The Cheesy Blockheads of the TSA

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The bureaucrats who expect us to believe that lipstick and Listerine become WMD’s once we carry them aboard planes want us to accept the same baloney regarding cheese. Yep: cheese. That magnificent marriage of milk and mold, that creamy ambrosia brimming with fat and flavor, is the newest threat to American aviation, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Every time we think Our Rulers can’t get any sillier, they go the extra mile and prove us wrong.

Dairy first turned scary on July 20 when the TSA published its internal newsletter, Transportation Intelligence Gazette. Like everything else about the agency, this rag is suspect in all details. First, there’s its circulation: the TSA claims it goes to "our 43,000 officers [those simian savages pawing you and your bags at airports], federal air marshals and local law enforcement partners." Who knew these goons were literate?

Then there’s its editorial. Let’s just say it’ll never win awards for accuracy. This particular issue [pdf] devoted its three pages to "a surge in recent suspicious incidents at US airports." The "surge" turned out to be four — count ‘em, four — such "incidents" nationwide over the last 11 months. Even more absurdly, the TIG dignified this handful as an "increase in number" that has "raise[d] concern":

"5 July 2007, San Diego, CA — A U.S. Person’s (USPER) checked baggage contained two icepacks covered in duct tape. The icepacks had clay inside them rather than the normal blue gel.

"4 June 2007, Milwaukee, WI — The carry-on baggage of a USPER contained several items resembling IED components, such as a wire coil wrapped around a possible initiator, an electrical switch, batteries, three tubes, and two blocks of cheese. [Whoa! Folks packing cheese in the dairy capital of the nation. Talk about menacing.]

"8 November 2006, Houston, TX— A USPER’s checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a 9-volt battery, wires, a block of brown claylike minerals, and pipes. [Wires? Uh-oh. Good thing screeners in Long Beach, CA, were on their unconstitutional toes when they detected wires in a checked bag Thursday. The airport was evacuated; cops, firefighters, and a bomb squad swarmed; flights were delayed for an hour and a half. The suspicious wires belonged to a video game. TSA spokesgal Jennifer Peppin chirped, "It certainly was nothing but it certainly looked like something." We talking wires or the TSA?]

"16 September 2006, Baltimore, MD — The checked baggage of a couple contained a plastic bag with a block of processed cheese taped to another plastic bag holding a cellular phone charger." [Here we go with the cheese again. And the tape, which you might think the TSA would favor rather than fear. After all, its parent bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is so fond of duct tape its director once implied we could win the war on terror if only we stockpiled enough of it.]

I see nothing here but five Americans who pack as idiosyncratically as the rest of us; one man’s tote-along treasure is another man’s trash. And that’s why I’ll never work for the TSA. Among the Velveeta and old, patched-up electronics, those crackerjacks discerned terrorists "conducting pre-attack security probes and ‘dry runs’ similar to dress rehearsals." As further proof, the TIG listed examples of prior terrorism, alleging that "dry runs" accompanied each.

Well. The usual lickspittles rushed to corroborate this paranoia. Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland — yes, a place supposedly devoted to scholarship actually squanders space and money on such tomfoolery — fretted, "I don’t know why you would connect a cell phone charger to a piece of cheese …The facts as described can lead to no other conclusion than that these are dry runs …" Yo, Mikey, get a clue: the TSA’s "facts as described" are seldom the facts as they actually happened.

Gullibility also gushed from CNN’s "American Morning," which swallowed the TSA’s fishy tale hook, line, and sinker. It wasted its audience’s time with "critical, new questions" about whether "terrorists could be turning to ice packs, batteries and blocks of cheese to test security for a future attack." Then it gave one of Leviathan’s stooges another chance to strut his asininity:

[CNN ANCHOR:] Joining me now is Clark Kent Ervin. He’s the former inspector general at [the Department of] Homeland Security, and he’s also the author of “Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack.” So, Clark, should this latest advisory by the TSA be troubling to us?

