The Washington Times - June 21, 2008, 04:54PM



By P. Jeffrey Black

The Cable News Network (CNN) reported this week that on a trans-Atlantic Delta flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Vienna, Austria an angry drunk passenger tried to set the cabin curtains on fire after an altercation with a flight attendant.

Officials said not to worry because there didn’t seem to be any connection to terrorism.  So I guess that means were all supposed to feel relieved about the incident, because “he was nothing but an intoxicated passenger,” as if to say that an angry drunk arsonist couldn’t possibly blow up a plane.

Apparently, when somebody attempts to start a fire inside an aircraft while flying at 30,000 feet in an aluminum tube holding thousands of gallons of fuel, its not a serious threat, unless of course the arsonist happens to be a card carrying member of a terrorist organization.

Or could it be that the TSA is trying to divert attention from the fact that the drunk passenger tried to start a fire with — a lighter - an item that could never pose a security threat. 

Well, at least that’s what TSA wants you to believe.

On August 4th of last year, the TSA lifted the ban on lighters “in an effort to concentrate resources on detecting explosive threats.”  Would somebody please inform TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, that attempting to start a fire on an aircraft in-flight would be considered by most passengers — an explosive threat!  This isn’t rocket fuel science here.

But the managers in TSA are the real experts, and they seem to have a better grasp of the true meaning of aviation security than the rest of us.  According to TSA’s website:

Lifting the lighter ban is consistent with TSA’s risk-based approach to aviation security. First and foremost, lighters no longer pose a significant threat. Freeing security officers up … enables them to focus more on finding explosives

This all sounds convincing enough, but is it really true?  


First, its difficult to convince airline passengers that lighters no longer pose a threat to aircraft, when you have an angry drunk using his lighter to set the interior of an airplane on fire.  

Second, its even more difficult to convince passengers that the reason for lifting the ban on lighters was because you want to spend more quality time looking for bomb making materials, when screeners are consistently failing undercover tests to find those materials, as reported here, here and here.

And third, its almost impossible to convince passengers they are safe — when you abuse your position of trust.  How so?  In an effort to improve those failing test numbers, did the TSA learn from their mistakes and implement a more stringent training program for screeners? 

Not hardly. 

Instead the TSA took a more efficient approach — they cheated. 

TSA Administrators sent out memos to airports across the country tipping off screeners of upcoming undercover tests and gave them specific details of what materials to watch out for.

After all, its not a matter of if you are actually safe.  What matters is, that the numbers look good and that it appears that passengers are safe.  This is what the TSA is actually very good at — Security Theater.

And lastly, as if what I stated above isn’t bad enough for passengers, Christopher White, just one of the many spokespersons for TSA, was quick to point out that there were other air marshals on the plane since it is TSA policy for air marshals never to fly alone, and that if the drunk passenger was just a diversion, there were other air marshals still undercover on the plane ready to pounce on any would be terrorists.

When is TSA going to stop giving away the internal policies and tactical playbook of the air marshals, for the purpose of making the public feel good after an incident happens on an aircraft? 

When is TSA going to realize that the safety of the air marshals and passengers is far more important then TSA’s public image?

I’m not holding my breath.  

Got a light?