The Inanities of Airport Security

In terms of sheer waste (time, money, resources), stupidity and balant illogic, nothing quite compares to our airport security system, which, as we add more and more billions of dollars to it, only proves itself increasingly ineffective. Christopher Hitchens savages the idiotic mess in a tragi-comic column.

What we are looking at, then, is a hugely costly and oppressive system that is designed to maintain the illusion of safety and the delusion that the state is protecting its citizens. The main beneficiaries seem to be the pilferers employed by this vast bureaucracy—we have had several recent reports about the steep increase in items stolen from luggage. And that is petty theft that takes place off-stage. What amazes me is the willingness of Americans to submit to confiscation at the point of search. Every day, people are relieved of private property in broad daylight, with the sole net result that they wouldn’t have even a nail file with which to protect themselves if (or rather when) the next hijacking occurs.

Last month, cigarette lighters were added to the confiscation list. There’s probably some half-baked “shoe-bomber” justification for this, but I hear that at Boise airport in Idaho there’s now a lighter bin on the way out of the airport, like the penny tray in some shops, that allows you to pick one up. Give one; take one—it all helps to pass the time until the next disaster, which collective punishment of the law-abiding is doing nothing to prevent.

Every time I go to the airport I am in awe of the needless lines and multiple ID checks, the interrogation of nuns in wheelchairs and aged Japanese businessmen randomly selected for searches…. If any of it really helped protect us from terrorists I’d be more sympathetic, but as Homeland Security’s own report tells us, we’re hardly any safer than we were before 9/11 and the determined terrorist can still get weapons onto planes.

One more symptom of the idiotic Age of Bush, where fat-cat security companies reap an inexcusable windfall while we little people waiting on the endless lines bear all the misery. And for absolutely no reason.

UPDATE: Thank God we’re pouring all this money into security to protect ourselves from danger. It’s working like a charm.

On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres. Then they let him into the United States.

The following day, a gruesome scene was discovered in Despres’ hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on Fulton’s kitchen floor. His head was in a pillowcase under a kitchen table. His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom.

Despres, 22, immediately became a suspect because of a history of violence between him and his neighbors, and he was arrested April 27 after police in Massachusetts saw him wandering down a highway in a sweat shirt with red and brown stains. He is now in jail in Massachusetts on murder charges, awaiting an extradition hearing next month.

We don’t need to spend any more money. Not one more penny. All we need is some fucking common sense.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

The Yahoo article you link to makes the point that the Border Police could not *legally* hold Despres because of the fact that he had not (as far as they knew) committed any crimes. We have laws in this country for a reason. It is because all too often, law enforcement officials attempt to apply “fucking common sense” and detain people who later turn out to be innocent of any crime. In this case they did all that they should; holding him as long as they could, confiscating his weapons, and fingerprinting him.

June 7, 2005 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

That’s a valid point, Martey. I guess part of the common sense I would like to see would mean laws that would make it harder for someone armed with such lethal weapons to just walk into the US the way he did. If he had done this at an airport checkpoint, they wouldn’t have just taken the weapons and let him go on the plane.

June 7, 2005 @ 6:33 pm | Comment

read this for a great example of airport security in action….

June 7, 2005 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

A little common sense might have suggested the Maine police or the border guards check the guy out with his hometown police. Killing weapons with suspected blood on them suggests more than the casual day tripper or tourist.

June 7, 2005 @ 7:45 pm | Comment

law is blind sometimes, when it has no sights intrinsicly. but, what is worse still, law enforcers are closing their eyes.

June 7, 2005 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

Farmer plants a moat of marshmallows around his Idaho barn. “WTF?” asks his neighbor. “Keeps the elephants away,” replies the farmer. “Are you nuts?” retorts the neighbor. Farmer smiles. “It works. See? No elephants.”

Seems to be the logic of people who complain about airport security measures. However, the fact that there’s been no successful terrorist strike in America since the 9/11 jetliner attacks seems worthy of consideration in juxtaposition to what amounts to petty inconveniences (which a lot of the rest of the world has long endured) associated with American air travel. I don’t like taking off my shoes in the security scan any more than any other outbound voyager, but I personally think its worth it.

June 7, 2005 @ 8:06 pm | Comment

Ellen, as the Hitchens article points out, if the world was really full of terrorists willing to die for Allah in the US, then shopping malls, tunnels and schools would require the same level of security. There’s nothing special about airlines that make them more vulnerable than these other public places.

Since I don’t see you lobbying for the same kind of security (40 minute lineups, picture ID, shoes off, complete search) to enter shopping centers, I can only conclude you haven’t thought this through.

June 7, 2005 @ 8:40 pm | Comment

But Ellen, it’s been shown that if you really want to get knives and box cutters onto a plane, it’s easy. It may make you feel good to wait in the long lines and have to take your shoes off, but does that mean it’s doing any good? If we’re going to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into this security techgnology, can’t we at least insist that it work?

June 7, 2005 @ 8:54 pm | Comment

the interrogation of nuns in wheelchairs and aged Japanese businessmen randomly selected for searches.

Now tell me that the ususal suspects wouldn’t be scraming bloody murder if airport security was singling out swarthy bearded men of Middle Eastern descent for searches.

A detained terrorist gets water splashed on his Koran and it makes the front page of the New York Times.

Sure airport securtiy is often stupid and frivolous. But that’s what you get when being smart and serious is politically intolerable.

June 7, 2005 @ 9:02 pm | Comment

Conrad, I agree with you in this case. Political correctness can be inane.

