Sunday, June 17, 2012

many billions squandered, absolutely NOTHING to show for it...,



Economist | It has been many years since commercial flying was a glamorous experience, especially for those squashed in economy class. But the experience changed for the worse after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001. The exact nature of the weapons used by the terrorists to take control of the four planes will probably never be known, but their effectiveness jolted governments into much closer consideration of their airport-security procedures.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established two months later to improve security across America's transport systems: luggage screening was widely increased; cockpit doors were strengthened; and passengers were refused entry to the flight deck. In the years since, authorities have responded to further attempted attacks by adding new layers of security. Thanks to Richard Reid's mid-flight efforts to detonate a bomb in his shoe in late 2001, many passengers now have to remove their shoes when passing through security so they can be separately scanned. The arrest in August 2006 of a group of would-be bombers intending to blow up planes using liquid explosives led to the banning of liquids, aerosols and gels of any significant size from hand luggage. And Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's December 2009 effort to blast a hole in a plane using explosives hidden in his underwear led indirectly to the roll out of full-body scanning machines at numerous airports.

Much has been done, and much money has been spent. So this debate is considering whether the changes made to security have actually made the situation worse—that they annoy passengers is not really in question. Are we less safe now than we were before 9/11? Many regular flyers will have their own stories of indignities suffered at the hands of airport-security staff; and the media revels in tales of the young, the old and the infirm being taken aside for intimate and humiliating searches for banned items. What sensible end does this serve, ask the critics. The whole apparatus of security at airports is sometimes derided as theatre, designed to give the appearance of security, while actually distracting attention and funding from other ways of keeping bombs and bad people off planes. Perhaps more money should be spent on intelligence gathering to try to ensure would-be terrorists don't even make it to the airport, or get jobs in sensitive roles. However, there has been no successful attack on a plane since 9/11, so perhaps we should be ready to give credit to the procedures now in place. They are responses to real threats, many of which the public will never know about, and they require passengers to suffer minor hassles for the good of all. Surveys show that passengers will accept more inconvenience if it makes them feel safer, and airport security does this.

Bruce Schneier, a security expert, is tasked with defending the motion. He says that neither the TSA nor its foreign counterparts have foiled a single terrorist plot in ten years, and that the security procedures put in place since 9/11 are not sufficient to stop well-financed, well-organised terrorists. He condemns developments in airport security as backward looking and overly specific, and argues for a return to the style of security in place before the 9/11 attacks, with money spent instead on investigation and emergency response.

He is opposed by Kip Hawley, who was the head of the TSA between July 2005 and January 2009. Mr Hawley defends the outfit, and says the ten years of safe flying it has overseen show that its methods are indeed working. He admits that the cost to passengers of increases in airport security has been great, but says these procedures are much more adaptable than their forebears, and that a programme made up of multiple layers of security, such as is being developed now, stands a greater chance of success.

Over the next ten days our guests will present further arguments and, I hope, answer the points made by their opponents. But the result of this debate rests in your hands: do not be afraid to vote immediately, as you can change your mind at any time. And once you have cast your vote, please add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. This debate may be American in tone—that is where the 9/11 attacks took place; that is where our debaters are from—but I would ask those of you familiar with airport security in other countries to take part with gusto, and make your experiences and opinions known.