Liddick: The TSA’s party in your pants
Thanksgiving is two days away. Feel like flying? Yes, the double entendre was deliberate.
Evidently we have turned a new page in airline security, in which government-vetted and authorized agents engage in a full-frontal feelfest in the name of keeping us all secure in the air. I know that I – with my nice titanium knee that always sets the metal detector squealing – feel protected like never before.
This latest exercise in over-the-top intrusion comes from a peculiarity of government. Conservative or liberal, Bush, Clinton or Obama, they all want to be seen as “doing something” about important concerns – in this case, the safety of air travel. The problem is, their responses are deeply colored by political attitudes and they are usually reactive rather than proactive. Consequently, they inconvenience many to close the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Why do you take off your shoes when passing through airline security? Because Richard Reid, a British Muslim, failed to blow up a plane with his. Who stopped him? Passengers.
Why are TSA agents currently authorized to have a party in your pants? Because Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Muslim “panty-bomber,” in the words of one political wag, failed to blow up a plane with his extensively-modified shorts. Who stopped him? Passengers.
Actually, the Abdulmutallab case reveals much of the dysfunctionality in our approach to airline security. More than a week before his hot-pants escapade, his father told the CIA in Nigeria that he feared his son was up to no good. The would-be bomber bought a one-way ticket in Yemen. When he boarded the plane, he had no passport. But no red flags were raised until Mr. Abdulmutallab’s underwear started smoking over Detroit. This was a failure far beyond not running one’s hands high enough up the man’s inner thighs.
And despite the president’s assertion, there are better security alternatives than booking a permanent seat on Grope Air. How about taking a page out of the Israeli book? They are under constant threat, but seem to have been successful at keeping the Richard Reids of the world off their airplanes. How? Well, they – gasp – profile. They know the history of terrorism as well as we, but they have chosen to act on that knowledge and to date, it’s worked rather well. When 80-year-old Norwegian grannies start blowing up planes, they may have to shift their attentions. But until then …
Admittedly, their approach could never work here in the land of Those Who Must Not Be Offended. Instead, we must continue to treat airline travelers not as individuals whose bad intent might be revealed by a profile and an informal interview, but as walking collections of things: bottles of liquid, shoes, underwear. Motivation and history must be resolutely ignored, to avoid even the appearance of “bias.” I expect that, as terrorists continue to innovate in their use of objects, the nation’s proctologists may anticipate full employment for decades to come.
Further proof that we are interested in the image, not the reality, of anti-terrorism is the trial of Ahmed Khalifan Ghallani. Mr. Ghallani, you will recall, was acquitted of all but one of the 285 charges in his civilian trial in New York. He was captured at an al-Qaeda site in Pakistan in 2004. He was sought in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which left more than 220 people dead, including 12 Americans. It was pretty clear that he bought the truck used in the Tanzania attack, and the gas cylinders as well. According to testimony disallowed by the judge, he also bought the TNT and detonators. His cell phone was used to coordinate the two attacks.
He was found guilty on one charge of “conspiring to destroy government buildings and property.” The prosecutor in the case says he will press for a life sentence, but this is bravado; life in prison for a vandalism conviction? If he receives more than 10 years, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even at 20 years, it’s still 11 murders for each year.
This leniency comes courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder, who insists that public, civil trials are the way to deal with terrorists, thus emphasizing our “openness” to nations such as Russia, Iran and China. Mr. Ghallani’s attorney agrees: The verdict proves that the American system of jurisprudence “is the greatest in the world,” possibly because his client was “… acquitted of 284 out of 285 counts.” Too bad about the dead in Nairobi and Dar-as-Salaam, but I’m certain neither they nor their families would object to being sacrificed to this glorification of American liberalism and tolerance.
Meanwhile, if you’re traveling by air, get ready to drop trou ….
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