On our trip to Chicago for a funeral this week, it was painfully obvious that we’re little safer now than we were before 9/11. What we do have is a sequence of ineffectual, high-profile countermeasures that give the appearance of safety to many Americans.
Two months after 9/11, my wife and I went on our honeymoon. At the time, searching individuals at the gate was common. We had nothing to worry about, but we really didn’t feel like going through the hassle of being searched. We had arrived early at the gate due to our ground transportation getting us there early, and had about 3 hours until our plane left. Over that time, we observed about 3 other flights departing, and noticed that they’d pull about five out of the first ten people and search them. Then they’d wait until they were done searching them, and pull five more for searching. So when it came time for us to get on the plane, we waited until 5 people had been pulled and the line was short, got in line, and got on the plane undisturbed. Meanwhile, someone’s grandmother was being forced to drink from her water bottle, take off her shoes, and empty her carry-on.
Then, this week, I thought I’d save some time with early check-in through AirTran. It’s rather cool – you log onto their site, select your seats, and print your boarding passes. As we went through the airport, our boarding pass was compared to our ID, but the only time it was actually compared with the passenger list was when we checked baggage. If we had no checked luggage, all they would have confirmed is that we had a piece of paper that looks like a boarding pass, and an ID that matches it. I’m more than tired of garbage like this – we extract some of the simple joys out of life in order for security that is in no way secure. There was always a simple joy in greeting your loved ones at the gate as they got off the plane, or waiting at the gate with them. Now, you can’t. Only ticketed passengers can go to the gates, which somehow makes us safer. Apparently, terrorists with evil intent aren’t willing to buy a ticket in order to cause trouble at the gate or on the plane, and I guess they’re incapable of mocking up a fake boarding pass (that will never be scanned for validity) to match a fake id to get on a plane.
Right after 9/11, the office building I worked in began tightening security. As a part of this, all AT&T employees were subjected to daily searches on their way into their elavator lobby, for floors 1-10. Never mind that workers for other companies on floors 11 through 30-something were completely unsearched, and that floor 11 was completely vacant, unlocked, and had the building’s support-pillars exposed. Clearly, anyone wanting to cause trouble would go to floors 1-10 and subject themselves to a search rather than casing the building first and heading to the vacant floor.
Lastly, many airports have closed off portions of their garages closest to their terminals. I can only guess they are hoping to prevent someone from leaving a car bomb such as in Oklahoma City. At the same time, they allow completely unchecked traffic to pull directly next to the terminal for pick-up and drop-off. Have they completely forgotten that the 9/11 terrorists, al Qaeda, and any number of other terrorists are fully willing to die in the execution of a terrorist plot, and even consider it an honor? And if we really are concerned about security, how many high-density soft targets are out there – shopping malls, stadiums, office buildings, etc. – that could be in danger on any day?
I’m not a big fan of security such as this, in general. I think that given the amount of time and research spent on the 9/11 attacks, terrorists will find the gap in the system to exploit for their purposes. I fully believe what Benjamin Franklin said, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.” I believe that terrorist attacks can only be prevented through a vigilant population and active intelligence efforts – all other precautions will either be readily exploited or strip us of our freedoms. Yet it is even more insulting to see half-hearted attempts at security, rules and procedures that give the appearance of adding safety, but are actually easily and obviously circumvented and strip us of simple pleasures and conveniences in the process. We are giving up something, and gaining nothing in return. It’s truly pathetic.