Your Papers, Comrade

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I
was making my first airplane trip after the September 11th
attack and boy was I afraid. I was headed right up through Terrorist
Alley – from Montgomery, Alabama, through Memphis, Tennessee, to
St. Louis, Missouri, and back again. Old Bin Laden himself could
not have designed such a Dare Devil adventure.

The
first thing you notice about the new and improved airport safety
system is the presence of barricades, police officers, and young
soldiers dressed in camouflage uniforms, carrying M-16 machine guns.

These
soldiers were the same kids that we don’t allow buy beer and who
listen to music with lyrics like “I’m a loser and I know I’m going
to die.” One of the kids was clearly enjoying his newfound power
over the patrons of the Montgomery Airport, but the other was uncomfortable
wearing his weekend warrior outfit in public and seemed highly relieved
when I said hello.

I
was there two hours early, as directed, but there were no lines.
Security was less than optimal. The girl at the ticket counter forgot
to ask to see my identification card and had trouble operating the
tape dispenser. The security girls also had trouble with procedures,
but it was very early on Sunday morning and the team did manage
to pull together for a thorough review, scan, and body frisking
the second time I went through the checkpoint.

As
a matter of fact, I was singled out for the double electronic scan
and body frisking at every airport. Each time a little lady (usually
less than 5 five tall) would demand that I “spread u2018em” while she
used her electronic frisking devise and hands all over my body even
though I had successfully made it past two electronic scans. I don’t
know what they were looking for. I don’t look like an Arab, I’ve
never been to the Middle East, and I’ve never even seen a copy of
the Koran. However, I am six feet, four inches tall, just like Osama
and OJ Simpson, so maybe it was my height.

Things
soon got worse because the US attacked Afghanistan. Security measures
were increased (not improved), lines got longer and passengers
were now told to show up three hours early. Security checkpoints
now have a separate person to check your ticket, scan your identification
papers, and even to stand there and forcefully demand: “take everything
out of your pockets” over and over again. All of the security girls
seem to really enjoy the newfound importance and power of their
jobs.

As
I sat in airport after airport, hour after hour, I thought to myself,
this is just like the USSR without the Russian accent. There was
a constant stream of recorded security warnings over the public
address system that would have been quite unnerving to the general
public if someone with a stern foreign accent had given them.

And
then there is the requirement to show your “papers” at every “checkpoint”
including the ticket counter, the security checkpoint, and the gateway
to your plane. I felt like I was in a Kevin Costner movie.

I
can also tell you that all this increase in security did not improve
security and it made me feel less secure. In fact, I talked to many
people during my trip about the increased airport security and of
those who mattered (above 100 IQ and works in the private sector)
everyone felt less secure because of the increased security!

Several
people mentioned that while the security girls were examining pens
and confiscating cigarette lighters that they forgot to check to
see if some of the cell phones, cameras, and laptops were actually
operational by turning them on. Others expressed concern that they
had lost eye contact with their Rolexes, wallets, and Palm Pilots
while being searched, and they could have easily been stolen by
someone in the moving crowd.

I
returned home only to face the specter of thoroughly federalized
airport security. Does that mean we are going to fire all the current
security force or just pay them more at taxpayers’ expense? Senator
Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Breck) demands that security be “exactly
the same at every airport in the United States.” The Senator and
her colleagues apparently don’t realize that that is exactly what
terrorists want.

Terrorists
want airport security to be predictable so that they know what they
will face in the airport and on the plane. Any attempt
to regulate or regiment airport and airplane security, even if it
involved such things as requiring pilots to carry guns, falls directly
into the hands of terrorists and would backfire. Federalized security
is knowable and predictable. You can read about it in the library
or the Internet and then make plans to avoid it, or even take advantage
of it.

Every
federal bureaucracy and 2+ trillion dollars failed us on September
11th – the world’s only “superpower” couldn’t even defend
its own command center. Why in the world would anyone think that
another bureaucracy would in anyway help the situation?

Only
with private airports and completely unregulated security can terrorists
be presented with an efficient, unknown, and ever-changing security
challenge. Every airport would be different. Every airline would
be different. Security measures could be changed regularly (and
irregularly for that matter).

Terrorist
could not make plans because they would not know what they faced.
Passengers would not be harassed by security girls; they would be
courted with efficient, non-invasive, and courteous security. They
might also be discriminated against or “profiled,” but everyone
would be much safer.

Of
course, we must also realize that even if we did completely privatize
and deregulate air travel, that terrorist could still succeed either
in the air or through other means. The only method of truly preventing
terrorism is to take away their motive. In this case the terrorists
have clearly stated that they want to bring about an end to American
imperialism in the Middle East.

Their
motive is not to oppose capitalism. The US government supports a
socialist government in Israel. Their motive is not to oppose democracy.
The US government supports dictatorships and monarchies in the Middle
East like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Their motive is opposing the
American government’s hegemony in the Middle East. If we end our
government’s domination of the Middle East, they will stop terrorizing
us, and I am sure they will be happy to sell us all the oil we want.

October
16, 2001

Dr.
Mark Thornton, [send him
mail
] a senior faculty member of the Mises
Institute
, teaches economics.

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