Foulups, accountability, and bogus security

Photo courtesy of
‘Irony (b/w)’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

Writer and activist Adam Green brought to our attention his article about the now-infamous screwups that kept masses of ticketed people out of viewing areas for the swearing-in ceremony. Green asks a fairly reasonable question – is there going to be any accountability for the people whose poor performance created this situation? – but I cannot get fully behind the question.

Not because I don’t think people should be accountable, but because I think it’s somewhat akin to asking “why didn’t shaving a crop circle into my cat’s fur turn out well?” The first answer this question should get is “why would you want to do that anyway?” Bottlenecks and slowdowns in our city have become de rigueur even when we’re not dealing with an extra couple million people, and it’s time to take a new look at how we handle security and what we expect from it.

If you don’t look at one more word of what I have to day, at least take a moment to look at this interview with Bruce Schneier about the ways Mall security was and was not going to resemble Airport security and some thoughts on the matter.

The lesson I’d love to see us take from this is to ask ourselves “what do we gain in exchange from all this hassle?” There can be no reasonable doubt that stopping people to see if they had prohibited items like leathermen or swiss army knives slowed down the process of letting in those ticket holders. Anyone actually determined to stab someone with a 2″ pocketknife had a huge crowd outside the security gate they could have given that really nasty paper cut to, and we create these rich targets every time we bottleneck our entrances to the Air and Space or Museum of Natural History.

We all got a big scare in 2001 and nobody can blame us for being twitchy after that. It’s time to stop jumping at our shadows, however, and remember that the powdery substance on the floor of the grocery is much more likely to be spilled powered sugar than anthrax. Instead of asking “how can we make this huge and unwieldy rube goldberg security contraption work marginally better?” let’s start asking “are we actually being made any safer in exchange for making all these sacrifices?”

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


3 thoughts on “Foulups, accountability, and bogus security

  1. Safer? No. But we are a nation of blamers and accountability finger pointers. The what if’s and lawsuits have taken a front row seat to common sense. Common sense no longer exist, there’s too much at stake; could granny be holding a 9mm in her purse or does the guy with the turban look like he’s nervous? To the PC police; it doesn’t matter. We are all to be treated equally and without prejudice. If a bomb went off on the mall, the Secret Service and everyone who sold a BBQ sandwich gets sued.
    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Especially when it comes to the government.

  2. The most ridiculous part of the security procedure on Tuesday was the bag size restriction. The PIC2009 web site just said that “large bags” were prohibited, and it was the Post that actually published the 8x6x4 maximum size … until you got to the gate, where this size was mentioned on big yellow posters. The specific size was also ignored by screeners, as they didn’t look twice at my Crumpler Four Million Dollar Home, which I had measured as being 9x8x5 before deciding to take it anyway.

    We’ve known for a long time that the security checkpoints themselves just move the target — to learn this all you have to do is watch the news for reports from Iraq or the disputed territory around Israel. Wherever you compress a lot of people you create a target, and a car, backpack, or vest bomber merely has to get into *that* crowd, not inside the supposedly secure perimeter, to cause mayhem.

    That said, with all the domestic crazies who think that Obama is a sign of the apocalypse, I have no problem whatsoever with keeping them — and their weapons — out of the perimeter. I think that having the inauguration go off without any visible attempt on his life was a pretty critical goal, and the appearance of security theater is an important part of that.

  3. Seems to me the reason to keep up the heat is that it’s clear that public safety was low down the list of priorities. What is this hadn’t been an event where 99.99% of people were happy for the event? What if many people had been protesters? What is there was a thunderstorm or tornado? What if the crowd wasn’t so well behaved?

    It would have been easy for the inauguration to have become a horrible tragedy. It would have been easy for people to get trampled in the 3rd Street tunnel or crushed against the security gates on Pennsylvania Avenue. No one was in charge of the crowd and that is a serious problem going forward.

    If 100 people had been trampled, I doubt anyone would be saying the event was a success because 1.8 million didn’t.