More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect… So writes Kip Hawley, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration, in a must-read piece in The Wall Street Journal.
The main obstacle is at the front lines:
It is here, at the front lines, where the conundrum of airport security is in sharpest relief: the fear of missing even the smallest thing, versus the likelihood that you’ll miss the big picture when you’re focused on the small stuff.
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.
Kip Hawley concludes:
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.
Hawley finishes the piece with five suggestions on what TSA could do to improve the airport security process. I, for one, am looking forward to the day when I can board a plane with my water bottle.