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Aviation Security: A Nation of Boobs

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Scrolling through Russ's blog on the Northwest Flight 253 terrorism incident, I noticed readers made this comment in the context on how inane aviation security has become: "Well, what would you do?"

What indeed.

First, in reading over the timeline on this incident, I was stunned by the realization that we have become a nation of incompetent boobs. We can't reasonably secure our air transportation system against even the most unimaginative attacks without the agencies charged with doing it subjecting us to rules that are universally seen as ineffective and idiotic on their face. We pay government employees a lot of money to waste our time with shoe x-rays and toothpaste segregation. They waste more of that money harassing the people who use small airports. We can't fix our bridges, regulate banks against rapacious greed or even do the basic important stuff, like figure out what to do about immigration. It's sad, really. We all have a role in this because we continue to elect people who put ideology and political power above governance, on the left and the right.

So, if I were in charge, I'd first fire Janet Napolitano. She might have been a great governor, but what the DHS job needs is a cop with agency experience. I can think of two: Ray Kelly and William Bratton. Both are tough guys who know law enforcement. Our biggest mistake was to militarize counter terrorism as a primary response and then call it a war. It is, in the end, a law enforcement problem and within that context, it is an intelligence problem.

DHS knows this, too, otherwise it would not have had Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab on a watch list. It was too incompetent and too bound up in interagency squabbling and bureaucracy to carry out its prime directive: keeping bad actors away from the transportation system. Instead, it reacts with moronic directives like prohibiting passengers from going to the lavatory an hour before landing. This is so lame it makes me embarrassed for our country. I'm less hardover about the supposed loss of liberty—seizing your toothpaste is hardly unlawful search and seizure—than I am the towering incompetence.

It's no better in Canada, where the security apparatus reacted by at least temporarily banning carry-on luggage entirely for U.S.-bound passengers, with the pathetic claim that security lines now move much faster. Try that in the U.S. and the airlines can probably say goodbye to half of their business travelers, the market segment that keeps the industry afloat.

I'm writing this blog in Tampa Airport, where I have just come through TSA security on my way to a business appointment. It wasn't as bad as I expected. My bag got swabbed because it's loaded with camera gear. It could have been worse, but we now know and have known the whole of TSA is an expensive, embarrassing sham.

So with Napolitano on her way back to Arizona, here's what I'd do. I'd direct the new guy to develop a behavioral profile system that would stand a court test. (And please, spare me the cliché about "political correctness.") Profiling will get challenged in court, but I think there's a taste for it now that we're all getting tired of DHS punishing the innocent citizenry with pointless rules in reaction to its screw-ups and mishandling of the basic intelligence on which counter terrorism should run. I'd stop x-raying shoes. I'd stop the silly practice of limiting toothpaste and shaving cream to three ounces.

TSA spends vast sums of money x-raying, probing and poking the same frequent travelers over and over again. Some time ago, an express ID system was proposed for people willing to submit to security checks. It went nowhere. I'd revive it.

I'd further develop the equivalent of an internal affairs division for DHS and start firing a lot of workers and managers for just basic incompetence. We've all seen this when slogging through the lines, but the worst of it is the rudeness and lack of consideration many of these workers show toward the people they are paid to protect. They are becoming as bad as Customs agents. There are exceptions, I will concede, but they seem fewer and farther between.

I'd give that internal division the power to force these agencies to do the hard work of front end intel and to develop ways of acting on it rapidly. I'd look for a plan in 60 days, results in 90. I'd further direct them to step up intel efforts to track a potential nuclear or radiological attack. A downed airliner would like a pinprick compared to a loose nuke.

I'd also direct DHS to get off its duff and get its high tech watchlist/no-fly database technology in place. It has been delayed for years, again because of incompetence and agency infighting. If an online seller of shoes or car parts can put together a system that pulls up your name and address when you phone in, can't our government figure out and implement a workable means of getting its intel into the field?

Further, dogs have been proven to be reliable detectors of explosives. They'd have caught AbdulMutallab's crotch caper if he'd shown up at the airport out of the blue, which he didn't. An expansion of the canine program has been proposed but, again, DHS botched this. We won World War II in less time that it has taken DHS to implement these meaningful security improvements.

It's fashionable to be cynical about all this—I certainly am—and to complain about the hackneyed political correctness. But as a nation, we have to do something about it and the first step is to just stop looking like such bumbling idiots.

Comments (72)

Well said - thank you!

Posted by: Martin Weinhous | December 31, 2009 6:59 AM    Report this comment

The next time I'm surveyed about aviation security, I'll forward them this.

Posted by: Brian Gawronski | December 31, 2009 7:05 AM    Report this comment

I agree with just about everything you've said, but will not spare you the cliché about “political correctness”. THAT, sir is the problem. Develop a program … sure. But the fact is that we already spend billions on intelligence for just this sort of thing, but when we identify someone requiring extra attention, we don’t do it. Why? This is what really makes us a nation of boobs! Until we’re ready to be correct without being political, we need to quit throwing money away on DHS, TSA, NSA, etc. Just how stupid can we be?

Posted by: David Reville | December 31, 2009 7:14 AM    Report this comment

Perfect.

Posted by: Scott Keeler | December 31, 2009 7:17 AM    Report this comment

Ray Kelly would be an excellent choice! As for political correctness - your are right David Reville - that is THE problem - let's just get this fixed and get on with it....

Posted by: Joan Fleischman | December 31, 2009 7:23 AM    Report this comment

This piece is absolutely brilliant, and I share Paul's embarrassment. I, too, am sick of the nonsense surrounding more aggressive profiling or the "privacy" issues surrounding full body scans. I also believe that this piece reflects the opinions of the great majority of travellers.

I'm going to forward this to my congressman and senator(s) -- I'm sure I'll get a polite acknowledgement, but little else. We need to figure out how to actually make something happen. Any ideas?

