A Story We Somehow Knew Was Coming (TSA Dept)

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/04/a-story-we-somehow-knew-was-coming-tsa-dept/39659/