Yesterday Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that children, 12 and younger, would no longer be required to remove their shoes at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints and be able to have their hands swabbed for explosives rather than be subject to a pat down.
The TSA’s move to allow children to keep their shoes on and avoid enhanced pat downs is intended to quell public outcries that children are not threats to the traveling public … however … this change in TSA security procedures for children is contrary to not only internal reports from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicating that domestic extremists show little regard for using children as agents of terrorism, but it is also contrary to TSA Administrator John Pistole’s statement earlier this year, “Unfortunately we know that terrorists around the world have used children as suicide bombers.”
While the TSA states its pilot program for testing the screening of children with their shoes on and swabbing their hands has allowed the agency to reduce the frequency in which children are patted down, the agency is unable to show any benchmark for which the statements of the program’s effectiveness were tested against.
This recent change in TSA policy creates a new, and easily exploited, gap. This past July Flying With Fish wrote Airport Security Searches Of Children & Children As Legitimate Threats, which detailed two recent cases where terrorists detonated a child acting as an explosives delivery device and another failed attempt to use a child as a suicide bomber. These threats are real and have been used more often that we may choose to acknowledge.
Aviation security must evolve, constantly exploring new security options, refining current security policies and procedures. It is important to remember that aviation security is not popularity contest, as long as it is effective. The DHS and TSA altering security procedures to win a popularity contest is not effective security, it’s showing an appearance of security while trying to appease the masses, in lieu of providing real security.
To be successful, the TSA needs to look at the real threats, these threats exist on an individual basis and know no age, gender or race. Looking for knives isn’t the answer; swabbing palms may prove fruitless as well given the ease in which Semtex can be smuggled through security. The TSA must look for not only what is in front of them, but for other signs that not all Transportation Security Officers are trained to look for.
In the future, the TSA needs to focus its efforts on true threat based security. Not everyone is a threat, not everyone needs to be treated as a threat, but during the initial “great equalizer” passenger screening, all passengers must be treated equally.
It is likely that those smuggling a weapon are those unaware they are smuggling a weapon … at least that is what DHS says … so they may want to listen to themselves.