I was injured thanks to the government’s ridiculous airport security program last week on a US Air flight from Chicago to Philadelphia. I also saw how pointless the whole thing is, if the supposed goal is really to prevent airline hijackings.
First, my injury. Because of a silly fear that I might blow up a plane with explosives tucked into my running shoes, I, along with everyone else in the security checkpoint line at O’Hare, including two-month-old babies wearing little booties, had to doff my footwear. Clad in just socks, I tried to maneuver my way around a metal counter that held those plastic trays carrying my laptop, my shoes, my belt and change and keys, and my carry-on bag, and in the process my unprotected big toe hit a sharp piece of metal protruding from the table.
The metal sliced right under my toenail, making a painful and bloody cut into the soft tissue under the nail. Cursing and bleeding, I made my way through the metal detector, and collected my goods.
Now, inside my bag, unbeknownst to the Transportation Security Administration inspectors, was a bottle of mouthwash. It was larger than the approved 2-oz size, and it was not in an approved sealed plastic bag. But TSA inspectors looking into their video screens at the X-Ray machine didn’t see it, because I made sure that it was vertical as it passed through. All they saw was a little circle of plastic. Likewise, on an earlier flight, I had made my way aboard with a Swiss Army knife. By standing it in my carry-on bag so that it would be vertical for the X-Ray, I was able to slip it through and onto the plane.
Now clearly I’m not a terrorist (though for a time, thanks to my anti-Bush, anti-war journalism, and an expose about the TSA’s “no-fly” list abuses, I was on the watch list, and would get a circled “S” written on my boarding passes that ensured that I would be pulled aside to have my carry-on luggage hand searched). But if I were a terrorist, I sure wouldn’t try to commandeer a plane with a jackknife. I’d want something bigger. But that would be simple. One could easily carry on a 10-inch blade the same way. If one were nervous about doing that, it could be a ceramic or better, a Plexiglas blade—plenty dangerous, but invisible to X-rays and metal detectors.
For that matter, if I were into suicide bombing and wanted to manufacture a liquid explosive, why on earth would I try to do it by smuggling on two large jars of ingredients, when I could just put them in plastic baggies and carry them aboard in my pockets? Unless you happen to be singled out for special handling, nobody at the security checkpoints pats you down. They just have you walk through the metal detectors while TSA inspectors are busy patting down randomly selected elderly nuns and racially profiled people, like unfortunate Sikh men wearing turbans.
Any dedicated terrorist hijacker could figure out numerous ways to get explosives and weapons onto a plane past these security arrangements.
And that’s not even counting having the weapons smuggled into an airport gate area along with all the goods that are offered for sale there, where they could be picked up after a hijacker had already cleared security. There is no way that all the newspapers, magazines, clothing, trinkets, bottles of booze and personal hygiene products, etc., are screened adequately as they are brought in each day to fill the concession stands for the day’s business. First of all, one would have to open and check every bottle and box offered for sale.
If you were genuinely worried about protecting against hijackers, you would have those inspections at the entrance to each plane, not at the entrance to the terminal, and you wouldn’t have all that commerce inside the security zone. Ah! But what a roar of outrage we’d hear from the business community if that lucrative business venue were eliminated!
Which brings me to the real question: Why do we have all this pointless and easily breached security, not to mention a list that contains an astonishing one million names of suspected “terrorists”?
Clearly, the security program is not about protecting the flying public, or the nation’s tall buildings. That could be done much more cheaply by putting air marshals on all flights, the way they do at El Al, the Israeli airline that has never had a successful hijacking.
No, this is all about heightening the fear level of the American people, to routinize us to living in a police state.
The truth is, nobody is really interested in trying to hijack planes anymore. First of all, the “crash into buildings” tactic is dead. Pilots are now flying armed in armored cockpits that cannot be easily entered, and would not accede to a terrorist’s demands any longer, knowing what happened last time. And passengers would not sit passively in a cabin takeover attempt, either. As a result, we don’t have to worry about such things any longer.
The ease with which security could be breached, and the fact that it hasn’t happened now for seven years, is evidence enough that nobody is even trying to do it.
So let’s do away with all this time-consuming, costly, and politically motivated nonsense before I injure my other big toe.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net