EDITORIAL: Airport screening: It may be time to try ‘smarter’

In the early days of air travel, passengers would wear their finest clothes.

Today, just to clear airport security, they must practically undress.

We line up to empty our pockets, remove our belts and shoes. Like sheep, we dutifully remove our liquids and our laptops, subject ourselves and our belongings to search after search – all in the name of security. Now, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority advises us, U.S. transportation safety officials have added even more steps to this already cumbersome process, which starts at check-in and doesn’t end until seat belts are firmly fastened.


The majority of the 1.1 million people who travel in and out of Owen Roberts international Airport are tourists, not terrorists. Already, each is pre-screened, screened and rescreened many times over – and that’s just to get out of the country. Once passengers arrive at their destination, they are subject to another series of checks.

Cayman is not a hotbed of international terrorism. (Have we ever even had a “legitimate terrorist” on our shores?) Yet, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority has been told they must adopt new screening procedures and security checks mandated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration or risk “additional security restrictions being imposed.”

The new measures include “heightened screening” of electronic devices larger than a cellphone – and will mean even longer wait times for passengers. Will they make travel safer? We doubt it.

For a dozen years or more, airline safety bureaucrats, posing as experts, have piled layer upon layer of screening and restrictions into the passenger queue. Very rarely is a regulation retired, resulting in a security protocol that purports to protect passengers from emerging threats but which in reality is bogged down by an accretion of relics and reactions.

For example, in the 15 years since failed “shoe bomber” Richard Reid boarded a plane bound for Miami wearing footwear packed with explosives, countless travelers have been forced to step out of their shoes and pad through security in stocking feet, even as new screening technologies have been adopted and, one would expect, potential threats have morphed into something far more sophisticated than one’s loading up his loafers with explosives.

In fact, we would argue that “smarter” security procedures (including politically incorrect “profiling”) would keep passengers far safer than our present protocols.

Once again last week, undercover agents managed to sneak contraband items – such as explosive materials, weapons and “drugs” – past TSA at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in 17 of 18 tries, according to news accounts. That’s a security failure rate of 95 percent.

A similar sting in 2015 yielded similarly dismal results in major airports throughout the U.S. Here in Cayman, airport security staff detect contraband that made it through other airports with regularity.

Those are failures of execution, not a lack of regulations.

These new procedures come at a particularly inopportune time in Cayman, as we are midway through much-needed improvements and expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport. Our one consolation is that construction-related congestion and confusion will lead to a more pleasant and comfortable (and yes, safer) environment.

If our experience of post-9/11 air travel has taught us anything, it’s that the layers of security bureaucracy (actually it’s an industry) are likely here to stay – making an already unpleasant experience even more unpleasant.

Before issuing more mindless, or useless, dicta, the bureaucrats at the TSA in the U.S. might want to ponder this asymmetry:

While the lines get longer (and tempers get shorter) at the so-called security checkpoints at airports, are the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants flooding across the southwest border of the United States being asked to remove their Nikes before proceeding on their unlawful journeys?


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  1. Editorial, what is it you are trying to say any way. How can you determine who is a tourist from a terrorist? It really pains my heart to have to read some of the blatant behavior by persons who are not even Caymanians and still will not give it up trying to tell us what color of draws we must wear.

  2. Cayman Compass , I have to disagree with the Editorial this time . Let’s look at trusting and knowing everyone today .
    We see fully dressed bank robbers , we see clean shaved suicidal terrorist , who thought that the 2 that robbed the jewelry store in Caymana bay were robbers , and look at. FIFA and CIFA , and so many more instances of trust and knowing people today . I have decided that it’s easier to just paint everyone with the same brush untill I have spent many years in getting to know you head to toe .

    But agree with extensive screening of people coming and leaving the Islands . One thing I would say to the Airport is go beyond the TSA requirements because sometimes they don’t cross all their t’s and dot their i’s . When I travel I don’t mind the security measures because I know that it’s done to keep me and everyone else safe .

  3. I have always been asked to remove my tablet and kindle in addition to the laptop , but what exactly does “heightened screening of electronic devices entail?. Are they to be placed in an explosive proof container and somehow be powered up by remote control?. Presumably this additional attention must entail more than X ray screening, but what, exactly?. I recently travelled from Heathrow to Miami and no additional security procedures were evident. Is Cayman now to be categorised with high risk countries when the only risk is someone stuffing few mangoes in their suitcase?.

    • Quite correct Roger. In Cayman as you alluded to all iPads Kindles laptops have been subject to seperate inspection for years. So what in new here? All a bit vague as I see it. Does it also apply to boarding a cruise ship? If not why not. Port authority needs advise, but only if they have a sensible answer.

  4. I have suggested before that:

    1. USA passengers who have a TSA pre-check card should be subject to minimal checking. As they would in a USA airport.

    2. We start a similar system for law abiding Cayman residents with a clean police record.

  5. Mr Linton ,
    your # 2 suggestion is one of issis recruiting tools to find people who are clean and not be suspicious , so they can carry out their attacks . That’s why it’s so hard to trust everyone today , and why security should be so tightly done .

    • Hi Ron
      Is there anything ISIS could possibly say to you or promise you that would persuade you to blow up a bunch of innocent people ?
      Me neither.
      The people who get sucked into this are typically loser young people who, to be blunt, couldn’t get a date in a brothel with a $100 Bill.
      So why waste time harassing people who are clearly never going to become terrorists?
      Focus instead on those who might.

  6. I agree with every line of this editorial.

    The United States intelligence budget is in billions, yet every new terrorist’ attack comes as a surprise to them.

    There were 4 major, “verifiable” radical Islamic attacks in 2016.
    -Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016: killed 49 and injured 53. The FBI investigated Mateen twice before his rampage, but did not take any substantive action.
    -Columbus, Ohio, November 28, 2016- injured 11 people
    -St. Cloud, Minnesota, September 17, 2016-injured nine people
    -New York City/New Jersey, September 17, 2016-injury of over 30 people
    All 4 attacks were committed by the USA residents or citizens and yelling “Allahu akbar!” was a definitive point to classify it as acts of terrorism.

    USA population is about 320 mil. 4/360 mil.=0.000000011111111 terr-acts per person.

    Now, in One Year on Average 17,012* American children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention.
    In One Year on Average (all ages) 114,994* people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention.
    (from Key Gun Violence Statistics*).

    So what is the ratio for American deaths in terrorism vs. gun violence? Do you still believe that insanity and absurdity of the TSA gestapo is justified?

  7. Whoever put this editorial together clearly has no experience of going through Israeli airport security. If you think TSA are tough try going through the El Al ’20 questions’ screening a few times. That’s the classic example of effective profiling but it takes at least 30 minutes to process each passenger.

    The reality of ORIA is that people turn up so disorganised it’s like the proverbial ‘herding cats.’ That’s what causes the problems, people arriving at the security check without a clue what they need to do and blocking up the lines. Based on my experience the screening process itself would be relatively painless but for the idiots you get stuck behind going through it.

    There’s an old terrorist saying that goes back to the UK’s 1984 Brighton bombing, ‘We only have to be lucky once – you will have to be lucky always.’ Let’s stay lucky.