There are several fundamental problems with the way the United States Transportation Safety Administration combats terrorism. These have their roots in fighting the war for the freedom of mankind as a public relations problem. Too often we take a security theater approach, apparently in an effort to reassure the public that everything is fine and the system is working. Meanwhile, things may or may not be fine. Below the fold are my seven complaints against the TSA.
- We are treating the War on Terror as a war on terror, and not a defense against jihad. We've made the decision that naming jihad as the enemy would give it an enemy. There is also a strong current of political correctness running through the debate. Some will now call me names, as if acknowledging that for religious reasons some people hate our culture makes me the bad one.
- Because we're fighting terror, we identify tactics we dislike, and not the tacticians. This means that as long as the enemy can fit within the rules we define for legitimate users of our system, common sense gives us no probable cause to investigate further. In scrupulously avoiding the use of "profiling", we ignore things we should not. Further, to avoid insulting a subset of legitimate users, we end up treating everyone as a suspect.
- We publicize each new attack and react to it, successful or not, leading both the public and the enemy to believe that such attacks are more common and more successful than they actually are.
- The controls we enact are in reaction to each new attack, rather than against all such attacks. This will lead to the eventual crippling of the enforcement system, as both its legitimate users and its enforcers become overburdened. Each new rule gives a hint to the attacker of what to try next.
- The rationale for a security control must be clear or the public will reject the control -- one way or another. This is called psychological acceptability. An unacceptable control, such as too low a speed limit, will be ignored or will cause the public to find some clever means around the control. The key is that the public must perceive that the control offers enough protection to justify its use.
- Instituting controls to win the battle for perception doesn't work. The only policy goal it achieves is a false sense of security. We believe that if following the rules is difficult for legitimate users, it must be more so for the enemy. In fact, the opposite may be true. Warning everyone what will be searched when boarding a plane, for instance, tells the enemy what not to bring along.
- A complex apparatus with a dense set of confusing rules can result in security through obscurity, which is to say, no security. Those enforcing and following the rules are led to believe that because of the hassle, no one could circumvent the rules. Someone not concerned with following the rules may find a way around them that those concerned with their minutiae miss or discount.
I'm sure there are other problems with the TSA and its approach to airline security. I just had to offer these.
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