Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hoo Boy, Watch the Security Lines Now

We flew from Maryland to Iowa this week and I've got to say, security lines have not been a big problem on this trip. We had some terrible delays, some flights were canceled because of weather and some because of mechanical problems, we sat for two hours on one plane while the pilot was stuck in traffic coming to work, but the security lines in the airports were mostly orderly and fast.

I got picked in Chicago for a special check, they put me in one of those new scanners that look through your clothes. The guy was so serious, he told me to show him what was in my "right front back pocket." He got quite impatient with me when I didn't know where my front back pocket was. I had some coins in my "right front" pocket, but not enough to set off the metal detector, and my wallet was in my "right back" pocket, and they allowed me to fly.

It was interesting to see how they pat you down. This big serious guy says, "I am going to pat your pocket to see if there's anything else there" after I had taken the change and guitar picks out. Then he had me turn around and said "Now I'm going to pat your back pocket with the back of my hand," after I had taken my wallet out of it. Just a little institutional homophobia, I guess, making sure I didn't think he was getting frisky with me. Frisky involves the palm, not the back of the hand, very important distinction.

Here's the New York Times:
Transportation authorities began imposing tighter security measures at airports on Saturday as investigators conducted searches to learn more about the Nigerian engineering student accused of igniting an incendiary device aboard a Northwest Airlines jet as it landed in Detroit on Friday.

The White House declared the incident "an attempted act of terrorism." The plane landed safely around noon on Christmas Day after passengers helped subdue the suspect.

As a result of the attack, British Airways announced on its Web site on Saturday that passengers flying from London to the United States would be allowed to carry only one item onto a plane. In addition, an official of the United States Homeland Security Department said Friday night that other unspecified security measures would be imposed at the nation’s airports. The Transportation Security Administration was also holding a briefing on Saturday morning. Governments React After Terror Attempt on Airplane

I hate to be in the Midwest and see the words "tighter security measures at airports" in the news.

I guess this guy entered the system in Lagos -- our security in the US depends on screening in Nigeria. But like, what would they have found? Of course at this early point the news is vague, it's mostly rumor and propaganda, you don't know if he was actually connected to any organization or if he had a real explosive. I read somewhere that he set his crotch on fire. That is not intelligent terrorism.

Here's the NYT:
It was unclear how the suspect managed to get the explosive on the plane, an Airbus A330 wide-body jet carrying 278 passengers that departed from Amsterdam with passengers who had originated in Nigeria. A senior administration official said that the government did not yet know whether the man had had the capacity to take down the plane.

The device, described by officials as a mixture of powder and liquid, failed to fully detonate. Passengers on the plane described a series of pops that sounded like firecrackers.

In classic fashion, they refer to the stuff as "the explosive," though it did not explode and nobody knows what it is, really. He could have been lighting his airplane trail mix on fire for all we know, they would have still called it "the explosive" because that sounds much scarier than "airplane trail mix."

And this "ranking Republican:"
“This was the real deal,” said Representative Peter T. King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Saturday. He was briefed on the incident and said something had gone wrong with the explosive device, which he described as somewhat sophisticated. “This could have been devastating,” Mr. King said.

Of course it's the real deal, because only the real deal will scare Americans in the way we learned to enjoy in the Bush era. If it was some Nigerian mental case pouring his airplane trail mix into his pants and setting it on fire there would be no reason to panic, and we like to panic.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official said that the materials Mr. Abdulmutallab had on him were “more incendiary than explosive,” and that he had tried to ignite them to cause a fire as the airliner was approaching Detroit.

Mr. Abdulmutallab told law enforcement authorities, the official said, that he had had explosive powder taped to his leg and that he had mixed it with chemicals held in a syringe.

A federal counterterrorism official who asked not to be identified said Mr. Abdulmutallab was apparently in a government law enforcement-intelligence database, but it is not clear what extremist group or individuals he might be linked to.

I'm trying to make sense of that. The guy's in the database but they don't know why. Somebody went to the "government law enforcement-intelligence database" and typed in "Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab" and got a hit, and then didn't scroll over to read what else it said. Yup, boss, he's in there, well that's the end of my shift, I gotta go. And wouldn't it have been a good idea to check the database before letting him on the airplane?

As far as public decision-making goes, I don't like the way this is heading. Guy has a Muslim name, he's from Nigeria, he fits the stereotype, so right off the top "ranking Republicans" and government experts are crowing that he's the real deal and everybody should freak out. The security level at the airports was orange already -- did you know they still announce that every few minutes, even though it's been orange for years? Now they caught a guy trying to do something, they're going to bump up security and slow everybody down, frighten everybody, but it's too late. You have to catch the terrorists before they set their crotches on fire, it's no good to inconvenience everybody for nothing after the painful event.

