Another Homeland Security Puzzle

Because I was on vacation last week, I hadn’t flown under the new, “no liquids or gels” Transportation Security regime until today. I didn’t know what to expect; I couldn’t see how TSA could determine whether there are liquids in a traveler’s carry-on luggage without searching each piece by hand–a recipe for disaster. So I took seriously the airline’s advice to arrive at the airport one and a half to two hours early. I got to the airport at 4:30 this morning for a 6:00 flight. I wasn’t the first person there, but almost. Most of the security screening lines weren’t open yet. When they did open, they operated exactly as normal. There were constant announcements over the PA system that no liquids or gels are allowed on the airplane, but no effort, as far as I could tell, to search for such substances. To my knowledge, an X-ray machine can’t distinguish a solid from a liquid or gel.

The proof came, I guess, when we passed through security. There were more PA announcements to the effect that no liquids or gels purchased after clearing security could be brought on board the airplane. But this was strictly on the honor system; there was no effort to search carry-ons or otherwise try to identify these ostensibly dangerous substances.

So the whole “no liquids or gels” thing appears to be a hoax. No serious effort, or even unserious effort, is being made to keep such substances off airplanes. So what’s the point? Beats me. I do think, though, that it’s consistent with the administration’s view that the time to catch would-be terrorists is long before they try to carry explosives on board an airplane.

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