Potemkin Security

My daughter, Elizabeth Robinson, age 15, recently traveled to Europe and was stopped by Security at JFK Airport because her name matched one on a terrorist watch list. (She was ultimately allowed to board.)
The 7/31 USA Today has a story saying that the Transportation Security Administration is now threatening to fine airlines up to $25,000 when they erroneously tell passengers they are on a terrorist watch list.
A number of things struck me about this story. First, it mentioned that the list has four hundred thousand names. Four hundred thousand! And according to the story, if your name produces an apparent match, you can’t print a boarding pass at home or at a kiosk, and must go to a check-in counter — “with ID to show that [you] are not a suspected terrorist.”
I don’t know about you, but I do not possess an ID that says, “Frank S. Robinson is not a suspected terrorist.” How do you show that you are not a suspected terrorist?
But, in practice, what apparently happens is that you go to the counter, you show your ID, and they say “sorry about that,” and you fly. Unless you are wearing a turban and carrying a shotgun.
So my real question is: WHAT IS THE F—ING POINT?
What, a terrorist is not going to be able to get a driver’s license or a passport? Or, is he going to say, “That’s right. That’s me on that list, because I’ve been identified by the government as having been to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan run by Al Qaeda. So you’d best keep me off that plane.”
I believe he might instead . . . lie.
I would like to know whether this whole watch-list foolishness has EVER ONCE been known to actually keep a a dangerous person off a plane.
If you are really a terrorist intending to do something bad, and you think it’s possible the government has somehow or other gotten your name onto this very well-publicized list, what would you do? Forget the plan? Or, perhaps — travel under a false name and get some phony ID. How hard can that be?
So, I repeat: WHAT IS THE F—KING POINT of the watch list?
And another thing that struck me: if a passenger is inconvenienced, the government will fine the airline. I thought the airlines were doing all this because it was the government that wanted them to. Isn’t it the government that is responsible for creating the watch list? What does the government expect the airlines to do, to avoid these kinds of situations? And — if a passenger is inconvenienced — shouldn’t the passenger get the penalty payment — not the government??

6 Responses to “Potemkin Security”

  1. Adam Says:

    Elizabeth should have said that she used to be a terrorist, but has gotten past that dark period in her life. They love jokes at airports.

  2. Scott Henderson Says:

    We are very good, in this country, at creating rules and laws which lull us into a false sense of security. Under the guise of “doing anything is better than doing nothing,” we’ve created the terrorist threat color system and these various rules and regulations which provide us with the illusion of protection, when, in fact, they do nothing but inconvenience flyers. In creating a Dept of Homeland Security, the Bush administration has duped the country into believing they’ve done something about terrorism. The truth is, they have done nothing that could actually protect us from a terrorist threat. However, giving Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt, my question is “Is there actually ANYTHING we could do to truly protect us from terrorists?”

  3. Drona K Says:

    It is characteristic of our legal system to “profile” citizens – it is in fact one of our traditions. We profile African Americans because so many of them are supposedly criminals. We profile Middle Easterners because so many of them are supposedly terrorists. We profile young white men with Celtic last names like Mc Veigh and Nichol as they are supposedly very likely to blow up government buildings – (or do we?) As a medical student on Paramedic ride alongs with the fire department we would often back up the police when they would do door to door warrantless searches in Arbor Hill searching for criminals at large. This is a ridiculous way to run a criminal justice system as it creates resentment against the government by citizens who may have nothing to do with the criminal issue at hand but may have the same skin color, same turban, or the same name as a criminal/terrorist. It also does not solve the problem it was intended to address. Certainly, my humble opinion is that taking away Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, and other entitlements and instead putting this money into a mandatory high quality educational system with nutritional and health care for all children between 3 and 18 would create better citizens who may be productive and law abiding,

    We accept this system when it does not affect us personally. Of course, the government has convinced us that these tactics are necessary and effective in the “War on Terror,” a concept which itself is meaningless as terror is a weapon not the enemy. We could likewise have a war on helicopter gunships as they are responsible for mass carnage. But it is a nebulous enough term that allows the government to keep us in fear, yet gives us the security we “want.”

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

  4. Lee Newberg Says:

    Perhaps the point is to keep us scared?

  5. Drona K Says:

    I believe that keeping us scared allows rogue executives to get us to vote for more funding for their rogue agendas.

  6. joy Says:

    There is something we could do to keep terrorists from hating us…stop killing their families. For every one person we kill in Afghanistan, we create 10 Taliban members who hate America and everything it stands for. If we instead go as ambassadors of peace and choose to work with the average Afghan citizen on what they need to feed their children, keep a clean home, stay healthy and live happy productive lives. We would then have allies forever because as is evidenced by the years upon years of conflict between Israel and Palestine, these people are “once a friend always a friend” or “once an enemy always an enemy” types. So why make them enemies of ours?

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