Posted by: Dan Dickson | December 31, 2009 7:31 AM    Report this comment

Political correctness has been the inherent flaw in TSA's approach from day one. For the last 30 or 40 years, El Al has quite successfully based their security program on profiling. TSA's approach is inherently flawed because of their nonsensical assumption that everyone is equally likely to be a terrorist. Like good little robots, they obsess about keeeping bad substances off of airplanes, while ignoring the fact that is is bad PEOPLE they need to keep from boarding. This is accomplished by profiling and extra layers of scrutiny for those who fit the profile.

Posted by: George True | December 31, 2009 7:54 AM    Report this comment

What's needed is a thorough and efficient screening system that all passengers must go through. No exceptions. A frequent flyer program means someone gets on an aircraft without screening. No thanks.

A Nation of Boobs will take on a whole new meaning after full body scans become the rule.

Posted by: Robert Haller | December 31, 2009 7:56 AM    Report this comment

I don't have too much of an issue with privacy on the full body scans, but I have some. The question I have is whether they use ionizing radiation as in CT-Scans. An new study came out last week connecting an increase risk of cancer with CT-Scans. Think of the guy who has to go through six or ten scans a week. He'll light up like a Christmas tree after a month. If the scans don't use x-rays, then what do they use? And don't tell me it's such a low dose that it won't hurt us. Radiation accumulates.

Posted by: David Affinito | December 31, 2009 8:29 AM    Report this comment

Trying to be politically correct has made us into a nation of incompetent boobs. You are absolutely correct, we need a "behavioral profile system". When people hear the word profiling they automatically assume a profile includes the color of a person's skin. Behavioral profiling has nothing to do with skin color.

We need security but the current system is just ridiculous. For example, the rule that a traveler can only bring one bag through security at London Heathrow. I was caught in this fiasco which changing planes in Heathrow last year. There was a one hour line to get through security. When you got there there was a sign that said only one bag through security. Now you had a choice, go to the front desk and check you bag, back through security and miss your flight, or leave one bag behind. Most people choose the latter evidenced by the huge (and I mean 6 or more feet tall) pile of second bags. Did any of them blow up? No. So what good did it do?

I have over 3 million miles on commercial carriers but I hate flying these days.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | December 31, 2009 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Well said Paul. I agree that security is a law enforcement problem and not a military problem. The best secutity I ever saw was when we flew El Al from New York to Tel Aviv. We were all separated, questioned individually and thoroughly and ALL of our bags were hand searched. We also knew there were security people on board the flight. Safest I have ever felt on an international flight.

Posted by: Byron Work | December 31, 2009 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Yes, Paul, I agree, we are a nation of boobs. I also agree that the security procedures are in place are for the most part ineffective. However, what we as a society are not understanding is this: if someone wants to do something to an airplane (or a bus or a bridge or anything else) they will do it. That's the limitation of a free society. Unless we are prepared to live in a police state, we can always be a victim. Yes, the bureaucracy and infighting between various agencies in our government are part of the problem but nevertheless even if all these problems are eliminated, someone will still be able to do harm if they really want to. Yes, there is a lot more the government could do, but, profiling will not eliminate all the bad guys, nor will the other measures being thrown around. All of these have limitations. No, the only way to be truly sure is to institute draconian measures (strip searches, no baggage whatsoever, searching all containers, by hand, entering the US, eliminating companies such as FedEx, UPS, and the USPS) and even then, these measures require us to rely on the people doing their job to do it accurately 100% of the time. Until we treat the real problem (disaffected societies) this problem will remain.

Posted by: Todd Lardy | December 31, 2009 8:51 AM    Report this comment

Terrorists, like those who "go postal", tend to ply their trade in weapon free zones. If someone attempts to take control of my airplane I'm going to end the day with three or four less 40S&W cartridges in my possession. Its too bad the same cannot occur on a commercial flight.

Posted by: Sean O'toole | December 31, 2009 9:00 AM    Report this comment

Good piece, Paul. Completely agree (how could anyone, anywhere not agree?).

Todd Lardy's point is a good one: that we (as a society) have to acknowledge the trade off between basic personal freedoms and convenience versus risk from terrorists. We're happy to accept 45,000 road deaths in the US each year, but apparently will subject ourselves to any pointless indignity to avoid (say) 300 deaths per year from terrorism on commercial airliners.

Of course, it is in no politician's interest to ask the public to become rational about this balance of risk... so we'll continue to live in a state which ratchets up security after every new attempted attack, but will never ratchet down.

Speaking as a liberal, it strikes me that the Democrats find the unquestioned power that they get through perpetuating 'wars' of various types just as attractive as the previous administration did. There is no incentive at all for either party to modify this posture. (And of course one could point at how this aligns very nicely with the military-industrial complex's interests).

Posted by: Ceri Reid | December 31, 2009 9:09 AM    Report this comment

We are truly a nation of boobs if we think that ANY government agency can do ANYTHING well. The TSA(FAA, and every other government agency) are unable to do it because they don't care about the people on the airplanes, they just care about protecting their jobs. WE THE PEOPLE are the first, last, and only line of defense against terrorism. WE must protect ourselves. When we allow government to do it we endanger ourselves while spending our precious resources wastefully.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | December 31, 2009 9:11 AM    Report this comment

While I agree with most of Paul's sentiment, I take exception to the notion that this all should have been handled as a criminal matter.

My suggestion, rather than making the "panty-bomber" headline news as a victim, oh poor misguided youth who then "lawyered-up"...I would have preferred that he be taken immediately to a dark room, have the crap beat out of him, waterboarded, knee-capped, etc...after all, he was attempting mass-murder of 200+...it may not be pretty but I for one argue it's time we fight back rather than roll over!

Posted by: Roger Hamilton | December 31, 2009 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Great idea Roger, except that it should be done by the passengers on the plane instead of TSA goons.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | December 31, 2009 9:25 AM    Report this comment

I suspect the people currently running the show could not, even with luck, improve the "system". They need an entirely new approach. Ironically, they aldeady have it. The FAST cards used by truckers are a hint.

