Readers of The Atlantic will appreciate our obsession with security theater, as most memorably demonstrated by Jeffrey Goldberg's regular attempts to get arrested for showing TSA representatives Hezbollah flags, among other things. There is no TSA director -- Obama's two nominees have withdrawn for a variety of reasons. And it's hardly that a day doesn't go by without some seeming bungle or another. Harry Shearer's Le Show is a great repository of incidents and anecdotes. But a new classified policy that airlines will begin to implement today is a step in the direction of sanity and safety.
After the Christmas Day bombings, President Obama ordered a bow to stern review of TSA and airline screening procedures.
On January 4, the TSA issued an emergency order, classified, that subjected virtually every passenger from 14 countries to secondary screening of some kind. The new policy, for the first time, makes use of actual, vetted intelligence. In addition to the existing names on the "No Fly" and "Selectee" lists, the government will now provide unclassified descriptive information to domestic and international airlines and to foreign governments on a near-real time basis.
This means, to make up an example, that if the National Security Agency picks up chatter that a young man from Yemen who has traveled recently through France plans to crash an airliner, that information, properly vetted and sourced, would be passed along. And individuals who fit that particular category -- young men from Yemen who've traveled recently through France -- will be subject to any number of secondary security checks, ranging from full-body scans to physical pat-downs (that might have caught the Christmas Day bomber) to a few individual questions.