Another Shoe Drops on the Subject of Airport Security

Joe Sharkey relates some complaints of passengers annoyed by officious airport security guards in his NYT essay, “ On the Road: Another Shoe Drops on the Subject of Airport Security.” [RSS]

While, like Sharkey, I tend to remove my jacket, belt, watch, wallet, shoes, and so forth ahead of time to speed up the process, I empathize with the complainers. The rules for security screening are arbitrary, intrusive, and have precious little to do with identifying actual terrorists.

Jeff Jarvis and Ann Althouse disagree, saying “What’s the big” and “Just deal with it,” respectively. While that’s good practical advice, it’s not a mindset I like to see in Americans. A bit of outrage over government invading our privacy and hassling people with no cause is a good thing, in my view.

Random searches of young black males walking down the street in gang colors after dark would yield a far, far higher proportion of safety over inconvenience than our current airport screening system. We don’t allow police to do this, however, because Americans have certain fundamental rights that we’ve deemed, since literally our founding as a country, to be inalienable. Yet we’ve sacrificed an ever-growing portion of those rights for damned little gain in security.

We’d do much better focusing our efforts on trying to prevent terrorists from getting on airplanes than trying to screen for anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Airport security has turned into something that really isn’t about security, but about the abuse of authority by petty tyrants. You either let them do it to you or you get branded a troublemaker and not allowed on your flight.

  2. skh says:

    The PC crowd sticks their fingers in their ears and hums when the subject of profiling arises. Why it is so problematic for them is a mystery. Not all Muslims look like Muhammed Atta (may he roast), but most of them do. It is a counter-productive waste of resources to strip search Maureen Dowd at the airport. Better use of resources would be to strip search Ann Coulter…and post the pictures. Heh.

  3. John says:

    Seeing that the majority of the world’s Muslims are Indonesian–with the second greatest groups being Nigerian–focusing on Arabs seems to open a rather wide door. Jose Padilla doesn’t exactly fit the profiles being suggested, either, unless it’s so broad as to cover all “swarthy males”.

    If we take them as a category, and add Asian-looking people, and black people, do we then only not screen white Scandinavians and red-haired Irish?

  4. DC Loser says:

    Don’t forget Richard Reid, the shoebomber. He didn’t fit any of those profiles.

  5. Steve says:

    A profile, to work, will have to be more sophisticated than anything suggested in this thread so far. You can’t use a simplistic metric like physical appearance alone. Such a profile will always be beaten as it is susceptible to the “Carnival Booth” strategy. Basically the terrorist organization makes “dry runs” to learn what beats the profile, then sends in a team made up of people who beats the profile.

    As for the analogy between the gangbanger walking down the street and the airport security the two are not analogous. If perhaps gangbangers had the ability to endanger hundreds maybe thousands by walking down the street then the analogy might be much better. The Constitutional prohibition against searches and seizures is against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has already deemed airport searches reasonable. That pretty much settles it.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Certainly, a purely physical profile wouldn’t work. Most likely, the system will require some combination of mechanical scanning devices and an opt-in system like a security background check. Under the current system, the head of the CIA is subject to random checks. Rather silly.

    And, Steve, the Supreme Court saying something doesn’t make it so. Their ratio of nonsense to logical conclusions approximates that of random chance.

  7. DC Loser says:

    ” And, Steve, the Supreme Court saying something doesn’t make it so. Their ratio of nonsense to logical conclusions approximates that of random chance. ”

    Did that apply to the 2000 election decision?

  8. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Sure. I thought the outcome of Bush v. Gore was precisely correct but the reasoning very, very flawed.

    The SC ruling on something settles it, for the time being at least, as a matter of law. It doesn’t necessarily settle the merits of a case.

  9. And if terrorists got a bomb or a gun past screeners many of the same people screaming about the lousy screening would scream about the need for more intrusive screening. Then opponents of the President (whoever’s in office) will use it as ammunition. It’s a no-win situation.