Currently making the rounds of the TV networks is one Kip Hawley, former TSA Administrator from 2005 until January, 2009. He’s pushing his short new co-written book that complains about (what else?) the TSA. In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal he called airport screening “a national embarrassment” and further penned,
“In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying,” he continued in the essay, “we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.”
According to a Huffington Post online article, Hawley offers these suggestions for improvement:
“Allow small knives and other previously prohibited items on board so screeners can focus on finding dangerous explosives. Eliminate bag fees so that checkpoint lines will move more swiftly. And, encourage innovation among front-line checkpoint staff, the real security experts in Hawley’s estimation.”
Well, as one who has complained often and loudly about the inanities of confiscating tweezers while letting sharp ball-point pens through, his new ideas sure ring true with me. I have also strongly advocated selective psychological screening like the Israeli’s do, something now being embraced it seems. But am I the only one to feel peeved to hear the guy formerly responsible for the irritating mess now telling us, the humiliated and irritated flying public, how to fix it? And now he’s trying to make money with his little book while doing it. According to his Wikipedia bio page Mr. Hawley was in control, if you can call it that, well after the nation’s cockpit doors were armored, the pilots armed and air marshals deployed, so why the hell didn’t he fix some of this stuff himself before adding insult to injury by complaining to US about it? Talk about irritating.
In pondering how Mr. Hawley might rationalize his complaining I conclude that the problem is one that is pervasive throughout politics and bureaucracies. In a nutshell, it is that there is no political upside to taking on risk. Clearly from the way he interviews, Hawley is actually a common-sense kind of guy, but in this case that makes him also a disingenuous bureaucrat. He talks like he really wasn’t in charge at all. He talks like the TSA was in charge of him, and I think it was. Why didn’t he allow tweezers and penknives when he was in charge? I wish somebody had asked him that question. But I also suspect that we have too damn many bureaucrats in the loop. The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security and I can just imagine the memos going up the ladder: “We want to allow people to take knives and brass knuckles on board planes.” Now where’s the bureaucratic upside to saying “yes” to that? Public gratitude? Nope. But the downside is clear.
For further insight there is this, under “Criticism”, from Mr. Hawley’s Wikipedia bio:
As head of the TSA, Hawley has been a focal point for public criticism relating to what many consider intrusive and ineffective security measures now undertaken at American airports. In September 2006, in response to the new policies limiting the amounts of liquids and gels that passengers could carry on airplanes, Milwaukee resident Ryan Bird wrote “Kip Hawley is an Idiot” on a plastic bag given to passengers by airport security for those substances. As a result he claims he was detained and told that the First Amendment did not apply to security checkpoints.
In April, 2007, Mr. Hawley agreed to a partially published interview conducted by Bruce Schneier regarding TSA policies and practices. Later, Schneier demonstrated the complete ineffectiveness of TSA measures by bringing a variety of dangerous objects through security and onto planes. Objects included box cutters and plastic “beer belly” filled with unexamined liquid.
Mr. Hawley responded with the following admission:
“Clever terrorists can use innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities. But don’t forget that most bombers are not, in fact, clever. Living bomb-makers are usually clever, but the person agreeing to carry it may not be super smart. Even if “all” we do is stop dumb terrorists, we are reducing risk.”
I have long railed at the excessive size of government bureaucracy and this is a perfect example. Like the absurd Directorate of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security is an expensive appendage that is worse than useless, it is a hinderance to efficiency. And yet, once created, these things take on a life of their own. It was that way in Johnathan Swift’s time and it still is.
How many bureaucrats does it take to invent a color-coded Security Advisory System that never changes color? Answer: How many bureaucrats does the DHS have?
I am waiting to see if Mitt Romney will have the political courage to specifically name the parts of government he would cut if he is elected. If he has any substance at all he will have the DHS and the DNI on the list. It would sure make me like him better. Any bets that he will?
I’m smiling at your last paragraph, but I won’t touch the rest. You know how wound up I get about the TSA.
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I don’t fly very often today but when I do, well I have no bones to pick, personally. Never have I been held up too long, been gropped, been in any way abused or threatened, etc. And given the “shoe bomber”, it does not bother me to have to take off my shoes when going thru security or having my briefcase searched, etc.
In a way, I suppose, I put my own “reverse spin” on airline security. We the people want to be safe on ariplanes for sure. But many within we the people want someone else to ensure that safety and not have to do anything ourselves to contribute to it, like being frisked.
I usually carry a small Swiss Army knike in my pocket, not for protection but because it is handy for many day to day purposes. But if I could carry such onto an airplane, I could do some damage with such a “weapon”. Cutting the throat of a flight attendant in about 3 seconds comes to mind. With a pair of tweezers I could poke out one or two eyes as well. If I could do so, so could someone else, someone a lot younger and stronger than I am now.
