Thursday, August 10, 2006

Inconvenience or Necessity?


“FISA law says it's the exclusive law to authorize wiretaps. This administration is playing fast and loose with the law in national security. The issue here is whether the president of the United States is putting himself above the law, and I believe he has done so.”

Senator Russ Feingold – Commenting on the Bush administration’s NSA warrantless wiretap program (December, 2005)

This morning Nancy and I went to Kansas City International Airport to pick up Thom Hoang, the young Vietnamese woman who’s going to be living with us while she attends Emporia State. The flight got in a couple of minutes early, about 5:00 A.M. One of the things that was apparent even at that early hour was the increased security presence in the terminal. After greeting Thom, we made our way down the concourse toward the baggage claim area. I noticed as we did that all boarding passengers were being required to have extensive searches of their carry on luggage. This was something I hadn’t seen since the days following the 9-11 attacks.

Do you remember those times? I do. I remember one morning when I was flying from Kansas City to Chicago on business. By that time the drill had become familiar. “Take off your shoes.” “Open the laptop and the cell phone.” As my suitcase went through the scanner the TSA agent saw my Swiss army knife sitting cozily in the bottom of my shaving kit. I can’t remember how I’d left it there to begin with, but once the suitcase made its way through the scanning tunnel the agent opened it and confiscated the knife. “Prohibited item,” he called it. He casually dropped it into a bucket of small knives, fingernail clippers, and other bric a brac that had made the list of prohibited items and that was that. Once I got to the departure gate, a young man who had gone through security at the same time I did started up a conversation. “Damned security. Why do they have to invade our privacy like that? We’ve got rights you know!” The funny thing was, I felt more stupid than invaded. I should have known better. I knew what the rules were and didn’t feel I was above them. “Relax, pal,” I responded. “It’s only a Swiss army knife. I’ll just have my wife put another one on my Christmas list and that’ll be that.” He didn’t seem satisfied. “They just don’t have a right to invade our privacy,” he said, raising his voice.
I chuckled a bit. “I appreciate your wanting to take up my case for me, but it’s a small price to pay. I’ll bet that thing cost less than fifty bucks.”
“Do they think terrorists are actually stupid enough to use things like pocket knives?”
“They used box cutters in 2001, didn’t they?”
“Yeah, but they’ll never do something like that again.”

That was over two years ago. A lot of bloody water has gone under bridge since I gave up my Swiss Army knife to the war on terror. Terrorists using bombs hidden in back packs killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Madrid and London last year. And, just a couple of months ago Islamic terrorists killed 174 commuters in Mumbai, India.

Apparently, terrorists are willing to the most extraordinary lengths to kill anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their twisted views. They’ve used little things like cell phones, pocket knives, box cutters, or backpacks before to ply their deadly trade. And, yes, they’ll try to use them again.

By the time we got back to Emporia this morning I’d learned that al Qaeda has added some new weapons to their arsenal. They’re working with little things like shampoo, shower gel, soap, mouthwash, shaving cream, cologne, perfume, and toothpaste and were going to use them as part of a suicide bombing plot to destroy up to ten international flights from London bound for the United States. If they’d been successful they’d have murdered thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

I wonder what that young man who took up my grievance at the departure gate is thinking right now. Terrorists, it seems, are even stupid enough to use things like soap and shaving cream.

I’m delighted and thankful that the Brits were able to dismantle this plot. I’m sure it took a lot of hard work, patience, and skillful use of intelligence to unravel it all. We’ll probably never know all the tools used, but I’d be willing to wager that wiretaps, like those the President uses in the controversial NSA program, were among them.

As I watched the news this morning some interesting things began to unfold along with the revelations about the plot. Just about every official in the free world has had to apologize for the inconvenience the situation is causing travelers. It’s an interesting sign of the times. The more I see it, the more I marvel. Islamic fascists are at war with us and our officials feel obliged to apologize for the inconvenience uncovering the deadly schemes is causing. What in the hell is wrong with this picture?

I believe there are two things that are contributing to this insanity. First, far too many Americans cannot seem to accept the idea that the war on terrorism necessitates any sacrifice whatsoever. And, second, some public officials have dangerously pitted our need for security against their political agendas.

In my introduction I used an AP photo taken by Gene Blythe. The woman in the photo is identified as “Brenda Lee, a commercial real estate appraiser from Snellville, Ga.” As you can see, the shock and anger on her face are palpable. The AP caption delicately described Ms. Lee as waiting:

“In line at the security checkpoint Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The wait was long as special security was added after the threat warning was raised to its highest level in response to a terror plot uncovered in London. Lee said she was annoyed (my emphasis added) with the lines and having to remove items from her luggage.”

After looking at it a few times I think it would be more appropriate to label it, “Me give up my Head and Shoulders? No way! I’m an American citizen and I have my rights. And look at this damned line. Don’t you know I’ve got an important appraisal to make somewhere? If I don’t make my appointment, I’m going to get a lawyer and sue you all.”

Some of you reading this probably think I’m an insensitive brute, trifling with the rights of a loyal, tax-paying American. The only way I can respond is to ask whether Ms. Lee, or others now being inconvenienced would accept mangled bodies and obituaries as an alternative to giving up their Head and Shoulders.

Perhaps the biggest contributors to this sad state of affairs are journalists and politicians grandstanding to their constituent bases, which are primarily on the far left or right of the political spectrum. Last December the press and the U.S. Senate were in an uproar over the NSA wiretapping program. On would have thought, based on the uproar, that the sound of hobnailed boots could already be heard on Pennsylvania Avenue. What was the NSA doing that was so shocking? Why, they were listening in to our enemies.
I wonder what the chatter must have sounded like:

“Ooh, Osama, you just mix a bit of this stuff with some toothpaste or shaving cream and…..BOOM, the airplane is gone.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that!”
“Can you do ten planes in one day?”
“Not a problem, great master.”
“Do it and die a martyr for the cause, then. I assure you that you will have a double portion of virgins in paradise if you succeed.”

But, no matter. Political agenda nowadays trumps national security. Men like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are far less worried about Islamic fascists than they are about the legality of a program instituted to protect us from terrorism:

It’s no wonder the people tasked with protecting us feel so obliged to make apologies for doing their jobs. It’s no wonder they feel like they’re walking through minefields designed by so called friends. A sizeable portion of the public has come to believe that their “right” to not be inconvenienced supersedes everyone else’s right to live. And, it’s all being fueled by politicians and journalists with a nasty agenda. Like Ms. Brenda Lee in Atlanta, they don’t seem to care whether or not innocent people die at the hands of terrorists. Their political gun sights are fixed on the destruction of one man, and it isn’t Osama bin Laden. That’s all that seems to matter.

This all brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Just what in the hell is wrong with this picture?

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1 comment:

Guy said...

Phil...The sad, sad, thing is that a very small percentage of Americans actually realize and *accept* the fact that we are a nation at war. There are too few that remember or have read of the sacrifices that our parents and grand-parents made during WWII. We have become a nation of spoiled, complacent, "I want it and I want it now" people.

I'm afraid that only another 9/11 type event will bring those nay-sayers to their senses. Then again, many are so selfish and wrapped up in their own agenda (Brenda Lee at Hartsfield) that they may never get it right.