Terrorists have citizens wondering

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never liked flying. Like my second cousin, Erica, I have a fear of it. I know all the statistics say that it’s more dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car, but I am scared to death to get on an airplane. Unlike my partner, the lovely Roselle, I don’t really like to travel. Now I have reason to hate flying more than ever.

Let’s face it: Had the Nigerian lunatic had his way, 300 bodies might have been scattered all over the landscape. Only divine intervention saved the people on that airplane. By now we all know that somehow, a young Nigerian was able to smuggle some explosives onto the plane but then messed up, probably out of nervousness, and was unable to detonate his improvised underwear bomb. Thank heavens for the alert passenger who jumped the guy.

However, let’s face it: He could have just as easily have succeeded in blowing himself up. When Homeland Security Czar Janet Napolitano announced that the system was working, she put President Barack Obama in a terrible position. In fact, she did so much damage to the Obama presidency that he had to publicly rebuke our security apparatus for not getting it right. My bet is that Napolitano will end up paying with her job.

Despite the failure of this particular attempt, the terrorists won a round. By putting this country into such a tizzy, they registered the fact that they were a real force and that sooner or later, they would succeed.

I keep thinking about the second Nigerian — the guy who went into the restroom and wouldn’t come out. It turns out that he was not a terrorist, but I’m sure you thought what I thought. What if the first Nigerian had gone into the lavatory, closed the door, and refused to come out? What if he had set his device off in the privacy of the restroom? How do we get around that one? Do we invade people’s ultimate privacy — in the toilet? Do we put cameras in the bathrooms and have people observe the process?

You say, “Oh, come on.” But seriously, now that people know that they can go into the toilet and set off a device, how will we deal with that possibility? Obviously, civil libertarians aren’t happy with the current security climate and the resultant long lines and invasion of privacy that we are experiencing at airports. They don’t like the idea of profiling, putting some nationalities on a list for extra scrutiny. Some people don’t want other people’s hands on their buttocks. But let me tell you one thing about the American public: We are a tolerant and forgiving group, but when it comes to our personal safety and that of our families, we are uncompromising.

Imagine if your kid was on a plane blown up by terrorists. We have to do whatever we can to make planes and airports safe. Are there any guarantees? Probably not. Someone is always trying to invent a better mousetrap.

When interviewed by the press, most members of the flying public say that they will happily put up with inconveniently long lines and full body scans if doing so meant they would be better protected. Some people are horrified that if they are wearing the latest in adult Pampers, an airport employee might snicker or some idiot might make some comment about the physical attributes of the people going through the line.

On the other hand, why should anyone really care? Do you care about your doctor seeing you? A colleague of mine suggested that some of the TSA people might be tempted to use some of these scans in child porn sites. Hey, there will always be idiots and criminals. There already are: Recently, my laptop disappeared, probably at the hands of the very upright citizens who will now be viewing our underwear.

In the end, it always comes down to choices. Civil liberties or safety? There will be people who say that it’s all about the averages and dismiss all of this as hype. When the federal government’s prestigious committee on mammography suggested that it wasn’t economically worth it to screen young women, there was a huge hue and cry. Everyone knows someone who developed breast cancer in their 30s or 40s. Statistically, the committee may have been right but if you were a young woman with breast cancer, you would be much more than a statistic.

You can put me down squarely in the group that says, “Whatever it takes.”

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/10/10

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