So again, it does not bother me to contribute in some small way to airline security. But as well, taking apart Granma’s wheelchair, while I have never seen it done, sounds a little extreme also. Thus I agree with Jim on psyc screening a la El Al airlines. Ethnic screening is OK with me also and I would readily accept such if I flew into foreign countries as a minority.
I guess you won’t mind a finger up your butt in the days after the “rectal cavity bomber” then…
I remember several years ago, an article in one of the magazines we subscribe to — maybe Harpers, maybe The Atlantic — making a convincing argument that the biggest security hole in US airports is the food workers, who could easily be persuaded to give — lend– a uniform and their security pass into the secure areas of the airport. The crowds in the terminals waiting for flights would be the targets, I think, rather than the passengers actually in the air. Convinced me.
I agree, Helen. It’s usually a mistake to keep arming up for the last war when the next one is bound to be different. The French Maginot Line comes to mind. I do believe though that everybody is now screened, even pilots.
I have reflected how extremely vulnerable are our electric grid and municipal water supplies. We are fortunate that the enemy isn’t more imaginative.
Well heck, word press “swallowed” my first partial reply so I will try again,
Define the risk(s) you will accept and most folks can create a system to mitigate (but never elimintate) such risk(s).
Before 9/11 we had more or less a “wide open” air transportation system. Since 9/11 we have greatly enhanced security, not perfect, but more enhanced. Yet people complain now about the security measures. Do you want to go back to pre 9/11 security procedures for air transportation?
It is impossible to have absolute security for just about anything. We have mandatory helmet requirements in many places for kids on bicycles today. Some complain about such. Well if you want zero accidents for kids on bicycles, take away the bicycles, entirely. Or I suppose you could mandate helmets such as those worn by pro football players at about $300 per helment for all kids riding bicycyles (and adults as well)
Worried about food services workers threatening airline security, fine. Stop serving food or drinks on any airline. Just let the flight attendants lug in some water bottles for each flight, sealed water bottles. But even that would not prevent “some” flight attendant puting gasoline into some water bottles I suppose.
I enjoy “thrillers” for light reading. A lot of them involve innovative ways that “bad” or even “good” guys come up with innovative ways around modern day security systems. Yes, they are all fictional, but some seem very, well innovative or effective.
If Americans want more security then Americans must learn to contribute to such security as well as pay for it. Don’t want to contribute to such security, then don’t fly. There is ONE airplane that is VERY secure, for sure. It is Air Force One. I wonder what it would cost to implement such security procedures on ALL American commercial airplanes? And they don’t even “frisk the President” when he goes aboard. Probably not even his bodyguards, at least up to the recent scandal demonstrating “less than” on the part of bodyguards!
My overall point is rather simple. Security costs money and can be intrusive. NO security is “free”, for a nuclear power plant (security costs imbedded in the rates you pay), an electric grid (put guards at every “pole” then watch your rates go up), even automobiles (air bags and seat belts cost money), etc. Just how much are you and other Americans willing to pay for and accept the intrusion (you violate the law when you don’t buckle up) for any security, anywhere.
Americans WANT all sorts of things (like Medicare and SS) but we don’t pay for everything, not even close today. Someday those chickens will come home to roost, getting things for “free”. In fact I see the flock on the horizon and it is reflected in the curves of national debt.
Most Republicans seem to me to feed on fear: fear of immigrants; fear of terrorists; fear of gays; and on and on. That said, I don’t see Romney doing what you suggest. Of course Obama won’t either.
And that is why I am neither a Republican or a Democrat. When it comes to crunch time, any politician will do what is needed to be elected, not what is needed strictly to ensure airline security.
Case in point, oft pointed out by Jim. When was the last time El Al had a real security breach causing mayhem of any sort? I do not recall reading about ANY such breaches in the last, say, 25 years. El Al and the Israelis know how to operate a very secure public air travel system.
Now just try to implement the systems used by El Al on all American public transportation systems. If the TSA did so voters would be in a total uproar and politicians heads would roll.
Screen up to Rawhide’s retort to me about cavity searches. We don’t NEED cavity searches today. Technology does it for us. However the technology might reveal a picture of one’s body that many would find abhorrent. OK, do you want security or “dirty pictures” to be displayed to some?
Consider what it would take for you, a private citizen to come aboard my old submarine and actually gain access to the reactor plant. It would be VERY hard to do. Now it has been maybe 20 years since I last visited a commercial nuclear reactor plant site, including access to the control room. 20 years ago the security to gain such access in a commericial facility was akin to that on board my submarine, beginning at the “main gate” and the layers thereafter including heavily armed guards properly trained..
Jim is worred about the vulnerability of our national electric grid. My biggest concern in that regard is the issue of EMP which we discussed months ago herein. A couple of exo-atmospheric nuclear detonations, causing no harm to people, directly, could destroy our “grid” for months.
THAT is one of the reasons that I support very strong non-proliferation efforts on the part of the U.S. to keep such capabilities out of potential enemies. I am much more concerned about EMP from Iran than a nuclear strike on NYC, for example.
Is that fear mongering?