Last year, I blogged about my own (possibly unrepresentative) experiences with incompetence by the Transportation Security Agency, the federal bureaucracy responsible for airport security. I also pointed out that the Israeli system seems to be more rational. Now, Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg reports on his somewhat more systematic study in which he was able to bring numerous prohibited items on planes without the TSA noticing:
Suspicious that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show—security theater is the term of art—I have for some time now been testing, in modest ways, their effectiveness. Because the TSA's security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing bad things through security in many different airports, primarily my home airport, Washington's Reagan National, the one situated approximately 17 feet from the Pentagon, but also in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, and at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport....
Among the prohibited items Goldberg successfully carried onto planes were "pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, dust masks, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, eight-ounce tubes of toothpaste (in my front pocket), bottles of Fiji Water (which is foreign), and, of course, box cutters [the weapons used by the 9/11 hijackers]."
Adding a touch of comedy to his experiment, Goldberg also brought with him some terrorist souvenirs:
[B]ecause I have a fair amount of experience reporting on terrorists, and because terrorist groups produce large quantities of branded knickknacks, I've amassed an inspiring collection of al-Qaeda T-shirts, Islamic Jihad flags, Hezbollah videotapes, and inflatable Yasir Arafat dolls (really). All these things I've carried with me through airports across the country.
I suppose you could say that a real terrorist about to attempt a hijacking would be smart enough not bring his al Qaeda T-shirt or inflatable Yasir Arafat doll with him; so maybe the TSA was right to overlook those items. The same can't be said for their obliviousness about the knives and box cutters, however.