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Underwear Bombs – Making the Case, Again, for Risk-Based Security

The discovery by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the latest iteration of an underwear bomb seemed to provide unsolicited attacks on TSA, and has increased the intensity of the discussion surrounding TSA’s effectiveness or ineptitude, depending on your bias.

The press has focused on the success of the CIA – and rightly so – but TSA detractors should be wary to discount the existence of TSA. While helpful to detection companies and TSA security operations, the hypothetical blathering about whether this bomb would have been detected or not at the checkpoint [The New York Post “Undie bomb is hide & eek!”] completely misses, or misunderstands, the purpose of TSA and its value to our national security apparatus.

Namely, it fails to recognize that the current passenger checkpoint screening and machinery have forced al-Qaeda to resort to desperate attempts at bomb concealment with far less explosive impact.

If we as the public are to accept a risk-based approach to airport security, we have to recognize the mission is to reduce, but not eliminate, the threat. In real-world terms, this means that we accept that an attack will be successful in the future but that our current security system will have prevented a catastrophe and a complete shut-down of the aviation system.

Once we accept that result, it will be easier for the political class to fully implement a risk-based security process.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More