You need an offensive, rather than defensive approach. Every potential traveler to the US needs to pre-qualify and be issued a SMART card. The card would contain, in a memory chip, only encoded keys. When scanned at an immigration desk, the keys would retrieve from a secure mainframe in, say, the Virginia countryside mugshots and other bio data to be presented to the requesting terminal.

Valid for up to 3 years, costing say, $200 they could from the basis for numerous other "hoops" that could be added later.

Posted by: mike mcguire | December 31, 2009 9:27 AM    Report this comment

I have always believed and still do that we need to practice active profiling v anti-profiling. The most cost effective security system is to know your customer. Wal-mart and every mail/internet order tracks what color and size of the last shoes you bought. Data bases are out there and unless you move to the wilds of Borneo, it is a fact. A Federal data base for airline passengers could hasten boarding and instead of of having Thousands Standing Around (TSA)and with a quit check to confirm you are who you are, and on the way. Over 700 million people fly a year, the current methods are wasteful. For those that fear that their 4th admendment will be violated if they submit to the datebase, there is a line for you that will include additional warrantless searches with those that have been determined to vacation with AQ... If the device is internal, the wonderful under the clothing scanners will not be enough.

Posted by: Chuck West | December 31, 2009 9:31 AM    Report this comment

Roy, outstanding suggestion! The passengers would do a much better job of extracting any info he might have had, and I suspect they would have enjoyed every moment of it.

Posted by: Roger Hamilton | December 31, 2009 9:31 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps the time of all the alphabet agencies is past. Why not combine all those expensive resources into one agency that just might get something done? I don't feel that I'm giving up any of my precious rights if I could know that my life was not in danger every time I decided to travel. The people who threaten us feel that they have the right to their convictions, so why don't we show them what their rights are worth? I'm tired of having sob sisters cry about the poor downtrodden whatevers. I earned what I have through hard work and I'll work even harder to protect those rights. You want somebody tough, put in a grandmother!!!

Posted by: Esther Grupenhagen | December 31, 2009 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Yes, we are becoming a nation of boobs-- sniveling, whining boobs. I'm afraid we are a nation and culture in decline. We've lost our collective intestinal fortitude and desire to achieve in everything from education and science to national security. We continually surrender our freedoms to an increasingly bureaucratic and reactive (instead of proactive) government and increasingly expect someone or something else to solve our problems rather then accept personal responsibility and solve them ourselves. We destined to be the next Great Britain by the end of this century.... I think a clean sweep of the incumbents in November would send the right message.

Posted by: Lawrence Portouw | December 31, 2009 10:10 AM    Report this comment

Combine all the alphabet agencies? I thought that is what Dept of Homeland Security was supposed to do?!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | December 31, 2009 10:17 AM    Report this comment

There's been plenty of time passage for EVERYONE to KNOW that large quantities of toothpaste, etc. cannot be carried onboard. There's nothing wrong with that rule and it goes a long way to reducing screening-time of pax. (Airline travellers can shop at places other than SAMS for toiletries!) ...to be cont'd...

Posted by: George Horn | December 31, 2009 10:30 AM    Report this comment

It's quite sensible to screen ALL pax, including people in NUN's costumes, regardless of their apparent age, The 11-month-old Obama Admin. is not responsible for the failures of the 8-year-old Bush Admin. failed security system. But it IS responsible for not implementing a more sensible system IMMEDIATELY! Armed Marshals on EVERY flight and marshal-arts training REQUIRED for EVERY flight crewmember should be mandatory. Full-body scanning/screening is also appropriate. (I'm certain that software can be created to auto-detect stuff that isn't physiological and thereby protect "privacies".) The irony of the argument of the "van KneeJerks" of the world is that while they and their Libertarian friends decry the use of political correctness... they equally decry the loss of citizen's rights. You cannot have it both ways. Meanwhile, it's time the Muslim world either denounce and actively shut-down their fundamentalist-terrorist brethren...or be prepared to be fundamentally identified WITH them. Same thing for fundamentalist Christians. "There is nothing more dangerous than a Religious Extremist...of ANY FLAVOR." - John Sharp, Texas Candidate for the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, as a corporate pilot, the most dangerous part of my job is while airlining somewhere to pick up a corporate airplane flight. Scares me to death travelling with the public and the current-crop of airline pilots.

Posted by: George Horn | December 31, 2009 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Larry you are right on as to term limits to keep the same ol,same ol out of the system. As for the Presidents, this is above them in regards to it is the Congress and the Senate that control what happens in the Country. All the President does is mess up the airspace with the floating TFRs. I notice that only affects GA and the very cause for its existence just flies on. TSA needs to stop making itself bigger and bigger and look to lean and effective systems. Don't fool yourselves to think this slight pause won't keep them from coming back at GA as soon as this blows over. Focus is what is needed not correctness.

Posted by: Chuck West | December 31, 2009 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Solution: A program giving security clearance to air travelers to conceal carry on board. LEOs and military immediately come to mind. Should be lots others.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | December 31, 2009 11:36 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for saying this. I have seen 8-year old grandmothers pulled from their wheelchairs and subjected to random additional security. I've seen agents seize the 4" T-handle socket wrench from a 7-year old's skateboard bag and confiscate it "because it's a tool". And this insanity which lacks all logic is making us safer exactly how? In the twisted name of "fairness" federal agencies refuse to focus their attention on those in high-risk categories. So while our legions of TSA people are frisking 80-year olds in wheelchairs, the real threats go undetected. Good plan!

