The Indelible Bonobo Experience

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The airport checkpoint as we know it today sprang into existence in spring 2002, over a month and a half at Baltimore/Washington International airport. New demands on the system after 9/11, like an exhaustive manual check of all carry-on bags, had left checkpoints overwhelmed by long lines and backlogs. A team of management consultants from Accenture delved into the minutiae of checkpoint activity at BWI: How long did it take to pass from one point to another? How did the behavior of travelers affect line speed? How were people interacting with the equipment? (via Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It - WSJ.com)
Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It - WSJ.com
Members of Congress, who often fly home to their districts for the weekend, had begun demanding wait times of no longer than 10 minutes. But security is always about trade-offs: A two-minute standard would delight passengers but cost billions more in staffing; ignoring wait times would choke the system.
Clearly, things needed to change. By the time of my arrival, the agency was focused almost entirely on finding prohibited items. Constant positive reinforcement on finding items like lighters had turned our checkpoint operations into an Easter-egg hunt. When we ran a test, putting dummy bomb components near lighters in bags at checkpoints, officers caught the lighters, not the bomb parts.
We did succeed in getting some items (small scissors, ice skates) off the list of prohibited items. And we had explosives experts retrain the entire work force in terrorist tradecraft and bomb-making. Most important, Charlie Allen, the chief of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, tied the TSA into the wider world of U.S. intelligence, arranging for our leadership to participate in the daily counterterrorism video conference chaired from the White House. With a constant stream of live threat reporting to start each day, I was done with playing defense.
I was initially against a ban on liquids as well, because I thought that, with proper briefing, TSA officers could stop al Qaeda’s new liquid bombs. Unfortunately, al Qaeda’s advancing skill with hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs made a total liquid ban necessary for a brief period and a restriction on the amount of liquid one could carry on a plane necessary thereafter.
Existing scanners could allow passengers to carry on any amount of liquid they want, so long as they put it in the gray bins. The scanners have yet to be used in this way because of concern for the large number of false alarms and delays that they could cause. When I left TSA in 2009, the plan was to designate “liquid lanes” where waits might be longer but passengers could board with snow globes, beauty products or booze. That plan is still sitting on someone’s desk.
Looking at the airport security system that we have today, each measure has a reason—and each one provides some security value. But taken together they tell the story of an agency that, while effective at stopping anticipated threats, is too reactive and always finds itself fighting the last war.
Airport security has to change. The relationship between the public and the TSA has become too poisonous to be sustained. And the way that we use TSA officers—as little more than human versions of our scanners—is a tremendous waste of well-trained, engaged brains that could be evaluating risk rather than looking for violations of the Standard Operating Procedure.
solutions

1. No more banned items: Aside from obvious weapons capable of fast, multiple killings—such as guns, toxins and explosive devices—it is time to end the TSA’s use of well-trained security officers as kindergarten teachers to millions of passengers a day. The list of banned items has created an “Easter-egg hunt” mentality at the TSA. Worse, banning certain items gives terrorists a complete list of what not to use in their next attack. Lighters are banned? The next attack will use an electric trigger.

2. Allow all liquids: Simple checkpoint signage, a small software update and some traffic management are all that stand between you and bringing all your liquids on every U.S. flight. Really.

3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable: No security agency on earth has the experience and pattern-recognition skills of TSA officers. We need to leverage that ability. TSA officers should have more discretion to interact with passengers and to work in looser teams throughout airports. And TSA’s leaders must be prepared to support initiative even when officers make mistakes. Currently, independence on the ground is more likely to lead to discipline than reward.

4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. The airlines had their reasons for implementing these fees, but the result has been a checkpoint nightmare. Airlines might increase ticket prices slightly to compensate for the lost revenue, but the main impact would be that checkpoint screening for everybody will be faster and safer.

5. Randomize security: Predictability is deadly. Banned-item lists, rigid protocols—if terrorists know what to expect at the airport, they have a greater chance of evading our system.
Mr. Hawley is the author of “Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security,” to be published April 24 by Palgrave Macmillan.

