TSA – how they should be doing it.

The TSA is failing in it’s mission.

Full Body Scanners do not work. They produce failing results as shown by the Adam Savage (Of Mythbuster’s fame) TSA video on youtube. Go watch it, but come back. He carried two 12 inch foam cutting razors on a plane because they ran a full body scan on him rather than the normal metal detector.

Visual imaging is not the way to go with security. It requires either image analysis software, that takes several minutes to analyze an image, or a human being watching and neither is 100% effective. From personal experience I can say that the X-ray luggage scanner is not even good enough.

On our trip to New Orleans last spring, we discovered a need for a pair of scissors mid-trip so we went to the drug store. The only pair they had was a very nice $15 pair. We didn’t want to lose these nice scissors so, knowing we were getting on a plane, we packaged the scissors up in a mailer and promptly forgot about it, leaving it in our carry-on. The carry-on went through security and through the x-ray machine and the TSA agent stopped me only to make me take off my shoes and go back through the metal detector.

The scissors flew safely on the plane and made it home, with us thinking we’d left the mailer behind in the hotel until we opened our carry-on. It was a relief to still have the very nice scissors, but oh so disturbing to realize how unreliable the TSA is.

The visual aspects of airport security are probably not meant to stop serious terrorists, but to deter the half-assed terrorists. I like to think the FBI and CIA are stopping most serious threats before the TSA becomes involved.

It’s not comforting to realize that a guy who gets a wild hair up his ass could one day decide to take a pair of scissors or a 12 inch razor blade to the airport with the intent of hijacking a plane and having a fair chance of making it to the plane with his weapon.

Knives shouldn’t be a real threat on an airplane any more than they are on the ground. There should be a firearm armed agent on each and every plane. The cockpit should be locked. The worst possible disaster should be a few people killed in the cabin. It would be a tragedy but not any different than someone doing the same thing at a convenience store. To a person inclined to such violent acts, the plane part of the plan is just too much extra effort.

Bombs are a different issue. The problem with bombs is that they are not very distinguishable visibly. Lucky for us, the technology that best detects bombs doesn’t use visuals. It’s an electronic nose or, even better, a canine nose. 

Sufficient security can be attained by using only metal detectors and dogs at each and every airport checkpoint. The traditional xray is fine for the carry-on luggage. But if you really want to be sure – separate the luggage from the passengers altogether. Anything that can’t pass through a metal detector doesn’t get on a passenger plane. Maybe make an exception for approved and tested electronics like PDA’s and cell phones, but laptops can fly seperate too. Honestly people might complain about loss of productivity, but most of them will be thankful for a break thats out of their control.

With a locked and safe cockpit, the plane is not a weapon. With an armed anonymous guard in the cabin, any attempt to cause havoc there will be dealt with quickly at minimal loss of life.

There has been some discussion about allowing pilots to bypass security. The pilots are among the people, along with the TSA workers, who should be put under the most scrutiny. They are the single point of failure in the entire security web.


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