In Defense of Turkey's TSA

Last week I shared a reader's photo of the security scene at the airport in Kayseri, Turkey, where travelers had to pass through a TSA-style screening checkpoint to get into the terminal itself:

Thumbnail image for security.jpg


Here are responses, starting with someone with a Turkish name:
You noted that in China you walk through a line of police who give you a cursory glance. When going to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, you undergo this cursory glance when driving into the Airport... the main entrance route is where a soldier takes a little glimpse of the car you're driving into the airport. The key, I guess, is to make sure your illicit cargo is securely out of sight in the trunk.

And not to defend Turkey's security redundancy, but I wonder if some of this is just a cultural phenomenon. Typically in Turkey, it is not a habit for people who are not flying to come to the airport to see their friends / family members off. Since traffic is so horrendous, many flyers take a cab so as not to force their friends to have to drive all the way back. Because of that, the first entrance to the building is a de facto security check since really only travelers show up at the airport. I remember this fondly during summers when there would be horrible lines outside the airport; people with tons of luggage trying to get in while baking in the heat. Let's just say that it wasn't a smooth process.

So with that first entrance to the airport long being a point of "security" (at least since the 80s), I'm tempted to say that Turkey never meant to heighten security by adding this nuisance: it was always there.

Why then, do we have to do it again once we have our boarding passes? I dunno*.

* one small guess (at least for international flights) is that Turkey is one of those countries that screens your passport as you leave the country, especially if you're a Turkish citizen. If you've not completed your army service, for example, this passport check is where they may catch you. I'm sure many countries can do this when you present your passport at any point in the airport, but this may be yet another historical feature of life in Turkey back at a time when not everyone was free to leave the country without a work permit, etc...
From a graduate student with a non-Turkish name:
The Turkish airport security criticism is slightly misplaced - the "first line" photographed here is actually the security check for entering a public space, which is fairly common in Turkey, and equally usual upon entering malls and car-parks. So this isn't TSA-madness so much as bureaucratic duplication - the first check is to get into the airport (a public building) followed by the expected security check to get through to the departure gates.

The fear I would guess, although do not know for sure, would not be "that if a crazy person shoots people in line, those people are waiting to get into the airport", but rather the threat of bomb planted by the long running Kurdish insurgency. There was a report of something like this less than two weeks ago.
And, in similar Turkey-supportive spirit, from a woman in New York:
I've been to Turkey twice in the last two years, and the security described by your reader was only at the Istanbul airport, and, my consort and I assumed, was only because we were on a flight bound to the US. Unless my memory is flawed, flying to and from Izmir in July was just like going anywhere in this country, although without the cancer boxes.

Interestingly, before those flights and even on my two returns from Istanbul, my artificial hip set off the metal detector. I merely pointed at my right side and the agents waved me through. Here, I always get publicly groped even though I carry a card from my surgeon documenting my titanium. (And don't ask about the time I was off getting groped while my consort was getting his carryon searched because something was setting off the metal detector. What the agent finally turned up was . . . the bottom half of an artificial hip, which had been on his desk from a long-ago photo shoot and somehow gotten caught up in a folder of papers. Most amazing: The agent tucked it back in his bag and merrily waved him on. Even though the thing is as potentially lethal as a railroad spike.)
I've always had a pro-Turkey bias (but I like Greece too!) and am glad to get the full story.

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE
: I've now gotten > 1000 messages about "using a Kindle while in an airplane," most of them very interesting. It's a busy time on my end, and even if it weren't I wouldn't be quoting all 1000. But I'll try to digest and highlight them over the next few days.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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