Thursday, March 02, 2006

Airport Cattle Call!

I missed this least week, the WSJ's incomparible Peggy Noonan on airport security:
So we're all talking about port security this week, and the debate over the Bush administration decision to allow an United Arab Emirates company to manage six ports in the United States. That debate is turning bitter, and I wonder if the backlash against President Bush isn't partly due to the fact that everyone in America has witnessed or has been a victim of the incompetence of the airport security system. Why would people assume the government knows what it's doing when it makes decisions about the ports? It doesn't know what it's doing at the airports.
If Ms. Noonan would really like to light up the boards, let me tell you about getting an explosives' hit off one's laptop. Lights and buzzers start flashing, as if you've finally won a middling slot jackpot in Vegas...people being moving away from you...the nice man behind the machine orders you to place your hands, palm down, on the table until the men with guns get there. And then — this is my second favorite part! — a man with a gun asks if you can give a "credible reason" why the sniffer "smelled" explosive residue on your laptop.

Other than, say, you're operating a bomb factory out of your suitcase.

In my case — not surprisingly — it turned out not just well, but funny. The smell of testosterone was so strong I moved at 1/2 speed, asking permission before each step. "May I take my hands off the table?" "My I get a business card out of my wallet?" Etc. Standard Third World Operating Procedures, evolved to keep me from being iced on the side of some jungle road by a 16-year-old with an FN-FAL. Except, of course, I was in a major U.S. airport (which is, I guess, sort of like the Third World these days, except it's harder to bribe the officials).

The TSA guy on the sniffer looks at my card and before I can say anything else says, "Hell, I watch this guy's show all the time! He blows stuff up every week!" Well, every other week, I think, but I grin and keep my mouth shut. Everybody relaxes...I sign a couple of autographs, hand out some SHOOTING GALLERY pins, shake hands and make my flight.

Back when airport security really started cranking after 9/11, my friend and mentor Walt Rauch, who — like me — is demonstrably paranoid, said that it was all smoke and mirrors, but with a decidedly nefarious purpose: "They're getting us ready for what comes next," he said.

Which is, I asked?

You've traveled, Walt said to me. You've seen it all before: "Your papers, please!" "Come with us while we verify your identity." "You need to be detained, and, no, you can't make a phone call to your attorney." "Get in line for special processing..."

Reading Peggy Noonan's column, I can't help but thinking that Walt is, unfortunately, far too correct...a bad moon is rising out there.

One more airport story. I got pegged for "additional security measures" because I'm on the list as someone who travels with guns — before you all start baying, "What list?," it's the list everyone claims doesn't exist...the one that gets me comments like, "I'm sorry, Mr. Bane, but you're not eligible for internet or curbside check-in. You have to go inside." Or, "Are we carrying a gun today, Mr. Bane?" Or, "Are you aware, Mr. Bane, that it is a federal felony to not declare a firearm if you're carrying one?" Or, "Are you sure you're not traveling with a firearm today, Mr. Bane?" Of course there's no list! Anyway, I digress...

So I get shunted to the windowless room, where I assume the crucified position before being ordered to and try to similarly assume an air of indifference, or maybe distain.

"So you think this is all a joke, huh?" my examiner says, poking me pretty hard with his cattle prod-cum-metal detector. "You frequent fliers don't give a darn about what we're doing here..."

Couple of years ago, I say, dooming myself to missing my flight, I spent some time with an Israeli security guy. I don't think this is a joke. I know this is a joke.

"You spent time with the Israelis?" my examiner said, lowering his prod. I nodded. "You're right," he said. "Get the hell out of here."

And an aside, from yesterday's USA Today:
WASHINGTON — Congress is headed toward approving a plan that would require employers to check every worker's Social Security number or immigration work permit against a new federal computer database.
Critics see the move — aimed at stemming illegal immigration — as the beginning of a government information stockpile that could be used to track U.S. residents.

"We're getting closer and closer to a national ID card," says Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.


Anonymous said...

mb--you sure got that right--i shoot 500 rds per week and you can imagine how my shoes light up the explosive residue meter!! all of the TSA thugs are terribly disappointed to find only an old jewish lawyer from Miami Beach causing all of the excitement--when they thought that they finally caught UBL himself trying to sneak onto a plane to Vegas!!!
regards & stay warm--dmd45

Patrick Sweeney said...

Michael, I'd be all for a national ID card, if we had some teeth in it. Say, the first time you as a law-enforcement officer abuse the list, you lose your car. Second, your house. Third, you leave the country. Oh, and the guy who ordered you to do it pays double.

No more "oops, we goofed" or "we were doing it for the children." You want power, fine. Make a mistake and you get crucified. Don't want to be crucified? Decline the power.

Anonymous said...

We ain't slouching toward Bethlehem, friends. We're slouching toward Bladerunner.

Michael Bane said...

We always end up back with the Clash, don't we:

When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun

Or, heck, maybe even Spirt from the old, old days...

knockin' on your door
will you let it come
will you let it run your life
someone will be waiting for you at your door
when you get home tonight...

OIr from Brother George Orwell himself, from 1984, as O'Brief explains to a captive Winston how it all works:

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?"

Don't you all feel better now?


Anonymous said...

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we whimper.

Anonymous said...

Might have posted this before - in late '80s a professor I met (through business ties) was traveling to Israel from the East Coast and, as usual, used their airline, which has a great reputation for security and safety. He had a home-built unit (probably on the market now for $4.00) with lots of little lights and wires and thingies that helped him measure audience responses when he lectured. He knew there was a problem when the wall next to him slide back and two gentlemen with Uzies asked him to step in and down the hall and explain to them exactly what he was carrying. It took a couple of calls to Israel to clear up the matter, and he made the next flight. That's security. OldeForce