Editorial Roundup for Wednesday — December 28, 2005

• Air: Running with scissors


Air: Running with scissors

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2005

When flying these days, it is not comforting to think that fellow passengers may be carrying six-inch-long screwdrivers or pointy metal scissors with four-inch blades, all with the approval of the Transportation Security Administration.

After all, terrorist hijackers managed to kill 3,000 people while armed only with box cutters on Sept. 11, 2001. In the hands of vicious fanatics, is a box cutter more dangerous than a screwdriver or sharp scissors?

The TSA last week took small tools and scissors off its prohibited list for carry-on luggage. Basically, it was done because the TSA doesn’t have enough people to fuss with them.

Scissors and small tools make up one-quarter of the prohibited items confiscated at airport checkpoints. Rooting through passengers’ bags to find them takes time, and the TSA thinks its employees could better use that time to check for more dangerous things, such as explosives. We can’t argue with the TSA’s decision to rank one risk over another. The troubling thing is that the TSA apparently can’t deal with both.

The TSA was created to tighten airline security, which was utterly incompetent before 9/11. It has made progress. The TSA has 43,000 security screeners nationwide. Thousands of air marshals now ride the skies, compared to 33 previously. About 420 dogs sniff for explosives. By the end of 2006, 340 explosives-detecting machines should be in operation. Cockpit doors have been reinforced. There is no question that airport security has improved. The terrorists who unleashed the horror of 9/11 exploited our lax airport security.

That set in motion events that have led to two costly wars, claiming nearly 2,200 American lives, leaving 17,000 soldiers wounded and adding more than $200 billion to the national debt.

Given those terrible consequences, airline security is no place for Uncle Sam to scrimp. If the TSA needs more screeners to keep screwdrivers and scissors off of airplanes, and more machines to keep explosives out of cargo holds, it should get them.

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