Hawke: Losing our security virginity

Spoils of War

For me, this holiday travel season sparked a swirl of emotion as memories of my “first time” came rushing back. I was so nervous. My palms were clammy as I struggled to take off my shoes. Should I look you in the eye while we do it? What do I do with my hands? Luckily, the screener at the Miami International Airport was a pro. He walked me through the full-body scan step by step: calming me, reassuring me. He told me I did a good job and gave me a gentle nod as I left. What, no kiss? On to Peru.

Here it is, months after my first time, and I still get nervous. These new screening procedures leave us all feeling exposed and vulnerable. And while I agree with vigilant and high standards of airport security, I have to wonder if all of the new bells and whistles — the fanfare of modernity and the trumpets of the new guard — aren’t just an international game of one-up, with the eventual loser our personal freedom in the land of the free. The bad guys carry a box-cutter and we lock our doors. They wear explosive new kicks and we scan shoes. They don the manliest of briefs and we feel up grandma. They revert to old drug-smuggling tactics, using “inner cavities” to conceal weapons and we… well, bend over.

Perhaps before it gets worse, we should take a moment to re-evaluate our security priorities. Are these technologies necessary or are they simply a bureaucratic parade — security theater — so that some fat cat can wag her tail and say, “Look, we’re doing something.” But could they really stop a would-be terrorist?

The Shoe Bomber was able to board even after he paid cash for a one-way ticket. He didn’t have any carry-on luggage, used a suspicious passport, and was questioned by French authorities for so long that he missed his initial flight. The Underwear Bomber was allowed to board, even after his father warned the CIA of a possible attack and his name was added to a national terror database. Somehow people still think that, even after a terrorist has dodged the CIA, DIA, NSA, FBI and a plethora of other international alphabet soup intelligence agencies, a minimally trained Peeping TSA Tom with a rubber glove will nab him.

Experts from around the nation question the effectiveness and necessity of the full-body scans. Regarding the Underwear Bomber, the Government Accountability Office stated in a March 2010 report “it remains unclear whether the [scanners] would have detected the weapon used.” Former University of California, San Francisco physicists Kaufman and Carlson state in a peer-reviewed article on airport security, “It is very likely that a large (15-20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology…it is easily confused with normal anatomy.” And Jack Riley, a Vice President of the National Security Research Division at the RAND Corporation, recently stated, “If there was a need to do this, we probably would have been better off using [the back-scatters] as a secondary security or screening measure, rather than as a primary screening or security measure.”

But the government has decided to go on with the show and impose an intrusive and probably ineffective measure on the flying public. “Airline passenger administrative processing with government x-ray vision” was somehow forgotten in the drafting of the Fourth Amendment. It has now deemed our privates subject for review.

In 2011, as we look to the security of our homeland, the time has come to put our trust in something more than the TSA’s naked photos, the NSA’s monitored whispers and our numerous international security partners. With the implementation of all of these security procedures, what will ultimately stop terrorist activities at the airport? We will, as we have before. The heroes who confronted terror directly on United 93 (9/11), American 63 (Shoe Bomber) and Northwest 253 (Underwear Bomber) were not highly trained G-men, but untrained laymen. Sacrificing our dignity will not make us safer. Coming together in the American spirit of personal responsibility to defend our freedoms will.

Stop depending on the government to keep you impossibly and unrealistically safe. Stop letting them strip away your dignity and freedom for what amounts to a technological dog and pony show. We can and must do better. Because no matter what price we pay for admission to the government’s burlesque, not all threats to our freedom are foreign. And when I boarded my return flight from Peru, I didn’t even take off my shoes.

Alex Hawke is a sophomore in Berkeley College and Eli Whitney Student.

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