Terror hysteria: an exercise in sheer stupidity

I couldn’t believe it as I read this. What on earth are we coming to? Seriously, this is the sort of thing I expect to read about in China — and even they wouldn’t be this preposterous.

Link via Kevin Drum.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

Not surprising at all. The TSA has a special place in my heart.

I just found this article which confirms my experience with this new class of ex-cons that have taken over the airports of America.
I’ve heard similar stories about people getting interrogated because they bring academic treatises on Marx on aircraft as in-flight reading material.

July 10, 2004 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

Boo, thanks for that great link. I just read the article, and am more convinced than ever that just about everything we have done to protect us from “terror,” from the TSA to the HSA to the color-coded alerts to the poorly named Patriot Act are all a canard and among the greatest wastes of money in our nation’s history. Your example is really terrifying.

All those hundreds of billions of tax dollars, down the drain. Their net effect: making us a more frightened, submissive and brutalized people.

July 10, 2004 @ 5:26 pm | Comment

Good articles from both of you. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t trust the US government to deliver a pizza on time, and the TSA boondoggle is another great example.

But where are the alternative proposals for assuring airport/flight security? Anybody hearing any?

July 11, 2004 @ 12:08 am | Comment

Richard, if you’re more frightened, submissive and brutalised by you’re own government than you were before, the money hasn’t been wasted. That was the whole point.

As for alternative proposals, here’s one I offer the whole world: Take the laws relating to security and crime that existed prior to September 11, add law enforcement officers with top-quality training and the best equipment available and stir in a large amount of common sense and an appreciation of both the dignity and the stupidity of your average human being, apply liberally to all airports, seaports and other transport centres, and make sure that suitable accomodation is made available for those few terrorists who do actually exist.

Wasting time and money interrogating bad writers and other ordinary folks because of a tip-off from somebody with a little more paranoia than is generally considered healthy isn’t making anyone any safer. Although it is apparently making Americans easier to control.

July 11, 2004 @ 2:20 am | Comment

The problem is that the approach of the Homeland folks makes US airports less safe, not more so. The best security system is a highly decentralized series of independent and limited systems that rely on human judgement. Humans can see things that databases can’t, and humans have intuition (police officers can tell you often they just have a feeling about things and go on hunches).
And if one part fails, the others are still intact.
The Homeland approach is to centralize everything and remove all human judgement, which is a terrorist’s dream come true. A terrorist then just has to figure out how the system works, and can be assured that once he has the right paperwork, nobody will question him and the damage that can be done can be far more insiduous and creative than on 9/11.

Bruce Shneier, a security/cryptography expert I have utmost respect for, has written books on this subject, and has a series of essays about the subject of security breaches and designing systems that fail gracefully on his web page.

July 11, 2004 @ 3:10 am | Comment

Just goes to show you what happens when we let the government run the show.

July 11, 2004 @ 3:18 am | Comment

Yes, I’m sure we all remember what a fabulous job Wackenhut did when they were in charge of airport security. Especially the crew at Logan Airport.

July 11, 2004 @ 3:34 am | Comment

Correction: the contractor that ran security at Logan on 9/11 was Argenbright, not Wackenhut.

As I’m sure someone will be pointing out, airport security in Europe and elsewhere is mostly privatized. But then, airport security screeners in Europe undergo rigorous screening and training, and are consequently paid a decent wage — something that cannot be said of U.S. security contractors prior to 9/11.

July 11, 2004 @ 3:49 am | Comment

Boo, thanks for the link; I’m reading now. I have no objection to the expense of security, but I want smart, effective security, not the stupid kind.

Now convincing me that airports are less safe may take some doing. More crazy, certainly, but I don’t see how they’re less safe.

July 11, 2004 @ 4:58 am | Comment

The other thing that needs to be said is the personality disorders that seem to affect people in charge of security at airports. Most of the people that I’ve had run-ins with at the customs area and the screening area of departures seem to be belligerent and angry at everyone. Whose to say that they won’t create a terrorist–or at least a sucker-punching irate traveller–with their attitudes?

July 11, 2004 @ 7:28 am | Comment

Also, upon arrival in NY, I saw that the lines for “foreigners” at passport control were ten times as long and only manned by two people, whereas the American side and flight crew lines were fully manned and moving swiftly.

That’s gotta piss people off.

July 11, 2004 @ 7:29 am | Comment

Shenz, I wasn’t recommending a solution, as it was a two-line post pointing to an article on abuse of the system. I think anyone reading these articles can see that the system is being taken to points of absurdity. The solution is to calm down, and never allow someone with power to abuse it, like putting the guy on a list of suspicious travellers for the rest of his life. I read the stories and saw them both as examples of power gone awry. Solution: Common sense, less hysteria, cool thinking. Other solutions: End the idiotic fingerprinting and oppressive visa checks (see Andrew Sullivan’s recent rant about this — I am not at all alone here). Make visitors feel welcome, not despised. Adopt Singapore’s luggage checking system which is fast, efficient and guarantees your bag cannot be opened by anyone but you. There are lots of ways to improve. But it’s a fact that it’s still super-easy to bring knives and weapons onto planes if you try hard enough, so we are hardly any safer than before, but a lot poorer and a lot more unhappy. Being brutalized and terrified is NOT what your ordinary traveller should be, as were the examples in the two articles. There is a universal outcry about this from international travelers, and one more example of the US taking things way too far, but without enough common sense to make it worth the effort.

July 11, 2004 @ 11:01 am | Comment


how can the US claim to bring Freedom and Democracy to other countries, if they don’t even have it at home. To me, the measures the US Government has taken is plain counterproductive. Freedom of Speech, Democracry deng deng is just talks nowadays. Before you go on your next missionary tour, you should clean your own home first. So vote Bush out of office.

(from Germany)

July 11, 2004 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Youwei, I tend to agree that the measures are counterproductive, or at least a huge waste in relation to the benefits they have brought. We aren’t much safer, but at least it brought us closer to Bush’s vision that his administration should be ridiculed and despised by just about everyone everywhere. That may be an exaggeration, but not much. I heard it 24/7 in HK, Singapore and China.

July 11, 2004 @ 12:02 pm | Comment

Little Brothers

Orwell was wrong. Soviet-style collectivism never took hold in the…

July 12, 2004 @ 5:39 am | Comment

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