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Comical TSA/DHS Response to Terrorism   December 29th, 2009
If a terrorst wears a green shirt, green shirts will be banned on planes       

 
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Terrorism isn't a laughing matter, but it would seem that the TSA and DHS are making every effort to make it such. At least their response to it.

As is now well-known, on December 25th a Nigerian attempted to detonate some kind of device on a Detroit-bound airliner as it was making it's descent. Luckily, he failed and ended up burning himself and being tackled by passengers and crew.

That's when the comical (and annoying) efforts of the TSA and DHS kicked in.


What was the immediate response of the TSA? I experienced it first-hand flying back to the U.S. from Mexico two days after Christmas:

Virgin Atlantic Airlines is telling travelers heading to the U.S. that there will be 'extra screening of passengers and hand baggage at the gate immediately before boarding.' Air Canada posted notice that, under the TSA-imposed rules, 'during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, and will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.' And Canada's WestJet notified passengers that these and other new procedures, such as the limit of one carry-one bag per passengers, are scheduled to be in effect until at least December 30.


So, since a terrorist wanted to blow up a plane in the last hour of a flight, the new solution proposed by the TSA is to not allow anyone to get out of their seat for the last hour of the flight, or have access to anything they brought with them during the last hour of the flight.

Who was the brilliant bureaucrat that came up with this nugget of strategic counter-terrorism wisdom? President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, apparently told his aides to deal with the problem and this was the best these clowns could come up with.

Now, if there should be an attempted attack during the first hour of a flight, will passengers then be subject to this same restriction for the first and last hour of the flight? And, if so, why wait until someone makes a first-hour attempt? Why not be "proactive" and keep passengers seated the first hour as well? Or why not be proactive and just ban all carry-on luggage and have seatbelts electronically controlled by flight attendants so that passengers can only get out of their seat when the crew gives the passenger a bathroom pass and an armed escort to the lavatory.

Especially now that terrorists know of this rule, obviously they would just try to launch their attack an hour and 5 minutes before landing (if the restriction actually impedes them from launching their attack whenever they want).

I went through this flying back from Mexico on December 27th. The flight was an hour and twenty minutes. Since by the time we reached cruising altitude we were within an hour of landing, the flight was basically a "no-standing/no-bathroom/nothing-on-your-lap" flight in its entirety. I suppose the next step is for airlines to remove the lavatories from planes that run flights that are less than 90 minutes since we won't be able to use them anyway--might as well reduce the weight of the plane and save some fuel.

But the idiocy continues... this rule apparently only applies to international flights. I was able to verify this as I connected from Dallas back to Denver. That flight was normal. Why is this? I suppose the argument could be made that the U.S. doesn't trust foreign airport security so these restrictions are only necessary for foreign-origin flights. Perhaps. But given all the reports we see about how many items can get past TSA inspection I really don't think it's reasonable to assume that these policies, if actually necessary and effective, are any less warranted for domestic flights.

I was silently furious as I flew from Mexico back to the U.S. It felt like I was shackled to the seat without as much as an iPod to help the time go by. I was furious not at the terrorists but at the TSA for such inane, pointless rules that are making it progressively less attractive to fly while simultaneously not increasing security.

Really, does anyone think security against terrorist threats is increased by prohibiting me from getting out of my seat or using an iPod? After all, the terrorist was apparently seated when he attempted to detonate his device.

A security expert agrees that this is just a nonsensical smoke screen to make passengers think they're more secure:

New security restrictions swiftly implemented following a botched attempt to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day are a poor attempt to make passengers think skies are safer, says one expert...

"The real problem here is that, tomorrow, if someone tried to detonate a bomb on a plane and, right before he detonated it, he sang, 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) would issue a rule tomorrow saying, 'No singing on a plane.' It is a very bad camouflage attempt of not dealing with the real issue of how did this guy clear security in Nigeria and twice in Amsterdam, and still get on the plane?"


Of course, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano seems to be out-to-lunch in terms of dealing with this obvious failure of the system. On Sunday she said:

"I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have," she said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "We trained for this. We planned for this."

