The Way of the Warrior: Security Theatre

Homeland Security sealI have a confession to make: Going through security at the airport stresses me out, because I’m always worried that I’ve accidentally broken some rule that will get me pulled aside.

And when they pull you aside, they just leave your belongings — your purse, your computer — there on the conveyor belt for anyone to pick up, so that you’re trying to cooperate with the officer while still keeping an eye on your stuff. Plus who knows what might happen if they decide you might actually be a miscreant.

Furthermore, I am never happy in situations where I’m supposed to act like a sheep and just do what I’m told to do, with no explanations.

But I might be more tolerant of the process if it made us all safer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Airport security isn’t security; it’s security theatre. As Bruce Schneier says,

Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.

Schneier is an expert on security, both the cryptographic and the daily life kind. His most recent book on the subject is Schneier on Security. In a recent essay published in the New Internationalist, he makes a strong case for dealing with terrorism by using basic police work: “intelligence, investigation, and emergency response.” But that sort of thing doesn’t make headlines. As Schneier writes:

Unfortunately for politicians, the security measures that work are largely invisible. Such measures include enhancing the intelligence-gathering abilities of the secret services, hiring cultural experts and Arabic translators, building bridges with Islamic communities both nationally and internationally, funding police capabilities — both investigative arms to prevent terrorist attacks, and emergency communications systems for after attacks occur — and arresting terrorist plotters without media fanfare. They do not include expansive new police or spying laws. Our police don’t need any new laws to deal with terrorism; rather, they need apolitical funding. These security measures don’t make good television, and they don’t help, come re-election time. But they work, addressing the reality of security instead of the feeling.

Frankly, I’d like to see more real security and less theatre. Watching someone forced to toss out their guacamole salad because the security officer decided it was a liquid — that’s not an online rumor; I actually saw that happen — doesn’t inspire me with confidence. Neither does the fact that it’s OK for me to carry a screwdriver on an airplane, but not a Swiss Army knife (also a true story; it really happened to me).

And I’m really getting tired of taking off my shoes.


Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “The Little Android.”  Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.


About Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore's science fiction novel, The Weave, is now available in print and ebook versions from Aqueduct Press. Some of her short stories are now appearing as reprints on Curious Fictions. She is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her BVC ebooks can be found here. She also has short stories and essays in most of the BVC anthologies. In addition to writing fiction, Nancy Jane, who has a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, teaches empowerment self defense. She is at work on a self defense book that emphasizes non-fighting skills.


The Way of the Warrior: Security Theatre — 4 Comments

  1. There’s been more pushback of late, albeit fairly mild, “who, me, I didn’t do anything” pushback.

    Apparently if you wear a hoodie (even with the hood down) the TSA regards it as a coat and wants it taken off. A friend of mine likes to travel in hoodies because they’re comfy and warm; sometimes she just wears the hoodie over her undergarments. On one trip she was told to remove it and had to explain demonstrate by lifting up a corner that there was nothing much but her under it. The TSA agents were not particularly accommodating. So the next trip, when they told her to remove her hoodie, she did. Result, a grinning middle aged woman standing in the middle of the security line wearing only a sports bra, with all the TSA agents saying urgently “Please, lady, put it back on, please put it back on!”

    And there was applause from the people in the line behind. Pushback, mild but discernible.

  2. Halle-freaking-lujiah. [sigh] Yeah, it’s been obvious since the first big flurry of panic and hand-waving after 9/11 that the point wasn’t to take effective action, but rather to give the elected officials multiple opportunities to show their constituents that they were Doing Something. It didn’t matter whether the Something was effective or not; it was action and that was all that mattered.

    I’m sure you noticed when the TSA folks at the airport had their shirts changed from white to blue? That was the mark of a new boss in Washington who wanted to piss on the fencepost. Wow, blue shirts instead of white — I feel safer already. To say nothing of the waste of tax money. :/

    And I agree that the business with shoes and liquids are ridiculous and useless. I wouldn’t mind the inconvenience if it actually accomplished something, but it so clearly doesn’t. All that wasted effort and money and time and aggravation — it’s ridiculous, but fear makes people duck their heads and go along with it.


  3. If you go over to EBay and put “NTSA” into the search window, you can find everything that was confiscated at airport security, now up for resale at a steep, steep discount. Many, many pocket knives, multitools, buck knives, and pairs of scissors. I have my eye on a pair of Solingen embroidery scissors with handles shaped like a stork.

  4. My favorite TSA moment: Turning luggage over to the luggage scanner folks.

    “Hi, the black Pullman suitcase has a bunch of rare earth magnets and oddly shaped metal bits in it; the rare earth magnets are all in a gray case on the left side as you open it. Once you see them, you’ll understand what the metal bits are for.”

    “Hi, the green bag has three swords in it. All three are in a case inside the duffel. The case is unlocked. All are in scabbards which are tied on with ribbon. Please do not be alarmed when you see three swords on the X ray machine, and if you MUST take them out to inspect them, please take the time to untie them from the scabbards rather than cutting the ribbons.”

    (I really have images of TSA people attempting to Erroll Flynn with my kit as I’m walking towards the escalator.)