As I write this column, it is only a few days before the 12th anniversary of 9/11, about which there have been many rumblings and dire predictions of late. I am going to take a chance here, and predict a quiet day/week, at least in the context of all the terrorist attacks prophesied by the doomsayers. Indeed, according to a recent New York Times piece, they don't need to attack – they've already won.
According to the Times, the estimated cost to the US from the 9/11 attacks has been on the order of $3.3 trillion (that’s twelve zeros) over ten years. The Times story included things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which some factions argue would have occurred anyway, unless Lawrence of Arabia had supported the Turks instead of the Arabs. However, the two numbers that grabbed my attention were $360 billion (9 zeros) for DHS and $100 billion for lost time showing up early and waiting in airport queues. It's not clear how, or even if it's possible, to calculate other private costs such as lost airline revenues, lost business opportunities, canceled vacations and so forth, but given the further estimate that the total cost of 9/11 to Al Qaeda was somewhere around a half-million dollars, the boys in the Tora Bora caves got a pretty good deal, notwithstanding Osama's ultimate demise.
So where does airport security stand these days? (I hasten to add that many people still don't understand the difference between TSA screening security and the physical facility security that airports provide, and they often tend to blame the airport for every failure). I don't doubt that bad guys are still out there, that they still intend to do us harm, and that our government has done a pretty credible job of making it difficult for them to realize their dreams, at least within our borders, since virtually all credible threats in recent years have originated in other nations. And while I give TSA some credit for finally recognizing the one-size-fits-all problem, I must admit I'm somewhere between puzzled and miffed about one recent phenomenon.
In my daily work, I have an automated daily computer search set to seek out the key phrase "airport security". In the past month or more, it has generated anywhere between 15 and 25 stories almost every day, from newspapers, magazines and television stations in every corner of the country, with the overwhelming majority praising the imminent arrival of “TSA PreCheck- Coming Soon” at your local neighborhood airport, “coming to 60 more airports by end of year", etc. If one takes the time to follow each of the links, one will find virtually identical language throughout the coverage, which almost certainly points to a massive public relations campaign from TSA.
Here's the part that bothers me:
First, it's only for passengers on "participating airlines" at "participating airports"... So it only works for you if you happen to be traveling on the right airline going to and from the right cities, every time you travel. But not yet, “it’s coming”. All of you 60-plus cities can buy it now, but we won't give it to you now.
Second, it costs you, and your family, $85 each to belong to the special line club – which we might not let you use sometimes, because you’re still subject to random selection for "enhanced screening." From a purely security perspective, I get that part about the unpredictability, in case the bad guys infiltrate our special system. However, I must've missed the memo – isn't TSA already being paid some fairly good salaries to do the screening? Maybe they’re trying to recoup the $360 billion. Can I get a rebate when they pull the bait-and-switch?