Is Obama's Airport Security Overhaul Any Good?

Profiling will be guided by intelligence, not nationality

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The White House and relevant federal agencies have unveiled new airport security measures. The plan is the result of a long review following the Flight 253 incident. It keeps some of the emergency changes made immediately after the December attack and drops others, as well as instituting some new practices. All international flights will receive more screening, and Transportation Security Administration agents are authorized to include race and religion in screening practices. More full-body scanners will also be used. What should we make of these changes?

  • Finally, Real Security The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder praises the plan as "a step in the direction of sanity and safety." Ambinder, long a critic of meaningless "security theater" at airports, says this is getting closer to real security. "The new policy, for the first time, makes use of actual, vetted intelligence." However, "enforcement is largely up to entities that the U.S. does not control, including foreign governments and airline carriers owned by private citizens."
  • Heritage: OK, It's Good Even the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation praises the move. Heritage's Jena McNeil writes of the old plan, "Draconian security measures may seem like the great equalizer. By making everyone do it, it doesn't offend anyone, it doesn't involve hard choices, and it doesn't involve standing up to detractors. But it doesn't make Americans safer." But with Obama's changes, "this is a good revelation and a step forward towards stopping terrorists even more effectively."
  • Will Intel-Based Strategy Work? Spencer Ackerman approves of the strategy of using "fragmentary intelligence," like a partial name or physical description of a potential attacker, to guide screening. "That's clearly intended to be responsive to the failure in stopping Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding flight 253," for which there was substantial "fragmentary" intel but nothing conclusive. However, security officials had earlier complained about "a persistent difficulty with actually performing basic search functions that Google can perform in microseconds." Will this be fixed?
  • Rudderless TSA Can't Be Bold RAND Security Analyst Brian Jenkins tells USA Today that TSA's lack of leadership is a problem. "In order to champion bold new initiatives, you do need a leader who is confirmed and firmly in charge." But the Senate has still not confirmed a TSA head, with Republican Senator Jim DeMint blocking Obama's first nominee for several months.
  • The 'Right Kind of Profiling' The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder shrugs. "Is this profiling? Depends on your definition. I'd say if it is profiling, it's the right kind of profiling because it will be based on intelligence, not prejudice."
  • Bees Could Solve Airport Security So insists Stewart Baker, Homeland Security official turned conservative blogger. "They have a great sense of smell, they can be trained a lot cheaper than dogs, they recognize more smells, and when they retire after a few days on the job, they make honey for you." He imagines TSA officers telling fliers who are unwilling to be searched, "If you don't want us to see you naked, maybe we'll just put bees down your pants."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.