A modest step against "security theater" -- in Beijing!

As recently mentioned here, with links to many other articles and posts, the phenomenon of "security theater" that both Jeff Goldberg and I have discussed in Atlantic articles is an unfortunate world-wide trend.

Security theater is typified by make believe measures that make it seem as if authorities are "doing something" about security but that may have little connection to the threats that are most serious or the ways they might be thwarted. In the old days, an example would be the "have these bags been in your possession?..." catechism at airport check-in counters. These days, the reflexive demand to "show ID" before going into buildings or the ignored-by-all recordings in US airports that begin, "This is a security announcement. The threat level is elevated.."

The other classic trait of worldwide security theater is the ratchet-like irreversibility of the process. For instance, as mentioned in my earlier post, some of the "special Olympic" security precautions instituted this summer in Beijing show no sign of ever going away. (Like bag screening for all subway passengers.) There is a bureaucratic/political explanation for this, which is that no one is likely to be blamed for the cost or inconvenience of such measures, whereas any public official can easily imagine the resulting witch hunt if a "precaution" were removed and... something went wrong.

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But here's an exception!   A few hours ago, I arrived at the new international terminal at Beijing Capital airport -- the one with the delightful airport identifier PEK -- and found myself simply able to walk in from the sidewalk through the main entrance door. None of the one-by-one machine scanning of bags, wiping them for explosive residue, or sniffing by bomb-dogs that had caused long lines in the entry corridors all this summer. Those practices started about a month before the Olympics, but some time recently someone apparently was willing to take the risk of calling them off. Worth noticing.