03 May 2010


For years now I have been ranting against the Transportation Security Administration. Rather than provide security, it seeks only to provide the illusion of security - both to reassure the gullible and provide political cover for pols. Fallows at the Atlantic references this phenomenon in an amusing post about what would have happened if the TSA was in charge of Times Square security after the attempted bombing.
-All vans or SUVs headed into Midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown in its entirety would be evacuated;

- A whole new uniformed force -- the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA - would be formed for this purpose;

- The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way. A politician who supports more open-ended, more thorough, more intrusive, more expensive inspections can never be proven "wrong." The absence of attacks shows that his measures have "worked"; and a new attack shows that inspections must go further still. A politician who wants to limit the inspections can never be proven "right." An absence of attacks means that nothing has gone wrong -- yet. Any future attack would always and forever be that politician's "fault." Given that asymmetry of risks, what public figure will ever be able to talk about paring back the TSA?
This is absolutely right. After the attempted shoe bombing, everyone had to start taking off their shoes. After the attempted underwear bombing, many people had to start going through extremely expensive (and apparently useless) full-body scanners. It's an absurd reactionary strategy that reveals thinking that is childishly simplistic: if someone tries to use Object A as a bomb, then the problem must be Object A. But it's not. The problem is still the bomb.

Fallows goes on, but the best bit is this chestnut:
The point of terrorism is not to "destroy." It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous "orange threat level" announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It's not just that they're pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it's that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.
Fear serves both our enemies and our leaders, in different ways. But it doesn't serve us.

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