Airport Security: Everything but Accountability

Now that the reassurance machine has kicked into high gear, with statements from everyone from President Obama to Janet "The System Worked" Napolitano, we're being asked to believe that what has become the usual syndrome in post 9/11 response -- overreaction in compensation for failure -- is good enough. So we will sit immobile for that last hour of incoming international flights, unentertained, unblanketed, and untoileted, and that will do the trick. Another array of measures the experts deride as silly and nothing more than show business will pacify us, for a while.

But forget about the watch lists and the father's warning, and the sniffer dogs and the puffer machines. There's a simpler question to be asked about this event. If, as reported, the would-be Detroit bomber paid cash for a one-way ticket, why didn't that automatically flag him for secondary screening? Even lacking cash payment, the one-way ticket has generally done exactly that. I know. On a tour a couple of years ago, my itinerary failed to list the final flight home as part of the tour, rendering each of the intermediate stops as a one-way in the eyes of the TSA, and I was pulled aside for secondary screening every time, even though the only thing I had hidden in my underpants was me.

Yes, investigations, and new regulations, and everything's okay. But if this were Japan, Janet "The System Worked" Napolitano wouldn't have gone on morning TV today to walk back her nonsensical reassurance. She would have bowed deeply, apologized with profound emotion, and resigned. This isn't about finger-pointing. If employees at the TSA (or the Corps of Engineers) see that there are no career consequences for dramatic and/or catastrophic screwups (for the latter, see New Orleans, 2005), they will have learned a regrettable lesson: there is no price to be paid for failure. In that direction lies more failure.

UPDATE: 4:38 PM PST MONDAY: The DHS Operation Second Thought is rolling along nicely. After having Sec. Napolitano decide publicly that the system wasn't working, now the TSA is walking back some of the new regs. And CBS, among others, is quoting a Nigerian official saying the bombing suspect actually bought a round-trip ticket. Of course, he also said he's coming into a large inheritance very soon....