Hold on to Your Boxers

What will the TSA demand from travelers next?

Since 2001, when an Englishman named Richard Reid tried to sabotage a flight from Paris to Miami by detonating explosives hidden in his shoes, American travelers have become accustomed to removing their shoes and sending them through scanners at airport checkpoints. Last week a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to sabotage a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit by detonating explosives hidden in his underwear. One shudders to think what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will make us send through the scanners now.

While a mandatory underwear check seems unlikely given the delays it would entail, it is at least as logical as many of the measures the TSA required in the wake of Abdulmutallab’s abortive bombing. “These measures are designed to be unpredictable,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. It often seems that the government strives to maximize unpredictability by taking actions that make no sense.

We can thank Reid not only for the shoe ritual but for the statutory ban on lighters, which was finally lifted last year after the TSA itself complained that confiscating some 22,000 lighters a day distracted its screeners from more significant threats. The disrupted liquid explosive plot of 2006 gave us the even more distracting, confusing, and haphazardly enforced policy regarding “liquids and gels,” while the post-9/11 obsession with sharp edges led to the confiscation of untold pocket tools, nail clippers, and cuticle scissors to prevent a kind of attack that is vanishingly unlikely now that cockpit doors are reinforced and the old wisdom of cooperating with hijackers in the hope of release has gone the way of the World Trade Center.

The reaction to Abdulmutallab’s fizzled bomb shows that the government continues to fetishistically focus on the details of the latest incident and impose conspicuous precautions without regard to whether the security payoff is worth the cost. Because Abdulmutallab used a blanket to conceal what he was doing, the TSA told airlines to ban the use of blankets during the last hour of flights to the United States. Also prohibited during the last hour: getting up from one’s seat, “passenger access to carry-on baggage,” and “personal belongings on the lap.”

Why the last hour? Because that’s when Abdulmutallab tried to set off his bomb. Therefore that is what all terrorists will do.

The TSA also instructed airlines to “disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.” And it forbade “any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.”

Those rules, combined with the focus on the last hour of flight, suggest the TSA believes Abdulmutallab wanted his bomb to go off as the plane was approaching Detroit, and it therefore is trying to prevent other bombers from knowing where they are. But these precautions are easily evaded by anyone who does a little preflight research and wears a watch (next on the list of banned items?). In any case, other terrorists may decide to strike at a higher altitude, where the damage caused by an explosion would be compounded by decompression.

Because Abdulmutallab “went to the bathroom for approximately twenty minutes” before trying to set off his bomb (according to the criminal complaint against him), anyone who lingers in the restroom will be treated like a suspected terrorist, as a man suffering from food poisoning discovered on the same flight two days later. He was arrested for being “verbally disruptive” after an air marshal demanded that he get off the toilet. You might have a similar reaction.

What all these measures have in common, along with their questionable enforceability and effectiveness, is a complete disregard for passengers’ comfort and convenience, which the government is willing to sacrifice on the slightest pretext. This attitude seems especially unfair because the passengers who subdued the underwear bomber were the one part of “the system” that really did work that day.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2009 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Suki||

    Good morning again!

    Nice shot of the Pantybomber's booming bloomers, but I like the ModCloth.com fashions lots better ;)

  • Suki||

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    While a mandatory underwear check seems unlikely given the delays it would entail...

    Ha! But you know what? I'm willing to sacrifice and go commando from now on, because I don't want the terrorists to win.

    Freeballing for America! Who's with me?

  • ||

    Only if we wear kilts. Or maybe togas.

  • ||

    O, I laughed so hard I hurt myself.

  • ||

    I have been saying for awhile now that eventually we will all wear nothing but hospital gowns. So FreeBallin it is! And the terrorists can kiss my sweaty balls!

  • ed||

    Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

    With that haircut, she should change her name to John and get it over with. And, as potential terrorists fit a neat profile, the best deterrent (short of a philosophical enlightenment in radical Islam) is profiling. It's an expedient only, but it has to be done, at least until a tall blond from Norway tries to torch her diaphragm bomb.

  • ^||

    Please approach the inspection station with your cock in your right hand.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Why does this make me picture a terrorist getting by that security check, while holding a weapon and chanting "This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for fighting, this is for fun"?

  • Esposito||

    Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside - so we can check.

  • ||

    I'll do that only if you force us to speak Swedish.

  • Ren Hoek||

    And wear unwashed lederhosen... every single day... for the rest of my life!!!

