Failed Times Square Plot Shows Folly of Security Theater

One thing the recent failed Times Square car bomb incident reveals is just how absurd the level of security theater in the United States is. That is, it’s true that we may succeed in making air travel extremely unpleasant, but the fact of the matter is that there are innumerable crowded locations spread throughout the United States that given a certain level of tactical sophistication (which it seems al Qaeda seems to lack at the moment) could be exploited by motivated individuals to cause massive destruction.

Anyway, consider that an introduction to a James Fallows post that makes a few points I was making to my family over the weekend. This, in particular is the key point for understanding why our government has taken airport security to such a ludicrous level.

The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way. A politician who supports more open-ended, more thorough, more intrusive, more expensive inspections can never be proven “wrong.” The absence of attacks shows that his measures have “worked”; and a new attack shows that inspections must go  further still. A politician who wants to limit the inspections can never be proven “right.” An absence of attacks means that nothing has gone wrong — yet. Any future attack would always and forever be that politician’s “fault.” Given that asymmetry of risks, what public figure will ever be able to talk about paring back the TSA?

It’s worth noting this dynamic has been exacerbated by opportunistic politicians (most recently conservatives) who are eager to paint their political opponents as ineffectual against terrorism. Consider the hysterical Republican response to the “Underpants Bomber” followed by President Obama’s institution of quasi-profiling measures and you’ll have your answer for why flying is such a pain in the ass.


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