Three years and eight months after the terrorist attacks that changed our lives and after spending $4.5 billion on screening devices to monitor airports, seaports, mail and the air we breathe, the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged what many of us frequent fliers already suspected. The money was misspent on equipment that has failed to do the job.
As with most things governmental, failure does not mean having to try something else. It means spending more money on even more expensive equipment.
Among the problems associated with the current equipment, as detailed in last Sunday's New York Times, are devices used to screen airline passengers and their carry-on bags. Auditors have determined the likelihood of detecting a passenger trying to carry a gun or bomb on board is no greater now than before federal screeners replaced private screening companies. For this we are charged a tax on every airline ticket and forced to endure inconveniences in the name of "safety."
I knew the system wasn't going to find real terrorists when I suddenly showed up on a "no fly" list last year. I had to copy my passport and driver's license and submit other notarized documents to prove I am not the Thomas they are looking for. It wasn't until I wrote about it that my name was removed from the list.
My name is now back on the list, but on just three airlines. If I were a terrorist, wouldn't I try to smuggle a weapon aboard an airline that doesn't have me on their "no fly" list?
Here's the way it works in this dysfunctional "security" system. Last weekend, I flew on one of the three airlines. The agent took my driver's license into the back and returned 15 minutes later, while other passengers sized me up to see if they dared travel with such a "suspect." When the agent returned, she brought with her a supervisor I had requested to see.
The supervisor explained he had to check with the airline's security office, using my birth date to confirm I am not the Thomas they are looking for. I asked, "Now that you know me, why can't you enter this information in your computer so the next time I fly your airline I am not inconvenienced by having to repeat this ridiculous procedure?" That makes too much sense. That can't be done. The agent smiled pleasantly, rejected my logical suggestion and appealed to his airline's "rules."
The Transportation Security Administration has announced a new program, "Secure Flight," that requests birth dates from passengers. They claim this will speed passengers like me through the screening process. We'll see.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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