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State security theatre

This is a public service announcement to save time for those who would rather get on with irrelevant vituperation and not bother digesting the point of my post: In a moment I’m going to say something positive about Gerry Adams.

First, consider this from The Washington Post:

The government’s terrorist screening database flagged Americans and foreigners as suspected terrorists almost 20,000 times last year. But only a small fraction of those questioned were arrested or denied entry into the United States, raising concerns among critics about privacy and the list’s effectiveness.

A range of state, local and federal agencies as well as U.S. embassies overseas rely on the database to pinpoint terrorism suspects, who can be identified at borders or even during routine traffic stops. The database consolidates a dozen government watch lists, as well as a growing amount of information from various sources, including airline passenger data. The government said it was planning to expand the data-sharing to private-sector groups with a “substantial bearing on homeland security,” though officials would not be more specific.

….

Jayson P. Ahern, deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said focusing on arrests misses “a much larger universe” of suspicious U.S. citizens.

“There are many potentially dangerous individuals who fly beneath the radar of enforceable actions and who are every bit as sinister as those we intercept,” he said.

Gotta love those adjectives: “Potentially dangerous”, not “dangerous”. “Dangerous” would invite the question: How dangerous, exactly? And: What mayhem have these invisible pseudo-threats caused that the forces of security could not have created all by themselves? As for the visibly suspicious, the “sinister”, just how threatening they are is shown up by the US Customs and FBI’s own account – a “small” number of arrests, not necessarily related to terrorism, a number in the hundreds turned back at the airport. Which can happen even if you have been arrested without charge at some other time in your own country and didn’t realise that in consequence you need a visa.

Which brings us to Mr Adams. He has an amusing little piece in The Guardian, Panic at Passport Control about being selected for secondary security screening selection, or SSSS.

I hand the FBI young gun a copy of my travel schedule – a document that has been in the possession of the US state department for the past month or so.

“Huh,” he says. “Why are you going to the White House, sir?”

“To see the president.”

“Huh. Why?”

“He asked me,” I say evenly.

My deadpan delivery is wasted on him. Maybe he is used to dealing with wise guys.

“Why, sir?”

Now we all know – maybe even the callow G-man knows – that Mr Adams is formerly a terrorist by most modern definitions. At the very least he was a leading member of a banned organisation, which is quite enough to get you locked up in many places – or extraordinarily rendered to unpleasant conditiond in secret parts of the world, if it is Banned Organisation of the Month. But Mr Adams is a former terrorist whose current business is known and accepted by the US government, so pulling him aside and interrogating him is not just a waste of his time. It is a monumentally stupid misapplication of the FBI’s time.

I am inclined to believe it is also a stupid waste applied to everyone else as well. If the guy isn’t carrying a bomb the first time you check his luggage, he won’t be the second time, half an hour later. If he’s been specially screened before, then doing it again has no benefit at all. Severe disbenefit in fact. All that is time and money that could be spent on real HUMINT, or at least recruiting officers and teaching them the languages and culture to do real intelligence work. However, once you are on a list of the sinister, you may never get off. Look at the trouble even Teddy Kennedy had. If you don’t have influential friends, like the senator and the Sinn Féin leader do, fat chance. And the inconvenience involved is likely to be greater.

Lists feed other lists. And feed back again. Confirmation bias, the prosecutor’s fallacy, and the spirit of ley-lines do their work. The shade of Profesor Parkinson hovers over all: “Look, this is important work. Because we are doing it, and because we are doing a lot of it.” “We suspect 20,000 persoons now, and we are working on suspecting 60,000.”

As Adams says: ” This is usually a random selection, we are told. The legend SSSS is stamped on the tickets of those randomly selected, and the lucky ticket holder gets extra attention. Richard and I are randomly included for this treatment all the time.” It is a common experience. A consitutional reformer of my acquaintance is also randomly selected more often than not. Unlike Mr Adams, she has never justified violence (I’m fairly sure she’s against smacking children), but like him she has publicly criticised government. A sometime commentator on this blog and friend of the Samizdata family is formally on the US Homeland Security Register. The reason: he was born in Kabul and lived there till the age of one year, and has a sinister surname. This despite the triple absurdity that (1) lots of people have the same name who are entirely unrelated in any sense, (2) names even if they do indicate family connection don’t signify character – imagine pulling in Peter Hitchens and questioning him based on Christopher Hitchens’s writings – and (3) middle-eastern names don’t follow the western European pattern, so suspecting people on that basis is to elevate ignorant misconception to an operating standard.

Now if you only want to fly to Croatia for a bit of skinnydipping in the Adriatic, you may not think this affects you. (Me, I’ve stopped flying. Not that I ever could bear airport bureaucracy much.) But where one idiot government programme goes, another government is likely to follow with its own idiot programme. Particularly if the idiot government programme is brought to you by the Pax Americana As Perry pointed out recently, Britain’s shiny new Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA), is also a borders and emmigration agency. It not only contributes to those “various sources, including airline passenger data,” for the convenience of US securocrats, but is keen to start operating its own no-fly and supplementary screening programmes.

And the point is? Well it doesn’t do, and cannot do, anything for its purported purpose of “protecting the travelling public”. It is counterproductive as at the very least a waste of resources. And it pointlessly delays, inconveniences, iritates and humiliates, tens of thousands of people, from minor statesmen (whether or not they are retired… er… ‘freedom fighters’), to government critics, to those more “randomly” selected on the basis of being a bit sinister. It is for the latter it will be most frightening, since they are unlikely to be fortunate enough to know specialist lawyers, politicans and media people who might be able to protect or rescue them if things turn nasty. There is another group we must not forget who will be frightened and overawed unnecessarily: all those other travellers who see one of the previous categories escorted away by officials, not to return to sight. They who will think, “Omigod that could be me – I musn’t make any trouble.”

That’s the point, I suggest. The exercise is about exercise of power. Demonstration that the state is doing something, and you ought to be frightened – of the state or of the “threat”. Either will do. Keep your head down “beneath the radar of enforceable actions”.

It sends a message. Those people being marched away are a massively expensive exercise in dramatising insecurity in an objectively safe world. It is ‘security theatre’ in Bruce Schneier’s enduring phrase. And it is the biggest, longest lasting production in the history of security theatre, being brought direct to you at any of 1,000+ airports throughout the world on an indefinite run. At massive taxpayer expense (remember, you bought your own ticket for this performance, and every other one, for the rest of you life, at a special block-rate) it helps keep you frightened about bad people, reassured that the government cares about your fear and is doing something, and discouraged from questioning authority.

It is a huge vanity project, in essence. Securocrats in praise of themselves and the power of the state for good as the state defines good. Not so different from this. Or this. At least the Bolshoi Ballet could really dance.

57 comments to State security theatre

  • WalterBowsell

    Nice post. My big fear with regards to such official endeavours isn’t that we will one day become de-sensitized to such wasteful activities but we will accept them as wasteful whilst knowing they are for the most part a total charade.

    An example of such acceptance recently reared it’s ugly head a few months back while passing through a French train station. It was a hot day. My baggage was heavy and as per usual my better half was voicing her discontent (she’s French, it’s expected) at the presence of machine gun holding soldiers at the station (they travel in packs of three).

    “Maybe there’s a need for them” I finally said to her letting things get the better of me.

    She just laughed at my naivety “Everyone knows the guns aren’t loaded”. she replied.

  • Steevo

    The stark reality that strikes me in this discussion is the two almost totally separated realities involved. One is from those inside the organizations of Homeland Security who know the criteria to suspect individuals, why certain ones are questioned and let go and why arrests have been made on the relative few. The other reality involves those of us on the outside trying to look in, asking questions, speculating reasons, and making judgments.

    I don’t agree with this attitude…

    Gotta love those adjectives: “Potentially dangerous”, not “dangerous”. “Dangerous” would invite the question: How dangerous, exactly? And: What mayhem have these invisible pseudo-threats caused that the forces of security could not have created all by themselves? As for the visibly suspicious, the “sinister”, just how threatening they are is shown up by the US Customs and FBI’s own account – a “small” number of arrests, not necessarily related to terrorism, a number in the hundreds turned back at the airport. Which can happen even if you have been arrested without charge at some other time in your own country and didn’t realize that in consequence you need a visa.

    “Pseudo-threats”? So he knows these are not genuine but made to have the appearance of… and for deceitful purpose? And given ‘some’ room for error its still OK to paint with a rather broad brush how really guilty security could, well I’ll just say “must” be in creating so much obvious false suspicion?

