TSA's Failure Based On The Myth Of Perfect Security

from the it's-not-happening dept

As the complaints against the TSA ratchet up, various people are finally starting to point out why the whole concept of security theater is a farce. The entire setup is based on the idea that you can have "perfect security." But, if you wanted perfect security, the only way to do that is to not let anyone fly, ever. As James Fallows notes it doesn't make much sense to "spend limitlessly toward the impossible end of reducing the risk to zero." As he notes:
Every society accepts some risks as part of its overall social contract. People die when they drive cars, they die when they drink, they die from crime, they die when planes go down, they die on bikes. The only way to eliminate the risks would be to eliminate the activities -- no driving, no drinking, no weapons of any kind, no planes or bikes. While risk/reward tradeoffs vary between, say, Sweden and China, no nation accepts the total social controls that would be necessary to eliminate risk altogether.

Yet when it comes to dealing with terrorism, politicians know that they will not be judged on the basis of an "acceptable level of risk." They know that they can't even use that term when discussing the issue. ("Senator Flaccid thinks it's 'acceptable' for terrorists to blow up planes. On Election Day, show him that politicians who give in to terror are 'unacceptable' to us.") And they know for certain that if -- when -- a plane blows up with Americans aboard, then cable news, their political opponents, Congressional investigators, and everyone else will hunt down any person who ever said that any security measure should be relaxed.

This is the political tragedy of "security theater."
Along those lines, the Unqualified Offerings blog (via Julian Sanchez) does a nice job explaining how the incentives line up to create this ridiculous situation. Basically, he notes that a terrorist attack on an airplane will happen. Some day. No matter what we do to try to prevent it. But once that happens, the response is going to be obvious: those who pushed hard for more ridiculous security theater that wasn't implemented will keep their jobs and retain power. Those who pushed for more reasonable solutions will be vilified.
100% success is usually impossible in the real world. Given that eventually, one way or another, a terrorist will almost certainly take down a plane, the only question that management has to ask itself is what position they want to be in when that happens. And that answer is simple: Safe in their jobs, and poised to inherit a bigger budget.
And that's why we get security theater.

The goal isn't so much actual safety. After all, as Jim Harper notes, if you look at the actual "risk" of a terrorist attack on an airplane today, it's pretty close to zero. But the whole process is built around trying to bring it all the way to zero, which is an impossibility, but leads to ridiculous extremes. And, he notes, this is exactly how the terrorists planned it:
This is apostasy in Washington -- where the political imperative is zero risk. But risk is a reality of life. We take risks when we drive, when we walk across a street and when we go to the fridge for that two-day-old slice of pizza.

This illusory quest for zero risk helps terrorism achieve its goals. As news of "Operation Hemorrhage" -- smaller, low-cost attacks aimed to disrupt commerce and stoke fears -- demonstrates clearly, terrorism works by inducing target states to overreact. That's the only mode terrorists have for affecting major powers like the United States.

We've been nothing if not a patsy to their strategy. The element of surprise, central to terrorism, forces us to defend everything against every mode of attack -- a logic that naturally bleeds us.

Filed Under: incentives, myths, privacy, security, terrorism, tsa
Companies: tsa

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  1. identicon
    darryl, 25 Nov 2010 @ 9:46pm

    Next time you post here, you need to post your full name, address, social security number and last three pay stub details. What's the big deal?

    You might want to look at the US prison system, where there is a still base of people who are capable of making very deadly weapons from PAPER..

    Yes, they make knives, spearks, shanks, sharp blads, battons, and so on,, all out of paper.

    Is paper still available on an airplane ?

    And ofcourse, as has been stated, these new scanner only penertrate a few MM into your body.

    So the next thing ofcourse, is the known ability to conceil bombs in body cavities.

    That would not be detected with the present system, so again there is no thing as 'perfect security' there is only adequate security, or insufficient security..

    And mike is proposing that if we cannot achieve 100% security, we might as well not even try at all.

    The fact is they are finding people, all the time, and they are finding people trying different methods to fool the system.

    SO NO, again, they are not working on perfect security, they are working on 'useful' security, or security that will do at least some good.

    But im not sure what Mikes alternative is, 'do nothing' seem's like he's strongest suggestion.


    Cool. I agree. What's the big deal with keeping your personal details private. Next time you post here, you need to post your full name, address, social security number and last three pay stub details. What's the big deal?



    So, come on, if you wish to post again, those are the new requirements. Obviously no big deal. We only do it to make sure that you are who you say you are for security purposes.


    Next time you post here, you need to post your full name, address, social security number and last three pay stub details. What's the big deal?

    What about Google maps if you choose to have your house blurred you do not get the right to say "Mike, you are an idiot".

    I See now..

    So if you say something that Mike does not agree with expect to be personally attacked by Mike, as its much easier to actually address the questions that are asked.

    Yes, Mike it is easer to attack than to think, and answer correctly a fair question..

    But you never answer those questions, NEVER, you just pump out more smoke and mirrors..

    No wonder your reputation sucks..

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