In the previous post I stuck a needle in the eye of CATSA and the TSA for the bullshit theatre they call passenger screening at airports. I’m now obligated to tell them how to fix it.
One: Nobody gets into the airport without a reservation or a ticket for that day. No more tearful goodbyes from Aunt Hazel and Uncle Bert; that can happen out at the curb. Only people with legitimate business in the terminal are allowed in the terminal. If you have to see someone off, for example a relative in a wheelchair, you get an escort the whole way. Your minder will be watching you and, occasionally, helping, but don’t bet on it. The minder is there to make sure you don’t do anything other than help Grandma. When you’re done, you get escorted out.
Start the screening process in the lineup to get your boarding pass. El-Al does this all the time. Who are you? Where are flying? Why are you flying there? Who are you going to see? Show me your passport, driver’s license and another form of ID. What are you taking to your destination? Where did you get it? Who packed it for you? Who else is traveling with you? Who is going to meet you at the airport? How did you pay for your ticket? What is in your bag? Why are you taking those kinds of gifts? Where did you get them?
These questions are posed by CATSA/TSA inspectors as you are waiting in line. The inspectors are looking for your reactions and answers. Some folks will be asked dozens of questions, others just a few; it might even depend on the vibe the inspectors are getting from you. Answers that make no sense, or don’t seem to add up, will get you pulled out of line for further questioning.
As an example, a couple with an infant who don’t have diapers with them would be pulled for questioning. It makes no sense for someone with an infant to travel without diapers, even on a Toronto – Ottawa hop. Since it makes no sense, it needs investigation. If the answer is "we forgot them at home" and the rest of the story makes sense, then fine, on you way, enjoy your trip. There’s no penalty for being a dumb human, but we want to know why.
Two: No online boarding passes. No home-printed boarding passes. No kiosk check-in. You have to present your smiling face and ID to a human to get your boarding pass. The format of the boarding passes will change often. There will be security features built into them, much like we have security features built into currency to prevent forgery. After you get your boarding pass and your baggage goes into the hole in the wall, you go immediately into Security. You don’t get to walk around and hang out. You go immediately to Security with your carryon.
Three: Professional screeners. Expect the x-ray and magnetometer process to take about sixty seconds. Expect to be patted down if you seem even slightly suspicious. Expect the same questions you were asked in the lineup to get your boarding pass. The answers should be close enough to the same you gave outside. If the answers don’t add up, expect to be interviewed at length. Expect someone to hand-search your carryon if they feel even vaguely concerned. Expect to be asked to turn on your laptop, camera, C-PAP machine, or whatever other gizmo you have in your carryon. We want to see it work.
If you need to carry specialized tools or gear as part of your job, you can apply for a permit. Expect CATSA or the TSA to very closely quiz you about every potential reason why you need a permit. We will want to know you very well before we consider giving you a permit.
Four: Isolate the security zone and secure it from anything outside the security zone. That means drapes, frosted glass, walls or physical barriers. Treat it like a Customs Hall: Secure and Sanitized. You cannot see into a Customs hall for a very good reason: It prevents criminals from seeing how the procedure is working on that day. It prevents criminals from observing patterns of security searches and makes the whole process more secure.
Five: X-ray and physically inspect all baggage and freight going into airplanes. Not a representative sample: All of it needs a mark on it somewhere that it has been inspected. No mark? It doesn’t fly. There should be a number of people patrolling the baggage makeup rooms to ensure that bags are as secure as they can be. This will also prevent baggage from being stolen, misdirected, pilfered or lost. You might actually be able to check things of value in your bags, with a reasonable assumption it will make it to your destination. Needless to say, positive bag match happens.
Six: Comprehensive background checks and security checks for anyone working airside at an airport. That means ramp rats, fuelers, cargo yobs, technicians, groomers, service personnel and every single solitary person working at every little kiosk, store, folding cart, duty-free shop, shoeshine stand and popcorn wagon. Nobody gets past security without a pass and the format of the pass will change several times a year. It might be like a transit pass. The photo will be highly secured but the bottom half will change often. The two had better match or you will have some industrial-strength explaining to do.
Every last box of coffee, bottled water, bag of flour or frozen french fries must be inspected, wanded, sifted through and gone over just like luggage and carryon bags.
Expect to be challenged to show your ID and pass at least a couple of times a day as an employee of anything airside. Expect to be questioned as to who your supervisor is, what your next task is and where you clock in and out. Expect the same security treatment leaving the job at the end of the day. Show your pass, expect to be x-rayed and patted down. This will cut airport thievery down to nothing.
This includes flight crew and cabin crew. Sorry, no free pass because you drive airplanes or do the demonstration thing with the margarine container and the plastic hose.
Seven: Spot checks for passengers after you’re past Security. Expect the same questions you were asked in the lineup for your boarding pass. Perhaps a few less, maybe a few more. We want to make sure you belong there.