Posted by: Unknown | December 31, 2009 11:37 AM    Report this comment

As an excop, I can tell you that profiling works, this is how cops catch crooks, something doesn't look right and it usually isn't. Let's look at the deal with the suspects, Muslim extremists with Muslim names (except Richard Reid, who was an odd looking guy and should have tweaked someones interest), seems that we should put extra emphasis on these folks for additional screening, rather than 80 year old Grandmothers. How do you stop baby formula and these things coming on flights, you don't, let's get realistic, mothers can be screened by profiling. The next thing you'll see is that we will all be directed to changing rooms before flights and handed hospital gowns and told to strip and place all our clothes in a bag which will be scanned and then we will board the plane with our buts showing. Is this what we want? We can only take this so far, otherwise the terrorists will have won, by making our lives as misearable as their's are. We all accept a certain amount of risk when travelling in any mode of transport (bus, train, car etc.), we have to balance this with reality and how much we realy can expect to protect ourselves from a determined foe. Next thing terrorists will take to blowing themselves up in the line up before we go through security screening.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | December 31, 2009 11:48 AM    Report this comment

I really wish as GA pilots we had the option to get a security clearance that is valid at all airports - it is absolutely retarded to me that I can operate an aircraft out of any airport in the country, but when I step out of my airplane TSA will put me to the tarmac with a gun in my back if I am on the ramp "unescorted"

Posted by: Josh Johnson | December 31, 2009 1:21 PM    Report this comment

The problem with all Government agencies is that people are making decisions about things they know nothing about and TSA is the biggest offender

Posted by: Anthony Kaczor | December 31, 2009 1:33 PM    Report this comment

We need to have the Israelis teach us how to secure our civil air transport system. Profiling is needed. Political correctness is a polite name for cowardice.

Posted by: Ed Hirsch | December 31, 2009 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Paul, your Blog and the comments it elicits are wonderful. Though not yet statistically significant, I would suspect they will be representative of the majority of opinions. But you're all preaching to the choir. At some point, the basic commentary must be sent to our Senators and Representatives as a sampling of how their constituency perceives the actions of TSA, DHS and the blind support given by our elected officials. The forwarded Blog can be sent with a closing statement, that if the elected official does not actively do something to stop the nonsensical knee jerk reactions and to start, bringing some common sense problem solving back to our nation, he/she will not receive my vote at the next election. Period!

Posted by: Ronald Tarrson | December 31, 2009 2:30 PM    Report this comment

The Rocky and Bulwinkle show reruns didn't work for TSA training films. Apprently the concepts were to advanced.

Posted by: Unknown | December 31, 2009 3:07 PM    Report this comment

Retaliate: How long did WW11 last after the atomic bomb ? Nuke 1000:1 and eventually it will be over. A person from a era past.

Posted by: jack williams | December 31, 2009 5:06 PM    Report this comment

Happy that you put what a lot of people are feeling in print.

The whole system in my opinion is next to useless. One thought; how is anyone going to detect a person coming on board with a sausage shaped plastic explosive stuck up their rectum?

The answer is no possible way short of Xray (includes CT)or MRI being done.

The real answer of course is 1.profiling 2.better intel 3.communication between agencies.

If all that fails Let Muslims fly only on the airlines of Muslim nations. If we inconvience them perhaps they will get their brothers to clean up their acts.

Posted by: Eugene Haller | December 31, 2009 5:58 PM    Report this comment

It's always been my opinion that the best way to thoroughly screw something up is to put the government in charge of it. The DHS and TSA are perfect examples!

Posted by: Russ Dotson | December 31, 2009 7:26 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

I heartily agree with all you've said. All this knee-jerk reaction ti security is nothing but eyewash for the uninformed. The very definition of terrorism is that you don't know how and where the next attack will occur.

I had a Clear Card til the company went out of business. I had a background check and iris scan. When I got to the airport I went right to their kiosk and stick my Clear Card with a smart chip on it containing the scans and my finger prints. The machine would randomly ask me to look in the mirror or put my hand on the scanner. Okay, now they definitely I am who I say I am. I was then taken to the front of the metal scanner line. Of course, because of the large amount of metal I have in my body (fake knee, rods in back, pins in ankle) I aways have to be hand scanned and patted down. What a royal pain of unneccesary crap. The card did eliminate a lot of standing in line time, tho.

I'm not smart enough to devise a new system, but I sure am smart enough to spot a totally ineffective one.

Linda

I'm all in favor of profiling if it is done by a properly educated and trained individuals -- not the current crop of minimum wage workers. There's not much worse that a minimum wage person who has been given authority

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | December 31, 2009 9:48 PM    Report this comment

Osama bin Laden's 9/11 attack resulted on our spending billions on the aviation security system (not to mention wearing out our armed forces, spending many more billions, and wasting American, Iraqi and Afghan civilian lives).

But the measures being taken weren't just made up. First the airplane bombers secreted explosives in their shoes-so we take off our shoes. Then they used liquids mixed in flight-so we limit our liquids.Now they hide the liquid, and explosive powder in their underwear. If we go to full-body scans to detect that and stop with the shoes and liquids, they might go right back to that.

In the meantime, we're going broke, our military is screwed, their families are stressed, and our air tranportation system is slowed down.

Happy freakin' New Year. The Yeminis are now training educated jihadis from all over the world.

Think we can win this? Or will we be trapped into playing Wack a Mole until we spend our last dollar?

Pessimist

Posted by: Bradley Berthold | December 31, 2009 11:56 PM    Report this comment

Whack a mole. That is hilarious. It fits for the airport and the overseas escapades.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | January 1, 2010 12:46 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I agree with 96% of what you wrote. Your indifference towards loss of liberty (“seizing your toothpaste is hardly unlawful search and seizure”) frightens me way more than terrorists.

Search and seizure is lawful generally only when it is ordered by a judge, based on probable cause to suspect commission of a crime. A passenger’s ordinary liquids are not “probable cause”! Why is a judge no longer required? Toothpaste is not important to you, but the Constitution is still important to me! Unless I look or act like a terrorist, or my toothpaste smells like PETN, the government has no freaking right to seize my toothpaste, because there is no probable cause to suspect a crime is being committed with it. When you ignore all the constitutional principles, all of a sudden our US government can seize personally-owned aircraft with no probable cause and no appeal and no due process. Oh wait, that’s already happened.

