Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Math Time -- By Storyteller Knight

I keep hearing the words ‘trade-off’ and ‘necessary evil’ coming from TSA high ranking officials when it comes to these new, invasive and intrusive security screenings at the airport.  They keep promising that there are bad, bad people in the world that will start blowing up airplanes willy-nilly the moment TSA relaxes security.  And then the scare tactic to end all scare tactics—whatever happens, it will be on your head for backing down, not mine.
But despite all these promises of the world ending if we lax airport security down to something more reasonable and less invasive, I can only think of three terrorist plots to blow up US bound airplanes in past nine years since 9/11.  Two of them made it through airport security and one was caught before ever reaching the airport.  Not one has originated on US soil since 9/11.  I have never heard of a terrorist plot being caught by TSA during the security screening process.  Now, I’m sure the TSA catches a lot of stuff that shouldn’t go on airplanes, but it’s more likely to be that guy who’s using his camping backpack as a carry-on bag and forgot he keeps his pocket knife in there.  Or a contractor who had put some work tools in his briefcase the day before flying while looking at a site and forgot to take them out.  Or a college kid who had put sunscreen in a not often used pouch in her computer bag and forgot she had it in there.  Dumb stuff, by people who aren’t thinking, is what the TSA is more likely to catch than a terrorist plot.

Look at it another way.  Over 800 million people fly within, into and out of the United States each year—falling somehow under the TSA’s jurisdiction.  That’s more than 7.2 billon people since 9/11.  Of that 7.2 billion, two have been terrorists (not counting the liquid bombers because they didn’t make it to the airport).  .00000003% of flyers over the past nine years have been terrorists intending to blow up an airplane.  With those numbers, the likelihood of the TSA screeners catching a terrorist—one guy in 3.6 billion people every 4.5 years—is insanely improbable. 

Here’s what the TSA officers are more likely to encounter.  It is more likely that the person they are using the enhanced pat down procedure on is a victim of rape who will relive their assault as you pat them down than a terrorist (1 out of 4 for women and 1 in 8 for men).  It is more likely that the person being pat down has PTSD and touching them so invasively will trigger a violent reaction (about 3.5% of the population suffers from PTSD).  It is more likely that the passenger has a medical condition that the body scanners and/or the enhanced pat down will aggravate.  On any given day with over 2 million people passing through security, the TSA is more likely to cause harm to multiple plane loads of passengers than protect them from a terrorist.

You cannot fool proof a system that handles over 2 million people a day and 800 million people a year.  There is always going to be the one dumb schmuck who gets through due mainly to sheer luck.  2 guys in 9 years is an insanely good track record, even more so when you consider that none of those plots originated on US soil.  So enough with the screening process that only makes people feel secure without offering any actual security.  There are better ways to spend our money—like ensuring that if a terrorist does get through the screening process, the right people (like a couple of air marshals on every flight) are in place to stop his or her plot from coming to fruition.               

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