The airport checkpoint as we know it today sprang into existence in spring 2002, over a month and a half at Baltimore/Washington International airport. New demands on the system after 9/11, like an exhaustive manual check of all carry-on bags, had left checkpoints overwhelmed by long lines and backlogs. A team of management consultants from Accenture delved into the minutiae of checkpoint activity at BWI: How long did it take to pass from one point to another? How did the behavior of travelers affect line speed? How were people interacting with the equipment? (via Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It - WSJ.com)

Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It - WSJ.com

  • Members of Congress, who often fly home to their districts for the weekend, had begun demanding wait times of no longer than 10 minutes. But security is always about trade-offs: A two-minute standard would delight passengers but cost billions more in staffing; ignoring wait times would choke the system.
  • Clearly, things needed to change. By the time of my arrival, the agency was focused almost entirely on finding prohibited items. Constant positive reinforcement on finding items like lighters had turned our checkpoint operations into an Easter-egg hunt. When we ran a test, putting dummy bomb components near lighters in bags at checkpoints, officers caught the lighters, not the bomb parts.
  • We did succeed in getting some items (small scissors, ice skates) off the list of prohibited items. And we had explosives experts retrain the entire work force in terrorist tradecraft and bomb-making. Most important, Charlie Allen, the chief of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, tied the TSA into the wider world of U.S. intelligence, arranging for our leadership to participate in the daily counterterrorism video conference chaired from the White House. With a constant stream of live threat reporting to start each day, I was done with playing defense.
  • I was initially against a ban on liquids as well, because I thought that, with proper briefing, TSA officers could stop al Qaeda’s new liquid bombs. Unfortunately, al Qaeda’s advancing skill with hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs made a total liquid ban necessary for a brief period and a restriction on the amount of liquid one could carry on a plane necessary thereafter.
  • Existing scanners could allow passengers to carry on any amount of liquid they want, so long as they put it in the gray bins. The scanners have yet to be used in this way because of concern for the large number of false alarms and delays that they could cause. When I left TSA in 2009, the plan was to designate “liquid lanes” where waits might be longer but passengers could board with snow globes, beauty products or booze. That plan is still sitting on someone’s desk.
  • Looking at the airport security system that we have today, each measure has a reason—and each one provides some security value. But taken together they tell the story of an agency that, while effective at stopping anticipated threats, is too reactive and always finds itself fighting the last war.
  • Airport security has to change. The relationship between the public and the TSA has become too poisonous to be sustained. And the way that we use TSA officers—as little more than human versions of our scanners—is a tremendous waste of well-trained, engaged brains that could be evaluating risk rather than looking for violations of the Standard Operating Procedure.
solutions

1. No more banned items: Aside from obvious weapons capable of fast, multiple killings—such as guns, toxins and explosive devices—it is time to end the TSA’s use of well-trained security officers as kindergarten teachers to millions of passengers a day. The list of banned items has created an “Easter-egg hunt” mentality at the TSA. Worse, banning certain items gives terrorists a complete list of what not to use in their next attack. Lighters are banned? The next attack will use an electric trigger.

2. Allow all liquids: Simple checkpoint signage, a small software update and some traffic management are all that stand between you and bringing all your liquids on every U.S. flight. Really.

3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable: No security agency on earth has the experience and pattern-recognition skills of TSA officers. We need to leverage that ability. TSA officers should have more discretion to interact with passengers and to work in looser teams throughout airports. And TSA’s leaders must be prepared to support initiative even when officers make mistakes. Currently, independence on the ground is more likely to lead to discipline than reward.

4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. The airlines had their reasons for implementing these fees, but the result has been a checkpoint nightmare. Airlines might increase ticket prices slightly to compensate for the lost revenue, but the main impact would be that checkpoint screening for everybody will be faster and safer.

5. Randomize security: Predictability is deadly. Banned-item lists, rigid protocols—if terrorists know what to expect at the airport, they have a greater chance of evading our system.

Mr. Hawley is the author of “Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security,” to be published April 24 by Palgrave Macmillan.

[On ancient Athens] In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.
— Edward Gibbon (via whakatikatika)

(Source: hipsterlibertarian, via )