Are We Safer 11 years After September 11?

The short answer is yes, but not in the way most people would think. It isn’t because tightened airline security and body scanners are foiling terrorists at the gate. The fundamental change is in the way airline passengers view a hostage situation.

Before September 11, the common practice was to cooperate with the captors. Generally, the motive was to reroute the plain and use the hostages to ensure their own safety. Hostages were usually left unharmed. But on September 11, that changed. Once civilian casualties became the target, passengers caught on quickly that their best chance was to subdue the captors, which was illustrated by the actions of the passengers on the fourth plane over Pennsylvania.

Now as soon as a threat emerges, both crew and passengers move to subdue the person. This was seen both in the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and underwear bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab, incidents. As a result, both cases resulted in the terrorist being subdued and arrested. Americans have chosen to empower themselves and refuse to be victimized.

In stark contrast, the body scanners currently replacing the old metal detectors in airport security have been shown to be full of flaws. One video showed how virtually any object, metal or not, can be snuck through a full body scan without detection by placing the object on your side. Because the scanned images are front and back with a black background, the object will blend in with the background.

Additionally, the body scanners have been called invasive, and may even cause unsafe exposure to radiation. The machine uses backscatter X-rays to create what amounts to a nude photograph of the person passing through it. This is achieved by bouncing radiation off the skin, which is then collected by the machine. Some have argued that this violates the 4th Amendment, regarding unreasonable search and seizure.

As for the health implications, all of the safety studies were conducted by the manufacturers who sell the machines and none of them have been peer reviewed. One other study by the John Hopkins University found that certain areas around the machines have the potential to give off enough radiation to exceed the per year general public dose limit. Certain skin cancers could conceivably result, however no studies have been done to test this possibility.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also woefully inefficient. In one case, they missed a .22 caliber handgun and ammunition twice as it passed through baggage security. The gun was later noticed at airport security in Taiwan.

In 2011, the House Transportation & Infrastructure committee conducted a study comparing San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to LAX. SFO is one of 16 airports which are allowed to employ a private contractor for screening passengers and luggage. The study found that SFO screeners processed 65% more passengers per screener than their counterparts at LAX. SFO screeners receive the same wages and benefits as TSA employees at LAX, and they have virtually identical procedures and equipment. SFO had fewer turnovers, and they utilized fully trained but part-time screeners during peak periods. This demonstrates the power of free market competition at creating efficiency, and promoting worker productivity and performance.

Additional Resources

ABC News After 9/11 Are We Safer in the Air? http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/911-safer-air/story?id=14372486

Time The Shoe Bomber’s World: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,203478,00.html

ABC Underwear Bomber Abdulmutallab: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/underwear-bomber-abdulmutallab-sentenced-life-prison/story?id=15681576

USA Today Homeland Security Looked into Cover Body Scans: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-03-04-bodyscans04_ST_N.htm

The New York Times Footwear Scanners Failing in Airport Tests: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/us/shoe-scanners-fail-tests-at-us-airports.html

The Huffington Post TSA Firing, Suspending Bag Screeners at Boston’s Logan Airport: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/28/tsa-firing-suspending-bag-screeners-at-boston-airport_n_1835886.html

The John Hopkins University Body Scanner Radiation: http://timewellness.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/radiation_hopkins.pdf

Time Did Airport Scanners Give Boston TSA Agents Cancer? http://healthland.time.com/2011/06/30/did-airport-scanners-give-boston-tsa-agents-cancer/

Food Consumer Refuse to Use This Machine: http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Non-food/Environment/backscatter_x-ray_machines_0829120721.html

We Won’t Fly TSA Misses Gun and Rounds Twice: http://wewontfly.com/tsa-misses-gun-and-rounds-twice

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Department of Homeland Security-Body Scanners: http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/epic_v_dhs.html

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