Smoke and Mirrors

If you have ever gone through airport security, especially in the years following 9/11, you will undoubtedly know what a pain it can be.  There are always long line ups, pushy people, and the whole procedure is somewhat intrusive and embarrassing (especially if you are like me and have an uncanny predisposition for being “randomly selected” for pat downs…I kid you not, it happens almost every time I fly).  

Perhaps the worst thing about this whole ordeal is when the realization hits that the whole procedure is pretty much ridiculous.  I have read numerous cases of security agents being so focused on small amount of liquids and other superfluous items, that they miss the much larger threats placed in carry-ons during routine evaluations (for example, spotting bottles of water in carry-ons while missing the simulated bomb placed under it).

No one, that I have found, has been as critical of the Transportation Security Administration than Patrick Smith, a commercial airline pilot and author of Ask the Pilot  (a regular column appearing on  

His most recent article comments on the alleged thwarted terrorist plot involving explosives found on a flight originating out of Yemen.  I particularly like his comments on the naive belief that airport security will eventually be able to make flying safe from attacks:

The explosive cartridges discovered in Dubai and England were so sophisticated, and so cleverly designed, that investigators described them as “undetectable.” Scary, but is that really surprising? Are we dumb enough to believe that by enacting ever more draconian, minutiae-obsessed security measures, we can eventually reach a point of “total safety”? 

 And on where the majority of work is being done to keep air travel safe:

We’ve been lucky, but obviously, too, we’re doing something right. And whatever that something right is, I suspect it is going on far out of view, in the secret world of intelligence gathering and international policing. Where it should be. The devices in Dubai and England were found thanks to a tip-off. Indeed, ultimately this isn’t a hunt for weapons; it’s about a hunt for those criminals and terrorists who would use such weapons, and the most effective way of thwarting an attack is to catch it in the earliest possible stage, before the terrorist has a chance to set his plan into motion. 

I know that carry-on and passenger screenings will not become any less intrusive or absurd in the near future, but I still wince thinking about the next time I will have to participate in this social experiment set up to provide a false sense of security. All those tiny liquid-filled bottles crammed into Ziploc bags, the regret of wearing lace up shoes that force me to perform an amazing balancing act as I manage to put them back on, the unpleasant pat-downs that I will undoubtedly have to suffer through (if history repeats itself) while everyone watches.  What a nightmare!  But at the end of the day, what choice do any of us have?


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