The Transport Security Administration is one of the most disliked government institutions in the US. They are constantly criticised for the search methods they use at airport security, for the behaviour of their staff and for alleged inefficiencies. No one enjoys airport security checks and the freedom-loving Americans dislike them more than most.
There are regular calls for airport security to be wound down or even scrapped altogether because – so the arguments run – it is not strong enough to stop an organised terrorist attack and the costs of operating it exceed the value of any lives it might save.
It is true that a group of sophisticated terrorists will always be able to find a way to cause damage. They will go for the weakest link and in 2001, it just happened that US airport security for domestic flights was far less stringent than in the rest of the world.
But airport security does not just protect against organised terrorism. There are plenty of individual nutcases out there who would like to make a posthumous name for themselves.
This year, the TSA will remove around 1500 guns from passengers who were about to board a flight. The figure is slightly up on previous years, maybe because of improved detection or maybe there are just more idiots who think it reasonable to carry a gun on an aircraft. Of course, most if not all the people who had these guns had no intention of doing any harm on the aircraft – but it only takes one.
I do not enjoy airport security but scrapping or downgrading security in a country that has weak controls on guns is a recipe for disaster because the unthinkable will happen – just as it did on Friday.