TSA and faux terror theatre

image132.jpgDisclaimer: My family has a long history living in, speaking out against, and escaping trouble from totalitarian governments. So, please understand that I have a terrible allergy towards anything that smacks of police-state bullshit.

They’re Such Asses – shoes set me off
I’ve always called TSA “Faux Terror Theatre”. Looking back at my posts, those times I was ticked off enough to write about, it seems to have started when we were required to take off our shoes.

“What’s with the shoes?” is dated March 2004. The previous two years or so were the start of Bush’s (or should I say, Cheney’s?) “war on terror” and locking down legal and societal tools to make it look like the government was on top of things. Do you remember the red-orange-green status? How about comments that “if you talk against the government, you are unpatriotic”? Indeed, these insidious fear-mongering tactics have poisoned american political discourse to this day.

And I knew it would. Such things are easy to deploy, hard to remove (shame on you Obama).

To this day, it bugs the krap out of me when the PA systems bellow “See something, say something.” That’s so “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (which one day, in fit of rage at the airport, I bought, to read and remember). These “Words of Warning” on fearsome signs everywhere, also do not help.

But the shoes seemed inane enough for me to step up and call out the baloney the TSA was perpetrating. Not only did it push me to rant, twice (“Airports, shoes, and a horribly screwed up emerging police state”, “I repeat myself“), while at the airport, using only a mobile phone (ouch, thumbs), but also drove me to apologize to the rest of the world (which I still do when I note stupid US security procedures forced upon foreign governments).

All this finally culminated in me writing a short story on where this is all leading. Do read it (“So it’s come to this”).

Baah baah we sheep
While the last post I can find on this blog was in 2006 (“What price Security?“), I do know I have continued ranting on Twitter (I can’t seem to find those easily today). I’ve noticed that the TSA has become more “normal”, as in, we have accepted the dysfunction and faux theatre like sheep. And I’m part of that, sadly, as well: I spent a long time trying to evade the full-body scanners, only to finally give up as everyone now needs to go through it.

I’m not alone!
And where did this whole rant, today, come from?

I really could not get folks to truly understand why all this TSA and Homeland Security* faux theatre bugged the krap out of me.

Then a few months back I stumbled upon Bruce Schneier. I spent the other day perusing his blog posts and articles on TSA. YOU MUST READ THEM. 🙂

Schneier on Security: Beyond Security Theater  (Nov 2009) – He calls it theatre, too! And it blew my mind how similar our thoughts and perceptions are.

Counterterrorism is also hard, especially when we’re psychologically prone to muck it up. Since 9/11, we’ve embarked on strategies of defending specific targets against specific tactics, overreacting to every terrorist video, stoking fear, demonizing ethnic groups, and treating the terrorists as if they were legitimate military opponents who could actually destroy a country or a way of life — all of this plays into the hands of terrorists. We’d do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable. The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.

The Things He Carried (Nov 2008) – An article from The Atlantic where Schneier shows how leaky the TSA security system is: fake boarding passes, smuggling liquids, and other failures in airport security.

Schneier and I walked to the security checkpoint. “Counterterrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schneier said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”

Schneier on Security: Harms of Post-9/11 Airline Security  (Mar 2012) – A post prompted by a discussion Schneier had with former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. [links below from original article]

At this point, we don’t trust America’s TSA, Britain’s Department for Transport, or airport security in general. We don’t believe they’re acting in the best interests of passengers. We suspect their actions are the result of politicians and government appointees making decisions based on their concerns about the security of their own careers if they don’t act tough on terror, and capitulating to public demands that “something must be done”.

Return airport security checkpoints to pre-9/11 levels. Get rid of everything that isn’t needed to protect against random amateur terrorists and won’t work against professional al-Qaeda plots. Take the savings thus earned and invest them in investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: security outside the airport, security that does not require us to play guessing games about plots. Recognise that 100% safety is impossible, and also that terrorism is not an “existential threat” to our way of life. Respond to terrorism not with fear but with indomitability.Refuse to be terrorized.

Where do we go from here?
I seemed to have found a soul mate who is calling BS on the TSA and Homeland Security. Do read his posts on air travel. There are posts on how folks are circumventing security, calculating excess automobile deaths as a result of 9/11, and the politics of security in a democracy. And here’s an anchor post that urges us not to give in to what the terrorists want.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.

Alas, it’s quite depressing to see such a public figure like Schneier, who is speaking straight to the leaders, getting nowhere in changing the government’s mind. Indeed, it’s also depressing to me that not only did things not moderate when Obama came into office, but I feel things got more paranoic. It’s like the apparatus that Cheney and cronies put into place has a life of it’s own that the government can’t dismantle (again, shame on you, Obama).

But I find hope that Schneier comes out with great articles such as this one in the Atlantic: “The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On“. The effect of those bombs will affect me in some way or other this year – I live in the region and I want to run the marathon as an unregistered runner. But this sums up well what I believe:

How well this attack succeeds depends much less on what happened in Boston than by our reactions in the coming weeks and months. Terrorism isn’t primarily a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.

Be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized.


*”Homeland”? Really? First time I heard it, made me cringe. To me, it conjures “heimat” ideas from Nazi Germany. Can you blame me for being on edge since the terrorist rhetoric began on 11 Sep 2001?