The Transportation Security Administration has changed the rules of
its airport-security system just in time to create extra hassle for the millions
of busy holiday travelers. More travelers will be subjected to random pat-downs.
Screeners will routinely grope the thighs of attractive women. Security officers,
now trained in "behavior recognition," will identify travelers who
seem nervous (imagine that, somebody running the airport-security gauntlet and
appearing nervous) and pull them aside for bonus hassling.
On the plus side, however, passengers will now be allowed to bring onboard
small scissors and tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches – unless Senator
Charles E. Schumer and Representative Edward J. Markey can intervene successfully
by gaining passage of a bill to disallow this rule change. Congress, ever on
the ball, plans to hold a committee hearing on this vital issue as soon as possible.
All of this sound and fury signifies . . . not exactly nothing, yet hardly
what it purports to signify. Most important, it has nothing much to do with
actual security. It's mainly for show, to demonstrate that the government is
dedicated to protecting us against terrorists. Thank God for the government's
protection. Why, without it, somebody might destroy the Twin Towers or crash
a large, fuel-laden aircraft into the Pentagon in broad daylight. Oops, never
mind. The government steadfastly maintains the view expressed in immortal words
of General "Buck" Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove, "Well, ahh, I
don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slipup."
Although I myself do not possess a natural criminal mind – indeed, I
have advanced to the verge of eligibility for an old-age pension from Social
Security without committing any reported assaults, batteries, robberies, thefts,
rapes, murders, or DWI offenses – I can conceive of a variety of ways
in which a few determined adults might easily commandeer or destroy a commercial
aircraft or seriously disrupt the operation of the air-travel industry. Individuals
such as those who pulled off the hijackings of 9/11, having both the requisite
determination and the resourceful criminal mind, surely can concoct plans even
better than mine.
If airplanes have not been hijacked and air travel has not been substantially
disrupted (except by the government's security measures) during the past four
years, it is probably because nobody really tried very hard to achieve these
objectives. If someone had made a serious attempt, he almost certainly would
have succeeded. (Forget that moron, the shoe bomber; besides, even he was thwarted
only by the passengers' quick reactions.) Of course, one thing such a determined
malefactor would not have tried was a plan that exposed his efforts to discovery
or interruption by the airport security system. The generals, it is said, always
prepare for the last war. Likewise, the TSA prepares to prevent the last hijacking.
Or pretends to do so.
In view of what a farce the whole degrading, obnoxious, contemptible, outrageous
system actually is, one has to wonder why it was put in place to begin with
and why it remains in place years later in more or less its initial form. Perhaps
we can find a clue in the recent statement of BWI Airport spokesman Jonathan
Dean: "The traveling public is accustomed to security protocols and procedures."
Therefore, do not worry about the recent amendments to the system: "The
new actual changes aren't dramatic."
Which is to say, the system remains much as it was before: a degrading, obnoxious,
contemptible, outrageous farce. It's also a blatant violation of the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, although the government's lap-dog judges
say otherwise. I know that I am not the only person in America who looks at
this thuggery as I do. So what's going on?
Two years ago, in an assessment of the new federal airport-security arrangements
published in the San Francisco Chronicle, I noted that it "routinely abases
and humiliates the entire population, rendering us docile and compliant and
thereby preparing us to play our assigned role in the Police State that the
Bush administration has been building relentlessly." In the light of what
I have observed since making that observation, I cannot help but believe now
that I was barking up the right tree then.
Strange as it might seem, most people get used to being treated as criminals
or inmates in a concentration camp. Americans are no exception. Keep beating
them down, and eventually you will produce a thoroughly cowed and compliant
herd, a mass of pliant raw material in the hands of their political masters,
perfectly willing to sacrifice their dignity rather than irritate an airport-security
thug and be made to miss a flight. And heaven forbid that they write their congressional
representative to complain. Such impudence might get them placed on some black
list at the TSA or even at the FBI. Best to keep quiet, stay in line, act as
they are ordered to act. Even making jokes, an airport sign I saw in Houston
warned, might result in your arrest; so nobody jokes.
Our rulers may not be alchemists, able to turn base metal into gold,
but they know how to turn humans into sheep. Well might we ask about this remarkable
trick; cui bono?
Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent
Institute and editor of The Independent Review. His most recent book is Resurgence
of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11. He is also the author of Against