    Heres a quote from the same WaPo article from one in security:

    “To be included in the database, a person must be “a known or suspected terrorist such as those who finance terrorist activities, are known members of a terrorist organizations, terrorist operatives, or someone that provides material support to a terrorist or terrorist organization.”

    As is stated, you have to have a lot of cause to arrest someone. And, its to the FBI’s advantage much of the time to watch and track individuals. There are many reasons for this I think most can understand.

    Another significant quote:

    Jim McMahon, chief of staff for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents 18,000 state and local police agencies across the country, said the database helps police officers “make a better judgment” about whether to detain a person. One of the 9/11 hijackers, Ziad Samir Jarrah, was ticketed for going 95 miles per hour on Interstate 95 in Maryland two days before the attacks, he said. “Today, chances are he would have been on the list,” he said.

    My feelings are this. I also fear our governments because I know, ultimately, they are in the business to control. I wouldn’t doubt if we had another major attack it would prove all the reason for the powers to be to take away our liberties with draconian-like enforcement.

    What bothers me when reading this post is the know-it-all accusatory approach. I find it hard to believe the writer grasps the scope of efforts underway. I guess 20,000 “hits” seems like a lot (although that number is not indicative of the number of people) but I can also imagine an article emphasizing the huge responsibilities undertaken every single day to keep an eye on and help make secure hundreds and hundreds of millions of citizens; also emphasizing the fact that we in America have not been on the receiving end of a successful attack since 9/11 – a prospect hardly anyone would have believed. 20,000 hits might not seem like its too much then.

    I don’t know what to make of it all other than there are significant problems and yet extraordinary security is needed. The charade Walter points out, Mr. Adams, Kennedy etc., or even more so the prevailing political correctness, is indeed idiocy. It is government making a statement its making a statement. I don’t doubt the inclinations to abuse power is also there. But I shouldn’t doubt the sincerity of efforts; and the fact, many terrorist attacks have been stopped and many many lives saved.

    I’m still in a wait and see mode.

  • Jacob

    What bothers me when reading this post is the know-it-all accusatory approach.

    I agree.

    Do we need screening and searches when boarding planes ? Seems to me – we do. I feel safer when flying if I know the passengers have been screened and searched.

    Do government agencies do idiotic things ? Yes, all the time. Might they abuse their power ? Definitely.

    Have they abused their power so far ? Have they passed from idiocy and incompetence to intentional political persecution ?

    I think it’s too early to cry “wolf”.

  • Since screening and examination of documents is only theater… What shall we do about the airplanes flying into buildings?

    Those of us who fly and walk about cities would like to know what we should do about actually stopping future acts of terror. We regularly see brilliant sarcastic bits of wisdom deflated by the reality of the past.

    If ONLY those pesky airplanes had not been hijacked… If ONLY those terrorists had stayed in their proper places, we could continue to pretend that this was all a local problem for the local police…. We could arrest and release or simply ignore the non-obvious killers… Fire off a few missiles into the desert and blow up shady factories in the third world every now and again…

    It’s nice to live in a rich safe society where the killing is all done in the nightly news, where the really bad guys are thousands of miles away, where our loved ones will return home every evening…

    What is the alternative? Let’s see an alternative security plan? Quit the whining and complaining and advise a better way-! We are all annoyed and frustrated… How do we stop terrorists?

  • Nick M

    Less than ten months ago I had an extended trip in the USA which involved 6 flights for which I was screened. My laptop was dusted for explosives at Philadelphia where I along with a load of others was herded by TSA morons down a subdivided corridor (rather similar to the start of the shower scene in Schindler’s List) and then screamed at for the great evil of not taking my computer out of the bag (nobody had told me this). I was left standing in front of a counter in my socks whilst the TSA wonk buggered off to do God knows what.

    All the while I was looking at my watch because I had a tight connection to Dulles to catch. Eventually the wonk returned and pronounced my machine free of explosives. I had to lean forward to eventually retrieve my computer ensuring my feet didn’t cross the yellow line a metre from the desk. Not too hard for me but what if it had been my 5’1″ wife? And in anycase, the scene looked like the archetypical prison “check-in” in movies.

    A US passenger apologized to me after this farce on behalf of his country. He said he was embarrassed that they treated paying guests like that.

    At Ft Lauderdale I watched a guy in the queue have to remove the tiny Nikes from his son’s feet to be X-rayed, and his little jacket. The kid must’ve been 18 months…

    The queues this nonsense creates in departure lounges are such that if I had been wearing a semtex waistcoat I could have easily created a veritable hecatomb without even getting on the plane.

    Guy, if this is theatre then it’s either melodrama or farce.

  • If ONLY those pesky airplanes had not been hijacked… What is the alternative? Let’s see an alternative security plan? Quit the whining and complaining and advise a better way-! We are all annoyed and frustrated… How do we stop terrorists?

    The point being made is that is NOT that there is no terrorist threat but that much of what is done is just theatre.

    I recall being asked for my passport four times in Los Angeles airport in places I could not have got to without having previously shown my passport. What exactly does that achieve? Creating procedures which give the illusion of ‘making a difference’ may make you feel better but do they actually make you safer and are they worth the cost? The best way to prevent another 9/11 has been to reinforce the doors to the flightdeck and keep them locked in flight (which I have seen is not always observed). That is real security. I have no problem with reasonable security that actually does something and some of the things introduced since 9/11 do make sense… and a hell of a lot does not and really is just ‘security theatre’ that justifies public sector jobs (or at least patronage). It is usually a huge mistake to just turn over your judgement to The Experts and just put up with everything that is asked of you blindly.

  • guy herbert

    I have an acquaintance who won’t put things away in cupboards because there might be spiders in the cupboards. She has a lot of empty cupboards and a very cluttered flat. There are spiders among the clutter. They do as little harm as the ones in the cupboards do. And she has not noticed them there, because she is too busy worrying about the cupboards.

    What shall we do about the airplanes flying into buildings?

    Let’s leave aside that you are willfully missing the point that this is not an argument against either stopping explosives getting on board or sensible counterterrist intelligence operations… why not do nothing in particular about it?

    The reason it was possible to fly three airliners into two buildings on 11th September 2001 is because on that date it was possible for four men armed with small knives to take over four airliners containing hundreds of people. On September the 11th 2001 the standard international drill for dealing with hijacks was for crew to tell the passengers to keep calm, and wait for directions to a well-prepared airport where hostage negotiations could start.

    That protocol has been dropped now. Even had it not, the likelihood of passegers outnumbering hijackers 100-1 patiently allowing themselves to be crashed into a building, even without a single Swiss Army Knife among them, is now pretty small.

    My alternative security plan is: (1) cultivate some psychological security and (a) stop being terrified of the small risks, (b) mock at every opportunity the idea that a handful of patchily competent maniacs are an existential threat to world civilization; (2) stop apologising for what people do with liberty and kowtowing to millennararian puritans inside or outside the western tent, thereby demonstration that the enemy is genuinely weak; and (3) track and penetrate such organisations as do exist, and prosecute members for the ordinary crimes they commit, treating them as the nasty spoilt children they mostly are, not as ambitious political soldiers, the masterminds of their ambition. (3) does require some exercise of state power and expenditure of taxpayers’ money; but it is slow, quiet, relatively cheap; and offers no opportunity for leaders to strut and preen and build bureacratic empires.

    If ever “glorifying terrorism” were made an offence, then assorted presidents, prime-ministers, security officials and hysterical media commentators should be the first in the dock.

  • veryretired

    Every day, every single day, agents of the IRS in the US, and the equivalent agencies in the EU and Britain, harass, subpeona, investigate, indict, and cause to be brought before either a civil or criminal courts hundreds and thousands of ordinary people and businesses.

    But the real problem in our society is that someone dared to question that paragon of good citizenship, Gerry Adams, at an airport.

    Every day, every single day, administrators and paper pushers from a dozen different variations of polllution control agencies, obstruct, subpeona, investigate, interfere with, delay, and cause to be dragged through various courts, at great expense, hundreds and thousands of ordinary citizens who are trying to clear some land, or run a business, or explore for raw materials needed by society, or process the raw materials that have been located, or do any number of totally normal things which do not, in fact, threaten anyone or anything except the luddism of those whose sole purpose in life is to put a stop to anything they don’t approve of as being sufficiently “holistic”.

    But the most dangerous and important problem we face is that some “TSA morons” (you know them—they’re the type of people we intellectually superior folks would never stoop to being) dared to delay some people at an airport, and look at a child’s shoes. Oh, the humanity!

