Airport Madness: Mutually Assured Dehumanization

Morning fun: exercise the elementary reasoning skills of our evildoing enemies and see if you can predict the following development:

Britain is facing a new Al Qaeda terror threat from suicide ‘body bombers’ with explosives surgically inserted inside them. [...] But an operation by MI5 has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda is planning a new stage in its terror campaign by inserting ‘surgical bombs’ inside people for the first time.

Security services believe the move has been prompted by the recent introduction at airports of body scanners, which are designed to catch terrorists before they board flights.

My problem with what’s unfolding at our nation’s airports runs a lot deeper than the misfortune of genital encroachment. My problem is that we’re racing down an inherently absurd road. Set aside for a moment the dismaying way in which every new advance in security measures involves a retreat for civil liberties and traditional definitons of decency. Our logic of escalation appears to mean that every new solution actually creates a new and dramatically worse problem — one which calls, of course, for dramatically more invasive and comprehensive countermeasures.

Where does it end? As a matter of logic, it ends with a free people dehumanizing themselves in a way their own enemies cannot quite manage to do. Fortunately, we are not prisoners of logic. But the awful thing about terrorism is that it very well might keep us prisoner to fear.

Here’s Ron Paul’s attempt at a way out. Here’s libertarian travel security expert Robert Poole’s. Others?

  1. Diane Ellis
    C

    I clicked through to the link with Ron Paul’s response and was amused that it was featured approvingly on FireDogLake, a decidedly liberal site. This TSA madness really seems to be uniting Americans of all political persuasions around a common cause, which is a pretty rare occurrence. Makes me think that the TSA won’t be allowed to get away with these shenanigans for long.

  2. Denise Moss
    C

    I wish we could adopt the intelligent, question-based security of Israeli airline El Al. They take security seriously for obvious reasons. Here is an article that outlines their procedures and why the won’t work here. Basically because instead of intruding on a few people’s civil liberties we ALL must endure having our rights to basic human decency taken away. (And there’s big money involved in our broken system.) Robert Poole’s ideas do touch on the El Al approach. A travel card is such a simple idea.

  3. Richard VanderHoek

    There’s a simple reason why TSA intrusion is escalated to the current level. They refuse to profile. Our political leaders lack the courage to name our enemy, and actively protect the public from them. So we all are assumed guilty until thoroughly scanned and groped by the rent-a-cops in blue shirts.

  4. Peter Hintz

    Sure, the ‘Israelification’ of our airports would at the moment probably make traveling safer and easier. However, as an individual and an airline customer, I find the possibility of being subjected to mandatory interviews or even being denied a flight based on factors like eye movement, walking patterns and hand gestures even more worrying than naked body scanners that ‘only’ sort people out for specific items (although both methods are appalling). Certainly untrained terrorists behave in a specific way but that doesn’t mean that only terrorists behave that way. I’m sure lots of people are nervous at airports (or anywhere else) about who-knows-what. Also, a trained terrorist will eventually be able to circumvent even systematic behavior screening, leaving us with another worthless, expensive and highly intrusive screening system, that might be used at other places than just airports. As terrorists get more advanced, the description for ‘suspicious’ behavior will only be broadened, leaving us with ever fewer ‘unsuspicious’ ways to move our eyes or hands in public. I can’t think of regulation making not just some, but all of us less free than that.

  5. G.A. Dean
    James Poulos, Ed.:

    Where does it end? As a matter of logic, it ends with a free people dehumanizing themselves in a way their own enemies cannot quite manage to do.

    Exactly. We have allowed this enemy to predictably influence our actions, and have given them tremendous leverage.

    Just one of these “body bombs” even if unsuccessfully deployed, would cause massive disruption to Western cultures. They have nothing close to enough direct power to harm us significantly, but we have handed them a great victory nonetheless.

    I’ve heard of viruses that kill by triggering a massive over-reaction from the body’s own immune system. This feels similar.

  6. Tom Lindholtz

    Both Poole’s and Paul’s ideas, not to mention the TSA’s approach, are fundamentally flawed because they begin, IMO, from a flawed premise: It is possible to remove risk from life. That is patently foolish.

    Furthermore, there is no law that says, “If you want to attack and kill Americans you must do so as a passenger on an airplane.” But the entire “protective” effort seems built around that notion.

