Jewish World Review June 4, 2002 / 23 Sivan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Consultants advising the Transportation Security Administration on airport security have recommended more thorough screening of selected travelers, and a special card for prescreened frequent fliers, the New York Times reports. The plan presented by PWC consulting is very like what the Israelis do, and very like what security experts had recommended to the Gore Commission on airport security. It is being resisted by TSA chief John Magaw, who is far too busy building an empire to do anything sensible.
In a speech last week, the ceo of American Airlines said some of the security measures adopted after Sept. 11 are stupid, and ought to be revised.
"It will be a hollow victory indeed if the system we end up with is so onerous and so difficult that air travel...becomes more trouble for the average person than it is worth," Donald Carty said in a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo.
I hear what Carty is saying. I avoid flying if at all possible, not because I'm afraid of terrorists, but because I won't put up with the hassles. It frosts me that the hassles do little to make me more safe. An Israeli security expert told the Christian Science Monitor the American system seems designed more to bother passengers than to protect them.
It is critically important properly to screen passengers and their baggage. It is more important to screen passengers than baggage, because while a bomb in the luggage compartment can destroy an airplane, only a hijacker in the cockpit can use an airliner to attack targets on the ground.
Screening is awful. Approximately 40 percent of weapons have been making it past screeners in tests. One would assume that improving screening would be Magaw's top priority. But it is not.
The first step toward improving screening is to abandon random searches and focus attention on the Middle Eastern males who are most likely to be hijackers, no matter how much that may offend the sensibilities of the ACLU. But screening won't get significantly better until we stop relying on morons to do it.
We soon will have federalized screeners. Though they will be paid more than the screeners we have now, they are not likely to be much better.
Baltimore-Washington International will be the first airport to have a fully federalized screening force. TSA received 4,800 applications for 600 jobs. TSA thought that would be enough. But TSA had to expand its search because so many applicants failed to show up for interviews, or failed simple tests.
As evidence mounts that it will be real tough to fill screener positions with competent people, the number of screeners Magaw wants to hire climbs and climbs. When Congress passed a law last year to federalize screening, TSA estimated 30,000 screeners would be needed. The number being sought now is 57,500, and could climb higher.
The trouble with airport screening is that the work is tedious and low paid, and offers little opportunity for advancement. No one with a modicum of intelligence wants to do this job if there are alternatives available, and no one with a modicum of intelligence can stand to do it for very long. But screening is critically important. It requires reasonably bright, vigilant people who are loyal to the United States to do it properly.
The only way I can think of to get such people quickly, at a price we can afford, is to draft them. Magaw's budding empire should be nipped in the bud. Screening responsibilities should be turned over to the Army National Guard, and there should be a draft to fill the positions.
A 15-month period of conscription would provide a year of service after three months of basic training. Draftees would be rewarded for their service with G.I. Bill benefits.
Though screening is a lousy career, it sure beats the conditions of service of draftees in earlier wars. Screeners are unlikely to get shot, or suffer much discomfort. No forced marches with heavy rucksacks or sleeping in the mud.
Many will b-tch if compelled to serve. But if we're going to win the war on terror, some of us are going to have to do more than put American flag decals on our cars.
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05/31/02: So the FBI has finally caught up to our priorities?