One guy tried something, let's say it was real, let's say he had been assigned by al Qaeda to put actual explosive trail mix in his pants -- what is the true statistical predictive value of that fact for similar acts in the near future? In the weeks after the Shoe Bomber got stopped, exactly how many people attempted to use their shoes as bombs? At least eight gazillion people took their shoes off to be x-rayed -- they're still doing that, we're still going through security barefoot -- and nobody had a bomb in their shoes. It is unproductive to lock everything down after a guy has ignited an incendiary trail mix crotch-pack on an airplane already, but you know it's going to happen just to make people feel that the government is doing something.

Some may object to my tone here, I should not make light of a serious attempted terrorist attack. I am a firm believer in real security, and I am a critic of faux-security. After 9/11 we allowed our government to manipulate our fear level, we handed common sense over to the Bush administration and they used it politically to get people elected and to suppress objective discussion about whether we should attack a couple of countries that had not done anything to us. The stereotype of the Muslim terrorist emerged, even as more probable terrorists of the right-wing variety were demoted in the press. And now we've got this, an incompetent Nigerian scorching his genitals with incendiary trail-mix, and the TV news loves it.

It is possible that this character was sent by an anti-American organization to blow up an airplane. If that is true, he didn't do a very good job of it. He could have gone into the bathroom to set off his bomb, for instance, or he could have used a material that would actually explode and not just pop like a small firecracker and burn his britches. If he was sent by an organization, in other words, they were not very well organized.

I do want the airlines and our federal government to ensure safety for air travelers as well as they can. I do not want terrorists to blow up airplanes with innocent people on them. And there might be ways to prevent that, it makes sense to keep a list of known members of terrorist organizations, for instance, and then monitor or prevent their use of airplanes. But many, if not most, of the measures that are taken do not make anyone safer. We saw this scare-everybody approach in the Bush years, and it appears the same stuff will continue in the new administration, techniques have been designed to remind people constantly that they should live in fear, to encourage people to be suspicious of one another, to persuade people to rely more on big-brother government.

Word is just coming out on the new procedures as I write this. Early reports say you won't be able to get out of your seat or set anything on your lap for the last hour of a flight now. Great, so people won't be able to get out of their seats now, like the people did who jumped on this Nigerian guy and prevented him from doing whatever he was starting to do, while he stayed in his seat. Whatever, people have to feel like somebody is doing something, I guess.

NBC News is reporting on the new procedures:
  • Pat downs of passengers at airport security, concentrating on the upper torso and legs;
  • Physical inspections of all carry-on bags at the gate;
  • Requiring all passengers to be seated for the full hour prior to arrival;
  • Banning the use of blankets and pillows one hour prior to arrival.

In other words, they're going to treat every passenger on every flight as if they were going to do exactly what this last guy did. If you carry your explosives incendiary stuff on your arms instead of your legs and set if off in the first part of the trip rather than the last part you'll have no problem.

We do need to be careful, in a realistic way. There are lots of people out there who don't like the United States, and some of them are violent. I would like to see the threat of random attacks treated objectively. I would like to know that government officials are able to assess the probability of an attack at any time, and that they will have done the reconnaissance necessary to anticipate where it will come from -- they had advance warning that this Nigerian was bad news and did not capitalize on it. I would like to know that there are evacuation procedures and a plan for responding when an attack does occur, given the fact that it will probably not resemble previous incidents. I would like them to eliminate or at least reduce danger before guys start lighting their crotches on fire on actual occupied airplanes in the air.

Clamping down our national sphincters after a scare does not make anybody safer, and that should be the goal, to make people safer. It's very difficult to defend against random violence, I understand, but frightening the public advances a xenophobic political perspective without increasing real security.


Blogger Hazumu Osaragi said...

Below is a piece I posted at Huffington Post. Statistically, you are more at risk of dying in your personal automobile than in a plane crash. Statistically you are more at risk of dying in a plane crash that is a true accident than in a terrorist-precipitated incident. Yet we freak out over the terrorists, and are oddly matter-of-fact over highway deaths.

If you are of a mind that 'we' have to 'hit back', you better be signed up in the U.S. Military and tracked for a rotation or 5 to Iraq/Afghanistan. Otherwise, you're a chickenhawk whiner. I've earned the right to say this after serving 20 years on active duty.

Before 9/11 happened on American soil, other countries dealt with terrorist acts.