    Given these two principles ISTM that the whole TSA structure is a useless waste of time and money. A rational person would say, “Flying is an inherently dangerous way to travel. The introduction of a terrorist bomber into the mix does not substantially change that calculus.” Thus one either accepts the danger or travels by train, bus, or car. (Not any safer.)

    At what point will we accept TSA “love pats” at the entrance to our businesses, malls, grocery stores, theaters, churches, Rotary Clubs, sporting events, etc.? Any of these would make an excellent terrorist target. Where is TSA?

    The simple fact of life is: we’re all going to die. No one gets out alive. So make peace with your Creator. Then get on with your life.

  7. Pseudodionysius
    Joseph Stanko

    Tom Lindholtz: At what point will we accept TSA “love pats” at the entrance to our businesses, malls, grocery stores, theaters, churches, Rotary Clubs, sporting events, etc.? Any of these would make an excellent terrorist target. Where is TSA?

    Edited on Nov 18 at 11:03 am

    We’ve reached that point already, everyone entering an NFL game endures a pat down and bag inspection. It’s private security, not the TSA, but it’s still an invasion of privacy. · Nov 18 at 11:59am

    I want to know who’s working door security at the next Rico soiree.

  8. Michael Tee

    Warning: You had better accept the TSA pat downs and backscatter images.

    Do you have an idea what the alternative is going to be?

    Let’s start with background checks.

    People are submitting to the pat downs now, lest you think the American people will not succumb to such intrusions.

  9. Duane Oyen
    Pseudodionysius

    I want to know who’s working door security at the next Rico soiree. · Nov 18 at 12:00pm

    Are nominations open? (oink)

  10. James Poulos
    C
    Peter Hintz

    Tom Lindholtz: Both Poole’s and Paul’s ideas, not to mention the TSA’s approach, are fundamentally flawed because they begin, IMO, from a flawed premise: It is possible to remove risk from life. That is patently foolish. · Nov 18 at 10:58am

    Yup, I agree with you. We must accept a certain degree of risk if we want to keep our civil liberties (and won’t be able to achieve absolute security even if we give up those liberties, anyway).

    It’s funny — commentators keep emphasizing how greater a risk we adopt getting behind the wheel than getting aboard a plane. But in our car, we retain more control in a life-and-death situation; and even when we don’t, we’re in a situation that’s sized, scaled, and environmentally more hospitable and human (even on a five-lane freeway elevated over the middle of the desert) than what we wind up with in an aircraft. People are afraid of airplane terror because death in an airplane was already the height of terror. Nobody’s afraid of being decapitated in a plane by a knife-wielding terrorist.

  11. Aaron Miller
    Duane Oyen:

    Here is a rational take on the current controversy

    He makes a good point about passengers receiving greater x-ray exposure from merely flying at high altitudes than from the scanners.

    He’s also right that the scans aren’t exactly pornography, but I’m not going to try to explain that to my grandma.

    The larger issue is that everyone knows the TSA’s procedures are a farce, yet we’re apparently helpless to reject such mandatory measures because too few of our political “representatives” actually care to represent us. It’s a particularly striking symptom of tyranny because it reveals that there is apparently no limit to what politicians can make us do.

    They made us give up our nail-clippers and shampoo. They made us take off our shoes. And now they’re making us choose between nude, if vague, scans or getting groped. Excepting the last option, these might all be trivial, but there’s obviously a progression. Scans will not be the end of it.

    Perhaps it’s silly and demeaning that this should be our line in the sand, but politicians must realize their power is limited. Government does not give freedom.

  12. anon_academic

    Representative Paul’s draft legislation basically says that you can sue TSA agents who touch you or put you through the porn machine, but gives no exemption for probable cause. I’m horrified that digital strip searching is now routine, but I still think the TSA should be able to give you a pat down if you trip the metal detector.

    Is a probable cause exemption already implicit in the case law and need not be worked into the legislation? Or is Representative Paul just drafting poorly?

  13. herb briggs

    If TSA does not make the identification of terrorists their number one priority instead of continuing to frisk little old ladies for explosives, the jihadis automatically win.

    They will win because they don’t actually have to succeed in blowing up anything! First: They up the ante by finding new ways to sneak bombs into planes. TSA responds in only one way: it finds new ways to search every passenger for explosives. This makes flying more bothersome and expensive.

