By Dave Lindorff
I was injured thanks to the government’s ridiculous airport
security program last week on a US Air flight from Chicago to
Philadelphia. I also saw how pointless the whole thing is, if the
supposed goal is really to prevent airline hijackings.
First, my injury. Because of a silly fear that I might blow up a
plane with explosives tucked into my running shoes, I, along with
everyone else in the security checkpoint line at O’Hare, including
two-month-old babies wearing little booties, had to doff my footwear.
Clad in just socks, I tried to maneuver my way around a metal counter
that held those plastic trays carrying my laptop, my shoes, my belt and
change and keys, and my carry-on bag, and in the process my unprotected
big toe hit a sharp piece of metal protruding from the table.
The metal sliced right under my toenail, making a painful and
bloody cut into the soft tissue under the nail. Cursing and bleeding, I
made my way through the metal detector, and collected my goods.
Now, inside my bag, unbeknownst to the Transportation Security
Administration inspectors, was a bottle of mouthwash. It was larger
than the approved 2-oz size, and it was not in an approved sealed
plastic bag. But TSA inspectors looking into their video screens at the
X-Ray machine didn’t see it, because I made sure that it was vertical
as it passed through. All they saw was a little circle of plastic.
Likewise, on an earlier flight, I had made my way aboard with a Swiss
Army knife. By standing it in my carry-on bag so that it would be
vertical for the X-Ray, I was able to slip it through and onto the
Now clearly I’m not a terrorist (though for a time, thanks to my
anti-Bush, anti-war journalism, and an expose about the TSA’s “no-fly”
list abuses, I was on the watch list, and would get a circled “S”
written on my boarding passes that ensured that I would be pulled aside
to have my carry-on luggage hand searched). But if I were a terrorist,
I sure wouldn’t try to commandeer a plane with a jackknife. I’d want
something bigger. But that would be simple. One could easily carry on a
10-inch blade the same way. If one were nervous about doing that, it
could be a ceramic or better, a Plexiglas blade—plenty dangerous, but
invisible to X-rays and metal detectors.
For that matter, if I were into suicide bombing and wanted to
manufacture a liquid explosive, why on earth would I try to do it by
smuggling on two large jars of ingredients, when I could just put them
in plastic baggies and carry them aboard in my pockets? Unless you
happen to be singled out for special handling, nobody at the security
checkpoints pats you down. They just have you walk through the metal
detectors while TSA inspectors are busy patting down randomly selected
elderly nuns and racially profiled people, like unfortunate Sikh men
Any dedicated terrorist hijacker could figure out numerous ways to
get explosives and weapons onto a plane past these security
And that’s not even counting having the weapons smuggled into an
airport gate area along with all the goods that are offered for sale
there, where they could be picked up after a hijacker had already
cleared security. There is no way that all the newspapers, magazines,
clothing, trinkets, bottles of booze and personal hygiene products,
etc., are screened adequately as they are brought in each day to fill
the concession stands for the day’s business. First of all, one would
have to open and check every bottle and box offered for sale.
If you were genuinely worried about protecting against hijackers,
you would have those inspections at the entrance to each plane, not at
the entrance to the terminal, and you wouldn’t have all that commerce
inside the security zone. Ah! But what a roar of outrage we’d hear from
the business community if that lucrative business venue were eliminated!
Which brings me to the real question: Why do we have all this
pointless and easily breached security, not to mention a list that
contains an astonishing one million names of suspected “terrorists”?
Clearly, the security program is not about protecting the flying
public, or the nation’s tall buildings. That could be done much more
cheaply by putting air marshals on all flights, the way they do at El
Al, the Israeli airline that has never had a successful hijacking.
No, this is all about heightening the fear level of the American people, to routinize us to living in a police state.
The truth is, nobody is really interested in trying to hijack
planes anymore. First of all, the “crash into buildings” tactic is
dead. Pilots are now flying armed in armored cockpits that cannot be
easily entered, and would not accede to a terrorist’s demands any
longer, knowing what happened last time. And passengers would not sit
passively in a cabin takeover attempt, either. As a result, we don’t
have to worry about such things any longer.
The ease with which security could be breached, and the fact that
it hasn’t happened now for seven years, is evidence enough that nobody
is even trying to do it.
So let’s do away with all this time-consuming, costly, and politically motivated nonsense before I injure my other big toe.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and
columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s
Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net