Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Oh Come On, Boxcutters?

The easily excited New York Post newspaper has a breathless account today, flogged online by Drudge, about an innocent passenger who "managed to waltz past JFK's ramped-up security gantlet with three boxcutters in his carry-on luggage" and got on an international flight.

Oh, settle down, people. The guy probably didn't waltz. My guess is he was actually doing the dread TSA checkpoint two-step.

OK, boxcutters are among the dozens of things that cannot be carried on an airplane. It's a good idea to try to keep people from carrying them onto a crowded airplane. Evidently, boxcutters were the weapon of choice on 9/11, when terrorists overpowered flight crews and commandeered airplanes to use them as guided missiles.

Remember, catapults in warfare changed the course of history. But you probably don't need to worry too much about a catapult these days, unless that crazy neighbor you're having a dispute with over his barking dog is constructing one in his back yard.

As regards boxcutters, here's a fact: No one will ever again take over an airplane using a freaking boxcutter. I almost pity any poor misguided moron who tries it, given the vigilance of crews and passengers, and the way they'll throttle anyone who brandishes a gun or a knife, let alone something as ridiculous as a boxcutter, capable of, what? Causing grievous lacerations before the assailant is almost instantly pummeled to death by flight attendants and passengers?

Back on 9/11, before anyone ever thought terrorists would take over a plane and use it as a guided missile, a hijacking attempt was looked at far differently. Some clowns with boxcutters had a whole lot more leeway back then. Back before cockpit doors were fortified, for instance.

Here's the problem: Every time somebody in the media, abetted by some politician looking for publicity, gets into an overheated frisson over a small security breach like this, it sets back serious attempts, by the TSA and others, to sensibly address threats, including threats posed by liquid explosives. It causes a defensive reaction at the checkpoints to spend more time and effort overtly pawing through bags for things, as a part of the security theater that overblown stories like this keep in production.

And instead of more progress in security risk-management (which the TSA understands), we get more hysteria about "things" rather than threats.



Anonymous said...

Joe, I am a major critic of the TSA and the security theater that they produce but on this one, I agree with you regarding the box cutters. That said, the problem is that day in and day out, TSA agents are hassling travelers about other items found in carry-on baggage from candle sticks to Tide-to-Go instant stain remover sticks (both personal experiences) that are just as non-threatening as the box cutters. Anyway, thanks and I enjoy your blog.

Ian said...

A standard box cutter can slit the arteries in your neck with less force than is required to slit a corrugated box.

TSA is absolutely right to bar sharp-edged tools. It's the mission-creep to shampoo and bottled water that's silly.

See also said...

Yes, a boxcutter can cut someone. The point is, do we continue expending this hugely expensive, vastly socially disruptive, effort to essentially mitigate against what would amount to an assault onboard an airplane -- before the assailant is immediately overcome? That's the "risk?" No, it isn't. The risk is that an airplane (or more likely airplanes, concurrently) would be blown up in flight or used as guided missiles after being commandeered. And as I said, no one will ever again commandeer an airplane using a boxcutter. In focusing all of the attention on the "security theater" of ostentatiously looking for "things," we lose track of the importance of intelligence and intelligent risk management.