Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 326- Snow, again, and airport security

MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that in order to address the most
up-to-date threats possible, we have instituted the very best in technology and in screening efforts in order to detect that threat.

Q And what’s wrong with the Israeli system, where they’re questioning before they even get close to the gate? Is that --

MR. GIBBS: I would point out that I think the Israelis have, I think, it’s two airports -- two international airports. I think that’s right. It’s one?

Q It’s one, I think --

MR. GIBBS: -- in Tel Aviv. We have 450. This is -- there is a scale that is -- and I’ve seen -- look, I’ve watched and read the stories of, well, can’t you just do what -- understanding the scale involved is infinitely different.

11/22/2010 Press Briefing

Dear Mr. President,

It's snowing in Seattle, reminding me that in the early days of this blog I often wrote to you about the snow on the East Coast. I guess that means the year is actually coming to an end. Whoever reads your mail is probably pretty happy about that.

This winter, the addition of new airport screening methods is causing quite a stir with holiday travelers. The invasive scans and pat-downs have been discussed with anger, mortification and no small amount of humor from those who have experienced them. When I saw the exchange between Robert Gibbs and the reporter suggesting that the US adopt Israeli airport procedures, I had to chuckle a little. He doesn't finish his sentence, but he seems to suggest that he's heard stories about Israeli airports that would make the reporter reconsider this idea. Having had my own experience with the security practices of the Tel Aviv airport, I found this whole thing (the reporter's naive suggestion and Mr. Gibbs' politically correct self-censorship) kind of hilarious.

I've long wondered how much Americans would put up with in the name of our own illusion of safety. Because an illusion is all it is. Some one will invent a bomb that can't be seen on the scanners, or a new way to blow up airplanes. And then maybe we will have to be given polygraphs before getting on board. The Israeli woman who stripped me down to my underwear and yelled at me for an hour didn't make any one on that flight any safer by doing so. I'm certain that she believed she did, and that the other security officials and the TSA scanners all believe they are doing the right thing. (Or at least aren't bothered enough by it to find other jobs.) So I'm not going to criticize them. They are the face (and hands) of the policy, but not the suits behind it.

I've seen a number of bloggers and commentators make the point that this is what the terrorists wanted. To scare us into ridiculous, invasive, un-American behavior. I have to say I agree with them. This method of random screening is just not effective. At my own job, I could search the bags of every person leaving the store to make sure they aren't stealing (or "randomly screen" one in ten bags) but I'd quickly alienate our customers and everyone- the store, the customers, and me, would suffer as a result. Instead, my coworkers and I look for behavior that is suspicious or for the faces of past offenders. We share information with other stores and they with us, and we work together to help each other prevent theft whenever possible.

I do understand that theft and mass murder are much different. Some one who gets away with stealing is easier to shrug off than some one who successfully blows up an airplane. But, for all of the security innovation since 9/11, time and time again, the factor most responsible for preventing attacks has been the awareness of other passengers and airline employees. I do not believe that the sacrifice of our freedoms (or our dignity) is necessary to keep us safe. It may make those of you in positions of authority feel better, as though you have minimized your own responsibility for any tragedies that might strike, but that doesn't sound quite as nobel when used to justify this suspect behavior.

For now, I'm going to go play in the snow and be grateful I'm not flying anywhere this holiday season. I sincerely hope you reconsider this policy, and remember that the erosion of our liberties is a far greater victory for those who seek to destroy this country than any loss of life could ever be.

Respectfully yours,


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