    Every day, every single day, staffers and lawyers and office holders in dozens of layers of never ending, overlapping, and power-competing agencies and bureaus and boards and panels and commissions and councils and legistatures and parliaments scheme, plot, confer, brainstorm, caucus, and cooperate in drafting an endless stream of regulations, rules, laws, ordinances, guidelines, directives, administrative data points, and taxes which add little or nothing to the quality of life for the citizens subjected to them, and incur enormous expenditures in time, money, and frustration for those required to operate under their jurisdiction.

    But the most important thing that could ever be is that some anonymous security agents looked at the passport of a traveler more than once.

    Sometimes, the peevish triviality and snobbish attitudes of the intelligentsia around here make me tired.

    In a few weeks, it will be six years without any incidents similar to 9-11-01. The security system may not be pretty or flawless, but, if the record for the past six years had included several repetitions of that day, I can just imagine all the demands that “somebody do something, because I don’t feel safe anymore”.

    Would I like some of this to be handled better and more efficiently? Yes, of course.

    Is it really necessary to call people “morons” and other epithets just because they hold lower level jobs in an agency that irritates all the superior people who dislike being bothered by the peasantry? No, it is not.

    There are boats, trains, cars, and staying at home, if it is just all too ishy and stupid and, you know, common, for you to put up with any more. Get over it.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Is it the government demanding such measures, or the public?

    If you don’t conduct such searches, question suspicious people, restrict potential weapons, then the travelling public get nervous, journalists get easy stories by smuggling knives onto planes, and Islamists intent on causing trouble make ever more ostentatiously suspicious moves in what are either an attempt to restore politically correct caution about suspecting Muslims, dry runs to test security, or maybe creating enough false alarms that the US will drop its guard again.

    Look up Jamaat al-Fuqra; that’s the sort of people they’re worried about. (And there are others less obvious about it.) And the fact they do stuff-all about this group tells you all you need to know about the US being a police state. There’s nothing they can do, nothing they’re allowed to do, all they can do are gestures and window-dressing and play-pretend. And the Hamas front-groups like CAIR who are firmly ensconced in the US establishment will moan like hell even about that, as well.

    Yes, I agree that what they’re doing is not very effective (although not totally ineffective either) and they’re not doing what they really should be. But they can’t do that because of politics and the need to maintain popular support, and the population quite frankly aren’t interested, so long as threats to their lifestyles aren’t too apparent or immediate. They pay the government to keep them safe, so they want to be told they’re safe so they can get on with other things. They don’t want them to do what actually needs doing to make them safe, because that would require genuine sacrifices and serious effort on their part, and all sorts of turbulence and controversy and a real but (hopefully) temporary danger. Stuff that makes invading Iraq look like a picnic in the park. What the Chinese used to call “interesting times”.

    If they let a known ex-terrorist like Gerry in without even questioning him and people hear about it, they’ll get into so much trouble, so they’ll go through the motions every time. Airport security is mostly to keep the flying public happy. Complain to them about it.

  • guy herbert

    But the real problem in our society is that someone dared to question that paragon of good citizenship, Gerry Adams, at an airport.

    If that’s what you thought I said, then I think the TSA has a job for you.

    I’m not blaming the poor grunts that do the work here, though I do suspect that if you get a job as any kind of state official, whether it is building regulations or border control, it is just possible you are motivated by a desire to push people around.

    What I am saying is that almost all the apparatus of the War on Terror is calculated to get us to throw away our remaining freedoms, and is significantly worse than useless. And it is a nice visible epitome of all that other regulatory activity that you mention, “essential for our safety” all of it by someone’s lights.

    If you don’t think privacy and freedom of movement are foundations of liberty, without which we have no refuge from the infinite aggregation of bureaucratic interference with everything else? Well I do.

    If the record for the past six years had included several repetitions of that day, I can just imagine all the demands that “somebody do something, because I don’t feel safe anymore”

    Not from me. What’s more I’m prepared to drive a car, which is a many times more dangerous.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, demands for somebody to do something because ‘we are not safe’ have not slackened in the intervening period. Open any newspaper and you will find half a dozen. Many of them, perhaps not strangely, are originated by those who hope to be charged with doing something.

    A lot of people want to fear but are so comfortable they can only do it vicariously. The virtual crowd enabled by modern media transmits its tremulous emotions instantly. The safer we objectively are, the more the hive mind is thronged with empty terrors. And the more opportunity there is for bureaucratic organisms to feed.

  • Since the U.S. existed over 200 years before the first planes were flown into buildings, isn’t it statistically insignificant that it has not happened in 6 years? Wouldn’t we have to have 200+ years without incident to say our performance improved?

  • Park the airplanes…. It’s probably better for the environment if the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons did not occur at such an altitude… Take ships… It would eliminate jet lag and we’d all arrive refreshed and relaxed… Plus no cell phones or email for five days wouldn’t really hurt THAT much would it?

    It’s all theater until it’s not. It’s all just so much show and bluster, until the bombs go off. Then we must have an inquiry to examine why-OH WHY- were there no police to stop the threat… Police investigate AFTER a crime has been committed… Until and unless there is a crime they are powerless. Until then society must judge how many of our civil liberties we will sacrifce for the common good…

    I am not willing to see a crime committed because some terrorist impersonator was flapping about his freedoms… The world is a large and mostly uncivilized place… Ones liberties must be compromised for the benefits of civilization. Or one can maintain all of their freedoms and enjoy none of the benefits… Most of us are somewhere in the middle… and we do wish to see our loved ones again…

  • Midwesterner

    In a few weeks, it will be six years without any incidents similar to 9-11-01.

    I give most of the credit for that to the war in Iraq.

    but, if the record for the past six years had included several repetitions of that day,

    But … It has. In Iraq. And with lesser degrees of success because they are attacking our teeth, not our tail. The troops need a lot more credit for our domestic safety than they are currently getting.

    You want to do something about domestic safety, cash in the TSA and reassign them to inspecting containers before they leave for US ports.

  • guy herbert

    Mid,

    Iraq certainly has a lot of terrorism – to a first approximation all of it – but the vast majority of victims are Iraqi civilians, no more “our teeth” than airline passengers.

    There’s been no significant hijacking since 9/11, true, but it is impossible to prove whether that is because of the new security procedures, or because hijacking (i.e. diverting a flight by threats) is not a plausible operation any more, the 9/11 hijackers having spoilt the game for everyone else by changing the rules so dramatically and publicly. I am always inclined to favour simpler explanations, however.

  • Ones liberties must be compromised for the benefits of civilization.

    Please re-read the article. How exactly does pointless ‘security’ measures and vast ineffective state security bureaucracies represent a worthwhile ‘compromise’ for the “benefits of civilisation”? Terrorist groups come and gio and yet somehow THIS one is allowed to trigger a carte blanche for every cockeyed ‘security’ initiative someone can think up.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Hardly carte blanche. There’s still lots of cockeyed schemes they’re not allowed to do.

  • Steevo

    Indeed its a heavy statement Perry, but there has never been a terrorist “group” like this one.

    If it was understood without fear of being judged insensitive or racist that 99.9% of THIS problem is from insane fanatical Islamofacists, I suspect the overwhelming idiocy and uncalled for burden on society would be re leaved. We could focus, and rightly so, only on those fitting the stereotype and profile of this world cult of death.

  • veryretired

    Ah, Guy, it would be better to get the drift of an argument before you started with the cute fisking of selected sentences.

    If I remember, the last great crisis of civilization you posted about was some CCTV locations that were propelling you into the brave new world of totalitarian something—what was it, anyway, parking lot monitors or traffic controllers as the new hitlers?

    You spend too much time slapping at mosquitos while elephants trample through your house.

    And the next time, if ever, that you attempt to address a significant problem, the response from the casual reader is, “Oh, yeah, the guy who wants to do away with travel security. He’s got a lot of credibility. Let’s do whatever he says we should do.”

    So, yes, for you and the others who are so far superior to any working peasants like the guys who check bags or monitor traffic or do the million other little jobs that operate the society that so oppresses you, I find the blue collar people who work for a living and don’t look down sneeringly on others much more interesting than the traveling aristocrats who get into a huff because they have to pour out their five dollar expressos, or take off their shoes.

    I’m sure it’s just loads of fun to live in a never-ending cloud of indignation about every little thing that’s just so wrong and irritating in life.

    But you do it so effortlessly—it must be a gift.

  • Jacob

    Guy,

    My alternative security plan is:…

    First I applaud the fact that you went beyond bitching and took the trouble to formulate a plan.

    But, your plan (as far as I was able to understand, which isn’t very far) is an idealization. It reminds me of the green ones preaching for solving the energy problem: a little efficiency enhancement, a little renewable energy, some CAFE and – voila! problem solved, no suffering involved, no need for new oil drilling… etc.