Libertarians believe that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. We do not like being treated as terrorists, even after having proven we aren’t terrorists. How long will it be before all airline passengers have to be stripped, palpated, probed with a speculum (two for ladies), forced to wear diapers and prison suits, and be gagged and shacked to their seats, with electrodes attached, so that anyone who squirms or whimpers can be immediately disciplined? You seem to think that the ability to vote is all the “liberty” we need. They can vote in Iran!

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | January 1, 2010 1:27 AM    Report this comment

Brilliant Bruce!!

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 1, 2010 3:05 AM    Report this comment

You seem to think that the ability to vote is all the “liberty” we need. They can vote in Iran!<<

And you seem given to broad generalizations about other people whom you know next to nothing about. To me, toothpaste seizure is nearly as silly as elevating it to a fourth amendment issue. You feel otherwise, so why don't you court challenge it? Why hasn't anyone else done that? Because there are bigger fish to fry. As for extremism in defense of liberty, depends on how extreme your extremism is and who wields it against whom.

One form of extremism which, it could be argued, would "liberate" us from terrorism to simply ban all people of color from our airline system. I'm a dark skinned Italian American. Some people think I look Arabic. Would that apply to me? And who would decide? What would their criteria be?

Another form of extremism would be for the western world to mobilize its might and exterminate all the Muslim countries. These countries produce all the terrorists. Pretty extreme, no? But if it's in defense of liberty, why is it a vice?

Who decides? Does it have to be a white guy? Or are some minorities allowed to participate in the defense of liberty?

The point is, societies are able to collectively set rational median points on questions like these. Our great debate now is where that median point should be. Regardless, extremists on either end of the spectrum won't like the results.

That's why they're called extremists.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 1, 2010 6:48 AM    Report this comment

sadly, the bumbling idiots have been appointed and are in charge of our government agencies-- from the DHS to the DOJ--

Posted by: Sam Pepper | January 1, 2010 7:59 AM    Report this comment

Paul,

As you mentioned the current system only works for the mentally deranged ie. the McDonalds murderers. The terrorists who's backgrounds include MDs Engineers Chemistry PHDs have the necessary education to defeat any system we put up that will still allow travel that will not cost us our current national budget.

As I stated earlier our first line of defence is using our intelligence community. Then comes profiling.

Its really simple our current effort is like a house whose front door is constantly being reinforced while at the rear of the building the back door is totally missing.

Posted by: Eugene Haller | January 1, 2010 11:09 AM    Report this comment

Good article and written from good perspective. However, I don't go along with firing Janet, as inept as she may be. I believe entire DHS should be eliminated and Napolitano's status would become moot. On top of federal agencies we already had, did we really need more? Straighten up the organization (disorganization) we had and appoint an intelligent person to oversee the various agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, INS, Secret Service, military, etc.) and create some sort of effective communication and accountability. I certainly concur with what Ms. Pendleton had to say about profiling (too many people don't seem to know what it means). Under the circumstances, and since we're really dealing with probabilities, all unknown common carrier passengers should be regarded as potential terrorists and be subjected to whatever scrutiny is determined necessary to minimize the likelihood that they actually are. Acceptable levels of probability must be determined consistent with a realistic criteria or profile. Just as we have (or so we're told) a no-fly list, the government should be able to establish a "fly" list of individuals who, not wishing to endure humiliation and inconvenience of security screenings of their property and persons, have registered for prescreening and vetting by meeting the profile criteria through background checks, fingerprinting, etc., have been granted special ID and PIN, such as what Ms. Pendleton enjoyed, then it's "go to the head of the line. You're on."

Posted by: Lewis Porter | January 1, 2010 12:21 PM    Report this comment

For more on the subject, see Mike Boyd's Hotflash for 28 December 2009: http://www.aviationplanning.com/HotFlash.htm

My $0.02 on profiling: If 100% of these crimes have been committed by single male Muslims between the ages of 20 and 40, why are we strip-searching Eskimo grandmothers?

It's like the (very) old joke about the drunk looking for his car keys near a streetlight. When asked where he lost his keys, he tells us "down that alley." When asked why he's looking under the streetlight, he tells us he's looking there because the light is better there. Why should the senior people in the Transportation "Security" "Administration" do the hard work when they can get paid the same to just stand around while their "security"-"check" fascists abuse the people who are paying their salaries?

Posted by: J. S. Janisch | January 1, 2010 10:33 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Bertorelli: You limit my word count, so I will respond in two segments.

1. Nowhere in Russ’s blog will you find the words “what would you do?” Where did you get the idea that this was the central reader response to his blog?

2. We are not bumbling idiots, except insofar as some naïve people have elected bumbling idiots. More accurately, we have become a nation with too many incompetent boobs among our lawyers and politicians.

3. Don’t blame the financial crisis on banks alone. Talk, instead, about Barny Frank and Chris Dodd, and their forcing banks to make stupid loans to unqualified people, then having Fannie and Freddie sell them as prime quality loans when they weren’t.

4. Napolitano was not a great governor. Firing Napo would only see another equally incompetent replacement by his royal highness, BO.

5. The FBI, CIA, Dept. of State, DHS, and the White House security team have never been militarized. The DOD has a legitimate role in the fight against terror, whether you see the terrorists’ worldwide bombings as a war or not. Treating it as merely a policing matter means that we wait until people are dead before acting. Nuts to that. If the DOD were in charge of airline security, it might be a lot better -- if the PC JAG units were disbanded.

