“It’s a little after 9 A.M., at Ronald Reagan National Airport, and a middle aged man of indeterminate nationality has his hand in my pants. He’s not very far down into them, barely over the belt line, but a little of this sort of thing goes a long way” (Goldberg 29).
This sort of thing, airline security, has reached a new level resulting from the 9/11 tragedy. The quiet solitude stemming from an early morning layover in LaGuardia International Airport is all but interrupted by the feeling of Big Brother watching, glaring at one’s every flinch. One does not make any sudden motions to his bag or allow anyone to see him pull his letter opener out to open yesterdays mail because these actions might pose the threat of death or even greater terrorism. The simple pleasures and relaxation of travel have all been taken away like a thief in the night coming to steel the very freedom this Nation was founded upon.
In recent history, terrorism was a word only used to describe the malicious acts of pre-democratic societies, but now, the word has become a common term used in the media as many times as the basic articles a, an, and the. The United States has changed even if the country’s attitude is still the same. These changes have all been implemented for protection, but just how much do these so called safety precautions really protect this country. Jonah Goldberg describes, “Washington, D.C.,” the nations most “protected” airport, ”is full of exasperated people telling stories about confiscated nail clippers, impounded emery boards, seized tie clips, and similar outrages” (29).
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A United States congressman John Dingell was forced by security to drop his pants at Reagan Airport in Washington saying the security “felt me up and down like a prize steer” (Donnelly 24).
People are beginning to get tired of this charade by the government to evade terrorism. Some of the people affected the most are the pilots who are “often searched several times in a single day” (24).
The pilots are forced to deal with these time consuming delays without complaint or else the airlines will discipline them.
It is important to understand that airport security before 9/11 was definitely lax, and something needed to be done: “In 1999, undercover federal agents made it through secure doors 46 times at four major airports. The agents managed to walk around the tarmac and even board planes without being questioned by security officials” (Goldberg 30).
With the new onset of security some of the immediate results have been beneficial. For example, 69 workers have been indicted and another 200 terminated at Salt Lake City
International airport for using illegal documentation to obtain jobs, and at San Francisco International Airport, 29 employees had their security badges revoked when background checks revealed they were felons (30).
Some aspects of the solution to airport security seem to be working, but this must only be temporary. Donnelly shows, “The best illustration of this principle is the scattered reports of National Guardsmen protecting airports and other vulnerable installations, but without ammunition. As long as people don’t know the guardsmen do not have bullets, there is a real benefit; once it becomes public knowledge, it is almost worse than no guardsmen at all” (30).
The post-terror system has become an M-16 without bullets, sure one could use it to bat down one or two terrorists, but when the crowds come the weapon is useless.
The crowds have been coming for months now, crowds composed of people from all ethnic backgrounds. The question then arises: “Is it fair to pull out the “M-16” on someone because their Arab descent gives them the heir of a terrorist?” Thousands who haven’t seen the inability of the system to combat terrorism have seen its ability to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and ethnic background, and are speaking out. According to Lowry, “In late September, M. Ahsan Baig was kept off United Flight 288 from San Francisco to Philadelphia because the pilot didn’t like the way he seemed to be furtively talking to another passenger in the waiting area“ (32).
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Lowry goes further saying, “more than half the people on the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorist list are named Mohammed, Ahmed, or both.” These activists go so far as to say, “the erosion of [the United States‘] constitutional rights was exactly what [the terrorists] wanted” (Rabinowitz).
This would have a been a picturesque sight, to see “Mohamed Atta and his crew sitting in their fly specked motels dreaming of the joyful day the Americans would suffer intrusions on Lawyer-client privilege, government wire-taps, and other civil liberties infringed“ (Rabinowitz).
However, everyone knows that this just is not true, murdering as many Americans as possible was the terrorists’ motive. Thus, would they have been stopped if profiling were in place at the time?
