Sometimes it’s tempting to teach them a lesson

Airport security is getting a lot of attention recently. And as I have often noted it doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny. Here is more data supporting my point:

NEW YORK, Sept 2 (Reuters) – The Transportation Security Administration is suspending installation of the only airport checkpoint device that automatically screens passengers for hidden explosives due to problems with the system’s reliability, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

“We are seeing some issues that we did not anticipate” with the devices known as “puffers,” the Times quoted Randy Null, the agency’s chief technology officer as saying.

Duh! It’s an insolvable problem.

They are trying however. I’m actually surprised at the level of effort they are putting into it–without realizing they can’t solve the problem:

Spread out on a table at the Transportation Security Laboratory outside Atlantic City last week, like a dim sum meal, was a collection of small dishes with samples of the explosives people here are working to defeat. They included Semtex, TNT, C4, British RDX and dynamite – several of which are popular among suicide bombers and have been used in successful airline plots – along with liquid explosives in bottles marked only “A,” “A1” and “B.”

Scientists and technicians carefully stuff these raw materials into computers, small electronic devices, shoes and cigar boxes, building every imaginable bomb and then testing them on detection equipment.

“We do our best to try to figure out all the options before someone else does,” said a laboratory technician who would identify himself only as “Mr. T” in accordance with a laboratory policy of not identifying staff members.

Criticism of the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration is not so much directed at the 190 federal employees and contractors at the laboratory here, or at Susan Hallowell, the chemist who runs the place.

They are spending millions and millions of dollars on this and yet I am virtually certain that with a team of no more than five people and a couple hours of work by each team member we could shut down all commercial air traffic in the U.S. for a several days without breaking any existing explosives laws or anyone getting physically hurt (economic damage would be rather high however). Repeat once a week or so and within a couple months they would abandon their expensive and stupid attempts at preventing explosives from getting on planes.

But the problem is that most people really don’t appreciate being taught a lesson–especially if it makes them look incredibly stupid. If we were identified as their teachers, unlikely but possible, the odds are that the thanks we received would be in the form of free room and board and a “spouse” that rented us out several times a day for a couple packs of cigarettes.