Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Few Honest Questions

For a long time, I have been griping about specific details of airline security, and arguing that, from my admittedly non-expert viewpoint, some of them seem much more for show -- or at best compromises between real security and show gestures -- and have little to do with actual safety. However, it is quite possible I am missing some of the logic to many of these measures, so I would ask, if anyone who knows about airline security, or even anyone who can figure out the motive behind certain measures, can tell me why the following measures were adopted, I would be happy to hear the answers. Until then, I am puzzled by a number of the security measures adopted such as:
1. Removing shoes - I know the infamous shoe bomber hid a bomb in his shoes, but honestly the shoe is a pretty bad hiding place, especially if you are alert and watching for it. It is pretty difficult to fit anything substantial in a shoe without severely impairing your ability to walk. (This comes from second hand reports from an ex-policeman father who laughed often about drug mules trying to hide drugs in their oversized hightops, then walking around with a very funny gait. So it isn't as if I am completely without foundation here.) I would say it may be an acceptable measure if it weren't for one other fact, that many airports exempt children, elderly people, sometimes even pre-screened and express passengers. Now, I know supposedly pre-screening ensures their safety, though I am dubious there, but what about old people and children? Weren't they the favorite bomb carriers of the Viet Cong? So why would it be any less possible for another terrorist movement to recruit the old or young? Sorry, if shoe bombs are a real threat, then screen everyone, or no one, this half-way measure just says we are not serious, and it is more for show than security. 
2. Cigarette lighters - As a smoker, this one always seemed odd. After all, a match can light something just as easily as a lighter. Granted, there is a little odor, but locked in a restroom, that odor would not give anyone time enough to stop a bomb from exploding, or any other flammable substance from burning, so I don't see the difference between lighters and matches. I would concede maybe it is because of the compressed fuel, but I don't recall bans on aerosol breath sprays and the like, so compressed flammable liquids apparently are acceptable. So why lighters? 
3. Laptops - Why do we remove laptops from carryon bags, but not other electronics? I was traveling once with a portal DVD player, just as large, just as metallic and just as filled with electronics as a laptop, yet did not have to take it out. Can't figure this one out for the life of me. 
4. Liquids - What is the reason for the size limit on liquids? Most liquids that would be a threat, say components of toxic gasses, explosives, or other dangerous substances, are pretty deadly in quantities as small as 1.5 ounces, so the restriction seems pretty arbitrary. I suppose 1.5 ounces of gasoline could not start a massive fire, but that is the one exception I can think of, most nerve gas, poisons, and explosives could do lethal damage at 1.5 ounces. Not to mention that you can carry several 1.5 ounce bottles, so the limit isn't really a limit anyway. 
5. Asking "Was this bag out of your possession?" - Are terrorists really staking out airports, looking for the truly scatterbrained, to steal their bags and replace them with bombs? Of course not. So what is the point of even asking this? (This one always struck me as about as plausible as the worry in the 1980's that random people were going around distributing drugs to kids, a bit of a bizarre worry, given the cost of drugs.)
6. Jokes - The one that troubled me even before all our airline paranoia, even back when I was a youth when the big worry was being hijacked to Cuba, why are there prohibitions on jokes about guns and bombs? Do they really think dangerous folks are walking through cracking jokes about guns and bombs? Of course not. This is simply an attempt to prevent workers from being annoyed by irritated people, upset at screening. Sorry, I don't think that is a legitimate use of power. I know people can annoy, as I said, dad was a cop, I have sympathy for all they have to endure, but that still does not mean they can arrest folks just for being jerks. So I still think this is a wholly improper use of arrest power. 
7. Sharp Things - Things have gotten better in recent years. Having left the country twice in three years, I have not been overly inconvenienced by attempts to confiscate sharp objects, but at one time this was pretty badly abused, and I am afraid the law is still overly broad. I know, in the case of 9/11, the flight was hijacked with box cutters. But really, nail files? Even worse, Swiss Army Knives? The files included on nail clippers? I know they can theoretically harm someone, maybe even kill, but in truth, a fist is scarier than most nail files. And, in all honesty, after 9/11, don't we believe most groups of passengers would risk as slash or poke from a nail clipper rather than risk the takeover of their plane? In the present environment, with our knowledge of history, it seems it would take a fairly effective hand to hand weapon to take over a plane. I am not even sure knives and axes would currently be sufficient to subdue all the passengers on a plane.
I think that is it, though I am sure I left something off. Still, I will leave it there for now. As I said, this is all based on my uneducated take on airline security, so please let me know if I am overlooking some valid reason for any one of these measures. Mostly, as I am flying tomorrow, I wanted to gripe a bit in advance. Still, if anyone has a good explanation, I would really enjoy hearing it, as I have griped about many of these for a long time.

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