    There are no painless solutions. Maybe there are no “solutions” at all, most of the time.

    cultivate some psychological security

    What’s that ? My understanding of modern terminology is weak.

    Maybe, in the case of flight security it would have been better to leave it to the carrier companies; many different ideas would have been tried, and competition would streamline the process. I don’t think the air carriers could permit themselves to be sloppy in their security checks, so I would trust them.
    Also arm the pilots, etc.

    So, TSA isn’t the ideal solution, but I don’t see it as something vicious or malicious, or exceptionally stupid.

  • B's Freak

    “I’m not blaming the poor grunts that do the work here, though I do suspect that if you get a job as any kind of state official, whether it is building regulations or border control, it is just possible you are motivated by a desire to push people around.”

    Right, it couldn’t be the idea of getting a union job with good pay and excellent benefits and no accountability.

  • Indeed its a heavy statement Perry, but there has never been a terrorist “group” like this one.

    Really? They score one high profile success and rather more pretty average terrorist fare and suddenly they are the New Mongol Horde? I do not see why that is true.

    They need to be taken seriously, that is for sure, but then so did the IRA. That does not mean we need to allow them to be an excuse for institutional empire building by all manner of state agencies.

  • guy herbert

    Right, it couldn’t be the idea of getting a union job with good pay and excellent benefits and no accountability.

    No. could be that, too. I wrote “just possible” not “absolutely certain”. Nor are motives mutually exclusive.

    A lot of people who want to tell other people what to do do it out of a genuine desire to make the world a better place. It is, however much cycnicism there is about them, a common trait of politicians.

    veryretired,

    “Oh, yeah, the guy who wants to do away with travel security. He’s got a lot of credibility. Let’s do whatever he says we should do.”

    Is a counsel of despair. I should shut up because my views are unpopular, and will be unthinkingly rejected by most people? Then I should shut up altogether because most of my my views are. Including the ones on the subjects you think are more important than the particular massive and continuing extension of government power that goes under the name of the War on Terror.

    On that basis Samizdata might as well shut down.

    My idea of establishing credibility is to be consistently rational and not to trim my views to court popularity. Quite the reverse. The more deeply established a defective populist notion the more I feel it needs kicking. I am not a party politician. (Which is why you’ll often find me defending them here.) I do aim for political effect: I want people to see how it is possible to think differently about public affairs.

    Jacob,

    Maybe there are no “solutions” at all, most of the time.

    I agree. The pursuit of a “solution” where none exists (and often in the absence of a problem, too) is a common factor in pernicious government programmes. Leaving flight security to carriers is an attractive idea, though I’d be concerned that means leaving it to insurance companies, which are even more risk averse than governments. (The saving factor might be the Hague Convention, paradoxically.)

    By “psychological security,” I meant the opposite of the labile mood of public fears and panics. My approach would be to stay cool and encourage others to do so to. Most “security alerts” are in fact insecurity alerts: people are left feeling threatened, but they have no means of judging or controlling the threat, and can do nothing but feel anxious.

  • Sunfish

    Thus far, it’s a little unclear how many attacks have been prevented by the TSA assclowns. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how we’re made safer by Nick being bitched at over his laptop, 18-month-old children having their shoes removed, etc. What I do see are a bunch of mall ninjas trying to pretend to have actual power over others.

    Locking down the flight deck and arming the pilots made sense. An expanded air marshal program made sense (although the government managed to screw that up too.) Running around like a bunch of recently-beheaded chickens will not save us. Panicking and begging Michael Chertoff to save us from the BAD BAD MANS every time some government puke says “orange” and an “unnamed source” has a conversation with an apparition of the Blessed Virgin will not save us. Filling our drawers every time the President says that “th’ terroriss” are going to cause my venti Christmas Blend with an extra shot to explode, which in turn will cause Frontier Airlines Flight 123 to crash into the St. Louis Arch, will not save us.

    I can’t think of any real safety improvement from some Famous-But-Inept asking why Gerry Adams is meeting with the President. I don’t see the benefit from asking Perry for his passport more than once, when he gets off the plane. And we’ve already addressed Nick and his laptop.

    However, these behaviors would fit one purpose: get people accustomed to being herded like so many cattle in a slaughterhouse.

    Pa Annoyed:
    There are still a few foolish schemes still not able to be used. However, the tolerance for intrusive idiocy has gone very much in the wrong direction in the last six years. Six years ago, I was less-likely to have to take my government’s word for it that they weren’t tapping my phone and that it was only because they thought I was a terrorist and talking to someone from overseas. Six years ago, that fracking waste of life oxygen thief Senator Lautenberg wasn’t using “th’ terroriss” as an excuse for wanting the Attorney General to have the power to deprive individual citizens of a fundamental right without having to explain himself to a court. Six years ago, the President had not yet claimed the power to declare US citizens, arrested INSIDE THE US, enemy combatants to be held incommunicado and especially without access to the courts.

    The world has changed, indeed. And many of the unpleasant changes have come from my own government.

    AndyJ:

    Ones liberties must be compromised for the benefits of civilization. Or one can maintain all of their freedoms and enjoy none of the benefits..

    I’ll stifle my initial response to this statement out of my respect for our host and his desire that his guestskeep it civil on his site.

    That being said, please tell me where I can go where I can maintain all of my freedoms and enjoy none of the dubious benefits of your notions of civilization. The “civilization” that demands that peaceable adults submit to such intrusions is not worthy of the name.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Guy,

    I don’t think you should shut up altogether about this sort of stuff. But if you want the message to get through, you need to think about maintaining perspective and proportionality.

    One thing that I know for a fact does put people off libertarians is the perception that they are paranoids who consider every tiny infraction of liberty as ushering in Orwellian police-state oppression brought about by power-mad bureaucrat wanna-be dictators obsessed by control. You might well be right in the long run, but it looks to most people like looney-tunes conspiracy theories. The fact that Gerry Adams of all people was questioned at an airport is not evidence of the coming Reich.

    “Bureaucracy is inefficient” people will buy, “politicians practice to deceive” is a virtual truism, “all this airport security is ineffective” is something you can persuade them of, and “the response to terrorism is inappropriate” is a side in a widespread debate.

    But when you start casting scorn on the idea that there might be people we really don’t want to let in to our countries, and suggesting that terrorism is a manufactured nightmare the authorities are deliberately using to stampede us into surrendering our liberties, you’re going a mite too fast for most people. You have to maintain some rhetorical separation between totalitarian regimes that really are police states, and worrying tendencies in that direction in our pretty liberal ones. Because interfering and annoying as they are, anybody living in them can see that they’re not Stalinist Russia.

    Look at it this way. Those terrorists are also funded by states – states who think it is reasonable to ban book, ban religions, ignore human rights, and impose their ‘morality’ at the level of everybody’s intimate everyday life. And they want to bring their rules here, too. They can’t possibly succeed unless we let them, but if we spend more time fighting our own side than theirs, they will win by default. You can still fight state control, you just have to fight the worst states first. It’s not about terrorism, which is a minor part of the strategy and only done for its political impact, but about the fight for ideas; for our culture.

    We need to fight for the idea of liberty to be respected and aspired to. Which means making it clear that pervasive security is dangerous, but not necessarily a danger realised. Which means not making people think liberty is a philosophy only for anarchists and survivalists. Which means making sure we all recognise our real priorities.

    Sorry if that’s a bit blunt. You’re entitled to express your opinions, and I’m not saying you’re wrong. But if nobody respects civil liberties because they perceive their chief proponents as nuts and terrorist sympathisers, more interested in fighting their own state than others, they’ll let the government take those liberties.

    In the same way, every time that Chakrabarti girl appears on TV here I wince, because I know she’s going to say something totally stupid. Really, it doesn’t help.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Sunfish,

    Yeah, agreed. You also take the phone company’s word for it that they’re not tapping your phone calls.

    But in Iran they’ve just arrested a couple of tens of thousands of women for not dressing right, and barbers shops are being shut down for giving men the wrong sort of hairstyle or even – horror! – employing men in women’s hairdressers.

    That’s a police state. So when you say “And many of the unpleasant changes have come from my own government”, what you mean is that many of the changes you’ve heard of and that we talk about have come from your own government. There are some pretty nasty changes coming from other governments too, like funding more terrorism, and it is the impression given that we care more about Guantanamo than we do about the Laogai that makes some people think you’re not against state control, you’re only against Western state control. I know that’s not true, but perception and reality do not always align.

  • guy herbert

    But when you start casting scorn on the idea that there might be people we really don’t want to let in to our countries, and suggesting that terrorism is a manufactured nightmare

    I’m not; I’m really not.

