airport security technique: Make everyone balance a Twinkie on their
nose before boarding the plane!"
one might ask, would balancing a Twinkie--or a Ho Ho, or even a Ding
Dong--improve security? The answer is, about as much as some of the
actual security measures enacted since 9/11.
of November 18, 2001, "Musings
from a Member of the Criminal Class," was a good-humored
lamentation on the necessity of new hassles visited upon American
travelers in our brave new world of security threats.
the extra searches and identity checks are a necessary annoyance--as long
as they serve to increase the safety of the traveling public.
But son of a gun, it looks for all the world that some of the most time
consuming and annoying procedures not only do little to make us safer,
they may actually make it easier for the bad guys to be, well, bad.
This all came to a head as I boarded a flight from
Dallas to Sacramento. Due to a tight connection, most of the
passengers had boarded the flight ahead of me; there was nobody standing
in line at the gate when I arrived with a few minutes to spare.
As I approached the gate, but before I had given my
ticket to the attendant and thereby identified myself, I was motioned over
to the security table for a manual search of my carry-on baggage.
This was alarming to me; it was immediately apparent that this
"security" measure made us markedly less secure.
The reason is that the procedure used by airline
personnel to choose which passengers would be searched was neither random
nor based on profiling. I wouldn't have minded either.
When asked, they confirmed what was readily
apparent--that I was chosen simply because I happened to be there, and
because the person doing the searching happened to be free at the
moment. They said that the FAA had a representative there monitoring
them; their instructions were to pick a passenger out of the line, search
their bags, then when finished, grab another who happened to be standing
in line at the moment. The idea was to keep the screener screening.
They said that this was "random." But
you mathematicians know that humans are not capable of truly random
choices--and this was extremely "not random."
"Random" would require flagging tickets by computer, and pulling
those passengers out of line for extra screening as those tickets are
presented for boarding.
Think about it. Under this current system, if
you're a good guy you just line up for boarding, and divert for a search
if you're called. But if you're a bad guy with something to hide,
all you have to do is wait at your seat until the line is short; then when
someone is taken to the side to be searched, you step up to the gate and
board, knowing that the next person to be searched won't be selected until
the current one is finished.
This system would catch only the most moronic of bad
guys, the ones who probably played defensive line on their Afghan
terrorist camp's intramural football team. (The "shoe
bomber" comes to mind; since he didn't wear socks, his sweaty feet
dampened the bomb's fuse. In the extra time it took to try to light
it, he was discovered and thwarted.) It would serve to make the
tasks of thoughtful terrorists that much easier.
(I'm not talking out of school here; if a blockhead
like me can figure it out, good quality dirt-bag terrorists certainly
Another dubious diversion of finite security
resources is matching every piece of checked luggage with the passenger,
making sure that that passenger has actually boarded the
If a bomber is bent on suicide as well as murder,
what earthly good would matching him to his luggage do? Wouldn't it
make more sense to use those resources to augment the coming system of
screening every checked bag for explosives, regardless of who it's matched
For goodness sake, this all sounds like the
government to me. They must think that if they make us twist through
a maze of overt hassles for our bit of cheese at the finish line--actually
getting to board the plane--we'll love their efforts on behalf of our
security and will vote for them, or those who appoint them, in the next
You know, I'd rather just have the security, without
all the gaudy extra trappings. But until such a time, I'll just
practice balancing Twinkies.