Leftovers from the Thanksgiving TSA ‘opt-out’ flop

The ballyhooed “opt-out” day for the new airport security-screening measures, scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving, sure fell flat. I heard anecdotes from relatives who flew over the holidays that they didn’t see the new scanners, and thus the new “enhanced” pat-downs, in use even at major airports. Until more travelers have had first-hand experience with the machines, I think relying on public opinion polls of the issue is premature, whether they show rising or declining support for the new measures.

All that said, one element in the debate that shouldn’t fade away over time is the fact that our national security bureaucracy always seems to be playing catch-up to an enemy that Christopher Hitchens, writing at Slate.com, calls far more “inventive and imaginative” than our own side:

Let me recommend regular reading of the magazine Inspire, the flagship publication of AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is remarkable for its jauntiness and confidence and sense of initiative. The cover of the most recent issue shows the tail of a UPS jet with the headline “$4,200.” That was the estimated outlay, for AQAP, of the toner operation that disrupted international air cargo for several days. Inside is a telling comment on the only countermeasure to be taken so far: the ban on toners of a certain weight. “Who is the genius who came up with this suggestion?” jeer the editors. “Do you think we have nothing to send but printers?” (Incidentally, I recommend this analysis of the latest issue of Inspire, written by Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College, London.)

The authors of this propaganda show a natural talent for psychological warfare. It is, one might say, “part and parcel” of the campaign they slightly unoriginally call “a thousand cuts.” But the simplicity of that scheme is as self-evident as its cunning. By means of everyday devices and products, plus a swelling number of human volunteers willing to die and kill, they can strike at will and even afford to taunt us in advance. While we pay salaries to thousands and thousands of dogged employees to glare suspiciously at shampoos and shoes and toners, the homicidal adversary discards those means as soon as they are used and switches to another. How they must chortle when they see how sensitive we are to the “invasion of privacy” involved in a close-up grope or a full-on body scan. In preparing their own bodies for paradise, they know no such inhibition. If they guess that we will not even think about how to pre-empt the appalling anal strategy [concealing weapons in body cavities] they so far guess right.

In Robert Harris’ brilliant political thriller “The Ghost [Writer],” the Tony Blair character becomes exasperated with facile liberalism and says:

“You know what I’d do if I were in power again? I’d say OK then, we’ll have two queues at the airports.

“On the left, we’ll have queues to flights on which we’ve done no background checks on the passengers: no profiling, no biometric data, nothing that infringes on anyone’s precious civil liberties, use no intelligence obtained under torture — nothing. On the right, we’ll have queues where we’ve done everything possible to make them safe for passengers.”

His angry challenge to his critics is to see which line those flying with their own children would choose to join. It’s a useful thought experiment. At the rate of current progress, however, I rather fear that AQAP might accept that very challenge and make it a point to blow up a plane full of passengers who had stayed in the ostensibly secure line. Or to give up on aviation altogether and start again with trains, which would come to our protectors as a total shock. The new tactics and propaganda of the enemy show them to be both inventive and imaginative. The response of our security state shows it to possess no such qualities.

Note the distinction Hitchens, in citing the Harris novel, draws between the type of three-steps-behind techniques we periodically see deployed in airports as alleged “enhanced security” and the more promising measures that ought to be conducted behind the scenes.

Now, which kind of security measures might make the editors of Inspire — and the terrorists they’re trying to motivate — take us more seriously?

30 comments Add your comment


November 30th, 2010
12:11 pm

As far as changing freedon, fear allows the bad guys to score points.


November 30th, 2010
12:19 pm

Until more travelers have had first-hand experience with the machines, I think relying on public opinion polls of the issue is premature.

How can you say that at all? What sort of personal experience will you have with a machine in an airport? The scan takes five seconds and you will never see what the image produced looks like. There’s no definitive answer on the storing of images either. All we have to go on are what we know of the machines…and I for one don’t want that kind of image taken of my body.

The machines are a horrible alternative and being pushed by Michael Chertoff – who also just happens to have stake in Rapiscan who makes the machines.

The TSA security theatre is a mess and we are always a step behind. Guy uses bottles? Well, let’s ban them over a certain size and scan the others. Guy tries to use his shoe, let’s make sure we take those off from now on. We need to privatize security and get it out from under this horrible government bloat. And that’s a liberal (me) saying that.


November 30th, 2010
12:33 pm

When the next major terrorist attack occurs, there will be much hand wringing and finger pointing. Politicans and pundits alike will have ideas for all sorts of things we should have done but didn’t. I wonder why we allways seem to wait till the horses have left the barn before doing what we should have done sooner.

Rafe Hollister

November 30th, 2010
12:43 pm

We need to find a way to put some of this pain and inconvenience back on the Muslim Terrorists. Not sure how you do that, but turnabout is fair play. Since innocent uninvolved Americans are required to live in a police state at airports, maybe we should return the favor.

Maybe intense questioning, profiling, and some invasive searches under those burqua’s and robes, would be so troubling to the Muslim community that they would bring pressure to bear on the Terrorists, Terrorist financiers, Muslim governments, terrorist apologists, et al, to stop these tactics.