6. The inter-agency squabbling you decry is largely a result of lawyers expanding PC notions across the Administration – Google on: “Jamie Gorelick” for a treat on the subject.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 2, 2010 2:51 AM    Report this comment

7. Recently, I was forced to go to a remote pat-down location, and separated from my 7-year-old son, who wasn’t allowed to come with me (I guess he was an extreme security risk, or some government bureaucratic equivalent). He had to wait for me alone at the end of a strange and hostile airport search line, hoping I would return. It was an infuriatingly stupid government action. So, whatever gulags you want to send DHS to -- and whatever medieval punishments you want to dole out to them -- are fine with me.

8. Your 60 day/90 day plan-action scheme is such a sweet, ivory tower concept. How can you propose such a schedule when the government-can-solve-anything-quickly notion is already exposed as idiotic?

9. Your high tech watch list/ no-fly list has been delayed by people like the lawyer, Gorelick. Go clean up your own house.

10. We won World War Two against two relatively small countries at a cost of 400,000 US military dead and many times that many permanently disabled. Look for a better analogy. It was a stupidly led war managed by vainglory politicians and generals (Marshall excepted). Of course, we only stayed in WWII because the media were on our side. That isn’t true any more.

11. Yes, I’m cynical – about all government and all the lawyers in it, suing it, and making 2000 page omnibus lobbyist payoff laws for it. And isn’t that guy in charge of your favorite “passenger rights” group a Middle Eastern dude? Like I said, clean up your own house.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 2, 2010 2:54 AM    Report this comment

>>Like I said, clean up your own house.<<

Why is this *my house?* I thought we all lived here. So, if I've got this straight, you complain about the current system, complain about a proposal to fix it and now you offer nothing of your own.

What would you do?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 2, 2010 4:45 AM    Report this comment

Fundamentaly, the war on terror is about as successful as the war on drugs. The root cause of these issues has been many years in the making. Invading Iraq has only made things worse, as for Afghanistan, see "Charlie Wilson's War" to understand what is behind the Taliban. Muslim extremists find the US a fat and jucy target because of it's blind support of Israel, which the Muslim world views as Occupied Palistine (...and they view the Israeli's as terrorists). The US is viewed as an invading power and the invasion of Iraq has been very helpful for recruiting young ignorant muslims to the anti-American cause. If we stopped fueling the fires with bad decisions, had a more balanced approach to the Palastinian problem (like stop vetoing every UN resolution to sanction Israel for abuses), practiced the Rule of Law, Rights & Freedoms which the US claims to be the champion of instead of coming up with ways to get around them (like Gitmo) maybe the threat would be more managable and the likelyhood of people blowing themselves up on airplanes would be less probable.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 2, 2010 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Cont'd.. I am not a bleeding heart, but having served in both the Police and the Military and lived in the Middle East for 10 years, I can tell you that the way we view ourselves from inside the US is far different than the way we are viewed outside it's shores. To combat the scourge of terrorism we need to attack it directly as well as understand it's causes to truly defeat the enemy. To the Muslim world, the palestinians are viewed like the Jews of the Warsaw Getto were viewed by us. We need to be smarter and think long term before we get involved in wars that do nothing to help our cause and just waste national treasure and the blood and lives of our youth. The notion of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" has got us here today and blasting everything and hoping things will get better afterwards hasn't worked either, maybe it's time to rethink our approach to things and get the State Department and the Military on the same page. Law enforcement is the right tool for terrorist threats on our shores. Strategic thinking and balanced reasoning about long term consequences not tactical blunders and reactionary stupidity would go a long way towards combating terrorism.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 2, 2010 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Trevor there is a glimmer of hope. Your comments are precisely what Ive been saying for years. I now know there are at least 2 people on this earth who have a different approach to this mess. Keep letting as many people know maybe the leadership will get the same idea.

On a different note: How safe are those scanners anyway?

A pregnant woman was told not to go through the existing scanners more than once a day during her pregnancy. It was a little impractical since she had a connecting flight. That was told to her by TSA. As far as the new machines are concerned can people sue for damages if it is found out that it injured them? As far as I know the scans use a type of radiation. Have there been any studies or is it an exceptible risk that is hidden from public view due to national security concerns?

Posted by: Eugene Haller | January 2, 2010 12:25 PM    Report this comment

Our biggest mistake was to militarize counter terrorism as a primary response and then call it a war. It is, in the end, a law enforcement problem and within that context, it is an intelligence problem.

The problem with making it a law enforcement problem is the perpetrator gets all the legal remedies available under our law and possible intelligence development is nullified.Lawyers get into the act and rightly move to defend their clients best interests.

Are you telling me that a non-citizen who trains at jihadist training camps and is overtly connected to a jihadist movement is NOT committing and act of war in trying to bring down a U.S. airliner over a U.S. airport? Also, their is a difference between simple and simplistic.

Posted by: Donald H Dinwiddie | January 2, 2010 12:39 PM    Report this comment

>>The problem with making it a law enforcement problem is the perpetrator gets all the legal remedies available under our law and possible intelligence development is nullified.Lawyers get into the act and rightly move to defend their clients best interests.<<

I see this is essentially more mindless fear mongering. If it had been an American citizen who attempted a bombing and failed, why should his path to justice be any different than a jihadist who committed the same crime in this country?

American exceptionalism--which I happen to believe in--is based on the rule of law and is as fair a criminal justice system as exists anywhere. You accept the Manichean argument advanced by the right that open trials for terrorists erode the protection that this system is supposed to provide. I think just the reverse.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 2, 2010 2:17 PM    Report this comment

The larger issue of militarizing counter terrorism involves Iraq, where we have invested untold billions and thousands of lives in Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism. All we have to show for it a lot of coffins, a broke military, an empty treasury and overwhelming evidence that we re-energized jihadist recruiting.

