While I dislike like everybody else having to go through the airports' "security theater", I don't get the logic behind the continuous lamentations claiming that these measures do nothing except inconveniencing people and wasting money.

What is the rationale behind this idea ? Is it based on claims by some influential person ? Or on some statistics ?

Is that idea based on the thought that they confiscate objects that can hardly be used to harm a flight ?

World leaders, at least in most non-third-world countries, cannot avoid listening to official experts. Are those experts thought to be wrong ? Or are there claims that some lobby, political or economical group or other entities benefits from excessive security measures ?

My answer to why airport security is such has always been that such measures are mostly useful because without them, even small, improvised or wannabe terrorists, or even just psychologically disturbed persons, would know that they can board with small knives, scissors, chemicals and other things that can easily be turned into attack devices. If that kind of people knew they can happily board with that, tragedies would happen unacceptably more often. Considering how common air travel became in the last decades, I would expect a carnage. Compared to cars, buses or trains, this is of course enormously more relevant for flights, as if there is a threat the plane cannot just pull over or brake and deal with the threat or wait for the emergency services to arrive. It either keeps flying under control or people die. The filter is not there to catch attackers, it's there to make them not attack. Are the complaints based on data showing that too few attackers are caught through these measures ?

The Wikipedia page about the "security theater" describes it as measures that are intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it, which means that that feeling of security is fake. It also mentions critiques like Many measures are put in place in reaction to past threats and "are ineffective at actually stopping terrorism, as potential attackers can simply change tactics." which to me means "it's useless to try to stop types of attack that happened in the past because attackers can also do attacks of other types", which makes no sense to me unless the success was measured like "either we stop all possible attacks or it doesn't matter how many we stop". So I can't rely on that page to find an answer to my doubt.

Note that my question is not of the type "why do they confiscate small knives and then I was served my inflight meal with a metal fork and kinfe ?". These situations are hopefully exceptions, and anyway the solution wouldn't be stopping confiscating small knives but stopping serving inflight meals with metal knives. I'm not asking about the logic behind finding these situations absurd.

My question is: what is the mainstream reasoning behind the widely shared idea that the current security measures are excessive and not useful ?

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    @GoodDeeds indeed. The title by itself is opinion based, but the question body is clear in asking about the "mainstream reasoning," which can be answered objectively by referring to media reports and other sources. I've voted to reopen. – phoog Apr 25 '20 at 19:55
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    I'm sorry, @SantiBailors, that won't help. You're still asking for folks to evaluate the effectiveness or use of security theatre, and those questions will necessarily require the answers to weigh the issues and give an opinion. This is a subject which is not subject to resolution and answer within the SE design. Take a look at the Help file here: travel.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask – DavidSupportsMonica Apr 25 '20 at 21:26
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    @DavidSupportsMonica Sorry but I can't agree. E.g. in theory it might well turn out that the idea became common when some influential person claimed so and corroborated that with biased data (which sometimes does happen). In that case wouldn't such an answer be perfectly objective? If in 2001 I asked why some people think the 9/11 attacks were willingly allowed or even performed by the government, would it have been opinion based, or an answer like "because this guy made this documentary with lies and people believed them" would have been objective enough ? Honest question, not rhetorical. – SantiBailors Apr 25 '20 at 21:59
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    @SantiBailors I might have voted to reopen it, if its length hadn’t disinclined me to spend several minutes ploughing through it. It’s probably the longest question I’ve ever seen on TSE, and it doesn’t appear to me that there’s an actual problem to be solved. See travel.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask – Traveller Apr 26 '20 at 7:39
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    Maybe this could be re-opened by asking for data sources and investigations on the effectiveness rather than "mainstream opinion". Example ABC reports that TSA fails 95% of there internal "red team" screening tests: abcnews.go.com/US/… – Hilmar Apr 26 '20 at 14:25

The current security measures are both excessive and not excessive enough. They inconvenience many people, but those who are willing to lie, cheat, steal, bribe etc can easily get around them.

For example take liquids. A plane was actually damaged with a small amount of liquid explosive that was put together in flight then left under a seat and blew up on the next flight. So we limit the liquids that can go through security. But people who can, say, print out their own label that says Saline Solution can bring a litre of anything through security. Maybe even two litres. So the security won't stop that, but it means people can't bring their half-finished drinks through.

Same with nail clippers, knives, screwdrivers, and so on. Yes, box cutters were used in the 9/11 hijackings. However, getting a box cutter through security is almost as trivial as printing a label. And things are sold after security that are mighty knife-like or that you could sharpen pretty quickly.

Screening all baggage for explosives is sensible, and doesn't slow people down, and isn't decried as security theatre. But the screening of passengers and carry ons, while it may have prevented some attacks, absolutely cannot prevent all attacks (for a variety of reasons; among other things consider a suicide bomber in the middle of a very long security lineup).

And no matter how strongly you screen the passengers and their stuff, what if they have a confederate who works in a restaurant (full of knives) after security, or who can bring in bottles of liquid explosive in their lunch container since they don't go through the same screening, who can drive right up to a plane and in some cases interact with passengers as they get on that plane? With enough money and time, you can meet people who have certain jobs or wait patiently for one of your team to get a certain job.

