Security Attitudes

First of all, let me say that it’s good to be back (in Syracuse, in the office, etc. – I’m a creature of habit, and thrive on routines.  What can I say?).

I spent a significant amount of time both in the airport and in the air over the holiday break.  I think at last count we visited 8 different cities in 6 states in the 5 weeks that we had off.  The trip was great, and we even made a pit-stop at Disney World.  Having said this, I’m still amazed at the attitudes some people have towards airline security, especially following the Christmas Day bombing attempt.

Stewart Baker, formerly the first Assistant Secretary for Policy Department of Homeland Security, now lobbyist/pundit, has a very interesting take on a war blogger’s refusal to answer some questions asked of him by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents:

Michael Yon

Yon took the position that he could decide what questions it was proper for TSA to ask, and if he didn’t think the questions were proper, he refused to answer.  Said Yon, “If I am the guy on that passport and I don’t have any contraband in my luggage, it is a matter for the FBI, not the TSA.”

Really? So if Abdulmutallab had a valid passport in his own name — he did — and no contraband in his luggage — he didn’t — then TSA’s job is done?  Wow, this will be a relief to Janet Napolitano.  It turns out the system did work, at least as Michael Yon defines it.

This is precisely the kind of attitude that will have to change if we’re ever going to have real air security.  If we want TSA to look for terrorists, not just weapons, and after Christmas, it’s obvious that we do, then we’ll have to expect TSA to ask questions, including questions whose relevance isn’t immediately obvious to the traveler.

Of course a long war against terrorism means sacrifices.  Yon’s seen a lot of them up close.  Apparently the one sacrifice he isn’t willing to make is the right to relive his adolescence.

Unfortunately, Mr. Baker’s tone and comments not only detract from the ongoing conversation on security in America, but reflect poorly on both his former employer, DHS, and current employer, Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

What Mr. Baker leaves out of his post, and subsequently the discussion of the issue, is the questions that the TSA agents were posing to Mr. Yan:

“Then they asked me how much money I make,” Yon said.  Yon suggested to the Customs officials that the question was inappropriate and unrelated to transportation security.  The award-winning blogger noted another CBP officer approached Yon: “he asked who do I work for.”  ”I did not answer the question which clearly was upsetting to the [CBP] officers.”

Yon was escorted to a room elsewhere in the airport where he said he remained silent during much of the questioning.   According to Yon, “they handcuffed me for failing to cooperate.  They said I was impeding their ability to do their job.”

With the conglomeration of agencies that fall under the DHS umbrella (including the United States Secret Service, the United States Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency), it can certainly be tough to see where one line stops and another begins.

However, if traveling now requires you to divulge both how much money one makes, and how they make that money, then we have forsaken essential liberties in the quest for security.  Mr. Baker’s argument that the TSA agents know better how to do their job seems to fall a bit short, especially considering the fact that Mr. Yon was released once the local law enforcement agency became involved.

Rather than seeking out micro answers to a macro problem, we must decide as a society how we wish to confront the issue of airline security, and terrorism in general.  If we decide to go as Israel has gone, and follow El Al’s lead, then that’s what we should do.  If we decide to go another route, then so be it.  However, in the meantime, snide remarks from respected industry members and former officials serve only to muddy the waters and prevent any real security from getting done.

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