Why security theater survives

Security TheaterThe latest security theater outrage from the Transportation Security Administration almost defies belief – forcing a dying, elderly woman in a wheelchair to remove her soiled diaper before she could board a flight to go die peacefully near her relatives.

And what is even more outrageous is the TSA’s official response to public outcry over the incident:

"We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure."

In other words, the TSA followed its self-prescribed “process,” so what it did must have been right regardless of the consequences to a dying 95 year-old.

Such reasoning is preposterous, of course. But, as Cato’s Jim Harper explains, the TSA and other governmental agencies routinely get away with such nonsense because of the bureaucratic prime directive – i.e., maximize discretionary budget:

The TSA pursues the bureaucratic prime directive–maximize budget–by assuming, fostering, and acting on the maximum possible threat. So a decade after 9/11, TSA and Department of Homeland Security officials give strangely time-warped commentary whenever they speechify or testify, recalling the horrors of 2001 as if it’s 2003.

The prime directive also helps explain why TSA has expanded its programs following each of the attempts on aviation since 9/11, even though each of them has failed. For a security agency, security threats are good for business. TSA will never seek balance, but will always promote threat as it offers the only solution: more TSA.

Because of countervailing threats to its budget–sufficient outrage on the part of the public–TSA will withdraw from certain policies from time to time. But there is no capacity among the public to sustain “outrage” until the agency is actually managing risk in a balanced and cost-effective way. . . .

TSA should change its policy, yes, but its fundamental policies will not change. Episodes like this will continue indefinitely against a background of invasive, overwrought airline security that suppresses both the freedom to travel and the economic well-being of the country.

As with overcriminalization and drug prohibition policies, the TSA’s policies are an ominous reflection of a federal government with bipartisan support that is increasingly remote and unresponsive to U.S. citizens.

Have the incumbent leaders of both political parties become too insulated to address these policies effectively and modify them?

One thought on “Why security theater survives

  1. Excellent post. Thanks.
    IMO, unless and until the truth about 9/11 becomes
    widely known, the policies that were enacted as the result of that inside job and cover-up, will only
    strengthen and embolden those who profit and benefit
    from illegal wars, bloated defense budgets, and the erosion of our liberties.

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