9/11, the Culture of Fear, and the Security Theater at U.S. Airports
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Commentary

9/11, the Culture of Fear, and the Security Theater at U.S. Airports

The airport security provided by TSA is far more symbolic than it is functional.

Once upon a time, air travel was a nearly stress-free experience. Venturing to the skies was as simple as a few moments at a ticket counter and a metal detector. And, if you weren’t flying, you could even accompany your friends and family to their gates or meet them there upon arrival. Now you need to show up to the airport hours before your flight, deconstruct your luggage, expose electronics, dispose of liquids, take off your shoes and jacket, and put your hands to the sky for the jumbo millimeter wave body scanners.

The tragedy of America’s post 9/11 security theater is that it models what the terrorists would’ve wanted. Terrorists successfully used the events of 9/11 as a single, rare event to sow a culture of fear that we have continued to reap 17 years later.

After trillions of dollars of spending on homeland security and military actions since 9/11 and billions of inconvenient hours wasted in TSA lines, we’re still not any safer. The lack of recent terrorist attacks utilizing aircraft has little or nothing to do with the effectiveness of the TSA, which consistently fails to find 90 percent of the fake weapons sent through to test them. The security provided by TSA is far more symbolic than it is functional.

Often, even the casual traveler finds that they accidentally boarded a plane with “weapons” the TSA prohibits. How often do we open our toiletry kits to realize that we’ve flown with a safety razor, a small pocket knife or one of several hundred other innocuous items that TSA supposedly prevents us from flying with?

From trains in Madrid to cars in Paris, terrorists have proven over and over again that they will find new ways to wreak havoc. But the numbers will never be on their side. The yearly chance of dying from a foreign-born terrorist attack is 1 in 3.8 million.

Any act of terrorism is devastating. But terrorists should not be allowed to dictate national security policies and there’s no reason to continue to allow the terrorists to hold sway. Our endless wars on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan belie a deeper commitment to the false promises of a security state.

The ridiculous airport hokey-pokey has made many of us miss a flight, and made none of us safer.  Now, 17 years after the tragedy of 9/11, would be a good time to re-examine the expensive, ineffective security bureaucracy we created in response to the terrorist attacks.

Jacob James Rich is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation.