CBS News did a story a few days ago on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Basically it was a tit-for-tat between Bruce Schneier, security pontificator extraordinaire, and Kip Hawley, the administrator of the TSA. Mr. Hawley's maintans that the TSA provides a necessary service because we are at war, and the obvious battleground, apparently, is airplanes. Surely, we must all realize that just because the terrorists used airplanes once, they can't possibly have enough imagination to go for another target next time. Mr. Schneier, wisely, disagrees, points out all the flaws in what the TSA does, and calls the whole thing "Security Theater;" a term whose origins are not entirely undisputed, but that is beside the point.
The interesting thing with this story is that neither of Messrs. Schneier and Hawley were quoted as addressing the currently most glaring flaw in the entire air transportation security apparatus. If one of our enemies actually wanted to terrorize the populace, why take on the risk of blowing up another plane? Just for fun, head on down to your local airport this week. Walk into the terminal area and take a look at the security line. At Dulles (IAD), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Atlanta (ATL), John F. Kennedy (JFK), etc, the picture is the same. There will, at any given moment, be 500 to 1,000 people in line.
It took 5 terrorists per plane (four on one plane) to blow up the planes on September 11, 2001. Together, they managed to kill 2,751 people. That's 145 victims per attacker. Take those 19 terrorists, strap them full of explosives, and position them strategically in the lines the TSA has created leading up to the security checkpoints. I guarantee you that each one of them will kill 145 people, or more. Better still, have them get in line with a bag full of explosives, then leave the bag and step out of line. They will probably have two to three minutes to make a get-away before the bag explodes before anyone even so much as looks at those bags. One might even have more if one chats up the people next to oneself in line to watch the bag while the attacker runs to the restroom. Suddenly, we have the prospect of a devastating, coordinated attack that is far more insidious, far more deadly, and far more difficult to prevent, than the attacks of September 11. This one you can't inspect away. You can't put a security checkpoint to get into the security checkpoint.
The TSA, single-handedly, created this vulnerability by making the airport security checkpoints so incredibly inefficient (and, one might add, ineffective) that the lines leading up to them back up with hundreds, or, in the case of Dulles, even thousands, of people. If the terrorists really wanted to erode confidence in our transportation infrastructure, why not make the security checkpoints the most dangerous part of it?
Mr. Hawley, in your final few weeks, how are you going to protect the public you are sworn to protect from this attack? How are you going to prioritize our safety while we are waiting in line so that your spiffily dressed officers can declare us as posing no risk to the traveling public?