Jack’s post yesterday on TSA crystalized a thought over which I have been stewing passively as this debate has unfolded. While I do not hold myself out as an expert in any sense of airline security, Jack has encouraged me to post it–so I am doing so with the caveat that I am straying beyond my ken here. If I’m wildly wrong, it’s your fault for reading.
A great deal of the criticism of TSA boils down to a simple often unstated proposition: TSA should be more like the Israelis. We should deemphasize technology and focus on targeted interviews. We should use more profiling–the nice kind, of course. We shouldn’t be treating little old ladies the same way we treat young scary men with bulging underwear.
The trouble is that the United States is not Israel. This is true in a million ways, but it’s really true in air travel. Israel has a single major airport. Ben Gurion Airport is the size of an airport in a mid-sized U.S. city. It handles overwhelmingly international travel. In 2009, it moved about 11 million people–approximately one eighth of the number that moved through Atlanta alone. When air travel is this consolidated through a single port like this, and when the numbers moving through that port are of a manageable volume, one can envision airline security officials as a relatively elite group, train them intensively, and give them a lot of leeway in the way they conduct themselves.