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Archive for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Inconvenience is worth it

April 11, 2002

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My career as a threat to aviation security actually started as an attempt to do a good deed. My son was cutting out labels for some CDs I had dubbed for his grandfather. The labels completed, my son dropped the scissors into a bag.

Which I picked up a few weeks later on the way to the airport.

Next thing I know, I'm standing jacketless, shoeless, clueless, hatless and bagless at a checkpoint as two security men play a frustrating game of find the sharp object. It seems the scissors show up clear as day on the X-ray device but cannot be found by a hand search. After long minutes of looking through every compartment of the bag twice, the men finally discover them wedged between the pages of a magazine, almost as if someone tried to hide them there.

The security guy looks up at me, and I find myself trying very hard to look very innocent. But I'm thinking that I'm about to spend the next five hours in a small room with a big guy who has no neck and less humor.

Luckily, the security guy just confiscates the scissors and waves me through. I make it to the gate with a whole five minutes to spare.

And here, I suppose, I'm obligated to launch into a screed about how airport security has gotten way out of hand since Sept. 11 and why can't they just target the folks who look like terrorists we all know who they are and leave the rest of us alone? That was certainly the prevailing sentiment among the travelers who were delayed alongside me. It's a sentiment that has also been heard from time to time from us opinion peddlers. Last month, for instance, Newsweek's Anna Quindlen spun a thousand words of complaint out of her own close encounter with airport security.

I'd be the first to admit that flying is no longer the big, fat ton-of-fun it was in the days before Sept. 11. How can it be, when the airports are patrolled by very young people toting very large weapons and the lines are Disney World long?

My favorite by which I mean, of course, my least favorite security innovation is the random screening. I had the pleasure of experiencing one in Pittsburgh. A tiny woman ran a wand over my body, then pawed through my luggage. I stood there being grateful I wasn't carrying anything embarrassing. Like a bag from Vic's House O' Marital Aids or a Celine Dion CD.

For all that, though, you won't hear me complain about the experience.

In the first place, I keep hearing this rumor that we're at war, a state that sometimes demands sacrifice of the people on the home front. During World War II, my folks had to do without rubber, butter and gasoline. I guess I'll have to do momentarily without scissors. From where I sit, it seems like I'm getting the better part of the deal.

In the second place, it seems to me naive and maybe even self-righteous to assume you ought to be spared a security screening because you're too white, Asian, black, young, old, female to be a terrorist.

John Walker Lindh is white. He stands accused of being a member of the Taliban. Zacarias Moussaoui is a French Moroccan who looks like, in the words of a black radio host, "a brother from around the way." He is on trial as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks. Ayat al-Akhras was young and female. She killed three people, herself included, in a suicide bombing in Israel.

All of which should strongly suggest terrorist cells are quite capable of finding followers who do not fit the profile.

We should take heed. Understand that "profile" is another word for blind spot, for seeing what you expected to see and missing what you didn't. It's a weakness easily exploited. So that we concentrate our security apparatus solely on looking for the bearded Arab in the "I Love Osama" T-shirt, and let pass the attractive woman who is, quite literally, a blond bombshell.

It would be easier, I suppose and darn nice of them, besides if all the bad guys wore black hats. Until they do, I'm willing to put up with being harassed by airport security.

So long as they do the same to the terrorist in line behind me.

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