Hard to stop someone with the what the heck attitude, of its not my money, I’m not going to suffer, and if it works I’m a hero.

Rafe Hollister

November 30th, 2010
12:49 pm

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that you can’t always play defense and win.

If you can’t cover the receivers, the only option for the defense is to try and pressure or sack the quarterback.

We need some out of the box thinking, rather than just doubling down on a defense that is getting stretched thin. Sorry about all the football analysis.

A Patriot

November 30th, 2010
12:58 pm

Wiki-leaks was the same as our government walking through a porno scanner.

Nothing but howls of indignation.

The PEOPLE’S indignation falls upon deaf ears.

After all, if you are not doing anything wrong, why would you be afraid? Isn’t that the statist rhetoric?

the guy on the couch

November 30th, 2010
1:08 pm

I always liked John Travolta’s concept from the film Swordfish. If they bomb a church, we bomb 10. If they hijack and airplane, we blow up an airport. The enemies of the United States need to understand and be terrified of the consequences of terrorism.

Left wing management

November 30th, 2010
1:32 pm

Linking to an old Trotskyist today, Kyle?

I’ll give you points for that.

Left wing management

November 30th, 2010
1:42 pm

Cunning is a key word in all of this.

Cunning. Surely one of the English language’s most underrated gifts to mankind’s linguistic stockpile.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

November 30th, 2010
2:10 pm

Put the burden of safety back on the airlines, in toto. Grant them exemption from all anti-discrimination laws insofar as passengers and shippers are concerned. Allow them to carry whomever and whatever they wish, and allow them to exclude whomever and whatever they wish. As the airlines have a measurable interest in keeping customers happy (and alive) the job will be done better. Those airlines that have scary customers will lose customers. Those airlines who lose aircraft to terrorists will lose customers. Get the government out of the way.

Atticus Finch

November 30th, 2010
2:41 pm

And while we’re letting the free market rule, let’s get rid of government air traffic controllers and government airports. Get the government out of the way.


November 30th, 2010
3:34 pm

I too thought the media frenzy over the full body scanners and full body pat downs was silly and dangerous. I was glad that in the end there was no story there. I know what the terrorists will take seriously … constant military disruption of their efforts. But I also don’t think we can get rid of all the visible security measures — if only to maintain public confidence in our security system however flawed.

Raymond Huffman

November 30th, 2010
3:56 pm

I’ve never heard of anything as silly and ridiculous as this. All anybody needs to inflict terror on this country is a handful of psychos with synchronized watches, lighters, and cans of gasoline. Glad to see somebody mentioning trains. Trains have zero security. Anybody could strap or carry an explosive device and detonate it under Grand Central station at any time. Obama would probably take a line from Bush as say “nobody could have foreseen terrorists .” Garbage. This entire 9/11 fear thing is a farce. Those who did it are still at large and probably proclaiming victory. As Bush said “they hate our freedom,” so Bush decided to take all our freedom away, giving terrorists no reason to hate us anymore. Heckuva job!


November 30th, 2010
4:15 pm

Put a swine in the 1st class section on every flight, if the Hindus get rad, include a calf.


November 30th, 2010
4:20 pm

Ragnar Danneskjöld, that is the correct answer in this case. The airlines would profile in a heartbeat and we all know who they’d be singling out for questioning and a close look. For the vast majority of us, we’d breeze right through and be perfectly safe.

on patroll

November 30th, 2010
4:44 pm

ALL businesses reserve the right to not serve you. some restaurants even post it out in the open.
if you are on the no-fly list you can’t fly or the airline will make it annoying too.
scary people planes? that idea is retarded. pretty people planes, fat people planes.
what equates a scary person anyway?
so basically you want the airlines to screen instead of the govt.
makes me safer just thinking about it.


November 30th, 2010
5:13 pm

Do you watch the news at all? Take a look at every single terrorist who has tried to take down an airplane in this country in the past 10 years and that will give you a clue. It’s a task your average middle schooler could handle with 5 minutes of training.


November 30th, 2010
5:16 pm

If we could just rid ourselves of all the touchy feelie liberals, we might stand a chance of surviving.

Double Standard

November 30th, 2010
5:25 pm

That’s right Kyle, kiss uncle ASSets!

Clyde Wingnut

November 30th, 2010
6:23 pm

Can we respect the season and tone it down?

Question Authority

November 30th, 2010
6:32 pm

Air travel was WAY off for the holiday travel period, the TSA shut down many of the porno scanners and restricted the molestations, everyone from congress to the late night comedians was talking about it, Ron Paul introduced legislation to end it, police were called to arrest TSA agents over it and millions have vowed to never fly again until the policies are changed or the TSA is abolished. If that’s what you call a “flop” then I would like to know what you think a “success” looks like.

Wake up Kyle. The people have finally said enough is enough and the state is finally showing fear.


November 30th, 2010
7:12 pm

I opted out by not flying over Thanksgiving, and I’m driving my daughter to Texas for Christmas. The airlines will get no money from me this year. As more people choose alternative travel methods, our voices will be heard.


