Monday, December 19, 2005

Progress at TSA

I have been concerned with airline security since long before 9/11. It seems to be bothering lots of people but accomplishing little. Long ago I heard that Israeli security avoids concentrating its attention on weapons, but looks for the dangerous people. Our airline security has concentrated on weapons; it seems to think that the more people are bothered will cause terrorists to just give up. And Norm Minetta has turned a boyhood grudge into "a law" against protecting us against people from certain places. Now the new head of TSA - Transportation Security Administration - is using his head. Kip Hawley is responsible for the rule going into effect this week that will allow scissors and screwdrivers. He is doing this to free up the TSA screeners to do more flexible screening - to look for the terrorists, not the scissors. US News and World Report reports this week:
A Man On A Big Mission ... Many will see changes in security--changes engineered by Hawley, who's now the head of TSA. Hawley was behind the recent decision to allow passengers to carry small scissors on board, but he's far from done. He has vowed to increase the variability of the screening process, increase intelligence gathering, and generally shake things up. In just five months at the helm, Hawley has acquired a host of admirers and an imposing group of critics. ... In a recent speech, Hawley said he was embracing more "flexible thinking" at TSA. Not everyone, however, is a fan of such thinking, or even agrees on what it is. And so Hawley's announcement that he was taking small scissors and tools off the list of prohibited items immediately drew fire from lawmakers like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced a bill to reverse the changes. Unfazed, Hawley is pressing on. Now he wants to expand a program in which screeners monitor fliers for signs of agitation, like subtle facial tics, which might indicate a passenger is concealing a weapon or intends to cause some other kind of trouble. "Passengers with illegitimate, violent agendas don't act normally when passing through checkpoints," says Rafi Ron, a former security director at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, "if you know what to look for."
Good for Hawley. The TSA will be able to search broader and be thorough when necessary. This also adds uncertainty: it makes it easy for terrorists when the routine is always followed. Give them some surprises and throw them off. We will be safer.

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