Jewish World Review August 15, 2002 / 7 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There is no tyranny like petty tyranny, as Fred Hubbell has learned to his sorrow. Hubbell, 80, was tired and cranky as he was undergoing his second pat-down by security guards at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut August 2. Hubbell lost it when one of the Transportation Security Administration screeners started going through his wallet.
"You better look at it real good. There may be a rifle in there," Hubbell snapped, according to Dana Cosgrove, head of the local TSA security force. Hubbell was led away in handcuffs, fingerprinted, and locked in a holding cell. Eventually he was released without charges being pressed. But, of course, he missed his flight.
In Philadelphia in January, a pilot for US Air was strip-searched. He asked the screeners why they were searching him for tweezers or nail clippers when - since he was the pilot of the airplane - he could crash the plane in his underwear if he wanted to. The pilot was arrested.
Judy Powell, 55, a British tourist, bought a G.I. Joe doll for her grandson, George, while on a visit to Los Angeles. When she tried to board a flight home to London, security screeners at LAX confiscated the two inch plastic M-16 the doll was "armed" with. The Transportation Security Administration has a list of 66 items - including toy guns and transformer robots - that are now banned from airplanes. If you are caught with one in your luggage, you could be fined up to $1,100.
A security guard at JFK airport in New York forced Elizabeth McGarry, 40, to drink from the three bottles of breast milk she was carrying with her for her baby daughter Maggie to prove it wasn't dangerous.
The Flight Attendants union has written twice to Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta to complain that female flight attendants are being groped by male security guards. The flight attendants aren't alone. As she tried to board a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento in February, 50-year-old Susan Schmidt said a screener "ran his hands under her sweater, up to her bra, then down to her hips."
The Transportation Security Administration unquestionably has been effective in protecting us from grumpy old men, wisecracking pilots, and lactating mothers. But it has been less vigilant in other areas. Roughly a third of fake guns and bombs have gotten past screeners in TSA tests. And although passengers and aircrews routinely are searched, thousands of mechanics, caterers and ramp workers who have access to airplanes are not.
Airport security isn't rocket science. But it also can't be conducted effectively by arrogant idiots who lack both judgment and discretion. The job of the TSA is to protect air travelers, not to harrass them. What is needed is less petty fascism, and more common sense.
The great danger, as we learned on Sept. 11, is that hijackers will turn an airliner into a flying bomb. But if the pilots have guns, and the hijackers don't, the odds on a successful hijacking drop to near zero. Those pilots who wish to carry guns (which is most of them) should be permitted to do so forthwith.
The list of contraband items should be winnowed down to real weapons. If the TSA clowns spent less time rummaging through luggage for tweezers and nail clippers, they might actually find more of the guns and the bombs in the tests.
More attention should be paid to employees who have access to aircraft. If screeners weren't so gloriously incompetent, the easiest way for a hijacker to get a gun on an airplane would be to have a confederate in the food service or cleaning crews to preposition it for him.
Random searches should be ended. Senior citizens and small children are unlikely to harbor terrorist sentiments, and unlikely to be able to overpower the aircrew even if they did. The only people who should be singled out for special attention are those on law enforcement watch lists, and those who fit a terror profile. This means swarthy males in their 20s to 40s; people who travel without luggage, or who buy one way tickets for cash.
Finally, lose the attitude. Frustrated people shouldn't be arrested just for calling stupid and arrogant screeners stupid and arrogant. The First Amendment wasn't repealed on Sept. 11. We're fighting the war on terror to make sure it never will be.
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