As Lowry points out, “profiling of a sort has been an official practice of the nation’s airlines for years. In 1994, Northwest began to develop a computer passenger pre-screening system (CAPPS) to single out high-threat passengers. After the TWA Flight 800 disaster in July 1996, the Clinton administration convened an Al Gore-led commission to study aviation security. This commission recommended that the Northwest system be adopted by the airline industry generally”(32).
This system however used profiling as one of its key elements. Thus, after much pressure from different civil liberties groups the CAPPS system was altered and no longer used this discrimination. Two hijackers on September 11 were flagged by this system, although they were never questioned nor detained. With racial profiling, no one is certain whether the terrorists would have been flagged, but would the US even risk detaining them if they were? CAPPS obviously failed profiling or not, and the current system is not doing any better.
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The threat of terrorism will never falter, so some say the only way to combat its mighty grip is by following Israel’s lead. Israel has the most intense and elaborate security system of any country in the world. According to Nelson Schwartz, the government owns the main airline in the country, El Al, and its “first hijacking, in 1968, was also its last” (99).
However, this security comes at a price: “The airline is estimated to spend $100 million a year on security, with the Israeli government covering roughly two-thirds of the bill…Overall, the airline’s share of security spending equals roughly 2% of revenues, while U.S. carriers earmark on-tenth of one percent” (99).
The precautions Israel takes are unthinkable compared to the US’ measly system. Israel passes out gas masks to all employees, interviews all passengers, and all employees face regular tests on top of all the American standards including racial profiling. Israel actually divides the passengers into 3 categories “Israelis and foreign Jews, non-Jewish foreigners, and anyone with an Arab last name“ (Lowry 34).
Israel’s system is very different than the United States’ system, yet in a country that arguably receives the most terrorism Israel’s airport security has proved almost blameless. The facts cannot be denied. If the United States were to adopt this program, it would cost the country a significant amount more than the current system; however, this cost would not even compare to the cost of September 11, both physically and emotionally. Some might argue that if the government were to take ownership of the industry, then this monopoly would hurt the economy because of the lack of competition. This could be true and the answer to this is that the FAA needs to adopt Israel’s plan as laws that private airlines must abide by as well as create a reward system, which would stimulate these airlines to spend money on security. This would greatly affect the private airline industry, which would then affect the consumer, but the price of an airline ticket should not be a tradeoff to safety.
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Then comes the issue of racial discrimination. With the world in its current state, there is no way to avoid racial profiling. Arabs in Israel give no complaint to being questioned more thoroughly because they value their lives just as much as another man. The same attitude should be embraced in this country where whether society chooses to accept it or not race plays an important role in every action. People chose to lock car doors when poorly dressed African Americans or Hispanics pass their car in traffic, and people choose not to draw attention to themselves when driving through a neighborhood that is of predominantly another race. People naturally discriminate, and it is only fair to the rest of society, to be racially biased if a certain race is associated with terror.
Some people continue to argue that no matter how security changes terrorism will not be evaded, and some people feel that the United States’ new airport security system has defeated the threat of danger. Both of these extreme opinions have been eliminated through facts, and if a change does not occur, then the country is once again a time bomb on the verge of ignition. American’s must face reality and see that thwarting terrorism will not be friendly to their pocket books nor their schedules, but they can adapt. This country must follow Israel’s lead, and lead which has proven to be effective for 34 years. The threat of violence can never be eliminated, but heightened security will increase violence’s erosion.
Donnelly, Sally B. “Airline Security Got You Down? Talk to the Pilots.” Time
January 21, 2002: 24.
Goldberg, Jonah. “Me and My Nail Clippers.” National Review December 31,
Lowry, Richard. “Profiles in Cowardice.” National Review January 28, 2002: 32-
Rabinowitz, Dorothy. “Hijacking History.” Wall Street Journal December 7, 2001:
Schwartz, Nelson D. “Learning From Israel.” Fortune January 21, 2002: 94-99.