A Story We Somehow Knew Was Coming (TSA Dept)

Once we learned that the TSA was investing heavily to equip airports around the country with hundreds of new "full-body" scanners, also known as Advanced Imaging Technology, or AIT, machines, what news item did we know, sooner or later, was bound to appear?

How about the flat-out judgment of the person in charge of airline security in Israel that the whole idea is preposterous and another illustration of easily-thwarted, Maginot Line-style, tech-heavy "security theater" thinking. As this person, Rafi Sela, told Canadian authorities last week (according to the Vancouver Sun):

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In his own words:

"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority and a 30-year veteran in airport security and defence technology, helped design the security at Ben Gurion.

So we face the timeless question of figuring out how to weigh competing claims. On the one hand, we have "this will work!" reassurances from an agency whose ability to make common-sense decisions we observe each time we go to the airport, backed by government contractors with a big new procurement order to defend -- and both of them arguing that this new technology will really solve a criminal/ terrorist/ human-network problem. On the other hand, we have the guy in charge of Israel's airport security, saying that reliance on machines is a mirage, that the real answer lies in intelligence and savvy, that capital-heavy, static tech solutions simply invite clever opponents to work around them, and so on. And to boot, Mr. Security, Bruce Schneier, is on the same side.

TSA + defense contractor + security theater, vs Israeli expert + Schneier + common sense. Hmmm, I don't know what to believe.

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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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