London in particular suffered a string of bombings at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

Somehow, Londoners didn't get the feeling that the IRA was out to get them personally.

Some took the precaution of avoiding the London Underground (London's subway, to yanks), a favourite target of the IRA due to large numbers of people in a confined space with no chance of exit.

Londoners could well imagine themselves being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet for the most part, they continued to ride the tube (while putting up with increased security measures and being exhorted to report suspicious people or packages to the authorities.

In America, a country that had not suffered a successful terrorist event that was planned and coordinated by foreigners (but had suffered random acts by its own citizens, which somehow makes it okay?), did an absolute collective freakout after the events of 9/11.

America, for the most part, has been deep in the PTSD since the event. Worse yet, the actions America has taken since then has exacerbated the PTSD. And the mere threat of this recent attempt is setting susceptible PTSD sufferers off again... When will Americ begin the long, slow road to recovery?

December 27, 2009 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

And Hoo Boy, check this out. Today's WaPo reports:

An alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration -- if there were one.

Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up President Obama's nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.

DeMint, in a statement, said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged attempted attack in Detroit "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA."

For now, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack." He said that if organized labor were involved, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

Two Senate committees have given their bipartisan blessing to Erroll Southers, a former FBI special agent and a counterterrorism expert who is Obama's nominee. But DeMint has objected to a full Senate vote, saying he wants additional testimony to clarify Southers's stand on unionizing the TSA, a shift Democrats support...

The Grand Obstructionist Party's only MO these days, "just say no," is not a good one to employ when we're talking about our transportation security! Let's see how long it takes DeMint to do the right thing and drop his hold to allow the Senate to vote up or down to appoint "a former FBI special agent and a counterterrorism expert" as head of the TSA.

And here's another interesting tidbit about this attempted Christmas attack. Yesterday ABC News reported:

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

American officials agreed to send the two terrorists from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia where they entered into an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.

Guantanamo prisoner #333, Muhamad Attik al-Harbi, and prisoner #372, Said Ali Shari, were sent to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 9, 2007, according to the Defense Department log of detainees who were released from American custody. Al-Harbi has since changed his name to Muhamad al-Awfi.

Hmmmm, November 2007. So Bush was President when we decided to allow these two to be sent to Bush's good friends' country, Saudia Arabia, to attend "art therapy rehabilitation program."

There you go. The five hundred detainees Bush released from Gitmo are another mess Bush left for Obama to clean up.

DeMint should get out of President Obama's way and let him do his job.

December 29, 2009 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, and we all know how hard candidate Obama tried to keep the Bush administration from releasing those being held at Guantanomo

I guess anon-B is planning a New Year's resolution to stop being such a jackass and, much like Mardi Gras, she has to get it all out the Tuesday before the day of revised behavior

after the Bush administration successfully avoided any further terrorist strikes after 9/11, Barry O's incomptency shines through with two incidents already in less than a year

so much failure has rarely been shown by a President in such a short time: the embarassing Copenhagen fiasco; the mismanagement of the healthcare debate; the foreign policy outfoxing by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran; the blow-up of a simple police mistake in Cambridge; the surprise skyrocketing unemployment rate; the gratuious attacks on the CIA; the public dithering over Afghanistan; the non-effective "stimulus" bill; the dis by the IOC; I could go, as we all know

we rolled the dice on an inexperienced guy with a sketchy background

we lost

maybe the best thing would be for Barry to resign and give Biden a shot

at least Joe would connive in the interest of the country

December 29, 2009 12:38 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Wow, what a poor loserman you continue to be Anone.

we all know how hard candidate Obama tried to keep the Bush administration from releasing those being held at Guantanomo

We all know how hard President Obama pushes to imprison Gitmo occupants in escapeless supermax prisons here in the US. He has never advocated for Gitmo occupants to undergo "art therapy rehabilitation programs" in Saudi Arabia.

I guess anon-B is planning a New Year's resolution to stop being such a jackass

LOL that's a good one coming from you!

like Mardi Gras, she has to get it all out the Tuesday before the day of revised behavior

I do not act based on ancient christian myths that were based on pre-Christian spring fertility rites.

