Sunday, December 27, 2009

Do Not Fly

What’s wrong with this picture?

A Nigerian national (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to be exact), who is not only a known Al Qaeda supporter but also happens to have visited Yemen (hotbed of anti-American sentiment) recently, is allowed – without detention, questioning or even suspicious looks – on an international flight bound for Detroit. Whereas me, a native born, generally law-abiding (yes, I occasionally exceed the speed limit ... OK, regularly) citizen traveling domestically on business, is repeatedly scrutinized and delayed before being allowed to board flights.

Apparently, something about my name and/or date of birth, height, weight or eye color matches with some suspected terrorist on the “Do Not Fly” list. (I guess the powers that be have been wary of Scottish terrorists ever since William Wallace painted his face blue. But I have yet to attempt to board an airplane looking like a deranged cast off from the Blue Man Group.)

OK, like Mr. Abdulmutallab, I have never actually been denied boarding access to a flight. But, unlike young Umar, I have routinely had to put up with additional harassment at the security gates at numerous airports across the country for the past six or seven years. My special status often makes it impossible for me to “enjoy” the efficiency of self-check in at the electronic kiosks, necessitating my waiting in longer lines for airline personnel to manually process my boarding passes.

Once, a few years ago, at Logan Airport, a State Trooper had to intervene to get authorization for my clearance. Even he recognized the absurdity of the situation when he had to spend nearly 45 minutes making calls to some shadowy governmental entity that finally decided it was safe to let me on the aircraft. (To this day, I still wonder what the voice on the other end of the Trooper’s phone could’ve possibly said that, having already been convinced of the threat I posed to national security, suddenly made it OK for me to board the flight. Probably something like: “Oh never mind, we f***ed up. He’s fine, let him go.”)

After finally making it past the TSA Inquisition, I inquired as to what I had to do to get off this #%@&! list so I wouldn’t continue to face this kind of hassle. I was instructed to go to the TSA website, where I could download all the necessary forms to complete. After printing out 40 some odd pages of paperwork to fill out, I came to the deflating passage toward the end of the document. It bluntly stated that completing the paperwork was no guarantee of removal from the list, even if there was not sufficient reason for being placed there in the first place. At that point I could only quote Charlie Brown: “ARGH!!"

This might all be palatable if, in addition to inconveniencing innocent citizens (like yours truly), this “security system” was also keeping terrorists off of planes. One might even be lead to believe that it has – until, of course, one reads the reports about Mr. Abdulmutallab and his exploits over Detroit.

To quote an Associated Press report of the incident:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hastened to assure people that flying is “very, very safe.”

She said the suspect in Friday’s attack “was stopped before any damage could be done. I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have.”

So our national security system is dependent upon the intervention of private citizens to subdue terrorists in mid act?

More from the AP:

That brought a sharp rebuke from Rep. Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “It’s not reassuring when the secretary of Homeland Security says the system worked,” King said. “It failed in every respect.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, said, “It’s amazing to me that an individual like this who was sending out so many signals could end up getting on a plane going to the U.S.”

An apparent malfunction in a device designed to detonate the high explosive PETN may have been all that saved the 278 passengers and the crew aboard Northwest Flight 253. No undercover air marshal was on board and passengers and crew subdued the suspect when he tried to set off the explosion. He succeeded only in starting a fire on himself.

The misplaced vigilance of Homeland Security, the Counter Terrorism Department and the TSA doesn’t exactly make one feel safe in the friendly skies, does it?

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