    … the authorities are deliberately using to stampede us into surrendering our liberties, …

    I’d suggest that a significant minoroty of the population , including many in authority are always hostile to our liberties, and this is just another opportunity for them – though they would see it as an example of the inadequacy of the liberal model. Other slices are indifferent to liberty or see it as readily tradeable for something else or confuse loss of liberty for the majority with controlling Bad People’s badness. The destruction of liberty is frequently deliberate but often a side-effect, rather than the object of the exercise. That doesn’t make it any less worth fighting against. I don’t care how good, how honest, the motive is for doing evil.

    … you’re going a mite too fast for most people.

    Inevitably. It is always a problem when you present unfamiliar and radical ideas, that you understand well. Try explaining to almost anyone that prices are subjective and in a market both a buyer and a seller believe they are made better off by the exchange or no transaction will take place.

    Those terrorists are also funded by states…

    Hm. I’m unconvinced by the whole state-supporters-of-terrorism narrative. Rather like the disastrous rhetoric of the Axis of Evil, it seems much more like a way of labelling ones enemies as Very Bad People for public consumption. (Not unlike the general use of “terrorist” to categorise persons rather than their techniques.)

    Succoured ideologically certainly (which makes Saudi Arabia historically the biggest state supporter of terrorism by far, rivalled by the Soviet Union); perhaps helped to maintain a media presence. Terrorism itself is really cheap, and generally very shoddily done. There’s not a lot of sign, outside rhetoric, of training or matériel provided by governments for diffuse terrorism – as opposed to guerrilla armies, and para-statal movements such as Hizbollah, where they are all at it sporadically.

    Two reasons for that: 1. Even quite unpleasant governments generally keep their hands clean in interfering with other countries’s affairs. The comity of nations is unanimous that is not on. 2. Even the most aggressive ideological states, even most mad dictators, have rational strategies. Millenarian revolutionary cells don’t: they aren’t controllable.

  • Nick M

    Sunfish,

    I didn’t respond to AndyJ because I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t involve cuss-words and highly improper suggestions.

    However, the tolerance for intrusive idiocy has gone very much in the wrong direction in the last six years.

    …and that is what truly surprised me at Philadelphia airport* We were like lambs to the slaughter. We were resigned to being treated like scum. I’m a Brit and we’re used to that sort of thing but I’d never seen Americans put up with it…

    I’d last been to the USA ten years before and it was a shock.

    *An unbelievably confusing place at the best of times.

  • Jacob

    1. Even quite unpleasant governments generally keep their hands clean in interfering with other countries’s affairs. The comity of nations is unanimous that is not on.

    Absolutely false. Many states engage directly and routinely in clandestine operations in other states. They also give material support and sanctuary to “independent” terrorists (there is no such thing).

    2. Even the most aggressive ideological states, even most mad dictators, have rational strategies. Millenarian revolutionary cells don’t: they aren’t controllable.

    Even more absolutely false that the first statement. Does Ahmedinajad have “rational strategies” ? Or – purely and only rational ones ? Wasn’t the USSR, the whole of it “Millenarian revolutionary” in nature ? How come you suddenly find faith in the rationality of other governments, faith you never display toward your own govwernment ?

    Bizzare statements…

  • Pa Annoyed

    Good. I’m glad to see from the first three that I was misunderstanding.

    On the fourth – like you say, terrorism outside the Middle East is cheap by government standards and so the funding is easy to hide. But Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Iranian-supported militias are state funded, the Wahhabi recruiters and militant mosques are state funded, or at least funded in large part by people who run states, and as you indicate, the general ideology is pushed by various states. Without state backing, voluntary donations would only carry it so far. And all the other groups feed off the leaving from the big ones.

    But more important than just the money is all the other support – giving shelter to them, giving political support to their interests, resisting actions taken against them, getting material across borders, making military technology available (the IRA got their explosives from the Libyan government, for example), managing the funding and communications and propaganda. Even the British did it. Like Sinn Fein was to the IRA, there is a political wing as well as a militant one to most of these organisations, and the political wing is a lot easier for governments to support, even if only by giving them a respectful ear.

    If the Islamists were only individual malcontents I wouldn’t be worried. If their political objectives were as limited as the IRA’s I wouldn’t be worried. But I think the IRA killed a total of about 1,800 people, 600 of them civilians, over a period of four decades – a yearly average of about 45 deaths. There were never very many of them, because most people have better things to do. It takes either a serious grievance or a lot of money to keep a major multinational campaign going for long, and I believe that only states have that much money and muscle that they don’t have to account for. That’s just my opinion, though.

  • Steevo

    We were like lambs to the slaughter.

    Well OK. I can’t help to have the feeling this discussion would have gone a little different if some bad experiences at airports didn’t occur.

    If the Islamists were only individual malcontents I wouldn’t be worried. If their political objectives were as limited as the IRA’s I wouldn’t be worried. But I think the IRA killed a total of about 1,800 people, 600 of them civilians, over a period of four decades – a yearly average of about 45 deaths. There were never very many of them, because most people have better things to do. It takes either a serious grievance or a lot of money to keep a major multinational campaign going for long, and I believe that only states have that much money and muscle that they don’t have to account for. That’s just my opinion, though.

    I think that’s a pretty good statement PA. I’d like to also emphasize that this is a religion. We have people who look forward to taking their own lives along with as many innocents as possible. There are 71, or is it 72 virgins waiting for them in heaven. They really can’t live in this world as it continues to evolve. They have no place outside of Mohammed’s 7th century and as long as they follow one of the variants of Wahabiism they’ll be intent to destroy with any means possible.

  • Personally, I think that Guy tends to underestimate the threat we are facing, but that is beside the point. We don’t really know what the bad guys’ current plans are, and what are their current capabilities. We also don’t really know what exactly our governments are doing to uncover these plans and to diminish these capabilities. And so, knowing the enemy, and knowing our governments, the logical conclusion is to prepare for the worst. Thus, the real question should be how much of our freedoms are we willing to give up no matter how big and real the threat is. For me there is no automatic answer to this question, but for most people there is, I think.

  • Steevo

    Thus, the real question should be how much of our freedoms are we willing to give up no matter how big and real the threat is. For me there is no automatic answer to this question, but for most people there is, I think.

    That is so right :-)

    I’m in our Pacific Northwest and traveled across country twice since 9/11. I was personally searched once. I suppose if I went through the humiliation some here did I would have different feelings now about such mindless and callous actions. There’s good right to be very angry. The rest of this argument over whether Islamofacist terrorism is the same as any other old brand, whether it is aided by state support which most likely would be unofficial, and even presuming upon the efforts of our security as being so ill-motivated and, incompetent and… presuming to know how all this should really be done… is a bit much, in my opinion of course.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Steevo,

    It’s not quite that simple. In the West, maybe 2% of Muslims are an active threat and 20% sympathise with them to a dangerous degree, but probably 50-60% are not like that. They’re no worse than many other social movements, and better than some – Socialism, for example.

    Religions can and do reform, Islam included (despite its internal prohibitions). A religion can be interpreted as what is written, but it can also be interpreted as what its followers believe. A lot of Muslims are genuinely ignorant about what orthodox Islam teaches. Many cannot even read Arabic. They rely on Imams to tell them what it means.

    Islam could be reformed, but it requires first that people openly acknowledge that it needs to be reformed, and find some solid theological justification for that. And secondly, that enough people, both Westerners and Muslims, make a concerted effort to resist these threats and stand up for their culture. The Muslims cannot do so without our help.

    The threat that mainstream Western Islam poses is not direct, but because it acts as a reservoir for recruitment, and a political shield against action taken against the more threatening part. Part of the trouble is that we are ignorant of orthodox Islam as well, and have relied on self-appointed spokemen to tell us what it contains. A lot of these spokesmen have neither our interests nor their communities best interests at heart.

    By the way, it’s 72, and there’s some dispute over whether it is ‘virgins’ (houri) or ‘white raisins’ (hur). I’m told the haddith actually says ‘hur’, but its Islamic interpreters have always insisted it stands for houri. (The vowels in Arabic were added in a lot later, so there are lots of places where such confusions can arise.) I’m pretty sure it’s virgin, since the same passage also says you also get 80,000 servants, but it’s an entertaining way of winding up the Jihaddis.

  • Steevo

    Well OK I don’t know about the 2% estimate but that’s still no small potatoes. And you cannot separate the East from West on this that much as immigration continues.

    I don’t know what social movements you have in mind but I think in the extreme this is reduced to fascism in its most heinous form posing intolerable problems. And it appears to me with Muslims in general far too many don’t accept democracy and will ‘work’ towards and hope for some kind of Islamic culture and rule.