Bush administration successfully avoided any further terrorist strikes after 9/11

The keyword in this statement is **after** because 9/11, the worst act of terrorism ever committed on US soil most certainly happened during the Bush Administration. In fact it happened just about a month after Bush got a PDB warning him that terrorists were planning to commit acts of terror on US soil. And what did Bush do to keep us safe when he learned about this planning? Nothing, not a single thing. Read Richard Clarke's firsthand account of what went on inside Bush's White House in that first year.

the embarassing Copenhagen fiasco

That was nothing compared to the embarrassing Bush fiascos like abandoning the hunt for Bin Laden so he could go to war in Iraq, the "heckuva" federal response to Hurricane Katrina, groping another world leader - German Chancellor Angela Merkel - at the 2006 G-8, "Mission Accomplished," being snubbed by world leaders at the 2008 G20, etc.

the mismanagement of the healthcare debate

The healthcare debate has led both houses of Congress to approve healthcare reform bills that will cover millions of uninsured Americans, ensure that none of us is denied coverage because of our pre-exisiting conditions, or when we come down with serious illness, or when we lose or change our jobs, and simultaneously reduce our federal deficit. These bills only need to be reconciled so President Obama can sign these much needed healthcare reforms into law.

That's what I call success.

And here you are Anone, belly aching about Chicago being turned down to host the Olympic games. Boo hoo.

Try to have a happy New Year celebration anyway.

December 30, 2009 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

obviously, anon-B insists on earning her Hee-Haw Brayer of the Year award

don't worry, AB

you've got it locked up

your knee-jerk reaction to any criticism of Obama is "Bush did it too"

strange that after all the criticism your peeps had of Bush that you make him the standard by which to judge Obama, especially when Obama pushed the "change" theme so shamelessly

also strange that after the bizarre criticism of Bush for reading a book to children after hearing of 9/11, that we hear nothing about Barry finishing his golf game

I'd tend to side with both the Presidents here but it should be noted that Bush had competent people to delegate to

if Obama had been in Washington, perhaps his pathetic Homeland Security Director wouldn't be saying "the system worked"

we lucked out that the guy didn't have the skill to pull it off and that our fellow citizens were brave and decisive

Janet Whatever should be replaced

she was appointed for the wrong reasons anyway, not expertise in these matters

also, how about all the criticism of Bush's administration for not heeding intelligence warnings contrasted with the revelations about this guy that even Britain wouldn't give a visa to?

"The healthcare debate has led both houses of Congress to approve healthcare reform bills that will cover millions of uninsured Americans, ensure that none of us is denied coverage because of our pre-exisiting conditions, or when we come down with serious illness, or when we lose or change our jobs, and simultaneously reduce our federal deficit."

The bill isn't going to reduce the deficit, you idiot. It will increase our debt, raise taxes, reduce quality, reduce choice and leave millions uninsured.

Oh, and insure world domination by the Chinese.

Except that the Democrats will lose control in November 2010 and the whole thing will be reversed, if it actually passes.

"These bills only need to be reconciled so President Obama can sign these much needed healthcare reforms into law."

Is that all?

We'll see. Unions are furious about the tax on their hard-fought-for insurance policies. Liberals are furious there's no public option. Pro-lifers in the House say the Nelson sell-out in the Senate is unacceptable. Even Obama says he wants to see more significant cost containment measures before he'll sign it.

Oh, and the public is strongly against it.

"That's what I call success."

You must define it like Reid and Pelosi then.

Pass anything called health reform!

"And here you are Anone, belly aching about Chicago being turned down to host the Olympic games. Boo hoo."

I couldn't care less about the Olympics. I just note the incident as another failure by Obama and a diminishment of the office of the Presidency.

Chicago was in second place before Obama went there. After his narcisstic ramble, the U.S. was the first country eliminated.

To use a sports metaphor, our leader, he of the sketchy background, has been shut out.

December 30, 2009 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's right

shut out

December 30, 2009 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen Dowd, New York Times

"I was walking through a deserted downtown on Christmas Eve with a friend, past the lonely, gray Treasury Building, past the snowy White House with no president inside.

“I hope the terrorists don’t think this is a good time to attack,” I said, looking protectively at the White House, which always looks smaller and more vulnerable and beautiful than you expect, no matter how often you see it up close.

I thought our guard might be down because of the holiday; now I realize our guard is down every day.

One thrilling thing about moving from W. to Barack Obama was that Obama seemed like an avatar of modernity.

W., Dick Cheney and Rummy kept ceaselessly dragging us back into the past. America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.

Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?

President Obama’s favorite word is “unprecedented,” as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies’ penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he’s getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.

On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano had first tried to deny: that there had been “a systemic failure” and a “catastrophic breach of security.”

But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.

Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days — just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to “Total Recall.”

All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the president’s disembodied voice, talking about “deficiencies.”

Citing the attempt of the Nigerian’s father to warn U.S. authorities six months ago, the president intoned: “It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.

Heck of a job, Barry."

December 30, 2009 10:26 AM  

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