November 23, 2012
The arrival of the holiday season in the U.S. marks the start of the busiest travel period of the year. For millions of Americans, it’s a time of misery—hours spent waiting out weather delays and missed connections in crumbling domestic airport terminals with oppressive overhead lighting and bad food. But what makes the experience of air travel truly abominable is the government agency ostensibly designed to ease anxieties about getting on planes: the Transportation Security Administration. Far from making travel safer, the U.S.’s approach to airport security is putting the lives of even more people at risk.
The TSA was created to replace the patchwork of private security companies that handled airport security in the pre-9/11 era. Its budget quickly ballooned: Since 2002 the number of TSA agents has risen from 16,000 to more than 50,000. Still, to a traumatized public, any amount of overreaction in the name of preventing another terrorist attack seemed acceptable.
More than a decade later, it’s time to move on. For one thing, the attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. Since 2000 the chance that the death of a U.S. resident resulted from a terrorist attack was 1 in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller and Mark Stewart of Ohio State and the University of Newcastle, respectively. Out of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 annual deaths worldwide, outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the same number, notes Mueller, that occur in bathtubs in the U.S. each year.