Travelers Tired of Being Treated Like Terrorists

image-Denver International Airport security screening area

The security screening area at Denver International Airport. (Photo credit: David Benbennick)

Airport security has become more and more intrusive and oppressive in the past 10 years. This is somewhat understandable in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead, and continued attempts to murder traveling passengers by the “shoe bomber” and “panty bomber.”

Yet there comes a point (and perhaps has come a point) when being an air traveler is more like being a prisoner processed for prison.

Yesterday John W. Whitehead wrote about “Invasion of the Body Scanners: More Tales of Terror from the Unfriendly Skies,” and today the Herald Tribune reprints an article from Susan Stellin at the New York Times about the thinning patience of air travelers over x-ray body scans, intimate pat-downs, emptying all your pocket contents, taking off your shoes, and more. Even air crews who are entrusted to fly these air ships are being subjected to laughable security measures.

Even some (too few) officials are starting to see the need to reform this boondoggle.  From Stellin’s article:

Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, said in a speech at an aviation security conference in Frankfurt last week that the airlines would like to see an overhaul of the checkpoint screening process — with a greater focus on finding bad people, rather than bad objects.

“Discouraging travelers with queues into the parking lot is not a solution,” Mr. Bisignani said in his speech. “And it is not acceptable to treat passengers as terrorists until they prove themselves innocent.”

This last statement by Bisignani is perhaps the most pertinent in this entire issue. While some relatively non-intrusive security measures are understandable in our dangerous world, things have escalated to the point where our government expects unquestioning compliance with highly intimate body scans and pat-downs. Such an approach truly does treat the consumer as if there were reason to suspect them of being guilty of something.

You will find few average citizens more security minded than I. I spent 10 years in the military, Stateside and overseas, working in law enforcement and security environments. I had a security clearance, I guarded sensitive and high-threat areas numerous times, I worked around nuclear weapons and other high-value assets, as well as receiving considerable anti-terrorism training and education.

In recent years, I have been flying to Washington D.C. for political conferences which means going through considerable security when leaving through Regan National Airport. I was even randomly selected to go through the “bomb sniffer” booth once.

And several years ago, I flew out of London’s Heathrow Airport about a year after the Pan Am bombing that blew up an airliner over Scotland, and endured several hours of multiple security checkpoints and questioning.

Even with this background, with the advent of these backscatter x-ray scanners and regular pat-downs, I have reached a point where I am ready to say, “Enough is enough.”

Men are a little more rugged, but I can understand why these intrusive procedures are greatly disturbing for females. I wouldn’t want my wife or daughter subjected to this.

When I was a cop, I was not allowed to search or even pat-down someone unless I was in the process of arresting them, or there was reasonable suspicion to believe they had weapons, drugs or other evidence of a crime on their person.  As Bisignani was quoted earlier, to routinely subject air passengers to such procedures treats them as if they are suspected of doing something wrong.

While we treat the innocent as if they were guilty, we fail to do common-sense things which are far more likely to catch, as Bisignani put it, “bad people.”  In our politically correct idiocy, we refuse to profile, lest we be accused of targeting the “religion of peace” which was the religion held by 19 0f the 19 September 11 hijackers. Incidentally, this is the religion of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, “panty bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the USS Cole attackers, as well as the terrorist attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. You know, now that I think about it, virtually every terrorist attack on America in the past 30 years has been perpetrated not only by someone who ascribes to “The Religion of Peace,” but who perpetrate those attacks in the name of “The Religion of Peace.”

We could profile (i.e. take a closer look at) people who ascribe to the religion held by more than 90% of all terrorist attackers (we’d be stupid to ignore the connection–and if Muslims don’t like it, they should be doing more to stop violence within their own ranks), but we’re too afraid of being called names by evil people.  We could profile people who come from certain countries known to breed terrorism, and we do to some extent, but not nearly enough; after all, they might call us names if we acknowledged that terrorists are more likely to come from certain countries than others (calling good people names has always been easier than cleaning up the bad people in your own midst).

And though we already have terrorist watch lists to identify people with known or suspected terrorist ties, our bloated, politically correct and inefficient bureaucracy makes ineffectual use of such measures.  Remember, the “panty bomber” was on a UK watch list, though they allowed him to travel through that country, and though the British gave us his information, he was not added to the terrorist watch list.

As long as we refuse to deal decisively with terrorism and terrorist havens (even President Bush fell short in this area), we can expect the need for increased security. But things have become so egregious that even I, with my security background, am ready to declare with Benjamin Franklin that “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

4 Responses to “Travelers Tired of Being Treated Like Terrorists”

  1. I argued back in January that it is time for “Israelification of airport security.”

    Instead of adding endless layers of security to their procedures, as we do, the Israelis have kept it simple and direct and have suffered no serious breaches of airline security in her entire history.

    Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

    “The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

    The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

    “Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” according to Sela.

    Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of “distress” — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

    “The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”

  2. You bring up some excellent points, Dr. Theo.

    When I was a detective, I could walk into an interview room with a person, not having a clue whether I was going to be talking with a suspect, a witness, or someone who couldn’t tell me a single useful thing about my investigation…and walk out with a full confession, The confession usually came as a fruit of nonverbal cues that pointed to guilt; from there, it was just a matter of persistently ferreting out the truth.

    I’d be the Israelis are experts at such things.

    We should look at doing something more sensible like that here in the States. Of course, it would never fly with the unions; too few of their beneficiaries, er, employees would have the grey matter to do that kind of thing. Simpler just to treat everyone like terrorists and hope the real ones screw up and reveal themselves.

  3. I’m all for restoring the Constitution to airports. I haven’t flown since 9/11, and I will continue to avoid flying as much as possible, because honestly, I don’t think I could keep my mouth shut while being subjected to such treatment.

  4. If you think it’s bad for American citizen’s, you should see what it is like for the foreign wife of a natural born citizen. Last time my wife came back from Europe–after I spent three months struggling to get the government to straighten out the failure of the bureacrats to get her her green card renewed on time–after a nightmare week with all night train ride to the embassy and back, when she landed in Dallas, the customs agent threatened to send her back.