Sunday, January 31, 2010


The last time I traveled via airline was early 2007, when the family visited Austin, Texas, and Boston, Massachusetts, so I could run a couple of marathons. The wife and kids were happy to go on some big trips and, to a lesser degree, to cheer me on near the finish line. Except in Boston where it was near-hurricane conditions, and they would have preferred to stay in the hotel with the cable TV.

Each time we passed into an airport terminal, heading east or west, we had to take off our shoes. Ten separate feet, some more stinky than others; then we huddled together, leaning on each other so as not to fall over while trying to put on shoes in a standing position. I hadn’t the forethought to put everyone in slip-ons.

The reason we were subjected to this terrible treatment, of course, was the infamous shoe bomber from December 2001. He tried to blow up an airplane by secreting explosives in his shoe, so we must now all present our footwear to screening agents who scrupulously check for the same. I don’t believe there has ever been evidence of a second shoe bomber, yet this “security measure” continues. Certainly the Baxter five passed easily through the screening process.

Eight years after the shoe idiot we met the underwear bomber, who—using the same basic chemicals, and also buying his airline ticket with a large amount of cash and checking no luggage—tried to blow up his own airplane. Just like his predecessor, he failed.

If we haven’t learned anything throughout this process, all airline travelers will soon be presenting their underwear for analysis. This will no doubt slow the access points even further, although it might be fun just to hang out at the airport and watch our fellow citizens being debased and degraded.

Instead of once again chasing tactics after they have been attempted, I suggest we simply begin profiling passengers. There have been no terrorist incidents involving grumpy men traveling with their wives and teenage children, so I wouldn't experience any difficulty personally—other than putting up with the teenagers. Conversely, anyone buying a full price ticket over the counter with cash and checking no luggage despite a lengthy—and possibly international—flight should immediately be pulled aside and interviewed.

I don’t care if his name is Abdul or Bob. Something weird is going on, and either he is a terrorist or he is a terrifically bad planner. Either way he could use some solid advice from the authorities.

The protection of civil rights in these United States is important, but it should not preclude rational thought and reasonable safety measures. A few questions by a trained professional should be enough.

“Are you carrying any explosives?” “Do you promise you are not carrying any explosives?” “Would you mind if I waved this lit match near your crotch?”

If we don’t put some simple profiling steps in place, not only are we at risk of further attacks by lunatics, but we will also face more invasive techniques that are currently being developed. One of those is the full body scan, which apparently might show some private parts. Other than the screener snickering from behind his little station, I don’t know why I would worry about that. Is it an invasion of my privacy to make sure that I don’t have explosives taped down there? Perhaps those ACLU nuts would prefer the open flame routine.

Another idea being thrown around is the mind scan. Have each traveler look at a flurry of images and monitor their pulse, blood pressure, and eyeballs, all the while analyzing their autonomic responses.

Baby chick. Check.

Birthday party balloons. Check.

AK-47. Pulse rate quickens.

Dewy forest glen. Check.

“Wait a minute, go back one.”

I think this possibility actually makes some sense. Lie detectors work the same way, and Mr. Subliminal made a similar point on Saturday Night Live many years ago. You can’t check every two-ounce bottle and every body crevice for every kind of possible weapon. As soon as you focus on what the last guy did they come up with something new.

Let’s learn from what already works. Where is the safest large airport in the world? Israel, where they unashamedly profile airline passengers. Security personnel talk to every single flyer even if just to ask how they are doing, and if there is a hint of suspicion the person in question is taken aside for a more in-depth conversation. Guess what? They have very few problems (other than the tiny packages of Israeli peanuts given to passengers). And even though there are plenty of lawyers in Israel, they are not lining up to sue the airlines for invasion of privacy.

The safety and well being of the average Israeli is increased; we just don’t want to do the same because we don’t want our feelings hurt.

Sometimes it seems as if ACLU lawyers are more of a threat to our way of life than terrorists.

No comments:

Post a Comment