does all this for only $17 million per day — or $118,055 during the ten minutes the agency often claims is the average wait at its checkpoints.

How did we reach so preposterous a pass that the government of the United States vilifies “Maybelline Moisture Whip Burgundy Lipstick” as a threat to American aviation? The Supreme Court started us down this runway in the late 1960’s and early u201870’s with a series of extra-Constitutional decisions that invented an "interest" for the Feds in airline security. Those pinheads in robes didn’t care whether government could prevent skyjackings: they simply declared that it should. At the time, the Nixon Administration was illegally bombing villagers in Vietnam and Cambodia while its chief executive burgled his enemies’ office. The Court nevertheless entrusted these criminals with the safety of American passengers.

Criminals are usually pretty dim; politicians and their subclass, bureaucrats, are among the dimmest. That’s why you’re enclosing your 3 ounces of Listerine and shaving cream in a "ONE QUART-SIZE [sic for "sized"], clear plastic, zip-top bag," per the TSA’s diktat. God knows how high the plane would blow should we be permitted fold-top baggies, too.

The TSA assumes we’re as dim-witted as its personnel and lies to us accordingly: "The ban on liquids, aerosols and gels was implemented on August 10 after a terrorist plot was foiled. Since then, experts from around the government, including the FBI and our national labs[,] have analyzed the information we now have and have conducted extensive explosives testing to get a better understanding of this specific threat. These changes are intended to enhance security and balance human needs because we have a better understanding of the threat and security risks associated with liquids, aerosols and gels."

Balderdash. Passengers from around the country analyzed Our Rulers’ propaganda, realized that even Starbucks’ most caffeinated brew cannot detonate, and got around the TSA’s specific threat to their comfort by flouting the ban en masse. The TSA had to reverse itself or look even more flat-footed than it already does. Ever the sore loser, it has imposed the Three Ounces-and-A-Baggie Regime just so we all know who’s boss.

The new rule makes no more sense than the old one, and "[u2018]Security lines in many airports have been jammed as a result,[‘]… Darrin Kayser, spokesman" for the TSA told the Washington Post. This is not the TSA’s fault, of course, but ours. We’re just too stupid and ignorant to keep pace with Our Rulers’ whims. TSA spokesgal Carrie Harmon huffed to the Denver Business Journal, "If people would just take five minutes to look at the Web site before they come to the airport, it would save a lot of time."

Another TSA flunkey, this one in Warwick, Rhode Island, lamented to the local NBC TV-affiliate, "Folks, unfortunately, wind up showing up at the airport with these garbage bags, opaque, filled with 16-ounce items. It creates real problems for us and for our screening force." Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Consequently, the station reports, "security checkpoint workers are filling up two dozen barrels a day with items they are forced to take away from passengers who are unfamiliar with the rules." [Emphasis added.]

You slow learners have only yourselves to blame when you’re robbed. Kindly get yourselves up to speed, because you are not only compelling an innocent screener to turn thief, you are clogging the works: "Passengers either don’t know about the baggy [sic] rule or they’re still putting other liquid products in their bag and causing delays," our gal Carrie scolded.

Give the lady an Oscar for acting as though the "baggy rule" matters. Meanwhile, this latest performance in security theater gets a thumbs’ down. Let the politicians and bureaucrats stick to burglarizing each other’s offices. That should keep them too busy to stage-manage airports, airlines, and us.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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