All Air Travelers Must Remove Shoes For X-ray Screening.
Liquids, Gels And Aerosols Are Prohibited.
Gel-filled Bras And Similar Prostethics Are Allowed.

–Transportation Security Administration web site,, 23 Aug 2006

Airport passenger screening is out of control, and we should be asking why.

Why it’s out of control… and why we even have it in the first place.

“This is the way of life now,” said Craig Burgess, a UNICEF employee who got stranded at Heathrow […]. “I understand the caution and the safety. You’d rather have this happen than something tragic,” he said.

–Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled. Washington Post. Friday, August 11, 2006. Page A01.

Sure, I’d rather be safe than sorry, if I have an actual choice between the two. But we don’t have that choice. It’s not either passenger screening, or disaster. Actually, the screening is the disaster.

“You’d rather have this happen than something tragic,” says the passenger. He assumes, as we all are expected to assume, that we are in a position to choose between passenger screening on the one hand and some kind of tragedy on the other; that the screening is necessary and sufficient for the prevention of tragedy; that without screening a tragedy is substantially more likely to take place. All this is assumed. It has never been shown.

This should concern us deeply, even if only because we pay taxes. We spend over a billion dollars a year (almost 3 million dollars a day) on the Transportation Safety Authority – a program whose efficacy is not known, and could easily be zero.

In five years, air passenger screening has not intercepted a single terrorist. I mean, it’s not like they would keep it a secret! If that were to happen – if the TSA ever fingered an actual terrorist, at the airport, before he could get on an actual plane with an actual weapon – can you imagine the media frenzy!!! We would be hearing about it incessantly for weeks.

I strongly suspect, therefore, that it has not happened; that the TSA has never caught anyone before they could hurt us.

We have heard of “terrorist plots” being “foiled.” Extreme skepticism of such claims is warranted, but in no case have the alleged terrorists been apprehended at the airport.

And don’t try to tell me that failed detection demonstrates successful deterrence. If screening will not detect my weapon, then I need not fear being screened.

Airport security failed to stop the 9/11 hijackers, and it would fail to stop any similar mission today. Such a mission could not succeed today, but this fact has nothing to do with passenger screening.

“Exactly two things have improved airplane security since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door and teaching passengers that they need to fight back. Everything else has largely been a waste of money.”

Bruce Schneier, quoted in a Salon article

I ask again: what is the purpose of passenger screening? If it cannot detect criminals and prevent mayhem, why are we doing it – unless we just think it’s a good idea to spend billions of dollars hassling, humiliating and hoodwinking everyone who wants to fly?

Oops. I might have just answered my own question.