    It can only be reformed if they want it to. I don’t see that.

    To be honest I have wondered about the virgins and how much the fanatics really want them? But I think that’s another story.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Remember that a lot of immigrants are emigrating because they want something better and can’t get it where they come from. Wahhabi doctrine says that Muslims should not live on a permanent basis amongst unbelievers – for most, that they are here at all says they’re not that devout.
    And there are also all those kids who want to break away from their families, but face intimidation if they do. I think some of them could see the merits of reform.
    (Of course a lot have mixed feelings about their old culture, and do like bits of it. Nothing is simple.)

    A few have stood up for reform, but they face death threats from extremists and ostracism from their communities, and Western host governments are unwilling to help. Reform is a real can of worms, and opening it up will lead to all sorts of problems for them. They don’t want to start in case they don’t succeed, and find themselves all alone out on a limb with all their so-called friends and allies deserting them. (Like the Pope did when he made his Regensberg comments against Islam.) Instead they’ll try to deny there’s any problem and hope it will all go away. And our governments will encourage that, because they know that any such reform effort will not go unopposed, and they are nervous of standing between the reformers and harm. No, they see appeasement as far easier and safer.

    There is no move for reform because people are all just a little bit scared. That’s what the terrorism and riots intended.

  • Steevo

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, but not completely.

  • Jacob

    The worst and most humiliating search that was performed on me happened some 20 odd years ago, it was for drugs, not terrorism (who knows ? maybe for both), and it happened on a land frontier, not at an airport.
    So, what’s new ?

  • What is new is how common these things have become. you are making a good point though in that we never know what is it they are really searching for.

  • Nick M

    Pa,
    You seen the figures for the proportion of convicted rapists who are, er… immigrants to Scandinavia? It’s about 70%. Take a look at Gates of Vienna if you doubt me.

    In the Qu’ran it says that it’s OK with any woman that, “Your right hand holds” and it clearly isn’t a sin if you do it with a filthy kufr whether she likes it or not.

    Given the restrictions on sex with a muslimah and the whole Islamic take on sexuality in general… it’s either sin free fucking of non-muslims or Saudi-style (prison-style) situational homosexuality.

    No wonder they see the west as being a sexual playground free from Wahabi injunctions… The fact that they are leaving the Islamic shit-holes of their birth to come here doesn’t mean they’re doing it to embrace Western customs. Many of them are coming to plunder.

    Screw who you want, get pissed and Mom (who also came over, won’t object) as long as you marry that cousin in Islamabad by 23. I’ve worked with these people and talk about sowing wild oats…

    And if any fucker on the BBC says the veil is a sign of “respect” (the most over and ill-used word in the C21st lexicon) for women once more I shall throw a fucking frying pan through the Sony.

    Real respect is talking to a topless bird on a beach in Spain and not thinking that her clearly un-hijabed state gives you carte-blanche. Sheesh!

    Sorry for the rant folks but somebody had to say it.

  • Pa Annoyed

    NickM,

    Yes, I knew about that. But it doesn’t negate the argument. That’s part of the 20%, not the 80%.

    It’s one of the perils of sexual repression – kids don’t learn how to build normal relationships and grow up emotionally crippled. They don’t know what else to do, so they’re naturally motivated to turn to the sort of imam who tells them it’s alright to take.
    That, and the incentive of the rewards of Jihad, were one of the big motivating forces in the early days that converted the Arabs in the first place.

    However, that at least cannot be blamed on the strict orthodoxy. The orthodox position forbids men to even look at uncovered women, and there is most certainly no dispensation allowing rape. Unless the women are actually enslaved in Jihad, and owned by a particular man, they are unlawful to them. People are making up their own interpretations, (which does at least prove it is possible). This is one you can blame on individual Muslims rather than Islam itself. We want them to come up with new interpretations, but not that one.

  • Sunfish

    Pa Annoyed:
    Your point is taken about how few nations more desperately need a regime change than Iran or Saudi Arabia. However, as I am presently prevented from enlisting in the US armed forces (Within the last year, I actually spoke to a recruiter and was told that, for reasons I won’t go into), there’s relatively little which I can directly do to advance such improvements.

    I can, however, influence the actions of my own government. And the mere fact that what someone else does is eeeeevil doesn’t make the unacceptable behavior acceptable when it comes from someone who usually isn’t as bad.

    I don’t know for a fact whether Verizon is tapping my phone calls or not. However:
    1) Verizon is less likely to have political opponents who may be blackmailed.
    2) Verizon is less likely to hide behind sovereign immunity when I try to take them to task for their hypothetical misconduct.
    3) Verizon is less likely to claim that their illegal eavesdropping is an official state secret.
    4) Verizon is less likely to try to use an illegal wiretap in support of criminal prosecution.
    5) Verizon is more susceptible to market forces if I do detect them up to wickedness: there are at least four cellular providers with acceptable service levels in the places where I need a phone. One can’t really drop Washington DC for Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.
    6) The wiretaps are governed by the US Constitution. There is only one provision in said document which governs the private interactions of private people, and it’s not the Fourth Amendment.
    7) I had a seventh really good argument, but I just finished working out and deadlifts wreck my short-term memory.

    Alisa: I don’t think much of the term “bad guys” in a technical discussion. al-Qaeda is not Hezbollah is not the Muslim Brotherhood is not the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. However, I think it’s safe to say that all four such groups have you in their crosshairs. And it’s possible that the CSA people may get back out of prison within the next fifty years.

    Nick M:
    REAL respect is being able to have that conversation and maintain eye contact the entire way through.

  • Sunfish, part of my point was that technical discussion is beside the point, when it comes to al-Qaeda (of course I meant them, I just don’t like using the term). What was your point, BTW?

    I’ll be happy with eye contact while fully dressed.

  • Nick M

    Pa,

    Islam itself is deeply puritanical about sex in general but Jihad is a highly mutable concept. The idea of slaves taken by jihad is similarly mutable. Whether it is the companions of Muhammed enslaving the females of the neighbouring tribe or a modern UK Pakistani thinking it was OK to rape a western bird because she wasn’t hijabed and conspired in his sin of dancing with her is not really that important.

    “She was a slag anyway, so what does it matter”.

    I have never come across a single religious tradition that has a realistic viewpoint on sexuality (probably not even my own free-wheeling agnosticism) but Islam is clearly nucking futz…

  • Steevo

    The tradition of Muslim family honor and shame is well documented even as practiced in the West. If the daughter is perceived to have acted unbecomingly, her prospects of death or even being raped ironic as that is is still a reality. I have read of the absurd considerations by some the UK to make some allowances in this regard with multicultural considerations the highest priority.

  • Responding to Sunfish:
    My compromises for civilized behavior are the same personal and voluntary contracts that I enter when ever I get a stamp on my passport to visit a country, walk into a pub, visit someone’s home.

    If I choose not to abide by their rules, I am free to leave. As long as I am there, I am obliged to follow those rules.

    We, as a collective, have decided that we want to see security in action. We want the killers to be inconvenienced and frustrated. We are willing to tolerate some small personal frustrations in exchange.

    There is no perfect way to identify the person who may wish to kill me, you or those we love. That means we contract with someone to do their best on or behalf so that we may get on with our lives.

    TSA personnel do not set the rules or procedures. They are watched, taped and warned whenever they are too agressive. They also are penalized when they let someone slip thru… These are not high paying jobs. These are also boring jobs.

    Establishing a permanent government funded Stasi/Gestapo/COINTELPRO does more harm to the body politic, to our individual freedoms and liberties than frustrating a few wealthy-highly educated-bored travelers.

    Police are only effective after a crime has been committed. Until then; they are expensive, annoying, intrusive, street theater props, and limitors of our personal freedoms… There are also times when they are very welcome and very important…

    I notice nobody wants to park the airplanes and take ships of trains… Are we really THAT busy and important?

  • Nick M

    My compromises for civilized behavior are the same personal and voluntary contracts that I enter when ever I get a stamp on my passport to visit a country, walk into a pub, visit someone’s home.

    Whenever I am a guest in someone else’s house or pub they don’t take my fingerprints. Hell, Perry allows me to post here without an iris-scan!

    If I choose not to abide by their rules, I am free to leave. As long as I am there, I am obliged to follow those rules.

    Which is absolutely not the case in US immigration… Once you’re there they can do what the fuck they like with you.

    We, as a collective, have decided that we want to see security in action. We want the killers to be inconvenienced and frustrated. We are willing to tolerate some small personal frustrations in exchange.

    Re-phrase as “large personal frustrations” and for your information I am not a member of your “collective”.

