911, Terrorism and the TSA

I’ve been spending a lot of time in airports lately as a retail traveler. A lot of time waiting in lines to pass through TSA security checkpoints. Time watching a heavy-handed, cumbersome, Department of Motor Vehicles mentality that is the insistent marker of TSA checkpoints.

It is time to change how Americans are being herded into a national security landscape on the retail level, that seems hopelessly driven by a down-market bureaucracy.

True, there have been no airline hijackings in the US since 9/11/2001. But there would have been no 9/11 if our elected officials had been vigilant.

It was all there: the information, the data, the intel that Al Qaeda was coordinating a major attack on US soil, as a New York Times editorial on the 9/11 anniversary, reminds us.

The other day my wife was singled out for a random security check at LAX. My wife is in her sixth decade. The check involved a TSA screener not only feeling her body, but also putting fingers along inside the waist hem of her blue jeans. Excuse me?

The 9/11 OPED in the New York Times by Kurt Eichenwald reminds that it was political incompetence in the months leading up to 9/11 that changed America. Today, what worries is that there is no road map for dialing back the unprecedented assault against American freedoms. Also, on the retail level, every time I travel through an airport I am reminded by the TSA how America became captives of its own political incompetence.

I am saying a couple of things. The explosion of domestic surveillance by the US national security apparatus has a very high likelihood of identifying terrorist plots within the United States before they are executed. Hopefully, top elected officials are more clued in than the Bush White House in the early months of 2001 when the signals were clear and ignored. Meanwhile, the chance of the TSA stopping a determined and sophisticated terrorist attack is, in my opinion, very small. So why are we all being herded in long lines like cattle in chutes?

The probability of identifying every plot against citizens may never be better than predicting the weather. So why do we behave as though we can, under the bureaucratic gaze of the TSA?

The problem that overshadows even those threats that are real and present is that a ponderous, wealthy and cosseted security infrastructure is now self-sustaining. How do Americans back it down? I am waiting for Congress and the White House to say, “We’ve proved our point with the TSA: now it is time to be vigilant and focused on airline security, but no more waiting in lines at airports.”

Is it even possible to ratchet back, when every vested interest in national security spending and infrastructure has set its alarm bell to ring, at the first hint, scent or indication of a calamity averted or caused?

I don’t mean to minimize the facts of 9/11, the desperate costs, and tragedy imprinted on families and nation. But every time I travel, part of me surveys the TSA security checkpoints and thinks, the bad guys won.

The bad guys not only put us on the defensive, they have apparently done so permanently. Al Qaeda used box cutters to rearrange the playing field so our democratic freedoms now conform with the same instinct that organizes their hatreds. We are victims, too, taking off our shoes, belts, and removing all coins from our pockets.

On the one hand, I understand that the TSA security checkpoints are a price we pay for a world made small by technology and freedom of access and movement to anyone with an airline ticket and identification. How would I like being on a passenger flight commandeered by terrorists because we “let down our guard”? Not at all. On the other hand, we are fully invested in the dark arts of identifying and killing terrorists around the world.

Tear down those TSA checkpoints, Congress.

Keeping America safe from terrorism depends, in the end, on a few elected officials paying attention and not falling asleep or declaring the wrong missions, accomplished, when they weren’t even identified to being with. Stopping the next 9/11 is consuming billions if not hundreds of billions of tax dollars. TSA security checkpoints are as effective as putting your seat in the upright position on take-off and landing. They make us do it so we will be conditioned to accept the next words of authority. It is the same, with the TSA whether we know it or not.

ALAN FARAGO, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net