Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Airport Rules Are All Wet

"What doesn’t exist yet is a risk management process." Penrose C. Albright, former assistant secretary for science and technology, Department of Homeland Security

"They are reactive, not proactive." Randall J. Larsen, retired Air Force colonel, chairman, military strategy department, National War College, Washington

Bravo to the British for foiling the latest gargantuan terrorist plot. But it makes you wonder why more planes haven't been compromised by the stunning incompetence of our own crack Homeland Security department and the geniuses at the TSA.

Incredibly, the Bush administration and its security agencies are still living in a 9/11 haze ... after five years. It's 2006, Guys -- do you know where your terrorists are? And what they're cooking up?

The answer is yes.

The US had vital information even before 9/11, based on actual plots and events involving liquid explosives. Yet the TSA continued to waste time snagging our tiny manicure scissors and looking inside our shoes.

Now that a real plot's been foiled, they're nitpicking over our water bottles, eye drops and lip gloss, for crying out loud.

I just flew cross country from Philly to LA and back. Was it a nightmare? No. And that's got me even more concerned. They seemed to look more carefully at checked bags and carry-ons, but come on -- I sailed through Security with newly forbidden hand lotion, lipstick and even a can of Pepsi in my purse.

Of course I'm a White Boomer of a certain age, so let's assume they profiled me. I hope they did. But on the other hand, they don't really know how. I travel regularly to Israel, where the Israelis have got it down to a science. Highly trained, clearly dedicated security personnel actually look at you, and talk to you. You can see how seriously they take their jobs.

Compare that to our underpaid, under-trained, low level TSA drones who go through our belongings by rote, following a list of "forbidden" items, no more, no less. Who barely glance at us and routinely miss more than they find.

I said it here last Spring, in Travel Tales.

"Try getting past an Israeli security agent, who chats you up in the security line as if you're on a first date. And manages to learn more about you in five minutes than if you'd been in a long term relationship."
Their questions seem casual enough--where are you staying, what sites will you visit, do you belong to a church or synagogue back home and if so, what's it called--but they're really taking your measure, seeing how you respond and react, getting a read on who--and what--you are.

I'm so glad they do. Because when they let you on the plane, you'll eat with real utensils and be able to sleep, secure in the knowledge the plane is safe. Does USAirways really think they'll prevent a terrorist attack by using plastic knives in First Class? Of course not, it's a ruse to save money.

And money is why every time we board an airplane, our lives are in danger.

We have the technology to sniff out any potential explosive on the face of the earth. But our government isn't willing to spend the money to come up with a solid plan to deal with truly dangerous weapons. Why not?

Those big bucks are earmarked for the war in Iraq, local pork barrel projects and Republican reelection campaigns. And nothing's left over to hire and train really effective security agents. Or make sure every airport has the latest screening devices technology can offer.

The 9/11 commission called it "failure of imagination." I would add failure of leadership, failure of congressional support and failure of citizen demands.

Until we step up and insist on leaders who will allocate enough funds to keep us safe, we're on our own. Because with Dubya and his crew in charge, air travel seems based on little more than a wing and a prayer.



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