Eight: A sanitized perimeter around all airports. Physical security is easy to do. Nothing should be within ten meters of a fence for any reason. The fences should be patrolled often, especially near the cargo terminals. If you want to loiter around the perimeter of an airport, be prepared to be asked why and to explain yourself. If you’re a plane watcher, like I am, expect to be treated rudely from time to time. An airport that I won’t name has a cargo area that I could breach by jumping on the top of a truck parked right next to the fence. If I could figure out how to beat their security, then a determined bad guy will.
Nine: Rotate the inspectors. One week it is the primary line. Next week, cargo. The week after, baggage makeup, or walking the ramp. This way the patterns don’t develop as readily. Patterns are what the bad guys look for. New sets on eyes on established patterns means nobody takes anything for granted, or "that’s just the way it is around here"
Ten: The security briefing for passengers will include a simple statement. "We’re not opening the cockpit door for anything or anyone. If there is an attempted hijacking, or hostage taking, we’re going to land at the nearest airport, in a very big hurry, so have your seatbelt on, or be prepared to be tossed to the ceiling. If you’re a hostage, kiss you ass goodbye. This door does not open as of now."
There you go. How to fix airport security.
Now, I’ll explain why it will never happen. First, the current system is all about appearances, not actual security. Real security involves a lot of people being inquisitive, asking a lot of pointed questions, looking for sensible answers and putting the brakes on the process if the answers don’t make sense.
The current system is about controlling people for appearances. My system is about airport security.
The current system is cheap, repetitive and easy to bamboozle. My system is only slightly more expensive but provides several times the security of the current system. Incidentally, I want every CATSA or TSA person paid a lot more than minimum wage. I want them motivated to catch the bad guys, not arguing about breaks or overtime.
The current system is dependent on technology to answer people questions. My system uses people to answer people questions. People work better than technology almost every time when it comes to security.
The current system is not flexible enough. My system can turn on a dime and leave 11 cents change as you can modify the rules of engagement by the hour if you want to. As an example, looking at the answers your terminal screeners are getting regarding why you are traveling.
If the terminal screeners see many people with the same reason for traveling, start asking more questions about it. You will see patterns emerge, for instance at the holiday season, or big conventions. That makes sense and is benign. No worries.
But if nineteen different people tell us that they’re going to visit Uncle Fergus in Toledo, then that’s not quite making sense and requires more investigation. It’s a family reunion? OK. No worries.
Why does nobody going to the family reunion have the same last name? Four are Korean, two are Irish and the rest are a mix of Middle Eastern, Latvian and Norwegian? Hello?
Why are half of them carrying Saudi passports and the other half are from Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon?
Why is Uncle Fergus’ last name "Williams" from two of them, "Ben-Momser" from five more and the rest don’t know Uncle Fergus’ last name at all? Something is not right here.
Why are half these folks, allegedly going for a three-week vacation in Toledo with Uncle Fergus, only carrying one change of clothes and no gifts for Uncle Fergus? Now things are truly not making sense and the alarm bells should start ringing.
The current system is designed to be "airline friendly". My system is designed to be secure.
The current system has not stopped theft, smuggling or illegal immigration on bogus credentials. My system makes smuggling, theft and illegal immigration very difficult, as the by-catch of smugglers, child abductors, escapees, those on wanted lists, or fraudsters will more likely be caught before they can get away. Heck, it could almost self-fund on captured illegal cash, drugs and reward money.
Lost, stolen or misdirected bags are one of those indicators of how well a system is working. Guess what? The current system is not working.
As reported by the FAA and the US Department of Transport Air Travel Consumer Report the system is worse than it was in December 1998. (If you don’t believe me, go to http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports and pull up the December 1998 report, then pull up the August 2006 report: They’re .pdf’s)
I’ll summarize for you: December 1998, airlines lost, misdirected or had stolen, an average of 4.29 bags per 1,000 passengers.
August 2006, after all our ‘security’ measures, post 9/11, the average is 8.08 bags per 1,000 passengers. Almost double. The phrase "Screwed Beyond Redemption" comes to mind.
Next steps? Paying more can happen quickly enough, but as the old saying goes, fish stink from the head first. Firing a lot of senior people is needed. They’re not serious about security, which is, putatively at least, their job.
Re-train the existing people, after a comprehensive background check. Double the number of inspectors and train them to ask questions all the time. Ex-cops, ex-military or ex-customs officers are the kind of people you want to hire. You want smart, curious, inventive and slightly distrusting individuals who actually get the concept of Security.
Let the local mangers walk around looking at things for at least half the day, instead of managing breaks and coffee time. Swap airports once in a while, letting supervisors, managers, or even line inspectors see a different set of challenges and figure out how to make them more secure.
Tell the airlines that this is the deal and they can go do something unsanitary to themselves if they don’t like it. TSA and CATSA are concerned with keeping terrorists out and the skies reasonably safe because the Federal Government owns the airspace. We allow the airlines to use it, so it’s our rules or get out.
Airlines are concerned with not serving food and flying the passengers as cheaply as possible. If they don’t like it, they can open a bus company.
The public? I suspect that the public might see the new security system as one that is intrusive and annoying, but for a good reason: To keep the bad guys out.