21 December, 2011

Security Angst

Nothing makes me want to sing the National Anthem at the top of my lungs more than being treated like a terrorist when I try to come into my own country. It may be over a decade since 9/11, but procedures for coming into the Police States of America (i.e. any place where the TSA is given authority to suspend any of our civil liberties it sees fit to ignore) have only gotten worse since I was in Rome in 2009. Back then, getting into Europe involved pretty much what it does now: you present your passport, present your visa, and they wave you on through. Getting into the United States, however, even for citizens, is even more of a headache than it was then.

Let's be honest here for a moment though; we Americans are lucky. If you're not Born in the USA, not only do you have to go through all the meticulous baggage controls, paperwork checks, etc; you have to be fingerprinted and get a mugshot. But that's okay, because you're not from the US, so you must be an Enemy (see movies like Taken for a great illustration of this attitude: if you're not American, you must be evil; not just evil, but an Evil Thing with a virulent hatred for all things American). Since, of course, there's no conceivably better way of securing our borders than taking fingerprints (last time I checked, all criminal acts were definitely committed by people with criminal histories...which makes me suspect that the criminal world must actually be an Underworld of Immortals, whose various rap sheets reach back to the beginning of time).

If you're American, other nifty things happen to you as you're attempting to return to your country. You go through security in Europe (which has the same requirements as the TSA, by the way), then you wait at the gate. But before you can board the plane, though you've had to show your passport about three times before even getting to this point, you need to show it again. Okay, so that's not so inconvenient, I admit. But what if the gate agents decide that you need another security check? While boarding my first Brussels-Atlanta flight, approximately every other person in line was pulled aside for a rifling-through of the baggage and an semi-assaulting of the personage (yeah, that thing that goes like this: . Fortunately I was not among them. But that didn't make me any calmer about seeing men with graying hair and women with white hair and high school students being treated like criminals and having to put up with it calmly for fear that the least complaint would be interpreted as aggression and suppressed. (Tell me again what's not police state about this?)

Of course, since the best way to protect our country from terrorism, illness, agricultural blights and a whole laundry list of other Curses of Adam is to make sure that we hermetically seal our borders, the ten hour flight following the first (two?) security checks is promptly followed by...I bet you can't guess...another security check. That is correct. With absolutely no window of opportunity available between the time you get off the plane (without exiting security), pick up your international baggage (without exiting security), bring a “imports affidavit” and your checked baggage pointlessly through another checkpoint where they actually check nothing before having you put it right back on a conveyor belt (without exiting security), there's still apparently sufficient danger that one of the frazzled passengers might have somehow picked up, I don't know, a bomb? a knife? something like that? under the watchful eyes of about five policemen per line. So guess what? You have to go through security again.

All of this makes so much sense to me. As I've said a million times before (fairly recently too, so I won't repeat in detail), possibly the most frustrating thing about it all is that it's so invasive while being so obviously ineffective. It might stop the most stupid of would-be terrorists. But a.) when you list all of the things you are going to check and all of the places you're going to search, it's kind of obvious that serious terrorists will seek other methods of attack. And b.) the checks as they are performed are so perfunctory, so shoddily done, that I really wonder what they accomplish at all. Take the huge “importation” check. They want to make sure that you don't have anything that could remotely pose a risk to public health or anything that could be “smuggled.” I suppose that's reasonable. So what's the most logical way to check for that? Obviously, have them give you a slip of paper saying “I don't have any X”, and then wave them through. Wow, look guys, I've saved the world! Why didn't I think of this before? We can ask people if they're doing anything bad and since lying is impossible, we'll definitely get an accurate answer.

The whole thing is such a mess, at least to the eye of common sense, that I end the hour-long process of getting off the plane “legally” hoping beyond all else that there's some behind-the-scenes justification for all this. That running gloved hands under the lip of an elderly man's jeans is somehow protecting us all from more 9/11's. And while I wish this so that at least the outrage of my common sense may be soothed, I can't ignore the fact that even if such tactics are achieving victories every now and then, victories that we somehow never hear about, we've kind of let the Bin Laden crowd win. Because if their goal was to “terrify” Americans (which is what terrorists do, no?), they've done that pretty well. Well enough that we're perfectly fine now with giving up more and more of our liberties just so that we can stay “safe”.

Last time I checked, America wasn't the Land of the Safe and Cowardly, at least not in theory. It was supposed to be “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.” One has to wonder how many people still care to make the distinction.


Mark Mahaffey said...

Could one just take a boat without all this hassle, still I wonder, or are traditional ports just as restrictive as these newfangled aero-ports? :)

Ink Slinger said...

I always have to go through acrobatics and jumping jacks every time i arrive in the US. Its exhausting, humiliating and so cowardly.
Hello from a huge C.S. Lewis fan!

Anonymous said...

A lot of good material here for a work of satire. Which style would you choose? Horatian or Juvenalian?