Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, April 30, 2021

A big reason I hate traveling is the screening process at the airports. We all know that 9/11 brought on the call for increased vigilance during the boarding process, to screen against any likely terrorist on commercial flights.

Who’s a “likely” terrorist? Basically, anyone of Middle Eastern origin, or who looks close enough. I would be in the latter category: I’ve got dark hair, darkish skin (especially during tanning season), and vaguely Near Eastern features. The end result: I get pulled off to the side during every checkin, without fail. All it takes is a look at my face, a look at my name (which isn’t Arabic or Middle Eastern at all, but sure isn’t “American”), and it’s off for several minutes of taking off my shoes and getting a pat-down.

On the one hand, I understand the need for vigilance. On the other hand, it’s happening to me. And it’s happened enough times now that I’ve gotten past seeing any bright sides to the process. Instead, I do a look-through of the rest of the boarding party and wonder, for instance, why the red-headed pasty-white fellow didn’t have to endure the same treatment I got — because after all, he looks Irish, so there’s a chance he could be IRA. (That the Irish Republican Army is unlikely to carry out operations against American targets is beside the point.)

What especially aggravates me is the hollowness of the whole procedure. It’s not going to prevent a single terrorists who’s worth his skills from getting on a plane. It’s just about entirely cosmetic: Other passengers see someone who fits an ethnic profile, so having that person pulled aside and cleared (or not) is designed to put everyone else’s mind at ease.

This is the nature of all security, really: The primacy of the illusion over actuality. The gated communities that are increasing in popularity across the U.S. are a perfect example. When any pizza delivery guy can get past the gate code or half-asleep guardperson, it doesn’t take much to figure that a determined criminal can get in and out without much hassle. But the gate serves as a visual reminder. It creates peace of mind, as faulty as that is.

All in all, I can’t complain too much about my experiences. Omar Khan goes through a lot worse, and he thinks there are concrete steps that can make the whole process meaningful and more efficient. It would eliminate wastefulness like this:

“You mean I have to go through this every time?” I asked. Apparently. I was warned to expect to spend two to three hours each time attempting to get back into the country of which I am a legal resident. This struck me as insane. How are we made safer by repeated security checks because of an indiscriminate emphasis on generic names? …

A month ago I came back to the United States. As predicted, there had been no update to the database. It took more than two hours again. The exasperated immigration officers told me they had to process the same people, even if they could verify that they’d already done so, because they weren’t allowed to use their judgment. One of their own supervisors had been detained for more than three hours, even after showing his credentials!

This fundamental failure in the security network just reinforces my argument: The screening is perfunctory, done more for show than to prevent damage. Why else go through needless repetition? Nothing is learned for actual anti-terror action — it’s primarily for show, to give the average person a warm fuzzy feeling that “something is being done”, when in fact, nothing substantially effective is being done.

In order to do something real in this space, a lot more resources are going to have to be dedicated. That’s usually where the bumpy roads begin: It’s easy to talk about stiffening up security, but when it comes to paying for it and putting the plan in action…

Apparently, the Philippines is better equipped at dealing with this stuff than the U.S.A.:

Earlier I’d had a similar experience in the Philippines. Another Omar Khan had written bad checks there. But unlike the bureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, the immigration supervisor there was empowered. After checking the facts and my passport, she waved me through. She suggested how I could avoid being stopped in the future: Present myself at the appropriate ministry and let them run a check, then be given a document for future visits. As I had a long-term consulting commitment there, I did so. The whole process took 30 minutes, and the Philippine authorities and I are now spared a needless hassle.

To a degree, this is understandable: Other countries have been dealing more directly with terrorist activity for years, and have honed their responses. But still, to be outdone by a Third World country…

The upshot is that I’m tired of being yanked aside for no other reason than to give others a false sense of security. If they’re going to conduct this nonsense, make it truly worthwhile.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/30/2005 08:08:53 PM
Category: Politics, Society | Permalink |

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  1. Great piece.

    Average Joe is happy playing along with the grand illusion. And even if they too believe the measures are inadequate, they’ll tell you “at least they are doing something!” We’re really a nation of idiots.

    Comment by tommy — 05/01/2021 @ 11:58:50 AM

  2. We always have been; it’s just at varying degrees….

    Comment by CT — 05/01/2021 @ 04:09:16 PM

  3. I’ve been stopped and searched 5 out of 5 times entering Canada but never searched at the airport. Translation: Asian/Pacific Islanders=drug dealers not terrorists?

    Comment by Richard — 05/02/2021 @ 10:05:15 AM

  4. Interesting perspective.

    I just did a post last week that incorporated the same type of treatment, but I don’t mind even a little bit. Of course, I’ve never had additional pat-downs, so maybe that’s why.

    Comment by r* — 05/02/2021 @ 02:40:54 PM

  5. I am well behind in my usual blogreading, between the last two weeks and digging out right now at work; I’ll try to get to your swingin’ stuff in the next couple of days.

    Comment by CT — 05/02/2021 @ 06:05:00 PM

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