Peggy Noonan on Airport Security
Peggy Noonan has a piece in today’s OpinionJournal subtitled, “Look at the airports. Why would terrorists bother with seaports?”
Describing her lousy experience with TSA security agents on a recent cross-country flight, she writes,
This was East Germany in 1960. It was the dictatorship of the clerks, and the clerks were not in a good mood.
Quite right. I don’t fly nearly as often as Noonan but I’ve taken somewhere on the order of fifty flights since 9/11. It is amazing how incompetent and rude the security screeners are. As I predicted when there was so much pressure to make the screeners federal employees, we basically hired the same inept people back but with the arrogance that comes with a badge and incredible job security.
On a recent flight to Little Rock to attend a wedding, my now-wife’s sister was harassed because she did not want to take off her flip-flop sandals and walk around the dirty airport in her bare feet. That she fit none of the profiles of Islamist terrorists and that a would-be shoe bomber would be unlikely to choose sandals as her instrument of choice was clearly beyond the intellectual scope of the screeners.
It’s not just that the process is incredibly insulting to paying customers. Or that federal agents are allowed to force people to undergo unreasonable searches despite anything approaching reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause. It’s that all this actually detracts from providing actual security.
I am almost always picked for extra screening. I must be on a list of middle aged Irish-American women terrorists. I know a message is being sent: We don’t do ethnic profiling in America. But that is not, I suspect, the message anyone receives. The message people receive is: This is all nonsense. What they think is: This is all kabuki. We’re being harassed and delayed so politicians can feel good. The security personnel themselves seem to know it’s nonsense: they’re always bored and distracted as they go through my clothing, my stockings, my computer, my earrings. They don’t treat me like a terror possibility, they treat me like a sad hunk of meat.
I don’t think most of us get extra screening because they think we are terrorists. I think we get it because they know we’re not. They screen people who are not terrorists because it helps them pretend they are protecting us, in the same way doctors in the middle ages used to wear tall hats: because they couldn’t cure you. It’s all show.
Update: An interesting exception to this is Washington’s Dulles International, which was the departure point for two of the four planes used in the 9/11 attacks. Even flying during peak travel times, like the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, they get people through quickly and efficiently. The other two D.C. area airports, Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International, do not. And don’t even get me started on Atlanta.