August 1, 2012
Right after September 11, 2001, when terrorists used the U.S. airlines to achieve their ends, the creation of a government entity responsible for securing air travel seemed right and prudent. In the aftermath of the attack, a new cabinet-level department (Homeland Security) was created that incorporated numerous agencies, some of which had already existed. The Transportation Security Administration was entirely new, an entity created solely in response to 9/11.
The TSA would ensure that aircraft, ramps and boarding areas would be screened to be free of devices or substances (and, it was hoped, people) that could cause harm. At the same time, the sky marshal program, originally launched under President Richard Nixon, was resurrected to place armed undercover federal officers aboard random flights — the theory being that if someone managed to get past the TSA, the airplane cabin would be covered. Some airline pilots were trained and armed, but cockpit entrances were reinforced to bar entry, which was the first line of defense for the front office.
A lot of people probably thought at the time that these measures would be temporary. After all, the original sky marshals were disbanded in 1973, only to be revived again later, and largely forgotten again even later than that. We got used to that on-again, off-again pattern, and figured that, you know, let 10 or 15 years slide by without any incidents, and the TSA would slowly fade away, just as before.
Only now it’s looking like what you see is what you’re gonna get — forever. Yes, forever is a long time, but currently, if one looks for a rationale that might allow the money and resources consumed by air security to be spent on something else, it’s hard to make the argument. In a way, the decision to give the federal government sole responsibility for secure air travel was a line which, once crossed, couldn’t be traversed again.
It’s not just that a huge bureaucracy has been created — it has — and that once created, bureaucracies endure — they do — it’s the simple logic that abandoning air security and re-opening air travel to people who would perpetrate violent acts is unthinkable. Why? Because it practically invites anybody who harbors the idea to go ahead and carry it out.
Try to imagine that you’re a member of Congress who thinks it would be good for the country to gradually reduce air security in the name of traveler convenience (I mean, everybody hates the check-in, right?) or cost savings (TSA costs just under $8 billion a year, DHS just under $40 billion). Where would you start to try to sell the idea?
Food for thought. So what do you think?