    There is no perfect way to identify the person who may wish to kill me, you or those we love. That means we contract with someone to do their best on or behalf so that we may get on with our lives.

    There is no perfect way to do anything. How does that logically lead onto employing goons? But let’s look at the evidence shall we. I really don’t look like a muslim terrorist, that bloke and his 18 month-old son didn’t look like muslim terrorists either. How is the goal of security achieved by giving us a going-over?

    TSA personnel do not set the rules or procedures. They are watched, taped and warned whenever they are too agressive. They also are penalized when they let someone slip thru… These are not high paying jobs. These are also boring jobs.

    Yes, dusting my laptop for explosives and screaming at me with a .38 prominently displayed on your hip is probably boring. I’d find it dull as hell. So what? Many aspects of my job are boring too. I bet yours isn’t all laughs either.

    In anycase, someone sets the rules and procedures and that’s the someone I’d like to see in the stocks.

    Establishing a permanent government funded Stasi/Gestapo/COINTELPRO does more harm to the body politic, to our individual freedoms and liberties than frustrating a few wealthy-highly educated-bored travelers.

    So it’s OK to piss off the wealthy and highly educated because, you know, they’ll understand. Well I don’t understand. And yes, I had the “Perry at LAX treatment” too. Unlike Perry, I smoke and there is nothing like a smoker in an airport for finding somewhere to smoke. I had twenty minutes at Orlando and I didn’t find a way in or out yet they still re-checked my passport. That’s Stasi – pig-ignorant, untargeted, dismal, spiteful and utterly useless. I was going to say something about your assumption that airline passengers are all “wealthy and highly educated” but I’ll just let it be.

    Police are only effective after a crime has been committed. Until then; they are expensive, annoying, intrusive, street theater props, and limitors of our personal freedoms… There are also times when they are very welcome and very important…

    That’s bollocks. A copper wandering the streets is a useful deterent. As long as it isn’t one of the new-school nutters then it hardly limits my freedom.

    I notice nobody wants to park the airplanes and take ships of trains… Are we really THAT busy and important?

    Last time I was on a flight it was to the UK from the USA. Please inform me of a suitable rail service I could’ve used instead. Of course I could’ve got a ship and… Am I really going to complete that sentence and dignify what you wrote with an answer? Am I fuck. Whaddya think Orv and Wilb were up to on Kill Devil Hills, NC – having a lark?

  • I really don’t look like a muslim terrorist, that bloke and his 18 month-old son didn’t look like muslim terrorists either.

    Are you suggesting RACIAL PROFILING?! The horror.

  • Steevo

    Which is absolutely not the case in US immigration… Once you’re there they can do what the fuck they like with you.

    Not if you’re from south of our border :-

    There is no perfect way to do anything. How does that logically lead onto employing goons? But let’s look at the evidence shall we. I really don’t look like a Muslim terrorist, that bloke and his 18 month-old son didn’t look like Muslim terrorists either. How is the goal of security achieved by giving us a going-over?

    Its because of the Left, the media and political correctness this problem exists. 99+% of terrorism is Muslim extremists. Stereotyping and profiling would go a long way in reducing and eliminating stupid suspicion.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Sunfish,

    I’ve got no problem with people moaning about Western governments, if people are clear on these being worrying trends, wrong directions, probable incompetence and error, and small beer compared with the genuine totalitarian regimes. The hyperbole sometimes gets out of hand, though. It’s only when people only ever talk about Western governments, or compare their actions or motives directly to the worst the totalitarians can offer that it irritates me.

    It’s a bit OT, but regarding your Verizon points:
    1. They have plenty of commercial rivals, though. Plus they may be doing it for a third party, it may be a group of employees acting independently of the company, or they may be doing it for reasons other than blackmail. The biggest market for personal data is from advertisers and spammers. Google mail admit to scanning your emails for keywords to trigger targeted advertising, but there may be others less honest and open about it. There are also people on the lookout for more valuable data, like listening in to a credit order line to pick up credit card numbers, for example. Private investigators, credit reference agencies, wives and lovers may also all have an interest.
    2/3. Those assume you have any chance at catching them at it, and any chance of proving it. Private companies have to keep the accounts straight, but access logs can get deleted and engineers can be reassigned and there’s very little you can do about that. Why would they claim sovereign immunity or state security if they can more easily deny it ever happened? You have to rely on the company’s own procedures and security measures to provide you with the audit trail with which to nail them.
    4. How can you use an illegal wiretap in court? Wouldn’t the court want to see the paperwork?
    5. Any company is only going to supply enough security for the losses to balance the cost. All the companies will be the same, and none of them will be bothered by the loss of a few individual customers. Unless it is a company policy thing, done on a large scale, you catch them at it and can prove it, and you can get it publicised in the media, none of them will care. They can make lots more selling your details than you can hurt them.
    There are, in fact, moderately secure alternatives for the more seriously security-minded, but most people will have never heard of them, let alone subscribe, and the user-base is small enough that the very fact you use it will attract all sorts of attention. Not very practical.
    6. What sort of illegal wiretap is governed by the constitution? I’m not making any claim that they’re allowed to listen in, only that there’s no way you can stop them, or even know.
    7. I’ll be happy to wait, in case it comes to mind.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation have all sorts of information on these issues, for anyone interested. Do any of you know how much data Google store on your search habits? And whether they’ve had any security breaches regarding it? No? Never mind, I’m sure nobody here uses the internet to look at anything they’d be ashamed of.

  • Daveon

    NickM (and others).

    The SSSS problem of “random” selection is a given if you’re travelling on single tickets, even if they’re part of a larger itinerary. I had 5 consequetive screenings at a variety of airports in a week – all very unplesant really.

    I’ve had a laptop dropped by a TSA officer during his scan for explosives. I’ve a Sony Vaio TX1! It’s smaller than a book and weighs less than 1.5kgs.

    I’ve watched flipflops be x-rayed, and a guy give up a full, sealed bottle of Glenfidich.

    The horrors I see flying domestic in the US don’t come much worse than that last one.

  • Sunfish

    I’ve got no problem with people moaning about Western governments, if people are clear on these being worrying trends, wrong directions, probable incompetence and error, and small beer compared with the genuine totalitarian regimes. The hyperbole sometimes gets out of hand, though. It’s only when people only ever talk about Western governments, or compare their actions or motives directly to the worst the totalitarians can offer that it irritates me.

    I’ll put it like this:
    On a certain really bad Tuesday in September, 2001, I wasn’t in a position to do much about what did or did not happen with a few buildings. However, I was able to do something about the threat posed by a guy who ran two stop signs while constantly drifting across the double yellow lines in a residential neighborhood near a school at about 7:50 that morning. You guessed it, liquid breakfast. That was a much smaller threat, obviously, but you solve the problems you can. The alternative is for me to beat my head against a brick wall because I can’t do EVERYTHING, and thereby end up accomplishing nothing.

    That leads to the various sorts of occupational illness which I’ve thus far managed to avoid (mostly)

    It’s the exact same principle as I’ve been applying in this thread: I can’t do a damn thing about Iran hanging people because they prefer pickles over tacos. I can’t do much about Saudi Arabia imprisoning or whipping or beheading people for being the same religion as myself. I can, however, have some limited influence over my own government.

    In answer to your question: Wiretaps conducted by the Federal government will be governed by the Fourth Amendment. Wiretaps conducted by state or local governments will be governed by the Fourteenth. Illegal wiretaps are the ones that violate these provisions.

    And my point with our tangent about my cell provider was, my relationship with them is an imperfect situation. I don’t presently know for a fact what they are or are not doing. However, they’re usually a little more amenable to reason than the assclowns who infest WA DC. It’s certainly easier to deal with their billing department than with the IRS!

    In reference to:

    4. How can you use an illegal wiretap in court? Wouldn’t the court want to see the paperwork?

    There are two answers here:

    1) The fruits of an illegal intrusion can tell an investigator where to start a fishing expedition, which publicly-available records to check, etc. When it goes to court, a dishonest investigator will say “we got an anonymous tip and started conducting surveillance via (any means here that doesn’t create a Constitutional issue: plain-view doctrine, for instance). An honest investigator, well, I wouldn’t have done the illegal search in the first place.

    2) There has been some litigation in the last few years (I’m unclear on the present status) in which Federal entities have tried to use the fruits of questionable searches in court, claiming that the source was so sensitive that even the trial judge can only have the redacted version and the defense gets nothing. As I said, I’m not sure where that stuff stands right now.