On CNN's "State of the Union," she said: "One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked."


The system worked? A terrorist whose father had identified the individual to the U.S. as a potential threat passed security in two airports with explosive material... and the system worked? The only reason we didn't have a successful terrorist attack on Christmas day is because the terrorist was incompetent, the detonator was defective, and a Dutch passenger helped neutralize the situation. How exactly did the "system" work? The system was useless. It was dumb-luck and a heroic passenger that avoided catastrophe.

Of course, even Napolitano couldn't maintain that ignorant and absurd spin... it was just so blatant that people were laughing at her. So the next day she backtracked.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded Monday that airline security failed in allowing a Nigerian on a terror watch list and allegedly armed with explosives onto a Detroit-bound flight, a turnaround from her declaration a day day earlier that "the system worked..."

"Here, clearly, something went awry. We want to fix that problem," Napolitano told Fox News on Monday...

"No secretary of homeland security would sit here and say that a system worked prior to this incident which allowed this individual to get on this plane," Napolitano said.


Huh? She said it! Of course she's taking the position that when she said, "the system worked," she was talking about the "system" working after the attempted attack. That's of little consolation. After the attack, the plane landed and other planes in the air were notified of the attempt. Great. Wonderful. The fact that she would even boast that that worked is insane in the face of the massive failure of security that couldn't prevent a person from boarding a plane with explosives.

Of course, as part of the Obama Administration, she had to try to lob some blame back towards the Bush Administration:

She said the current system was in place before she took the helm at the Department of Homeland Security, and that she was "familiar" with that system.


Can anyone in this administration confront a problem without trying to blame it on Bush? It's downright comical. If the Bush-era system was judged to be inadequate, what changes has Napolitano initiated this year? Nothing comes to mind. And if she didn't think anything needed to be changed during the year, to even think of trying to assign blame elsewhere for a legacy system is just petty.

Of course, Al Qaeda helped Napolitano look even more silly. On Sunday, despite the terrorist claiming to have received support from Al Qaeda, Napolitano said "there was no indication so far that an alleged botched terror attack on a U.S. airliner was part of a broad international effort." The next day Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsual confirmed the terrorist's original claimed association by taking credit for the terrorist attempt.

The last eight years have taught us the majority of TSA's policies aren't making air travel any more safe. They're just making it more inconvenient, now to arguably ridiculous extremes. This isn't new and I've been saying this since the Bush years.

Have any terrorist plots been stopped by TSA? Has a person been detained at a TSA checkpoint after they were discovered to be carrying an explosive? Perhaps it's happened but I can't recall hearing anything like that--and I'm sure we would hear about any major success by the TSA. It appears that terrorist attacks are being thwarted by old-fashioned intelligence and investigation, and by passengers on airplanes. TSA has done precious little besides inconvenience law-abiding citizens.

The truth is that the government cannot protect us from every threat of terrorism. It can--and should--make every reasonable effort to investigate and infiltrate terrorist cells and should acquire as much intelligence as possible to thwart attacks. But when it comes to the policies TSA is implementing, these are knee-jerk reactions to their failings that increasingly inconvenience the flying public for no appreciable increase in security.

After all, if our security depends on people not being able to access the bomb they brought with them in their carry-on, the whole security system is a farce.

    Update Same Day: Looks like the silliness of some of these new TSA restrictions has become as obvious as the silliness of Napolitano's "the system worked" comments. The policies are apparently being backtracked:

    In-flight security rules for air travel have been eased after a two-day clampdown, airline officials said Monday.

    At the captain's discretion, passengers can once again have blankets and other items on their laps or move about the cabin during the tail end of flight, two industry officials briefed on the situation said Monday.


    This isn't ideal. It means that if the captain allows movement and something happens in the last hour, I guess the TSA will now blame the captain.

    But regardless, such quick backtracking would seem to be tacit admission that the policy was stupid to begin with. Still, I guess we should be happy that, according to Napolitano, the "system worked" because these silly policies were able to be instituted and repealed so quickly.


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