How best to protect America from the newly urgent threat of terrorists going the wrong way through airport security? Human tire spikes? Subway turnstiles? Boom Boom Room bouncers? Nothing. Nothing will ever completely stop idiots from wrong-waying airport security.
You are probably aware of tonight's high-level security breachtastrophy, wherein a guy walked the wrong way through a Newark Airport security checkpoint. Cue Michael Chertoff on CNN, urging the TSA to adopt new advanced scanners which can read passengers' minds to see if they are thinking about wrong-waying their way into the airport. (Or, if they object to the scanners, they can opt for a human mind-reading from a TSA psychic.)
But we will never be able to keep 100% of idiots from entering airports through the exit lanes in airport security. History bears this out:
Probably the most infamous airport wrong-waying in modern aviation history was the 1999 case of the mystery bag man. This idiot sprinted past an unarmed guard at Chicago's O'Hare Airport with a tan canvas bag, leading to the cancellation of 120 flights and the evacuation of 6,000 passengers. After an extensive manhunt neither the man nor his canvas bag was ever found.
You might argue this was pre-9/11 and that, surely, airport security has advanced since then to the point that today's wrong-waying could be considered a freak incident. You would be wrong! November 16th, 2001. A nation in shock. A man in a T-shirt and jeans. He sprinted through security, down an up escalator, and disappeared, stranding 1,000 passengers and canceling more than 600 flights. Turns out the guy was late for a Georgia-Mississippi football game and had run down the escalator to grab the camera bag he'd left in the so-called 'sterile zone'. Wow, what an idiot! (Also, what an idiotic name for a zone!)
Here is a really funny one: In 2002, two screeners fell asleep at their post at Miami International Airport. A couple of passengers wrong-wayed through security and half the airport had to be evacuated. (Sort of similar: Last month, a security checkpoint at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was left unattended for 90 minutes. No one wrong-wayed, according to surveillance footage.) The idiots in this case were the screeners.
Then there was the man who casually walked through an exit lane at an Oakland International Airport checkpoint in 2007. A law enforcement spokesperson spun out this bit of poetry to explain what had happened: "Like salmon going upstream, he was able to get up to that exit lane undetected." This idiot was graceful and stealthy.
And there are a lot more. The essential problem isn't the TSA: It's idiots. Like salmon returning to spawn, year after year, decade after decade, some idiotic airline passengers will always swim against the increasingly complex electromagnetic currents we deploy to stop them. Let's hope terrorists aren't as dumb as idiots.