The more I think about it, the more it seems the TSA did the right thing, in saying pilots should be subjected to the same security filters as everybody else. (Note that I AM NOT DEFENDING THE TSA’S PROCEDURES.)
A lot of critics have been saying, “Those idiots! The pilot doesn’t need to take a bomb on the plane; he can just crash it!”
But hold on a second. On a big commercial flight, there are always two pilots, right? So if one of them is Jihadi Joe, and he starts banking toward the Sears Tower, might not his co-pilot tackle him? If so, then it would be good to know that Jihadi Joe has only his knuckles and his belt to use as weapons.
Furthermore, as the people in the comments of this David Friedman post pointed out, what’s to stop a compromised pilot from passing explosives to others after he gets through the checkpoint?
This is really a serious point. Think about it: Suppose you are a terrorist trying to take down a major commercial airliner, and the TSA only makes pilots go through metal detectors. Now you could pull a first-season-of-24 stunt and kidnap the daughter of some pilot, and tell him you’d let her go once he did a kamikaze at work.
But such a pilot would be stupid to obey you, because even if he were willing to trade his own life–plus dozens of passengers–for his daughter’s, he obviously wouldn’t trust you to follow through.
BUT, suppose you instead said to the pilot, “We will give you plastic explosives to smuggle in your pants through the checkpoint. Then you hand them off to Mustapha at the Taco Bell near Gate A4. After you do this three days in a row, we will let your daughter go.”
In this type of scenario, I think the pilot in question is much more likely to comply, especially if the terrorists don’t actually do anything with the explosives until they’re done with the guy.
Hence, I don’t think it was crazy for the TSA to initially insist that pilots go through the same procedures as everybody else.
P.S. Check out this brilliant quip from David R. Henderson (whose post originally brought me to Friedman’s):
“[O]ne should be skeptical of government running airline security when that same government still requires that flight attendants show you how to fasten a seat belt.”