Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 28, 2005

LAX Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:08 pm

This past weekend, I went to Southern California, and for the first time in several years I used Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) instead of Long Beach or Orange County. Soon after landing, I started seeing signs everywhere saying “LAX this” and “LAX that,” and I immediately thought it would be great if the security staff had a logo on their shirts or jackets that said “LAX SECURITY.” In fact, those windbreakers police and FBI agents sometimes where, with only the word “POLICE” or “FBI” in block letters on the back would be a great model for a novelty item — jackets that say “LAX SECURITY,” which could then be used to test how “lax” the security at LAX really is — put on a jacket, grab a walkie-talkie, and see where they let you in without asking questions….

Trouble is, security at LAX might be plently lax anyway — or at least, severely misguided, as shown by an event that occurred when I came back to the airport for my return flight. In line to go through the metal detector, I had just reached the front when a uniformed TSA security screener broke into the line, said (politely) something to the effect of “hold on, let these people through” and allowed a large group (half-dozen?) of other uniformed TSA security screeners into the line in front of me. It was a new batch of screeners, arriving to begin their shift. Some of them put some things on the x-ray conveyor belt, and they all walked through the metal detector. “What, you have to be screened?” I asked one of them. “Yes, everybody has to be screened — and if it beeps I have to be wanded just like you,” he answered.

Now if we think about this for even a moment, we should see that this is really strange, and really disturbing. The obvious implication is that from the standpoint of security, the screeners themselves are not considered “trusted” — that is, they might not only possess some hidden weapon, but would be considered a threat to security if they did. Now, this may or may not be a valid assumption, depending on how well they screen the screeners during the employment process. But either way, the implications are not good:

  • Suppose the screeners can, in fact, be trusted — but they have to go through the metal detectors to satisfy some bizarre notion of fairness to social equality. This is harmless in itself (the line was only delayed by a minute or less), but it guarantees that (a) the screeners will all be unarmed, and (b) the public — which has to see them go through otherwise they would not know how “fair” everything is — will know they are unarmed. This means that terrorists will also know the screeners are unarmed. This is fine if they are just trying to stop a retired general from traveling with his Congressional Medal of Honor. But for terrorists, it basically means that they can get through with weapons even if they are detected — what’s the screener going to do to stop them? (Call someone else to shut down the terminal? They seem to do a lot of that — but a clever terrorist could point the gun or knife at the screener who’d just detected it and say something like, “my buddy’s in line behind me with a gun watching us, and if you say a word, he’ll shoot you and run.”)
  • On the other hand, suppose the screeners cannot be trusted. In this case, screening the screeners doesn’t help.
    • First, they are trusting the screeners to screen each other, perhaps under the assumption that even if one screener is not trustworthy, the likelihood that screener being screened by another untrustworthy screener is small. This assumes, probably incorrectly, that two terrorism-inclined screeners could not arrange for one to screen the other.
    • But even if you assume that they couldn’t — or that terrorism-inclined screeners are rare enough that they chances of one being screened by a trustworthy screener are high — it doesn’t matter. Because if a screener cannot be trusted with a weapon, he can’t be trusted to keep other people with weapons out, either. In other words, if you are a terrorist “organization” with at least two members, one of you can get a job as a screener, show up to work without any suspcious items, and then let the other through the screening checkpoint with a gun in every pocket.

In other words, the mere fact that they find it necessary, or even desirable, to make the screeners walk through the metal detectors shows that the security at LAX is just lax security — if even that.


Clarification: They don’t actually have jackets that say “LAX Security.” I just thought it would be really funny if they did.

2 Responses to “LAX Security”

  1. David Says:

    I’m no supporter of the airport security process — to my mind the outcome of flight 93 put paid to this particular terrorist tactic — but given the process this seems to me like a sensible precaution against somebody coshing a screener and stealing his uniform. Maybe I’m missing something.

  2. Different River Says:

    Suppose the the threat you’re worried about is “somebody coshing a screener and stealing his uniform.” That somebody could wear the uniform, go in without weapons, pass the screening … and then let his buddy with the steak knife or gun through security to get on a plane.

    Making the screeners go through metal detects won’t protect against this threat. Having the screeners know each other — or perhaps, having picture badges with someoen actually checking the pictures — might protect against it.

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