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Jewish World Review July 23, 2002 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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Clearing the way for real airport security | Did you hear the one about the 87-year-old grandmother who had her knitting needles taken away by airport security? They were afraid she was going to knit an Afghan.

That is just one of many jibes at the fraudulent airport security measures adopted since September 11. Fortunately, the man responsible for cobbling together this national joke, John Magaw, has just resigned -- clearing the way for real airport security.

Under Magaw's leadership, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has erected a giant smokescreen designed to give the illusion of security -- while deliberately obstructing the measures really required to stop terrorists.

How has air transportation changed since September 11? There is only one discernable difference: long lines in which ordinary citizens are subjected to humiliating searches and unnecessary delays. Manpower is wasted searching people who are obviously not terrorists -- including the 87-year-old grandmothers -- and confiscating innocuous items like nail-clippers.

The only purpose of these random searches is to maintain the pretense that anyone could be a terrorist, that there are no profiles or distinguishing characteristics that can help us tell potential mass-murderers from ordinary people. Above all, government officials are trying to maintain the politically correct fiction that there is no connection between terrorism and Arabs or Muslims. The best way to do that is to make sure they search lots of blond-haired, blue-eyed white guys, just to show that they're not biased.

Meanwhile, tests of the airport screening procedures show that more than half of the weapons smuggled by investigators are not discovered.

A fully fueled jetliner is the most powerful weapon terrorists have ever gotten their hands on. They're going to try again, and the TSA has done little to stop them. There is only one measure that would be decisive in protecting the nation's passenger jets from a repeat of September 11: allowing airline pilots to arm themselves. This is the measure that Magaw decisively blocked.

Magaw and others raised a series of petty and hysterical objections to armed pilots. The impact of a stray bullet could depressurize the cabin, they worry. But a bullet hole is far too small to do anything of the kind. Careless pilots could accidentally discharge their guns, they fret. But these are the same people we trust not to accidentally crash their planes, which are far more complicated pieces of machinery. Or Magaw charges that pilots could have their guns taken from them. But pilots will be in their cabins behind locked doors.

But here is Magaw's climactic argument: pilots should "concentrate on flying the planes" and leave security to the U.S. air marshals. It is estimated that it would take as many as 150,000 air marshals to protect every passenger flight in the United States. Currently, there are perhaps a thousand. This is just another smokescreen of security.

After the air marshals, there is only one other line of defense left. If airline pilots can't stop hijackers with pistols, Air National Guard pilots will be asked to stop them with air-to-air missiles, taking hundreds of innocent lives in the process. Is this the TSA's idea of airline security?

What really motivates the ban on armed pilots is Magaw's allegiance to gun control. As head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Magaw had a record of expanding government regulations to put gun dealers out of business and make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Magaw's boss and the man who is still in charge, has a similar record from his days in Congress.

Magaw and Mineta would rather have F-16s blow passenger jets out of the skies than recognize that even a single civilian has the right to use a gun in self-defense.

The House has soundly rejected this prejudice. By a margin of three to one, they passed a bill to allow the arming of pilots. The same provision will soon be proposed in the Senate. Congress must work with the new head of the TSA to reverse Magaw's disastrous decision.

This is another example of how the War on Terrorism has been turned upside down. America is already considered the world's menace because we might have accidentally bombed a wedding in Afghanistan -- while Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia continue unmolested with their business of financing mass slaughter. Now, armed airline pilots are considered more dangerous than Muslim fanatics.

And any absurd position will be defended in order to avoid recognizing the right of America and of Americans to use the force they need to defend themselves.

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