"We Got Lucky" is No Way to Conduct Airport Security

There is a blizzard of news reports about the airport arrest of alleged “Times Square bomber” Faisal Shahzad on May 3 – and a lot of conflicting information – but what emerges is a depressing portrait of our airport security system – which, as you know, is funded in part by a government fee of up to $10 per roundtrip that is tacked onto our ticket specifically for “aviation security” (the September 11th fee).

Or, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it, “We got lucky.”

Luck? Why should we need luck? Isn’t all the post-9/11 security good enough? What about the extra screening put into place in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt?

Here’s why I feel let down:

The suspect reportedly went to New York’s JFK and hung around for at least an hour, apparently unmolested even though he was supposed to be under surveillance. But it gets worse: one news organization says the suspect then A.) bought a one-way ticket and B.) paid for it in cash – two huge red flags – after which he boarded his Emirates flight, even though his name was on a “No Fly” list. The door to the aircraft was shut and about to pull away from the gate when he was finally apprehended.

Note: the Associated Press is reporting that airlines are now required “to check updated no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of changes to the list.” Before that, airlines were required to check for updated lists just every 24 hours.

Look, I am supportive of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); I think they are mostly hard-working men and women who take the nation’s security very seriously while taking a lot of guff from over-stressed travelers.

And we travelers go through a lot, too, what with all the screening, the shoe removal, the liquids ban, the slow moving lines, the personal invasion of scanners – and I think most folks do so willingly in the hope that they are helping to keep our country safer.

And then this occurs. I’m not saying this suspect would have gotten away – probably not. But who knows?

Luck isn’t enough. We’ve got to do better.


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Published: May 5, 2010