What little influence Iraq exerted on the orbit of world jihad--essentially none--could have been more deftly handled with civilian law enforcement and intel resources or a lesser and secondary military involvement. That is what we are doing in Yemen, in Somalia, in Saudi and other mideastern hotspots.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 2, 2010 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Well said Paul!! We need to stop bumbling around like a Bull in a China Shop and start thinking like Sun Zhu if we have any hope of solving or at least understanding this issue. The USA is a young country and will learn to think in terms of decades instead of wanting an issue solved before the next commercial break. The enemy knows this and the more they watch us bumble around with ineffective knee jerk reactions to thing they do to us and the more they get us to give up our rights and move away from what we stand for, they smile with satisfaction. In the end, the more misearable and inconvenient they make our lives, the happier they are.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 2, 2010 3:05 PM    Report this comment

It seems that you have seized the moral high ground by simple assertion. Because I think there is a legitimate difference between an American citizen who by right of citizenship deserves the protection of the law of the land and an enemy combatant seized in the act of an attempted attack on an American airliner I am to be lumped with all of those nasty conservative, knee jerking reactionary types who got us into this mess to start with. Well, I probably am, but my thesis is not. Perhaps I will be more accepting of your thesis if it bears good fruit. But that is in the future, isn't it.

Posted by: Donald H Dinwiddie | January 2, 2010 4:02 PM    Report this comment

I do not agree with the Muslims as victims due to the US support of any country, American blood has flowed defending them as well. Of course that is inconvenient for those that see the US as an equal opportunity offender. However, your point on doing clumsy surgery on terrorism with a machete, is the point that is being well made. I too have served our Country for decades and some of those assignments dealt with airport security and threats posed by these misunderstood victims of alleged US aggression. That blood that is flowing is from US citizens and Christmas almost added several hundred more names to the victims of the constant state of Jihad. I will keep most views both and con for another forum. Back on point, it is the lack of leadership from those that have received billions and continue to build what is a white elephant to address a very small percentage that threaten the Free "World". The other 99.999999999% are just trying to fly to another destination. Before you feel sorry what are mostly educated middle class terrorists, the shoe-bomber and the panty-bomber would gladly have commited suicide to take your "innocent" love ones with them...I too was against the Iraq War, but I realized that it wasn't all about weapons of mass destruction, but an attempt, maybe misplaced, to establish some democracy in the region for our great grandchildren's world. Aren't we breaking some rules here?

Posted by: Chuck West | January 2, 2010 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Yes Don, it will take more than the next commercial break to see if it bears fruit. What got us into this is many many years in the making and liberals are as much to blame as conservatives...it's not black and white but grey. ...and Chuck, I also hate the jihadists, but if we can't understand their motivations we can't defeat them and I don't think doing things like invading Iraq, which anyone familiar with the region, including the CIA and Intel, would seriously believe would result in democracy, has helped, all it has done has added to the recruit base for the terrorists. Europe has lived with terrorism for decades, but they have found a balance between the security measures people will accept against the threat posed. Hundreds are killed on our roads each year by drunk drivers, but we don't make every driver perform a breathalizer test before they can turn the keys on in their car.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 2, 2010 5:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul wrote: "One form of extremism which, it could be argued, would "liberate" us from terrorism to simply ban all people of color from our airline system."<<

Paul completely misread my rant on liberty. I figured Paul would think me extreme, merely because I see a whole series of constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens being systematically violated by TSA policy. My level of extremism is no vice.

I’m not looking for liberty from terrorists, be they of one color or of all colors, nor did I advocate exterminating entire countries. I’m only looking for liberty from my own government, whose policies Paul admits are utterly stupid, and which I also think are utterly unconstitutional.

I don’t fight the absurd TSA policies in court, because I refuse to ride the airliners so I have no standing, and because SCOTUS would never hear the case anyway.

Anti-terrorism, as waged by our government, is failing partly because the government is recklessly trampling on our liberties. If we merrily dispense one by one with all of our rights, there will be no point in stopping terrorism.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | January 2, 2010 7:48 PM    Report this comment

From on high in my Wisdom fortress, after all these years, we still don't see our Fear as the problem - but man, the terrorists have. Make the attacks sensational, dramatic and intense like they always are, not slow and boring like other ways of dying, and we go scurrying to be Yosemite Sam - runnin' for our guns, only to find them consistently useless against an unseen enemy. Nailing jelly to a tree. Meanwhile we send our precious youth to 'fight' this insanity, drain our economy, and inconvenience each other with useless security measures.

Knowing that my chances of dying from heatstroke in a freezer are greater than from terrorism, I am still shocked so many people think these lost, screwed-up punks have any power whatsoever over us - they don't, except thru our fear of them. My solution, from on high - back away and remove the stingers of 2 wars and any unnecessary, unstrategic involvement in the middle east - politics be damned, where's our guts? - only then can things begin to heal. Get intel, covert operations, cunning and fearlessness to high skill level use for any enemies, foreign or domestic. The days of big biceps are effectively over - and are decidedly inaffective with the patient, simmering anger of these deluded cowards. Where we are usually slaves to Time and Results, their indifference To time For results allows them space and movement that we are still unable to deal with. Happy new year.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 2, 2010 10:43 PM    Report this comment

Right, Paul, I didn't give a solution; because Washington’s PC mindset will never allow effective security. The government harasses frail grandmothers while letting a known terrorist walk onto an airplane unchecked. It is well-known that every airline terrorist has been a twenty-something jihadist. They are from an international network of cells that hide among their civilians with the tacit cooperation of those civilians. The TSA should strip-and-cavity-search and X-Ray anyone from countries that harbor jihadists, anyone descended from people from or in those countries, and anyone who has attended a school or “religious” place where their mayhem has been taught. Everyone understands this but Janet Incompetano and her ilk.

Sure, some people would be terribly inconvenienced; but, either we stop the current, perverse PC idiocy or we get killed – now or later -- the terror masters are very patient. Sounds like an easy decision for me, but not for Washington, which fears its lawyered-up victim groups and lobbyists more than voters.