    3) I just thought of a third one. No idea if this has been applied to wiretaps: exigent circumstances creating an exception to the warrant requirement for searches. Remember, the Fourth bans UNREASONABLE search and seizure, not UNWARRANTED search and seizure. When the circumstances surrounding a search are such that the delay caused by seeking a proper warrant could lead to loss of life or destruction of evidence, then courts will sometimes still allow it. In theory, the judge will be far more critical of the probable cause that justified the search and of the exigency that justified searching without warrant, but in practice I’ve seen judges allow stuff that should never have happened. (To say nothing about the Steve Jackson Games case back in the 1980’s…)

    Christ, Pa, you make me sound like some kind of ACLU hippy.

  • Sunfish

    My compromises for civilized behavior are the same personal and voluntary contracts that I enter when ever I get a stamp on my passport to visit a country, walk into a pub, visit someone’s home.

    I’m not visiting someone else’s country. In case you don’t know me, I was born near Kansas Shitty. I currently live in Colorado. Therefore, the US is my country.

    See also Perry’s comment about being fingerprinted at the pub. And a friend who pulled that shit when I dropped by his place would not stay a friend.

    If I choose not to abide by their rules, I am free to leave. As long as I am there, I am obliged to follow those rules.

    Where the fuck do you get off telling me that I need to leave MY home or MY country to satisfy YOUR pathological need to feel protected? Why can’t you just hide in a closet with a security blanket where the BAD BAD MANS can’t find you?

    We, as a collective, have decided that we want to see security in action. We want the killers to be inconvenienced and frustrated. We are willing to tolerate some small personal frustrations in exchange.

    Who’s this “we,” white man? You got a mouse in your pocket? You may feel safer having Thousands Standing Around pawing through your dirty socks every time you decide to fly to Vegas, but I resent the hell out of you deciding for me because you think you speak for some mythical “collective.”

    And BTW, I don’t want to see al-Qaeda terrorists inconvenienced and frustrated. I want to see them shot in the face somewhere else before they have a chance to come to my country. The decision to do so may be the only intelligent move that stupid prick in the Oval Office has made in six years. (Aside: Is it Bush Derangement Syndrome if I voted for the oxygen thief both times?)

    TSA personnel do not set the rules or procedures. They are watched, taped and warned whenever they are too agressive. They also are penalized when they let someone slip thru… These are not high paying jobs. These are also boring jobs.

    I care. I really do, about the poor people who make capped civil service salaries for thankless jobs. I empathize. However, I do not sympathize, having a distressingly similar job myself. If the poor babies needed to be liked, then they should have been firefighters instead.

    Maybe they don’t get their rocks off my sticking their snouts into my personal business. However, that doesn’t stop them from sticking their snouts where said noses don’t belong. Big boy rules: if they didn’t like the consequences they should have chosen a different course of action and a different career. Because of my somewhat-unique circumstance, I can empathize with how they may feel about their work and being hated, but that certainly does not translate to sympathy.

    Police are only effective after a crime has been committed. Until then; they are expensive, annoying, intrusive, street theater props, and limitors of our personal freedoms… There are also times when they are very welcome and very important…

    Yep. No deterrent value at all. No fear of being caught. Locking the criminals up doesn’t stop them, even during the time they spend inside. And that’s because they’re all off snarfing doughnuts and lattes and fixing each others parking tickets and too busy to actually solve all of your problems right away. F**king pigs.

    I notice nobody wants to park the airplanes and take ships of trains… Are we really THAT busy and important?

    You may not be. Others are. And you still haven’t justified why it should be your choice. “Because BAD BAD MANS COME if we don’t get strip searched getting on a Denver-Las Vegas commuter hop” isn’t justification. It’s your personal issues. Please don’t lay your trip on me.

  • Sunfish

    Sunfish, part of my point was that technical discussion is beside the point, when it comes to al-Qaeda (of course I meant them, I just don’t like using the term). What was your point, BTW?

    My point was, if we can differentiate between “bad guys,” then the question of what they hope to accomplish and what capabilities they have can be answered. I don’t have the answer in front of me, but the question becomes less daunting once it’s defined.

    “This is Hezbollah. They can launch crude rockets into suburbs and kill people that way. And we can counterbattery them, as long as we don’t care what the UN has to say about it.”

    “This is The Order. They want to turn Denver white and they can shoot talk-radio hosts, and go to jail for it.”

    “This is the IRA. They want Ireland to be Cuba minus the beach weather. They can pop off car bombs and send Gerry Adams to meet with the President of the United States.”

    “These are the Hell’s Angels. They want to ride motorcycles without wearing helmets, have sex with underage women, and snort a lot of meth.”

    It’s that whole thing about naming something will demystify it and take away some of its power. Being able to define the ‘bad guys’ in terms more specific than the amorphous mass of ‘everybody else’ is IMHO a big part of figuring out what to actually do about the problem.

    I’ll be happy with eye contact while fully dressed.

    Fair enough. My neighborhood, at this altitude, this late in the summer, will never be mistaken for a topless beach anyway.

  • Sunfish: OK, got it. Well, like I said, of course I meant al Qaeda. The reason I don’t like using the term is precisely what you have pointed out: it cannot be easily defined, at least not by me. I don’t really know who these people are , except for two or three individuals currently presumed alive, and another 19 currently dead. Which brings me back to my original point: we (as individuals) don’t know much, except that having witnessed 9/11 we know we can expect the worst. What do we do about it and at what cost is a separate question. Like I said, it seems to me that for most people that’s an easy question (unfortunately). Still, for the rest of us, say me and you and several others on this site it may be a question of degree (see “cost” above”). This is where it gets interesting. I, for one, don’t have a ready answer.

  • Nick M

    Alisa,
    Yeah, I’m in favour of profiling but I’m rather more in favour of not employing total morons to perform the task of airport security.

    I fail to recall a single act of airline related terrorism carried out by a white Englishman traveling with his wife and clearly on holiday. Those were shorts suitable for the beach, not for jihad. Jihadi activities in those shorts would make one look like a bit of a tit.

    When I got to the hotel and opened my case I found a note from the TSA basically saying “We rummaged through your underwear”. I was dog-tired and it truly was the welcome to America I really wished for on my honeymoon.

    Bloody hell, I was a paying customer and I’d come to the country to spend several thousand dollars and I was treated like shit.

    Fortunately, the bartenders, waitresses and water-sports folk were as welcoming and as helpful as ever.

    Many were even ashamed of the USA’s current “front of house” antics. They mentioned it, not me.

    So, short version, I was treated really well by US citizens & businesses but very shabbily by the authorities. And, no, the fact they do that with everyone doesn’t make it OK.

  • Sunfish

    Alisa:
    AQ can seem a little hazy. However, if you’re at all familiar with the US-based Earth First and Animal Liberation Front movements, AQ begins to make sense.

    Their disorganized and unstructured format is something that has showed up plenty of times in the past. It’s more of a common ideology and a few names to rally around: OBL’s word carries some weight among people who follow that ideology. However, there are no membership dues or 600-page employee manuals or promotion exams. Think of it as almost an anarchic collection of small cells, but in rare cases having access to a common resource (the training camps in Afghanistan) whenever they can leave that resource some place where no government is likely to interfere.

    What I’ve figured out about them tells me that they’ve read Louis Beam’s crap about “leaderless resistance.” (Beam was a white-supremacist asshat here in the US some years ago, who advocated small cells of inbreds fighting the race war without coordination. I guess that way they all got to be generals or something.)

    They start to make more sense once they work out of a playbook that I’ve seen before. I don’t guess the Turner Diaries has been translated into Arabic, but I imagine they may have taken a few cues from Weird Willie. (I had to read the TD for a class on, yep, terrorism once. Ever read a book that made you want to compulsively wash your hands every time you touched it?)

    Nick:
    If your clothing was unsuited to jihad, then does that mean that jihad has a dress code? Is Jihadwear going to be the next trend in active casual? Will it be sold at Target or Tescos or will it be strictly upscale?

    I had a flight once. The Former Mrs. Sunfish and I went to check our bags and I found that I’d left my driver’s license at home. The only ID I had said “Po-leese.” I used that to check in, and sure as my dog carries things in her mouth my boarding pass said SSSS.

    BTW, I think I know how they picked you: English accents (there’s only one variety, donchaknow) sound the same as Irish accents. Ireland gave the world the IRA and the Kennedy family. Therefore, you’re a suspect too.

    See my link above to the Shrine of the Mall Ninja. You’ll feel stupider for having read the entire thing, but you’ll understand the post-911 US government a lot better.

  • Nick: when you use profiling (could be racial, but more often than not things are more complex than that), you have no choice but to employ people above certain IQ level for it to be effective.