A few years back, an aerospace executive quipped that every time he flew and was forced to remove his shoes, he was grateful Richard Reid was not known as the Underwear Bomber.
Well, on Christmas Day, while the Underwear Bomber was comfortably nestled in his seat in the air, Transportation Security Administration agents across the nation were confronting thousands of potential security breaches at airline terminals.
"I'm going to have to confiscate that tube of Crest," the agent informs you. "The packaging exceeds the 3-ounce limit on liquids."
Surely, millions of travelers feel safer knowing that their boarding passes will be stamped by an eagle-eyed agent who, with a fleeting look, can distinguish between the wicked and the decent. And who among us is not grateful that all footwear will be subjected to a painstaking examination by our best and brightest?
It's simple. The longer the wait, the safer we are.
Washington, too, is on the case. The TSA has spent over $40 billion on aviation security since its inception in 2004. The Department of Homeland Security -- an organization created to allow disparate agencies to work in incompetent concert -- doggedly engages yesteryear's terror threats by rapidly acting to thwart security breaches after the fact.
In the face of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear bombing attempt, you can be sure we will ratchet up precautionary measures. Most will be useless. All will be annoying.
Next on the docket might be a quick TSA cupping of the groin before boarding. Or, perhaps, a secondary frisking after the strip-search machine has its way with us.
My hope is that next jihadist doesn't stick something in an unmentionable cavity or utilize a hollowed-out book to hide his explosives, as we may end up with nothing more to read than the airline mall magazine as we sit in anguish.
For the terrorist suspect -- you -- there are helpful clues regarding what is permissible on the TSA's website before heading to the airport hours before your flight.
A passenger may not, for instance, carry "Box Cutters" on a plane. "Axes/Ice Picks"? No. "Meat Cleavers"? No. "Sabers"? No. "Bows and Arrows"? No. How about "Hatchets"? Nope. Thankfully, someone at the TSA took the time to let everyone know that "Realistic Replicas of Explosives" are not permissible carry-on items.
A real explosive, like pentaerythritol tetranitrate, though, is a different story -- although, apparently, it is only permissible if you've traveled to Republic of Yemen a couple of times and your father has alerted U.S. authorities that you may be a jihadist.
Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, now says that the bombing attempt by this -- thankfully -- incompetent terrorist was a failure of the nation's entire aviation security system. The president has ordered a full review of the situation.
But if someone like Abdulmutallab can circumvent security, why are you being shaken down over a shampoo bottle?
As Bob Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, recently wrote, this failure reflects the flawed thinking of aviation security policy, namely a fixation "on keeping bad things -- as opposed to bad people -- off of airplanes."
It is an unavoidable fact that these "bad people" tend to come from certain places and subscribe to a certain religious affiliation. Focus on them.
From the evidence, it is clear that it is impossible to cover every base, but the wasted billions shaking down the average passenger offers little more than psychological comfort.
While your life or business or vacation hangs in the balance, the TSA worker moves at a glacial pace, throwing painfully nonsensical queries your way and holding up the lives of millions. For what?
Recently, I was reading a helpful blog set up by the TSA, wherein passengers were given space to vent. Complaints included rude treatment, inflexible rules, long lines, and seemingly illogical and inconsistent policies. Yet, when it comes to security (and most things that relate to flying in the air), most travelers were willing to capitulate to some discomfort in the name of safety.
Without the safety, however, it is just discomfort. And if we are asked to remove our underwear at the airport, well, the terrorists have won.
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