I just returned from a business trip to the U.S.. It was a tiring affair, but so far as business travel goes, I guess it was about as good as can be expected.
That said, this was my first major trip since about 2000. I had read about but hadn’t experienced first-hand the post WTC security precautions when crossing the border, and I have to say that they are … odd.
If I was carrying a nail file in my carry on luggage, security would have confiscated it. Similarly, a laptop security cable would have been taken from me. On the other hand, if I was a woman and was wearing one of those scary steel link belts with spikes and so forth, that would be okay in the passenger compartment of a plane. I get the third degree if my shoes have metal eyelets, but a woman with 6″ spike heels gets on without any hassle.
None of this is terribly surprising, I guess. The security directives are written based on what terrorists have attempted before. A man once boarded a plane with explosives in his sneakers, so men’s shoes are a risk. No woman has tried to turn her 6′ stilletto heels into a weapon, so they aren’t investigated. Box openers, a pointy/sharp object, were used to hijack some planes, so they are confiscated. Women’s chain belts were not used to hijack planes, so they are not. There are enough miscellanous chemicals in the average woman’s purse that, with a little imagination, I’m sure a number of interesting poisons or explosives could be made with just a few additives. Yet no one has tried this trick yet, so women can still bring their mascara along.
But what about laptop security cables? Well, I guess you could strangle someone with one, but that’s true of a leather belt, or better yet one of those spikey steel belts the women wear as fashion accessories. Why is one confiscated, and one not?
I suspect some of it is sexism. Terrorists are men, so be suspicious of men carrying things that look like weapons. Women carrying things that look like weapons are less worthy of suspicion. That could be part of it.
But whatever the cause, I think the “don’t let a terrorist tactic be repeated” approach has one long term downside. It causes terrorists to come up with completely new ideas each time. This means that, ultimately, we are selecting for more intelligent terrorists. I have no idea how to avoid this, really. But I guess it would be nice if there was some way to have more intelligent criteria for what gets investigated and what doesn’t.
All in all, having to remove my shoes three or four times during one trip is a small inconvenience, and one I don’t mind putting up with given the circumstances. But I can’t help having this nagging feeling that the next major terrorist action will involve women, probably women with babies, just because they get the least detailed scrutiny on security checks and can carry massive amounts of concealed “stuff”. That thought bothers me on all sorts of levels.