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Note to TSA: Let me keep my shoes on

By Christian Lander, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christian Lander says new TSA measures make his other flying complaints pale by comparison
  • He says they won't work; besides, post-9/11 terror tries were thwarted by passengers
  • TSA strategy similar to sports anti-doping: tries to solve a problem retroactively
  • Lander: Security depends on competence of intelligence services, average Americans

Editor's note: Christian Lander is a writer living in Los Angeles. His first book, "Stuff White People Like," is published by Random House. His new book is "Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews. "

(CNN) -- As a frequent flier I have a laundry list of complaints about the process of flying, and that list has just been made longer by the Transportation Security Administration. My biggest complaints used to include flight staff who don't enforce carry-on restrictions and the people who stow their enormous carry-on baggage sideways.

But these pale in comparison to the TSA's new measures. These represent another episode in the pointless frustration show that the TSA puts on to make us feel as though we're safe.

This month the TSA introduced full-body scans that are little more than the realization of the back-of-the-comic-book fantasy of X-ray specs. These new full-body scans will do nothing for our security, nor will the invasive pat downs that will be waiting for those who refuse the scans.

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Even before the backscatter X-ray machines roll out to all the airports in America (they are in 70 airports so far), I am actively looking for people to make a bet with me about the future of these machines. Specifically, I will bet that we will catch more TSA employees guilty of inappropriately forwarding full-body scans of celebrities or attractive women than we will terrorists.

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Additionally, I think I speak for all travelers when I wonder why we have full-body scans, yet will still have to put our shoes through the X-ray machine. If the TSA is going to have an X-ray photo of my private parts, I would hope that this sacrifice of personal freedom would at least allow me the luxury of wearing my shoes through the metal detector.

Ultimately, the truth is that the TSA has done little or nothing to keep our skies safer than they were before 9/11. A quick look back at recent history reveals that in the years since 9/11 our best anti-terrorism efforts have come from brave, average civilians on flights. The shoe bomber and the Christmas bomber were both brought down by average citizens, not the TSA or their ridiculous policies.

I understand that the TSA is not implementing these measures to punish fliers, but rather doing everything in its power to prevent a terrorist attack on an airplane. I commend their mission, but I do not commend the directions they are taking to achieve it.

Sadly, the TSA is engaged in the same game as the World Anti-Doping Agency -- that is trying to solve a problem retroactively. The frightening truth is that the people who use drugs in sports and the terrorists intent on destruction will always be one step ahead of the slow, bureaucratic agencies in charge of policing them.

The doping agency can't test for a steroid until it knows it exists. In much the same way, the TSA cannot adequately respond to a terrorist threat until it knows it exists. Sadly, the only way to know it exists is when someone fails in his attempt to do damage.

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For example, the TSA allows us 3 ounces of liquid on a domestic flight. So, presumably, if terrorists wanted to get, say, 12 ounces of dangerous liquid through security, they would have to go through the difficult process of booking four tickets.

These measures are ultimately nothing more than a show to make us feel more secure. The truth is that the security of flights will be determined by the level of competency of our intelligence services and the bravery of average Americans, not by a silly scan and a ban on water bottles.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christian Lander.

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