Airport Security: Where This Is Going

LAWYERS TALK ABOUT THE "SLIPPERY SLOPE" in which a proposed action which seems relatively harmless now will eventually devolve into an unacceptable outcome. (See also the Law of Unintended Consequences.)

The argument as applied to airport security is this: the problem is that there are people who wish to kill Americans and since defeating us in a war is impossible, they use guerilla tactics—most recently suicide bombings which do not require troops or missiles—an explosive concealed on the bomber’s person will suffice. All he or she has to do is get on an airliner and press the button.

After 9/11, I said that threatening air passengers with a weapon would never happen again, because the passengers of Flight 93 “rolled” and stopped the barbarians, proving that a box cutter would no longer be a sufficient weapon to turn a plane into a cruise missile. The TSA never needed to confiscate another penknife for that to happen; people would defend themselves once they knew they were being hijacked.

The terrorists knew this as well and began using hidden explosives designed to be detonated without warning. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was the first example. Last Christmas we had the underwear bomber. These plots were foiled as much by the terrorist’s own incompetence as by the alertness of fellow passengers, but the TSA (which has never caught a single terrorist, by the way) was still fighting the last war, examining my toiletries case for nail clippers and confiscating my Leatherman tool.

So the terrorists refined their method again: bombs were re-designed so that airport metal detectors would not discover them. In response, the TSA then spent billions to purchase X-ray machines that would reveal bombs hidden under a person’s clothing. Unfortunately for the TSA’s public relations department, the new scanners also reveal fatty bulges, colostomy bags, and breast implants. The only alternative is for the recalcitrant passenger to receive a police-style pat down that is designed to find those same tell-tale bulges.

The problem is that the public is pushing back. Phone cameras have captured astonishing video of nuns being frisked and three-year old girls being felt-up. The outrage is growing and, if the Tea Party has taught us anything, it is that people are now capable of organized mass outrage. Thus, today is National Opt-Out Day, in which untold tens of thousands across the country will refuse to fly commercial and be subject to these inarguable indignities.

For a moment, let’s accept the view as fact that these “enhanced” security procedures are necessary. All that means is that the terrorists will refine their methods even further. I imagine the next attempt will involve a bomb hidden in the terrorist’s anal cavity. He will choose the grope over the scanner and will breeze through security and waddle somewhat uncomfortably down the jetway. After the explosion (or his capture), we will all be required to go through the scanner and the pat-down/grope, at which point, Katie bar the door: it’s all out insurrection at airport security.

At this point, the terrorists will be somewhat stymied. With everyone facing prison-style searches at the airport, how can he possibly sneak a weapon or bomb on board an airplane?

But he will not give up. His goal is to bring down the Great Satan and ensure himself seventy-odd virgins in Paradise and he doesn’t need airplanes to do it.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the airline industry nearly went bankrupt. Twenty-six men proposed to cripple the U.S. economy and they did just that. The key to their success was violence in the public/economic square. Thus, a mall, a church, or a stadium serve the same purpose as an airliner. The advantage of these venues is that they have no security. He can just strap on a TNT vest under his overcoat and head to the high school basketball game. The effect will be the same: the American economy will be greatly damaged. In short, if everywhere people gather is a potential terror target, then no public venue is safe and people will stay home.

What is the answer, then? It will likely make you cringe: instead of targeting the weapon, we should target the one holding it, and that means a disproportional response to terror attacks. If someone detonates a bomb in a crowded theater and we find that the perpetrator was from Yemen and is unavailable for retributive justice, we should bomb his town to rubble.

My criminal law professor often said that the punishment should always exceed the crime, otherwise criminality was a mere economic exchange. In his experience as a D.A., the key to crime prevention was to inflict punishment that so far outweighed the gravity of the crime that not even the most zealous (or stupid) criminal would risk it.

In our case, it is hard to find a crime more notorious than murder and since the punishment must exceed even that, the only effective and logical response is to inflict retribution upon the terrorist, his family, friends, and nation to such an exponential degree that even a true-believer longing for his afterlife bacchanal will think twice.

I know of no other solution that has any hope of stopping the kind of public square terrorism we now face. When the terrorist understands that not only will he die in tomorrow night’s high school basketball game bombing, but that everyone he knows back home will die shortly thereafter and will arrive in Paradise plenty pissed at him, even a zealot might reconsider his choices.

Otherwise, America, steel yourself for full body cavity searches, which are up next.

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