Friday, November 19, 2010

What The TSA Didn't Learn In History Class.

At the end of World War I, the French were bled dry. A sizable portion of their military-aged males were six or more feet under as a result of the slaughter of the Western Front. Their solution for the defense of France was the Maginot Line, a series of fortresses with machine-guns, artillery and shelters. Over 5000 fortifications were built across the plains opposite Germany, it interconnected with the Belgian fortifications that also faced Germany, with the anchor of the Belgian defenses at Fort Eben-Emael.

Eben-Emael was a huge excavation roofed with feet of reinforced concrete, bordered by a canal and a deep ditch. Conventional offensive technology of the day was useless against it. Armed and armored, it was practically invulnerable. Then the Germans came.

Using gliders they landed a small number of troops on the grass-covered roof. Using then-new shaped charges they incapacitated the cupolas from which the guns and periscopes projected, rendering the 650 men in the fort blind and unable to shoot back. The small unit was reinforced the next day, and the impregnable Eben-Emael surrendered within a day. With Eben-Emael incapacitated, the Germans ignored the neutrality of Belgium, swept through the Ardennes Forest and around the Maginot Line.

The 3 billion francs put into the static defense of France was utterly wasted and France fell to the Germans within 10 weeks of the fall of the Belgian fort. "Maginot Line" has since become a catchword for defenses destined to be bypassed. It is the classic example of the futility of static defenses against a mobile and inventive enemy. Static defense as a strategic policy has been a laughingstock since, but somehow this lesson of history has not been learned at our own Transportation Security Agency. In fact, they appear to be rather impressed by the Maginot concept, so much that they appear to be building one after another.

The 9/11 hijackers carried box cutters, so no knitting scissors or Swiss Army knives. Line no. 1.

Shoe bomber, so no shoes through the metal detector. Line no. 2.

Plan discovered to use liquid explosives, so no fluids over 3 ounces. Line no. 3.

Nigerian diaper-bomber, so whole-body scans and aggressive, disturbing pat-downs. Line no. 4.

Printer cartridge bombs, so no toner for you. Line no. 5.

Does anyone really believe there will NOT be another attempt, and shortly thereafter TSA's Operation Maginot 6.0 slid into place? Static defense always fails because you cannot put a line, either on a map or in human imagination, beyond which no one will go. Generals are accused of fighting the last war first, the TSA has institutionalized this edict. Were it not for the incompetence of our adversaries we would already be down at least two airliners.

The difference between TSA and Islamic fundamentalists is that incompetence for the fundies is the result of inexperience and will eventually be rectified, while at the TSA it is the result of policy and will not be voluntarily rectified. They will simply inconvenience and/or molest us all so the forms are maintained, and not if but when the next penetration of security comes they cannot be blamed as the protocol was followed. There will be a rectal bomb or at least an attempted bombing at some point, what do the security protocols become at that point? "Okay sir, you're free to go. And by the way, you might want to ask your doctor about your prostate, felt kinda' hard on the right." Free occult blood screens with every flight are part of Obamacare, right?

I don't mind talking with someone about where I am going and why. El Al-type security screenings don't bother me in the least. They might dissuade the constipated-looking religious student behind me who says he is headed to Yemen for "advanced training" though, which is the point. Besides being less invasive, they are more effective as they rely on training and intuition rather than Big Iron like backscatter x-ray machines.

The government has an onus to Do Something, and adding backscatter machines is something that people can walk by and say to themselves, "The government is Doing Something". On one level this is Mission Accomplished for the government, but in my book inflatable and inert machines would work as well for the PR purpose backscatter machines serve. Given that the billions of dollars spent on static machines to create the PR impression of safety is being handily and widely ridiculed by the phrase "Don't Touch My Junk", the PR war is already over and TSA lost. As long as we take intuition out of the loop, as long as people can make it onto a plane having paid cash for a one-way flight with no baggage if they can pass a backscatter exam and a pat-down without being questioned, we are not safer. .

We're just slightly more irradiated, and slightly less free.

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