    The jihadis then find another new way to sneak bombs on planes. TSA responds by deploying more new ways to search every passenger for bombs. This makes flying even more bothersome, time-consuming, and expensive.

    Repeat cycle indefinitely. Eventually one of two things will happen:

    • The jihadists will succeed in blowing up a plane, touching off another 2001-style financial panic.

    • TSA’s practices will destroy much of the airline industry and cripple tourism and dozens of other industries: as much economic destruction as a dirty bomb detonated on Wall Street.

    Why are we defending ourselves against people who seek to murder our children in their beds using methods that absolutely guarantee our defeat?

  14. John Marzan

    We should apply the Israeli way of catching terrorists– profile, profile, PROFILE!

    And stop with the politically correct nonsense, please!

  15. Brian Watt

    How this is not unlawful search and seizure and a violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution is beyond me.

    Some states don’t even allow police checkpoints that stop any or all traffic on New Years Eve for this very reason.

    There must be a REASONABLE suspicion that the person being searched is violating the law. Once these search procedures – pat downs, pat ups, feel ups, what have you – are applied indiscriminately to everyone it has to be a violation of the 4th Amendment because it’s unreasonable to assume that everyone or anyone about to board a flight is already a suspect of a potential terrorist act.

    The Constitution demands that law enforcement DOES discriminate based on suspicion of wrongdoing. Profiling may actually be Constitutional because it’s based on a statistical probability which is based on a reasonable collection of factors – ethnicity, behavior, age, point of origin, nationality. Feeling up anyone classifies everyone as a threat which is unreasonable.

    Has to be an abuse of the Constitution and has the potential for further abuse beyond airport terminals. Any tall building. Any school, college. Any museum. Shopping malls… where does it end?

  16. Brian Watt

    Despite what Obama and Eric Holder claim, we are at war with al-Qaeda, and other Islamist jihadists. Profiling based on ethnicity, country of origin, and other factors and asking these individuals to get to the airport earlier to face more intense scrutiny is not the same as the internment of thousands of Japanese at Manzanar. Is it an inconvenience? Sure? Is it unlawful? How? We are in a state of war. Nations in states of war need to take every possible measure to defend themselves. Profiling and setting aside people who have a higher statistical probability of being terrorists is perfectly reasonable in a state of war. To do otherwise, invites catastrophe.

  17. Peter Hintz
    Tom Lindholtz: Both Poole’s and Paul’s ideas, not to mention the TSA’s approach, are fundamentally flawed because they begin, IMO, from a flawed premise: It is possible to remove risk from life. That is patently foolish. · Nov 18 at 10:58am

    Yup, I agree with you. We must accept a certain degree of risk if we want to keep our civil liberties (and won’t be able to achieve absolute security even if we give up those liberties, anyway).

  18. J. C. Casteel

    My greatest fear engendered by all this is being approached by a TSA inspector and asked, “Sir, have you had your breasts augmented recently?”

  19. Duane Oyen

    There is always risk- but we need to be smart as well. And that involves some compromises that the perpetual-perfect-privacy people are unwilling to address. Everyone complains about accommodations for burqas, etc., and here they set an iron-clad rule about costumes and searches that even Usama’s wife can’t claim modesty to escape, and the whining goes up in volume instead of recognizing reality.

    Every system can be defeated in some way. Each of these elements is another speed bump, and together comprise some defense in depth. Government profiling is even broader and more intrusive, and can also be defeated by recruiting granny or Ellie Mae Clampett.

    Here is a rational take on the current controversy (if they want to x-ray and stare at my ugly body, let ‘em), and here is the link to Stewart Baker’s security blog; here is a talk he gave at Heritage. We should invite Stewart here (he handled this for Bush’s DHS) to guest post on this subject.

  20. Joseph Stanko
    Tom Lindholtz: At what point will we accept TSA “love pats” at the entrance to our businesses, malls, grocery stores, theaters, churches, Rotary Clubs, sporting events, etc.? Any of these would make an excellent terrorist target. Where is TSA?

    Edited on Nov 18 at 11:03 am

    We’ve reached that point already, everyone entering an NFL game endures a pat down and bag inspection. It’s private security, not the TSA, but it’s still an invasion of privacy.