Today, DHS's Napolitano's response to the crotchbomber: "We're looking to make sure that this sort of incident cannot recur." But the TSA's response to Abdulmutalib's attempt makes one thing clear: We must stop pretending the TSA is making us safer.
Security expert Bruce Schneier nails the core incompetency: "For years I've been saying 'Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.'"
So what has the TSA done in response to the attempted attack? They've told airlines to make passengers stay in their seats during the last hour of flight. They've made it verboten for passengers to hold anything in their laps, again only during the last hour of flight. Perhaps most hilariously telling, they've forbidden pilots from announcing when a plane is flying over certain cities and landmarks.
There is no other way to interpret it: The TSA is saying clearly that they can't prevent terrorists from getting explosives on airplanes, but by god, they'll make sure those planes explode only when the TSA says it's okay.
I want our government to prevent terrorism and to make flights safer. But we are spending billions of dollars and man-hours to fight a threat that is less likely to kill a traveler than being struck by lightning. In the last decade, according to statistician Nate Silver, there has been "one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 miles flown [the] equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune." (Sadly, this does mean that in the future we can expect one out of every two round-trip flights to Neptune to be hijacked.)
The TSA isn't saving lives. We, the passengers, are saving our own. Since its inception, the TSA has been structured in such a way as to prevent specific terror scenarios, attempting to disrupt a handful of insanely specific tactics, while continuing to disenfranchise and demoralize the citizens who are actually doing the work that a billion-dollar government agency—an agency that received an additional $128 million just this year for new checkpoint explosive screening technology—has failed to do.
We just had the first legitimate attempted attack in years, and the TSA changes the threat level from orange...to orange.
This goes far beyond simple customer satisfaction issues like "Take Back Takeoff." (Although they are of a kind.) It has to do with wildly irrationally response of a government agency in the face of failure. An agency whose leader, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, said at first blush that the attempted attack showed that—here comes the Katrina-class foot-in-mouth—"the system worked." (She shoveled shit in her mouth this morning, while still talking up the asinine new measures that the TSA will be taking to respond to this isolated threat.)
I don't want to die on an airplane. I don't want to die in my home while eating an organic bagel infested with parasites that lay eggs on my liver. I don't want to die from starvation or bad water or a thousand other things that I pay our government to monitor and regulate.
But I also don't expect the government to protect from the literally endless possibilities and threats that could occur at any point to end my life or the life of the few I love. It's been nearly a decade since terrorists used airplanes to attack our country, and last week's attempt makes it clear that the lack of terrorist attacks have nothing to do with the increasing gauntlet of whirring machines, friskings, and arbitrary bureaucratic provisions, but simply that for the most part, there just aren't that many terrorists trying to blow up planes. Because god knows if there were, the TSA isn't capable of stopping them. We're just one bad burrito away from the TSA forcing passengers to choke back an Imodium and a Xanax before being hogtied to our seats.
President Obama, don't let this attack—this one attack that was thankfully stopped by smart, fearless passengers and airline staff—take us further in the wrong direction. I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way. Americans of all stripes and affiliation standing up to say, "This isn't working. We gave you our money. You're not making us safer." We appreciate the attempt to make us safer and acknowledge that it came from an honest attempt to protect American (and the rest of the world's) lives.
But it's a failure. It's wrongheaded. It's a farce. Tear it down. Put the money towards the sort of actions at which our government excels, like intelligence. The failure of the TSA leaves us no choice, but it's okay. The American people are ready to take back the responsibility for our own safety. Really, we already have.