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Is The TSA Screening Area A First Amendment-Free Zone?
Should it be? I don't mean that people should be allowed to make bomb threat jokes -- any more than they can yell "fire" in a crowded (or even semi-populated) theater. But, what of the guy who criticized the TSA in black magic marker on his toiletries bag?

A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.

Ryan Bird, 31, said he wrote the comment about Hawley -- head of the Transportation Security Administration -- as a political statement. He said he feels the TSA is imposing unreasonable rules on passengers while ignoring bigger threats.

..."My level of frustration with the TSA and their idiotic policies has grown over 2 ½ years," he said. "I'm frustrated that poorly trained TSA people can pull random passengers out of line and pat them down like common criminals. The average traveler has no recourse."

Bird put the marked bag in a plastic tray along with his shoes and cell phone. A TSA screener saw the bag and went to get a supervisor, who grabbed it and asked Bird if it was his.

"It was obvious that he was already angry," Bird said, adding that the screener told him, "You can't write things like that."

The supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said.

The supervisor called a sheriff's deputy, who checked to see if Bird had any warrants for his arrest, Bird said. Bird asked the officer if he was under arrest, and was told that he was being detained, he said.

A supervisor said he was going to confiscate the bag, but after Bird refused, he just photographed it, Bird said.

Bird said he filed a complaint about the incident with the TSA.

I maintain that we aren't safer thanks to the TSA, just more annoyed. We'd only be safer if we had El-Al level security -- which I don't think people would be willing to put up with to fly, say, from L.A. to San Fran, in terms of time and/or expense. Instead, we've got Joey and Janey "Want Fries With That?" screening our bags and feeling us up. If anyone of reasonable intelligence really wanted to blow up a plane, they could.

Meanwhile, our ports, chemical plants, and our nuke sites remain unguarded. But, is guarding them all in a meaningful way even possible? Randall Larsen, director of the Institute For Homeland Security (a "non-partisan, not-for-profit research organization") writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The best strategy for preventing a nuclear device from entering the U.S. has little to do with examining containers by X-ray machines and radiological scanners -- despite the idea's appeal to citizens and their elected officials. The formula for success is rather "70-20-10":

70% of money appropriated in the name of "securing America against nuclear terrorism" should be spent "upstream": thwarting efforts to obtain weapons-grade nuclear material. This includes increased funding for programs such as Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction. Furthermore, we must ensure that nukes are the intelligence community's highest concern. The recent Report from the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction stated: "It is obvious that intelligence on loose nukes is not a high priority for the intelligence community." What could possibly be a higher priority?

20% of funding should be allocated to the pursuit and recovery of material and devices should weapons-grade materials fall into terrorists' hands. This should be a multinational effort led by the U.S. Funds for research and development of new-generation, rapidly deployable detectors would be included here.

10% should be spent on response and mitigation capabilities should a nuclear detonation occur. Developing pre-positioned equipment (as does France) for responders and the American population is required.

Since 9/11, the administration and Congress have spent too much time thinking at a tactical level, and too often technology has driven their strategy. No one doubts their good intentions, but this is a backward approach. Wasting money with good intentions make us no more secure.

We can try to protect ourselves, but maybe what we have to do is accept that some people may die in an unfortunate way due to terrorism. Of course, we could also have gone after Osama instead of invading Iraq and fomenting terrorists, but that's water (dead soldiers and amputated limbs) under the bridge.

Posted by aalkon at October 1, 2006 3:30 AM

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Terrorists have never used nukes. They have obvious disadvantages in terms of portability and easy access. Shoulder lauched rockets into a fertilizer plant say, would be much easier. Or any sort of assault on chemical plants : accidental discharges have been bad enough.
Chemicals necessary for explosives are available at the supermarket, let alone the hardware store. We just have too many interesting possibilities available. McVeigh's bomb was fertilizer and diesel.

This whole War on Terror is a stalking horse for a police state. Talk scary and panic people into believing crap and selling abominable policy is a breeze.

Posted by: opit at October 1, 2006 8:33 AM

"Meanwhile, our ports, chemical plants, and our nuke sites remain unguarded."

As a worker at one of those "nuke sites", I am not charged with nor authorized to make statements about guarding Special Nuclear Material, but I do know that although you can get IN, you are definitely NOT getting out, no matter how many hostages you may have. Maybe you've seen a personnel access trap, maybe you haven't. Of course, this means little when the breakup of the Soviets ruined their accountability systems.

opit is right about hazardous materials - take a look at and see just what we ship nationwide by the megaton - by train, plane, truck and automobile. Even thinking we can "guard" that stuff is a sign of drool-on-yourself ignorance.

The other day, Andy Rooney suggested a fine thing: that we figure out why other countries hate us, and then don't do that. I have a big problem believing that exporting American consumerism would be less than fantastically effective at bringing common ground to many countries, above and beyond deals between despots, kleptocracies and the USA. Maybe Islam would hate us for building a WalMart, McDonald's and a 7-11 on their streets (there are places in the US that's unwise), but as soon as a public can see, feel and own a chunk of prosperity, their government gets less relevent. Look at what we think of ours!

Posted by: Radwaste at October 1, 2006 5:59 PM

I'm with you Rad. I think globalization is our best hope of quelling or eradicating Islamic fundie terrorism.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 1, 2006 6:06 PM

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