FDR, a big hero to democrats, had the Japanese in America put in camps after "the alleged Pearl Harbor incident when Japanese suspects allegedly killed some US soldiers in an isolated incident" (quote is a summary of the event using the current president’s mindset). Seems like today’s dems could give the current president FDR's license to deal with the enemy, but they’re too tangled up in their trendy, multicultural, PC fad to do it.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 3, 2010 12:04 AM    Report this comment

Well said Dave...

Posted by: Trevor Evans | January 3, 2010 1:07 AM    Report this comment

S. Lancaster should probably check up on the details of the internment in California of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. At least a regiment of U.S. Army soldiers enlisted from those camps and fought heroically in Italy. Some few worked as translators in intelligence in the Pacific. One whom I knew was badly wounded on the way home by another soldier who flipped out. It had nothing to do with being PC.

Posted by: Donald H Dinwiddie | January 3, 2010 8:34 PM    Report this comment

Donald Dinwiddie -- maybe I wrote my point wrong. I have studied about Japanese internment camps, have spoken to some who were held there, and am well aware of Japanese-American contributions during the war. They got an unbelievably raw deal that is entirely off this blog's point.

But my point was that FDR had the backbone to do what no politician would do today -- segregate and shine a spotlight on the class of people who are thought and/or known to hide, harbor, and encourage today's terrorists -- and work out the details later. When any group of religionists permits murderous plots to be continuously hatched in their midst, that group has to be whacked up side the head with a reminder that it has to stop it. Multicultural niceties cannot be substituted for security. Sadly, PC people in power think we should create huge bureaucracies, harass millions of obviously innocent people, and play whack-a-mole at airports instead of just keeping the kind of people who spawn terrorists off our airplanes and out of our country.

Jihadists, with the happy cooperation of PC politicians, are turning our freedoms against us. We, in turn, are letting them completely muck up our airline transportation system, which is PC madness run amok. At a minimum, the fees for visas and passports charged to those mentioned in my previous comment, should be set high enough to pay for the entire TSA.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 3, 2010 11:49 PM    Report this comment

To Lanchester and Donald, hence the dilemma. Even in a small group to what degree is effective or too far in profiling your customers. The irony is the technology is here to do both as soon as having ones name in a Federal Aviation Usage Database isn't considered a move by Big Brother to rule the World. Control of that data base (sigh) would have to be FBI with strict restrictions on public information crap (sorry media). The others have covered detail of how it would function. Only one glaring issue. It may mean a reduction of needed personnel for Thousand Standing Around, the government and soon unions will scream foul at the reduction...

Posted by: Chuck West | January 4, 2010 7:15 AM    Report this comment

Intel is the key. Stopping bad people, not bad stuff is key. Intel should be able to allow me, a reasonably frequent flyer on a ticket purchased by my company, to carry almost anything on the airplane, because I'm not an evildoer. I can qualify to carry a concealed pistol in public, why can't I qualify to get on an airplane with my pocketknife?

Posted by: Jim Ward | January 4, 2010 7:41 AM    Report this comment

In the government's PC approach, nobody gets profiled, and everyone gets searched and scanned -- except the terrorists who slip through or around the system.

My preference, as mentioned above, is to cast a wide net over all people from countries that harbor terrorists. The net should also include anyone descended from or related to those people, as well as anyone who has attended any of their madrases in any country. They can't fly to or from our country, nor inside our borders, period. It will be a big, non-PC inconvenience on those people. Tough.

Of course, that means a list has to be kept and used to keep those people out, which implies a certain level of government competence that we do well to doubt.

The problem with giving out passes to known good people is that 1) you can't see inside their minds, 2) people change, and 3) terrorists will work full time figuring out how to get passes.

When I look at all the effective schemes one might use to keep terrorists off of airplanes, and factor in the likelihood of implementation by our incompetent government, I am certain that all we will get is more Thousands Standing Around, to the point where walking is faster than taking the airlines, and the airlines disappear.

If that line of thought is extended, we can see terrorists then moving on to trains and buses.

So, in the end, we have what already makes the most sense -- forget the airlines and fly GA.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 4, 2010 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for saying what I've felt for many years, but have kept quiet for fear that exposing this "security theatre" would only result in even more absurdity. Like, if you complain about the ineffectiveness of a 3 mile / 3000' TFR that an 8 year old could calculate, they might make it 30 miles and 18,000'

Posted by: Bill Arcudi | January 4, 2010 10:17 PM    Report this comment

I don't believe the war on terror will be won by even the best passenger screening. Even if we were to resort to profiling (i.e. singling out Islamic males for special attention), the terror masters would simply switch tactics: Instead of asking Islamic males to sew explosives into their underwear, they would ask said males to blow up planes indirectly, by romantically seducing emotionally vulnerable non-Islamic, non-Arab females and having THEM carry explosives (perhaps concealed in a gift, like a transistor radio) onto aircraft.

We need to tear apart the infrastructure of terror branch by branch, root by root, if it takes 50 years or more. We need to recognize that we aren't dealing with "terror" so much as a clash of ideas, much like communism versus economic freedom which defined the cold war with the Soviet Union.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | January 5, 2010 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for saying what you did Paul. To me the real issue is that the government prevented us from protecting ourselves by removing our weapons prior to boarding. They then assumed the role of protector and have failed miserably at it as it is a near impossible task to accomplish at checkin stations, incompetence notwithstanding. BTW this is not the only area where the government have emasculated us and have supposedly assumed the role of protector, as an example if someone is selling drugs to kids on a street corner and one of the kids was mine, I should have the right to blow the bastard to hell as the cops are doing squat about it, another "war on something" that we're losing. All I should be confronted with is a court case to establish that the individual indeed did sell drugs to my kid. There are many other examples of government empire building employment programs. There is no doubt in my mind that the sole goal of the government is to ensure its existence.

Posted by: Pat Weston | January 14, 2010 6:32 PM    Report this comment

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