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Airport Kabuki and Functional Security

Feb. 2, 2010
What do 9/11, the Detroit Bomber and ICS Security Have in Common?
By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

In his "Unfettered" blog post, "What do 9/11, the Detroit Bomber and ICS Security Have in Common," Joe Weiss makes a really good point: The result of all governments' responses to the Dec. 25 incident on the approach to Detroit's International Airport has been to stir up the anthill, impose more onerous conditions on the innocent travelling public, and fundamentally do nothing to improve security.

I've been calling this Airport Kabuki or Security Theater. I admit to stealing those names, and I can't remember who said them first.

Why do I call it theater? Because the transportation safety regulations since 9/11 ignore the most important things that you ought to do if you really want to improve security: figure out who's most likely to be a threat, isolate that threat, and contain it.

Instead, in the name of civil liberties and political correctness, we've made everybody conform to humiliating and financially debilitating gyrations for airports, airlines and consumers. "Take off your shoes! Take off your belt! Take off your watch! Take out your laptop!" All you have to do is participate in this kabuki play at any airport to know how the population feels about it. It is clearly nonsense, and everybody knows it.

Yet, because we will not recognize, isolate and contain the threat, the young Nigerian man implicated in the Detroit airplane bombing attempt could quite cheaply throw the travel economy of the Western world into a tailspin (pun intended) on Christmas.

So what do we do?

  1. Scan everything and everybody. It's been said that it is too costly to do this. It has also been said this is an invasion of privacy. Both are nonsense in the face of the threat. This would simply shut down the threat window.
  2. Use profiling techniques to isolate potential threats. TSA is prohibited from doing this, since it has been determined to be an invasion of privacy.
  3. Seamlessly integrate the threat databases in Commerce, State, Homeland Security, and FBI. This was ordered done, DHS was put on the hook for doing it, but the other departments have been foot-dragging. This is a "must do." Calling it a "systemic failure" as the president did, and slapping Janet Napolitano around doesn't and mustn't disguise the fact that the other agencies, particularly State, CIA, the FBI and Secret Service, don't play well with others, and have been doing masterful foot-dragging exercises to keep from losing control over their turf. So it isn't all DHS' fault.
  4. Allow anybody who wants to qualify to be a reserve air marshal. There'd be no question about what should have happened on Dec. 25 last if we instituted that.

The same is true, as Joe points out, for control system security (functional security). The federal government is doing little to require utilities and other critical infrastructure industries to go beyond simple compliance to standards that are, themselves, weaker than they need to be.

The same is true for functional safety, where, over a year after the deadly coverup and accident at Bayer Cropscience in West Virginia, no one is being held accountable, not for the improper practices that killed two workers, nor for the coverup. Congress had hearings that then went nowhere.

Leadership begins at the top, Mr. Obama. Leadership begins with your insistence that your departments really work together, not just for airport security, but for functional security and functional safety as well. Let FERC have enforcement over all the utilities. Let DHS really do its job.

Stop Security Theater Now! 

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