When Technology isn’t the answer

Recently in an interview Janet Napolitano the head of the Department of Homeland Security said the era of forcibly removing our shoes each time we go to the airport may soon come to an end. There was rejoice across the internet. Finally one of the stupidest security measures in our post 9/11 world was coming to an end. Unfortunately reading her actual statement left me feeling more depressed about the security choices we are making in this country.

What Napolitano actually said was that we were reaching the point technologically where we would no longer need to remove our shoes at the airport. Let me be clear in many ways I’m a technocrat. I love using new technology to solve existing problems. I believe investments in technology have the highest multiplier in terms of economic pay back. That said airport security is not a problem that technology can solve. We currently spend millions of dollars on new gizmos that arguably only have the effect of violating peoples personal space and privacy. Our new screening process hasn’t made us any safer. I’ve literally been stopped boarding a plane for caring a pair of Allen wrenches. Unless there are some vital components of an airline made by Ikea I fail to see the harm in this. The same goes for swiss army knives. Yes the blade could be used as a weapon, but so can a set of sharpened keys. One needs only a simple look at the stabbing of prison inmates to know that making and or acquiring a weapon in even the most secure environments is not the near perfection we believe it is.

Many people will make the argument that all these measures make it harder for terrorist to strike at our airports. This may be true, but what is the point of securing our airports? The only thing we have done to improve security since 9/11 is reinforce the doors to cockpits to make them secure. This one measure has made it very difficult to gain control of an aircraft and use it as a weapon, which was the actual attack mechanism of 9/11. Beyond gaining control of an aircraft what is the strategic importance of all the airports across our nation? At this stage if someone manages to bring a bomb or weapon onto an aircraft the only people affected are the people on that particular aircraft. This is not to diminish the particular loss of life caused by a tragedy caused by such an instance, it is merely to point out the same level of danger is presented to people traveling via bus or rail, yet we have not felt the need to secure every train and bus across the country. The same is true for our airports themselves, there is no difference in attacking an airport, a sports complex, or a mall. At each the loss of life would be massive, and the psychological trauma would be severe, both of which are primary goals of terrorist attacks. Our airports are not sacred institutions of significant importance. The millions of dollars we waste on securing these locations could be better used addressing global poverty or America’s own self sufficiency both of which would do more to fight terrorism.

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