• 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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