Everybody wants alternatives to the TSA security theater. Think back to the 2003 California recall election. The recallers didn’t pick up steam until Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intention to terminate Gray Davis as governor. Similarly, people are looking for a security theater replacement before kicking TSA to the curb. This is a good sign. The debate has moved on. People know the TSA is broken. What are we going to replace it with?
The answer is not as simple as replacing oil with solar power or Coca-Cola with Coke Zero. The federal government’s TSA is broken by design. It is Goliath to Al-Qaeda’s David. It is the US Army to Al-Qaeda’s Viet Cong. A top-down, lumbering bureaucracy will never be a match for the agile, peer-to-peer Al-Qaeda, if you think they are the threat. Various solutions should come forth from those closest to the business. Passengers must have choice in order for the best security to rise to the top. The TSA offers a one-size-fits-all mentality. The decision-makers have exempted themselves from their own security theater. That’s un-American.
But the first step is to rebut the naysayers. They want us to believe that no viable alternatives exist. The TSA way is the only way to provide airport security, they say. That’s ridiculous on its face. Want to spend money but not carry cash? Credit cards or debit cards, checks or money orders, IOUs or loans. Even barter is an option. Want to feed, clothe or shelter yourself? Visit any supermarket, clothing store or real estate agent to see just how many options intrepid entrepreneurs are vying to sell you. Practically all problems have multiple solutions.
One prominent alternative is stuck in the naysayers’ craw: behavioral pattern recognition. It’s also known as behavioral (not necessarily racial!) profiling. It’s one of several security layers used in Israeli airports. After 30 plus years without terrorist attack, behavioral pattern recognition has earned its reputation for effectiveness. But the naysayers can’t move on. And that’s fine, because I’m not a big fan of Israeli airport security. They don’t routinely strip-search random grandmas but it can get overbearing. I’m not pushing it as The Solution. I’m simply saying that it proves the naysayers wrong. We can do better than TSA security theater.
One argument goes that Israel’s Ben Gurion airport sees only 10 million travelers per year. Large American airports, on the other hand, see 25 to 40 million. So Israeli behavioral pattern recognition won’t scale. But that’s dumb. New products and services are regularly tested on small groups of people before being rolled out to larger populations. If you like, consider Ben Gurion a trial, and a large one to boot. So many say they are so willing to trade so much for perfect airport security. Surely they should be supporting a tactic battle-tested in the fires of the Middle East for 30 years. Don’t you think?
Is behavioral pattern recognition, Israeli-style interrogations and any resulting strip searches a violation of our civil liberties? If it’s done by the TSA, you bet. If it’s done by an airline, not so much. The airlines are not limited by the constitution. You don’t have to do business with them. If they can’t be satisfied of your good intentions, they don’t have to make a contract to transport you. If one airline’s security is too overbearing, people can patronize one that has a softer touch. Again, choice is the solution.
A more useful debate will focus on enabling the inventiveness and decision-making ability of the air traveler (the customer) to dictate airport security. We are the ones who have to live with it. We are the ones who are accountable for it. (We are risking our lives.) Top government officials can fly in private jets or be exempted from TSA security screening. They are not qualified to decide for us.
The solution is freedom. That’s what the terrorists hate us for, right? That’s what has been lost in 8 years of TSA security theater. As we travelers continue to give the TSA a populist strip search of its own, let’s sneak in a big injection of freedom. Just give ‘em a big ole freedom shot in the butt when they’re not looking.
P.S.: The Israeli solutions appear to be promoted in significant part by people who run airport security consulting firms. They have something to gain. Don’t be fooled. If we don’t succeed in steering the debate towards freedom, we could end up with a privatized Blackwater-like disaster in our airports. Cronyism and privatization will not advance our cause.