Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Airline Security

In addition to being an ass of mythic proportions, Ted Stevens is also really bad at math.

Edmund Hawley, the assistant secretary of homeland security who is in charge of the security agency, testified before the Commerce Committee that the ban on scissors was sensible when flights resumed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But Mr. Hawley said other measures that had since been put in place, including fortified cockpits and an increased use of air marshals, reduced the chance of terrorists storming a cockpit, as they did on four planes that day.
Mr. Hawley said that checkpoint screeners were opening one bag in four to look for scissors and small tools spotted on X-rays, and that this was a distraction from identifying greater threats.
"It's not about scissors, it's about bombs," Mr. Hawley testified. "Sorting through thousands of bags a day at two or three minutes apiece to sort out small scissors and tools does not help security. It hurts it."
Weighing the risk of small scissors and tools against that of bombs, he said, "If you do the analysis, it is not even close."
But the committee chairman, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, said he found that logic "difficult to follow." Mr. Stevens proposed instead that the security agency reduce the number of bags that passengers may carry on board to one from two, giving the screeners fewer items to handle.
If you reduce the number of bags that passengers carry, you don’t reduce the number of people trying to carry scissors and small knives. So instead of checking 30% of bags, you check 60% of the bags – the total number of bags is unlikely to change.

Mr. Stevens also misses the larger point, if we have our security personnel wasting time searching for miscellanea in luggage they don’t have the time or bandwidth to look for suspicious behavior – a much larger indicator of troublemaker than what size toe nail clippers grandma is carrying.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that a government agency was able to make the connection, it doesn’t surprise me that Ted Stevens isn’t capable of figuring it out even after having it spelled out for him. Small words and everything.

HatTip: Hit and Run

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