June 7, 2005 @ 9:08 pm | Comment

I can’t argue with that Conrad.

Yes, it’s a valid point that security should be theoretically extended to schools, malls etc and that perhaps the airline security measures create an illusion of safety which isn’t necessarily true.

However, Ellen is right to point out that there haveln’t been any more attacks.

This is the sort of subject that people could argue about for weeks.

Mind you, I had the pleasure of landing at JFK last summer (first time in NY!) and then 3 months later passing through Miami, NY again and Los Angeles (first time in LA!) in November and I was pleasantly surprised at the security as I had expected it to be about 4-5 times worse.

I was selected for a full search including luggage twice and it took about 10 mins each time.

Also, at every airport (including Puerto Rico) the security personnel were polite and apologetic.

I’ve no problems personally with the procedures but I would question the huge amounts of money spent and, as a consequence, just exactly what we are getting in return for that expenditure.

June 8, 2005 @ 2:59 am | Comment

Here’s what gets me: Los Angeles, where something like 40% of all foreign goods enter the US, is JUST NOW getting radiation detectors! A couple by the end of the month and full protection by the end of the year. And urban areas like LA and NY, the most likely targets for a terrorist attack, receive far less dollars per capita than states like…Wyoming! Huh. Why’s that, do you suppose?

As for airpots, as I understand it, they still do not x-ray all checked baggage, nor do most (all?) airports have the ability to screen for explosives hidden on passengers and their carry-ons.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m typing without fact-checking this AM.

June 8, 2005 @ 10:25 am | Comment

Bottom line: airport security is a joke and the Homeland Security people acknowledged this. (Remember the student a few months ago who put the box cutters in the airplane bathroom?) To credit this with protecting us from terror is praise misplaced. Al Qaeda is infamously patient, waiting nearly ten years between its attacks on the WTC. No one deserves praise or congratulations for the fact there were no attacks in-between. If and when they choose to attack us again they will. Right now, I suspect they simply feel it’s not in their better interest, what with the Iraqi insurgency doing enough to demoralize America without Osama’s direct involvement.

June 8, 2005 @ 10:35 am | Comment

There is also the theory that the 9/11 attacks were designed to do exactly what they’ve done – get the US sucked into a Middle Eastern quagmire and radicalize/Islamicize the region. Al Qaeda doesn’t need to attack the US again to accomplish its goals.

June 8, 2005 @ 11:28 am | Comment

Well said Lisa, very well said indeed. You should do your own blog.

June 8, 2005 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Thanks Michael – I’ve got one – click on the URL link. Or if you are in the PRC, you can find it here:

Unfortunately it really is easier to drop a comment or two on a blog like this one than it is to maintain a site at the level Richard does!

June 8, 2005 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Apologies Lisa, I can now see the link attached to your name. I’ll pop over and check it out now (I’m in China).

“the 9/11 attacks were designed to do exactly what they’ve done – get the US sucked into a Middle Eastern quagmire and radicalize/Islamicize the region.” –other lisa

If I were a supporter of Al Queda, I’d be feeling pretty smug these days. I wonder how many supporters/sympathisers have been recruited to their cause, both active and passive, since the war on terror began?

Don’t get me wrong, I love America (I’m from London) but how happy do you think the Al Queda’s of this world are feeling right now knowing, for instance, how much the US is pouring (wasting?) into Home Security as partly highlighted in another Peking Duck post about airport security?

It seriously gets me down, it really does. I don’t consider myself a super-intelligent person but how come that even I can see that the road America is taking at the moment is so misguided? How much longer will we have to put up with things as they currently are?

Sorry, I’m babbering. I’ll shut up.

June 8, 2005 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

Michael, you won’t be able to get to the linked version (blogspot is blocked in PRC). Try this one:

And yeah, I share your pain!

June 8, 2005 @ 3:49 pm | Comment


Actually, if you were a supporter of Al Queda, you’d likely be (i) dead in Afghanistan; (ii) bitching about somone peeing on your Koran in Gitmo; or (iii) living in a cave on the Pakistani frontier and crapping yourself everytime you heard the sound of an aircraft overhead.

Smug? You got thrown out of your sanctuary, most of your leadership is dead or captured, you haven’t been able to so much as set a firecracker off on American soil in 4 years and your spiritual leader’s is reduced to parroting Michael Moore and endorsing John Kerry for president.

Smug my ass.

June 9, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Wow Conrad. Why is it that you have to insult people rather than engage them in any kind of dialogi? Osama wanted John Kerry for President? Please…that’s just silly.

Oh wait. Am I being shrill again? Sorry.

June 9, 2005 @ 12:38 am | Comment

No Conrad, I’d be smug certainly and what you’re saying is very, very one-sided. You’ve massaged the few good points into something they’re not and totally ignored a lot of the realities mate.

If I were Al Queda, I’d be sitting back and watching America spend countless billions of dollars and thousands of young lives on a relatively pointless regime change in Iraq…..with still no end in sight.

Watching the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world brimming with anti-American and anti-Western hatred.

Patiently waiting for the next big operation where I can coose the time, place and the method.

Bush’s War on Terror/foreign policy has been the best thing that’s ever happened to Al Queda.

June 9, 2005 @ 3:20 am | Comment

People people wake up and smell the REALITY. The facts are out there,. The truth is inside search u’ll find it. There is no truth on the news. all lies or insigniifcant detail. the real deal is never exposed. the bigger things like aids, hiv, cancer, posioning of food etc. are much bigger issues to be dealt with.

Look 4 the truth. stop being comfortable take some risks

October 4, 2005 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

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