If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll know I have very little patience with what security technologist Bruce Schneier calls “terrorism theater”. Terrorism theater is creating security safeguards that do little more than make the public feel safer and cover someone’s backside while providing very little real benefit. This costs us millions each year and diverts our efforts from areas where we truly do need safeguards. The epitome of terrorism theater is airport security.
Two incidents in today’s news provide examples of this craziness. A Spirit Airlines flight attendant is in hot water after having pictures taken of her posing sitting in the well of a jet engine in front of the turbine blades and posting them to Facebook. The problem? The tarmac area is restricted and it’s unclear if she and the photographer had the necessary clearance to be there. It’s also a pretty dumb idea to sit in front of an engine of a plane that’s in the process of boarding. It's even dumber to post pictures on your Facebook page that have the potential to get you fired, but these are secondary issues.
The second incident is more serious. Three baggage handlers at Oakland International Airport have been arrested for using their access badges to move suitcases full of marijuana from their unsecured work area into the post-screening area and passing them to couriers who then boarded outbound aircraft. Airport authorities acknowledge that while passengers and flight crews are screened, there are thousands of employees across the country who can approach an aircraft with unscreened bags.
Part of risk analysis is anticipating foreseeable threats. The idea that a terrorist could gain access to an aircraft by infiltrating ground crews or concessionaires certainly falls into this category, yet this issue has not been addressed with the same vigor as passenger screening. Oakland has implemented bag limitations for workers and stepped up video surveillance and random screening over the past few years but these measures didn’t seem to deter the three baggage handlers.
It’s too easy to say that screening all workers at an airport is an impossible task. But we said the same about screening passengers and baggage, yet we’re doing it daily. It’s been fourteen years since September 11th and the fact that we have not anticipated and solved this problem is unconscionable. We need to move beyond considering the public as the main threat and cease being complacent about the people and areas behind the security barriers. We need to stop thinking about the last attack and focus on system vulnerabilities, wherever they may be. To do otherwise borders on the criminal.