Technology, Science, Space & The Environment |

Captain Underpants and The Illusion of Security


DESHAILES, GUADELOUPE – I doubt there are many people who would look forward to leaving this little piece of paradise. I am sitting on the deck of a sailboat anchored in the harbor of this quaint fishing village.

I just finished a hot croissant delivered by an enterprising young man plying the water on an inflatable dinghy (deftly prying Euros from my wallet with inflated prices – C’est la Vie!). The sun is shining, the breeze is steady and the temperature is 80°F.

What could be wrong with this picture?  Nothing except what dutifully drops into my Kindle every morning via Whispernet (as opposed to the old Eastern Whisperjets…)

The absurd, inane, horse-out-of-the-barn response to the Christmas Day “Fruit of the Boom” Bomber-wannabe gives me even more reason to dread the trip back home.

My Kindle tells me my family and I will face long lines, lots of questions, pat down searches and an hour of lockdown time in our seats before landing. It is as if my ruler-brandishing first-grade teacher Sister Grace took over Delta Air Lines. “Books away – feet on the floor – hands on your desk – eyes straight ahead…”

It is brilliant thinking like the new seat arrest rule that should tell you a lot about our ill-conceived approach to thwarting terrorists who continue to find plane loads full of innocent Americans to be tempting targets. I don’t suppose future terrorists might try to light some portion of their clothing 61 minutes before landing do you?

What about the baby who needs a bottle or a passy on descent and is crying his lungs out?  God help him, his mother and the rest of us…

We put the jerk in knee-jerk with the way we respond to threats.

Our Homeland Security Czarina Janet Napolitano tried to spin the whole thing into a triumph of our security apparatus. At least she didn’t get a “Nappy, you’re doin’ a heckuva a job!” from our Commander-in-Chief, but the Sunday talk show gaffe was one of those moments when the political Cuisinart jams on a big chunk of reality (it does, indeed, bite).

And of course we all know the Brief Bomber laid bare what I have suspected for a long time: that our no nail-clipper, no-hair gel, shoes-off, laptop-out security apparatus is little more than a Potemkin Village. It gives the appearance that we are doing something real– when all we are really doing is providing travelers a false sense of security – and often a real sense of frustration.

Let’s see: a young man embraces radical Islam and starts spewing some twisted, violent vitriol. His respected, influential father tells the CIA that he fears trouble and the US should revoke his son’s visa. The young man arrives at an an airport without any luggage and buys a one-way ticket to Detroit – with cash. And no one even arches an eyebrow? Come on people…you don’t have to be a security expert to know something was not right with that deal.

There was a time after 9/11 when I would routinely get selected for additional screening whenever I purchased a one-way ticket (which was fairly often given the vicissitudes of the TV News business).  And I was using a corporate Amex card – flying an airline where I had logged a million miles. I used to grumble about it (silently, of course) because I assumed no future terrorist would be so stupid (or cheap) to buy only a one way ticket.

But, as I mentioned, I am no expert.

Here is what any moron can see as plain as day: our $40 billion dollar post-9/11 airline security net is a total joke – a White Elephant of epic (and potentially tragic) proportions.

The truth is the only aspect of our post 9/11 defense that has turned out to be 100% effective are the passengers themselves. Without really thinking about it we have become an airborne militia – all watching and ready to kick al Qaeda butt at the drop of… a pair of trousers. It began in Shanksville – it effectively thwarted the shoe-bomber – and now Captain Underpants.

Which brings me to my big worry: ever since Richard Reid tried to light up his sneakers, we have all had to remove our shoes before boarding. The logical conclusion in this illogical system: government sanctioned panty raids.

Your mother always told you to wear clean underwear.

Or maybe we should just get it over with and fly like the fat, old French guys I see strolling around this little cute Caribbean town: in Speedos and plastic sandals.

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