November 30th, 2010
7:45 pm

About 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. Enough said about “pat downs” don’t you think.


November 30th, 2010
7:52 pm

To Laurie at 7:12pm who says “I opted out by not flying over Thanksgiving, and I’m driving my daughter to Texas for Christmas.”. That a way to show those terrorists you mean business.


November 30th, 2010
8:48 pm

9/11 means never having to say you’re sorry, right?

And that there is NO limit on what rights we should give up to be “safe”? OK then.

9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11

Strip search, sodium pentothal.. What, that’s going too far?

Question Authority

November 30th, 2010
8:50 pm

Maybe we could invade and kill tens of thousands of Muslims in the Phillipines in the late 1800’s when they think they are finally getting independence from Spain. Then we can promise to prop up the authoritarian Saudi regime against its own people in the early 1900’s on behalf of Shell Oil. Then we can help the other imperial powers carve up the Ottoman Empire and enable the British, French and Spanish to walk all over the Muslims in the Middle East. This would include the creation of the artificial country of Iraq. As well maybe we could sign the Balflour agreement assuring the creation of a zionist state in the Middle east. Then we could invade portions of N. Africa and support the French in their exploitation of the Algerians. Then we could stage a few CIA backed coups to oust democratically elected leaders like in Iran where we put the Shah in place who murdered and tortured tens of thousands. Then we could help put Saddam in place. Then we could send billions of dollars to horrible regimes of muslim countries. Then we could send billions and weapon systems to Israel and back them unilaterally as they continue to destroy homes and livlihoods of Palestinians and set up a middle east aparteid. Then we can prop up the government of Suharto in Indonesia while he exploits his Muslim population (same for Marcos in the Phillipines again). Then we can tell Saddam that we really don’t care about his issues with his neighbors then attack him when he invades them. Then we can blockade his country, ban medicine and even water treatment chemicals and cause the deaths of over 1 million children. And then invade and destroy them again another decade later (all based on lies).

So how many churches did we bomb before the terrorists finally reacted on 9-11??

Its amazing how many americans are so ignorant of the actions of their govnerment or how many think that history began on 9-11. You know the families of the dead we have killed don’t forget – and the totals are well into the millions. That’s not to say that revenge is an appropriate response, but many of you obviously support the concept – so long as americans are the only ones allowed to exact revenge. Your ignorance is exactly the thing our government exploits the most as they put you and all of us in more and more danger with their actions.

Question Authority

November 30th, 2010
8:52 pm

ackack – no, being american means never having to say you are sorry (or even care).

Ayn Rant

December 1st, 2010
6:31 am

I’ve just had first-hand experience with new scanners, old scanners, and pat downs on a 10-day trip to Argentina. No big deal, except the tedious multiple security checks and the blatant inefficiency and waste of the US approach.

In Argentina, passengers entering the secure boarding areas go through the standard metal detection procedures: the passenger’s carry-on baggage and metallic personal effects go through the x-ray machine; the passenger walks through a magnetic arch. (Just like at my local county courthouse). No need to remove shoes or jackets, or put liquid items in a special pouch. At the embarkation gate, all carry-on baggage is hand inspected and all passengers are patted down. It took about 45 minutes for 5 security agents to screen all the passengers (220) and their carry-on items for one of Delta’s fully booked Boeing 767s.

On arriving in the US, the passenger first waits in long lines to get his passport stamped , then stands in longer, chaotic lines for an unnecessary security check using the ridiculously expensive new scanners and pat downs. The passenger must remove shoes, belts, jackets, and all personal effects except the basic clothing. Even non-metallic paper and plastic objects must be removed from the pockets. Scores of security agents are involved in the screening. Probably, behind the scenes, there are several more security agents snickering over the images of the electronically-undressed ugly bodies of the passengers.

We Americans can always find a way to create a lot of low-paying, tedious jobs, and spend millions on high-tech machines just to do the simple job that a few common-sense foreigners can do more quickly and thoroughly. Then, of course, we complain, whine, analyze, criticize, and, in the end, do nothing about the mess we have created.


December 1st, 2010
8:28 am

Let the airlines do security?

Now that is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time! For numerous reasons!

For you conveniently forgetful fake conservatives and libertarians out there, let’s go back in time just a short while ago, shall we?

The good old days for you Uncle Sam haters, when the “free market” was in charge of airport security.

I’m sure you faithful remember the name Argenbright Security.

They were the highly disgraced Atlanta based security company that had criminals in their employ, who allowed many unguarded and unlocked access points and doors around the airport and who allowed people to board aircraft with weapons.

ALL AFTER September 11, 2001.

Oh yeah, and there is that uncomfortable little fact (that thing you GOPhers loathe so much).

They were the inept clowns who were working at Washington, NYC and Boston on that fateful day.

Yet more proof that the “free market” always does everything better than the government, right?!


December 1st, 2010
12:34 pm

The TSA turned off their naked scanner machines for several days around Thanksgiving so they could claim noone opted out during opt out day. Question is, if this extraordinarily invasive
procedure is necessary for safety, did they criminally neglect our safety by shutting down this extremely important protection of our safety for political motivations.