The TSA’s latest crazy scheme to find and remove any shred of human dignity from American air travelers has gotten a lot of attention lately. (I’ve collected a number of stories at IWillFlyNoMoreForever.com.) Everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants the TSA’s hand up their ass. How to reconcile those positions?
First, we must look at a basic assumption of how the TSA works; that they can make us safe. They can’t. I have yet to see anything at an airport that would stop me from carrying out a major terrorist act, and I haven’t put any real effort into thinking about it. You can bet that the people who want to carry out such attacks have given it a great deal of thought.
So, we must concede that if the terrorists get to the airport, some of us are going to die. There is nothing we can do about that.
Let me repeat that:
If terrorists are determined to kill some of us, they will succeed, and there is nothing at all that we can do to prevent that.
The TSA’s efforts have been increasingly frantic and intrusive because they are tasked with preventing something that cannot be prevented. Imagine if you were given the job of eliminating darkness from your home town. You might run around setting up floodlights, checking people’s houses to make sure that every closet had a light on inside, begging for a bigger budget for more streetlights…and you would fail. For all of your efforts, for all the laws passed to make people keep their lights on, there would still be darkness.
If a bad-guy wants to badly enough, he can find a way to kill Americans. Accept that.
Once we have accepted that there is no 100% foolproof way to prevent every terrorist attack, we can start looking at serious answers. The most obvious is to catch the terrorists before they carry out their attack. Stop them before they get to the airport. That’s what happened with the liquid-explosives bombers. We still have to dump out kids’ sippy-cups, but it doesn’t matter what kind of explosives they had because they never made it to the airport.
We need better intelligence gathering, and better sharing of that information between agencies. The real failure in the recent ‘underwear bomber’ incident wasn’t that the explosives in his underwear weren’t detected by airport security. The real failure is that all of the information saying ‘this is a bad guy who you should do something about’ (including a tip saying exactly that from the man’s own father) was completely ignored.
If we get information saying, “This man right here is going to try and carry out a terrorist attack” and let him on the plane anyway, does it matter how thoroughly we search everyone else?
The other thing we need to do is control our responses. The way to fight terror is not to strip-search six-year-olds; the way to fight terror is to not be afraid. If a terrorist attack does take down a plane, or a train, or a line full of people waiting patiently for some underpaid high school dropout in a TSA uniform to grab their balls, the thing to do is NOT PANIC. Treat it as we would any other plane crash or accident; investigate what happened to see if there are any lessons to be learned, and go on about our lives.
The way to fight terror is to not be terrified.
The point of a terrorist attack is to make people afraid, and to make them overreact. Since 9/11/01 we have done exactly what the terrorists wanted, at every step of the way. How smart is that?
Some of us may die in a future terrorist attack, but that would be true no matter what the TSA’s policies are. People are dying now because of those policies. ‘What?’ you say. ‘How can that be?’
Because of increased, and increasingly humiliating and intrusive, security at the airports, more people are driving instead of flying. Driving is more dangerous than flying. An estimated 40 people a month die on the roads who would have lived if they’d flown. (Full story here.) That’s at least 4,000 people since the TSA was created.
The 9/11 attacks killed about 3,000 people.
Our airport security has killed more Americans than the terrorists have. How smart is that?
If the TSA backs down on their current ‘scan and grope’ regimen, and some future terrorist takes down a plane (and one will, whether the TSA is scanning and groping or not), there will be people who say, “See! We told you that this would happen if we stopped grabbing your balls!”
Ignore them. Do not panic. Do not overreact. Yes, if we force the TSA to let us retain our dignity when we fly some of us will die. It might be you; it might be me. But some of us will die anyway, without their dignity, and some of us our dying already.
The terrorists cannot destroy our way of life. Only we can do that. And we are.