[ERVIN:] Yes, John, I think so. …this is really out of the ordinary. … the passengers, many [sic for 5] of them, didn’t have convincing explanations. …The fact that there have been so many [sic for 4] incidents, the advisory refers to it as a surge and the fact that Al Qaeda has this pattern of testing, doing dry runs, dress rehearsals, before attacks, all adds up to a very troubling picture. …there is cause for concern, no question about that.

Let’s meet one of the terrorists fraying Superman’s nerves. Sara Weiss is a 66-year-old mother from Long Island. She flew to San Diego earlier this summer, carrying ice-packs to treat her bad back. Sara’s a thrifty soul who uses it up, wears it out and makes do. Her old, leaky ice-packs had lots of holes and lots of clear — not duct — tape covering those holes.

The packs were in her carry-on for her trip west, leading the TSA’s thugs in New York to harass her. Americans no longer admire thrift; they confuse it with being cheap. I imagine Sara was embarrassed at having to justify her frugality to government bullies before a line of peering passengers. Hoping to avoid further hassles, she entrusted the ice-packs to her checked luggage for the flight home. Big mistake, as she told ABC News: "I was showing my boarding pass to the ticket agent, ready to walk down the hall into the plane when she said, ‘Oh[,] are you Sara Weiss?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And suddenly policemen appeared out of nowhere."

They "detained" Sara as they have thousands of other innocents, interrogating her for three hours in the "bowels of the San Diego airport," as ABC put it. Sara continued, “The first thing [the cop] said after introducing himself was, u2018Do you know Osama bin Laden?’ And I thought, u2018What?’ At first, I thought it was a ridiculous statement, and then I started to realize, u2018He’s serious, I better answer.’ So I said, u2018I wish I knew where he was because I would love to have that multimillion dollar bounty on his head.’" Her quip didn’t keep "officials" from calling a HazMat team to test her beleaguered ice-packs before releasing her.

Even the TSA should have realized by now that an older lady with a bad back posed no threat to anyone. But the agency files "incident reports," so poor Sara was not allowed to fade back into obscurity. Instead, her ice-packs found their way into the TSA’s goofy Gazette — exaggerated and falsified — as an example of the perils endangering American aviation. "TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said…that the document was… meant to get screeners to be more open-minded about potential threats. …he wants them to look for materials that are not banned but could be dangerous." Careful there, Kip: they might start looking for you.

Incredibly, the TSA’s own "security director" at San Diego’s airport refuted the official version of Sara’s story. A cop there also dismissed the TIG’s account as "a little bit off": the ice-packs contained the standard blue gel, not clay. Given the TSA’s penchant for confusing video games with explosives, it’s a safe bet the "surge’s" other three episodes are equally harmless.

The TSA routinely makes a fool of itself. But it deserves special condemnation for this buffoonery. That makes "experts’" reactions all the more amazing. You’d think they’d slink away, shamefaced, after swearing to the TSA’s lies. Instead, new ones flocked to praise the agency, so lavishly that the TSA posted their remarks on its website. "This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot," said James Carafano, a "security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition." Apparently, he’s now calling for the Constitution’s abolition.

Another wingding, this one a "RAND Corp. terrorism expert," said, "The TSA did their job. The police did their job. No sweat." Note that the police’s job now includes interrogating elderly women after rifling their belongings without a warrant.

Then there was Bruce Schneier, who’s made a profession of studying security. He often defends freedom because it’s more efficient at protecting folks than tyranny. His lauding the TSA, then, was all the more disheartening: "Honestly, the four incidents described, with photos, sure sound suspicious to me…Honestly, if someone has a block of cheese with wires and a detonator — I want the FBI to be called in." Honestly, Bruce, cheese is edible, not explosive. But this is what comes from arguing liberty on practical rather than principled grounds.

And through it all, we still don’t know what variety of cheese so galvanized the TSA. The agency described it as a "block," but would that be cheddar, Bleu or Parmesan? I’m betting Swiss, since that’s what passes for brains among the blockheads at the TSA.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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