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March 17. 2013 5:32PM

Your Turn, NH: Letting knives on flights sets airline security back to before 911

As the son of two parents who work in the airline industry (my mom is a flight attendant and my dad is a pilot), I am shocked and appalled by the Transportation Security Administration's decision to permit small knives on commercial airplanes. The TSA recently announced that it would roll back its prohibition on small knives and various sporting equipment to allow TSA agents to focus on finding items that pose a "larger" threat, such as explosives.

Put simply, this decision is an embarrassment to our national security and will destroy a decade's worth of vigilance and hard work. There are so many things wrong with it that I have a difficult time finding where to begin.

We can start by looking at the justifications given by TSA Administrator John Pistole. Pistole claims that aviation security has improved since 9/11 and that the chances of a similar plot against a commercial airliner are slim. Talk about the epitome of naïveté.

Does Pistole really believe that the threat of terrorism has suddenly dissipated into thin air? Have radical jihadis unanimously decided to stop targeting the West out of frustration or a nascent change of heart? Our military campaign against al-Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups has been effective in the short term, but even an optimist would admit that we are a far cry from eliminating terrorism entirely.

If anything, our actions in the Middle East have facilitated more resentment and inspired future extremists. Why would we want to provide al-Qaida with another chance to attack? After two wars and the loss of thousands of American lives, we're handing our enemy an opportunity to strike at the heart of our country.

Knives have been banned on airplanes for more than 11 years now; how did the TSA come to the conclusion that 2013 was the year when we could stop worrying about these weapons and the threat that they pose to flight crews and passengers?

Pistole has described this decision as part of a broader effort to embrace what he calls 'risk-based security.' Risk-based security emphasizes the detection of liquid explosives, non-metallic IEDs and other sorts of improvised explosives, rather than hand-held weapons.

Apparently the TSA has determined that the former represents a greater threat to airline security than the latter. This is why small knives (no longer than 2.3 inches), hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, pool cues, ski poles and even golf clubs will be allowed on planes starting April 25. A TSA spokesman can be quoted as saying that these items do not "pose a catastrophic threat to the operation of the aircraft."

While I agree that improvised explosives pose a grave threat to an airplane, I cannot comprehend why the TSA would pardon hand-held weapons. Have we learned nothing from 9/11? The 19 hijackers used hand-held weapons, including box cutters, to overtake the flight crews of all four aircraft.

How can the TSA honestly believe that knives do not pose a catastrophic threat to the operation of the aircraft? If the TSA's recent decision is implemented, the deaths of those flight attendants and pilots on 9/11 will have been in vain.

What's more, former TSA chief Kip Hawley has publicly stated, "they ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes. bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that."

This statement encapsulates an egregious lack of judgment and prescience. According to the 9/11 Commission, pre-9/11 security philosophy generally held that, "other than for guns, large knives, explosives and incendiaries, determining what was prohibited and what was allowable was up to the common sense of the carriers and their screening contractors." The TSA's latest decision will take us back to this negligent climate, completely undermining 11 years of thorough security, attentiveness and diligence.

The TSA exists to save lives and to prevent 9/11 from ever happening again. Believe me, I wait in the same lines as everyone else. I have to go through monotonous security checkpoints. I have to endure the occasional pat down. Yes, it's annoying, but I don't complain because I understand what's at stake. All it takes is a single weapon to slip through security before a terrorist can take the lives of hundreds of innocent people. I was 12 years old on 9/11, and I will always remember how frightened I felt. I pray that I never have to experience it again.

Ethan Gauvin of Stratham is a University of New Hampshire student studying at the University of Oxford in England this semester.


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