Sic Semper Tyrannis

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Poetic justice is rare in this world, which makes what happened recently at Mineta San Jose International Airport all the more satisfying. A passenger suffering one of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) unconstitutional searches suddenly remembered the canister of pepper spray in his bag and warned his assailant about it. “The TSA agent took it out and was going to put it into the hazardous waste disposal…" said Rich Dressler, the airport’s spokesman. But that would have been too easy, and anyway there’s the TSA’s tradition of incompetence to uphold. So the screener "accidentally discharged" the thing instead. He took out nine of those happy, helpful Americans the TSA pays to paw us (presumably including himself, though reports weren’t clear).

Pepper spray disables everyone in the vicinity, not just direct targets. Yet Dressler insists that "no other passengers or airport employees were affected and no flights were delayed." So the justice is pure. The agency didn’t even detain the poor guy from whom it swiped the spray because he "cooperated." Police states are big on cooperation.

Meanwhile, witnesses dispute the "official" story, as they often do nowadays in the American aviation gulag. Someone at flyertalk.com who claims "I was there when this happened" says, "It affected way more than 5 [sic, according to early reports] people [sic for TSA goons]. Everyone I could see, ~30 people (including several pilots) in line at the security X-ray machines were all coughing and wiping their watering eyes….the worst part was that none of [the] TSA people would tell us what was going on." Yep, that sounds like the screeners we all know and loathe.

The episode bolsters those cynics who suspect that TSA means "Thousands Standing Around." Screeners cluster so thick you can’t swing a dead cat or squirt pepper spray without hitting 9 of them. And for what? During the 6 years that the TSA has been delaying passengers, none of its employees anywhere has discovered a single terrorist.

That isn’t for lack of manpower: the TSA boasts roughly twice as many screeners as Al Qaeda does terrorists. Estimates of the latter’s numbers vary, but none put its membership at more than 20,000, and most are considerably below that. Jack Cloonan spent six years at the FBI tracking Osama bin Laden. He laughed when a writer for Harper’s Magazine "pegged [Al Qaeda's] membership at several thousand” and said it mustered only 198 troops in 2001. Then came the War on Terror. Four years later, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) calculated Al Qaeda’s "members and associates" at several thousand. The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California concurs. It thinks Al Qaeda has about 2800 militants and another 5000 in training, based on information from "an Arab security service." The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) errs on the side of safety, with a figure of 20,000. The Institute doesn’t specify whether that includes the joker in the White House and his puppeteer, though it does warn that their War on Terror has "accelerated" Al Qaeda’s recruitment.

But what if even 20,000 is lowballing it? Say there are actually 30,000 "Islamofascists" trying to blow us sky-high: the TSA still trumps. It makes work for roughly 45,000 screeners, plus countless "Federal Security Directors" lazing about airports and the TSA’s lavish headquarters. If these leeches truly believe in the War on Terror, let them enlist and hunt bad guys Over There instead of harassing innocent passengers Here. Then again…imagine fat LaWanda in her blue gloves waddling about boot camp…not a pretty picture…the "ka-BOOM!" of an artillery drill scares her silly — or sillier than she already was…she “accidentally discharges" her rifle…

Screeners this inept should be turned against America’s politicians, not her taxpayers. San Jose’s "wasn’t a first for this type of pepper spray accident at an airport," according to the Mercury News. It quotes TSA spokesman Nico Melendez: “I can’t remember where or when exactly, but this has happened before." We might consider that a commentary on the agency’s learning curve, but the TSA sees it as a lesson for passengers: "Melendez said he hoped this experience would remind travelers to leave their self-defense-in-a-can at home." Yeah, who needs self-defense when the TSA’s around?

This slapstick doesn’t come cheap. The TSA, which annually eats about $6 billion of our taxes, has gobbled $36 billion since it began operations in 2002. That means we’ve spent $1,800,000 to keep each of those 20,000 terrorists off our flights — not counting the Department of Homeland Security’s billions. Heck, let’s disband the TSA and pay off Al Qaeda instead. Six billion divided among 20,000 terrorists gives every man $300,000 per year. Tell me they’d rather live in caves than retire to some Mediterranean mansion on our money. Then again, they might pull a George Bush on us: take our taxes to live in a palace but bomb folks anyway…

I still say it’s worth a shot. We could probably even work out a deal for half the amount and save ourselves a bundle. Best of all, airports can revert to being airports instead of prisons. They may not be as entertaining when the wardens aren’t Macing each other, but at least we’ll keep our shoes on.

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

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