The day in airport screening

James Ehrler of Stanchfield, Minnesota got some national Web love from The Atlantic’s James Fallows today for a letter he wrote to Sen. Amy Klobuchar about the increased security screening at the nation’s airports:


Fallows is calling on Klobuchar and other members of Congress “to help set the liberty-versus-security balance.”

What is that balance? For one thing, Noah Shachtman writes in today’s Wall Street Journal, it means a security system that focuses less on what terrorists tried last time, and more focus on an intelligence-based program, to head off the most likely assault in the future:

It’s the same kind of trade-off TSA implicitly provided when it ordered us to take off our sneakers (to stop shoe bombs) and to chuck our water bottles (to prevent liquid explosives). Security guru Bruce Schneier, a plaintiff in the scanner suit, calls this “magical thinking . . . Descend on what the terrorists happened to do last time, and we’ll all be safe. As if they won’t think of something else.” Which, of course, they invariably do. Attackers are already starting to smuggle weapons in body cavities, going where even the most adroit body scanners do not tread. No wonder that the Israelis, known for the world’s most stringent airport security, have so far passed on the scanners.

And, finally, the Taiwanese animation firm, NMA, which has made a name for itself by quickly animating news events, today released its version of the current airport screening controversy.

  • Amy

    It is getting ridiculous – or I should say has gotten ridiculous. For the few terrorists there are, millions of us are treated like them. Any “safety” measures should only impact the unsafe. There has got to be better ways to ensure safety with less inconvenience to being able to bring a bottle water on board or keep your shoes on and fly without getting groped.

  • Suzanne

    Thank you, James Ehrler! This is giving me some hope.

  • Jim B.

    This is a wonderfully well-reasoned letter and one can only hope that the Senator and others will take notice! I personally have not felt any more safe because of procedures such as taking off our shoes, not being allowed water, etc, since all of these new procedures have tended to be reactionary (one might even say knee-jerk) and I believe have the effect of wasting TSA’s energies on everything that has already been tried and not (as this letter points out ) on preventing whatever new approaches the terrorists might try.

  • Al

    Do you suppose this will change after terrorists try something other than planes? Maybe a train of toxic chemicals? Airborne disease or chemicals in a mall or a sporting event? Random IEDs scattered all over the nation? What are we going to do when this day comes?

  • James R. Ehrler


    Oops, hit submit too soon.

    I too wonder what we as a nation will do when the “glamour” of aircraft attacks is gone. Attacks in the airport have already occurred elsewhere as have subway attacks (bombs in Europe, gas in Japan), café attacks (Israel), etc.

    We are blessed by living in a time when many of the old killers–disease, child birth and starvation–have been greatly diminished but we now face our own new and different ones.

    Will we, like the British during WWII, be strong enough to carry on in the face of calamity or will we, like the characters in the great Twilight Zone episode, “Nighmare on Elm St,” let the fear of these attacks turn us one against the other.

    I wish I knew.