For this reason people say it's just theatre. It's there to make you feel that flying is safe. "Thanks for keeping us all safe" you say to the officer who rooted through your bag three times until they finally found and confiscated the little flat piece of metal that helps the bag hold its shape, the same bag that went through dozens of screenings before without anyone detecting that always-been-there piece of metal. Do you mean it? Do you feel safer knowing that someone eventually detected the stay in your bag and took it? Perhaps you do. That's what it's for.

What about the "but surely it prevents some attacks?" theory? Well, first, since the checks are widely publicized (everyone knows what they look for and how), a determined attacker can prepare a plan that is likely to get through. What's more, they can even practice -- there are no consequences to having your stuff taken at a security checkpoint, no list of names is kept, you can just try again next week with different stuff until you get through. The 9/11 hijackers did just this with the weaker security in place back then: they travelled week after week the same flights until the security staff got to know them and gave them much less scrutiny than other passengers. They were in suits, they flew this flight every Tuesday or whatever, and they got less searching as a result. While that plan wouldn't work now, others would.

Second, it can actually dilute other measures. If you believe it's not possible to get a knife through security, you may not do anything when you see something that appears to be a knife. The money spent paying people to confiscate nail clippers (not any more; apparently nail clippers are not the threat they once were) is not spent on behavioural analysts or having enough staff to be able to make everyone turn on their laptops or many of the things that happen, for example, at Israeli airports.

When word of the plan to blow up planes with liquid explosives first broke, there was a time on some flights when we could only carry on our passport and one clear bag with maybe a book in it. No laptop bags, no roll-a-boards, etc. Then security procedures got updated and we could have carry ons again. Those carry ons may have threats in them that the current process doesn't detect. But we are allowing them on believing the current process detects everything. Being overconfident in something that doesn't particularly work can blind you to other threats.

Also, before 9/11 people were not crashing planes and killing themselves and everyone else on board using nail clippers, tennis rackets, and whatnot. There were some crashes but the bad guys were not on the plane, they just figured out how to get the suitcase on the plane. There were some hijackings, but the planes didn't crash, they landed somewhere and usually all the hostages were released unharmed. 9/11 and the subsequent shoe bomber, underwear bomber etc changed the attitude of security people and brought in the idea that screening passengers was necessary and effective. It isn't particularly effective. Is it necessary? Only if there's a large pool of people you think want to bring a plane down however they can. (And perhaps you need some of them to be incompetent people who do so on a whim, spur of the moment, without bothering to plan, practice, bribe, etc, since you respond to "but you can get around it" with "What about the people who can't get around it?")

Malicious people can (and have been known to) bomb concerts, the checkin part of airports, subways, and other things, not just planes. Are they even trying to do planes any more? We don't know. Would they switch back to planes if we let up on the security? Maybe. But maybe instead they just try any of the dozens of ways of getting around the security instead. The fact that planes blow up less these days doesn't mean the security stuff is working.

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    while it may have prevented some attacks, absolutely cannot prevent all attacks (for a variety of reasons; among other things consider a suicide bomber in the middle of a very long security lineup). The OP explicitly addresses this point, and there sure is some value in stopping some attacks. And certainly a bomb in a plane is more dangerous that a bomb at a security line, because if the plane is damaged and falls everybody inside will be a fatality. For instance, attacks on trains do cause way less victims than a single downed 747. – SJuan76 Apr 25 '20 at 18:44
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    Good points, but I can't see how they explain why the checks are considered useless. You explained well how checks try to make us feel safe and how that is mostly wishful thinking and how checks can be fooled by those who are willing to (but I must add also good enough at) lie etc., but the checks still weed out or discourage many would-be attackers. Even if it's still possible to bring cutters and such beyond security, how does this make the check useless in people's mind? If anything it seems to call for more. I'm trying to understand why people think that the checks make no difference. – SantiBailors Apr 25 '20 at 18:44
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    @KateGregory Not at best. At best they don't come back. At worst they come back and try again. It depends who they were, why they were doing it, this kind of things. This is somehow the core of my question. I agree that it's impossible to block them all, but I struggle to understand how we go from that to complaining about the checks and maybe even considering them useless. Thanks for your additions though, I'll go through them. – SantiBailors Apr 25 '20 at 19:33
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    @KateGregory Actually I find it easy to imagine someone trying to start a carnage, having to give up, and not trying again. I find it even normal. The reason why you can't imagine that is probably linked with the reason why you have trouble imagining why anyone would blow up a plane, which as we know does happen. E.g. if that pilot who committed suicide by crashing a passenger plane had to give up that day, it's very possible that he wouldn't have tried the same thing next time. Also, in the context at hand, having to give up can easily be due to being arrested. – SantiBailors Apr 25 '20 at 19:59
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    Procedures are explicitly more relaxed for young children and people over 75. So anyone willing to bring down a plane he’s riding on can use his child or grandparent to wear C4 impregnated shoes or belt. Once I had to wear a heart monitor through the scanner. Opened my shirt so they could see it—they made no attempt to look closer. Xrays of bags don’t distinguish harmless plastics from explosives of the same density. – WGroleau Apr 25 '20 at 21:28

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