  • ||

    ha ha ha, Woody Allen Bananas

  • Just Sayin'||

    Maybe the airlines could administer a sedative as you get to the gate that would take effect in 10 minutes. That would solve the terrorism issue and the waiting on the tarmac for hours issue.

  • Underzog||

    They should profile Muslims and Arab looking people.

    And if the anti-Semites in the Libertarian Party (that's most of them) scream racism, I'll say look in a mirror.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here.!

    "And thou shalt call him Ishmael and he will be a wildman. His hand against everyman and everyman's hand against his."

    Genesis 16:22

  • Everyone||

    STFU you trolling moron!

  • Underzog||

    Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! More cock please!

  • ||

    Don't a good number of people look Arabic who aren't Arabic? Including, I might add, some Jews?

    I'm not saying that this hyper PC crap makes a lot of sense in security--if the security process otherwise makes sense--but I do think that's a difficult guide to work with. "Please, all swarthy people go into this room."

    Are libertarians anti-Semite? How so?

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    I've had the opposite reaction - a loony white supremacist called me a Jewbertarian on more than one occasion.

    He also called me a traitor because I encouraged the idea of interracial marriage.

    Crazies all around these days.

  • ||

    I'm a libertarian and am not an anti-Semite. I think what might lead to that accusation is the more militant supporters of Israel--who are not, of course, all Jewish--don't like the general libertarian view that we have little reason to be operating militarily in the Middle East (we may be divided on what to have done about 9/11, but the question of whether this meddling has been necessary since the end of the Cold War has more agreement within our ranks).

    I feel some limited sympathy for the Palestinians, who I think have some legitimate gripes, but I favor Israel as a generally liberal society, which is a rare thing in that part of the world.

  • anonymous||

    Although I'm sure I'll regret feeding the troll, I have to ask -- protecting Americans of no specific religion from radical Muslims (who may or may not be Arabs) through profiling involves one's opinions of Jews at which point, precisely?

    Are Muslims the opposite of Jews, so that if you don't want to wrong one group, you must by definition hate the other? Does it work in reverse? Are neo-nazis huge fans of Islam?

  • Underzog Mirror||

    I am a dumbass! I am a dumbass!

  • ron||

    anyone reminded of Heinlein's "schedule suntan" in The Puppetmasters?

  • Xeones||

    They should profile Muslims and Arab looking people.

    And if the anti-Semites

    Arabs are Semites, ya goofy schmendrick.

  • LibertyBill||

    Dont confuse the Neocon with facts

  • shoobie khan||

    Yeah, and everyone knows "anti-semitic" is commonly used to mean "anti-Arabic"! Plus, you can't be anti-Jewish without being anti-Arabic. Or something.

  • Sheriff Arpaio||

    You don't see no white people blowing up no planes.

  • JohnD||

    Of course we did blow up a Federal Building a few years ago. Sorry 'bout that ...

  • Sheriff Arpaio||


  • ||

    Who's we white man? McVeigh was sociopathic coward who killed 15 children and three unborn children while fleeing in the opposite direction. When the first white guy goes up with his bomb on purpose I'll think less of profiling.

  • JD||

  • ||

    We are in complete agreement: the next time some white guy tries to board a plane in 1927 he should be profiled too. Until that point let's put resources where they will provide the greatest return.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    The left loves to bring up McVeigh and abortion-clinic bombers as some kind of moral equivalent, but McVeigh happened a long time ago now, and when was the last time an abortion clinic got blown up?

    ALL such acts are wrong, but who's committing these acts today?

  • J. P. Carlo||

    "The left loves to bring up McVeigh and abortion-clinic bombers as some kind of moral equivalent, but McVeigh happened a long time ago now, and when was the last time an abortion clinic got blown up?"

    Since you asked...


    The last bombing (i.e. an actual bomb used against a building) was in 2007 in Austin, TX; thankfully the bomb was defused by the bomb squad before it detonated. The last one before that was in 2001 in Washington state, destroying a wall.

    Over the last five years, though, there have been several acts of arson (some solved, others not), at least one use of Molotov cocktails (in 2005), and at least two instances in which a vehicle was deliberately crashed into a building. All since 2005.

    Additionally, there have been a number of execution-style murders of abortion doctors and security guards over the last 20 years or so; the most recent of these was the murder of Dr. George Tiller in May 2009.

    "ALL such acts are wrong, but who's committing these acts today?"

    A bunch of crazy white people, apparently.

  • ||

    Next for the TSA: Mandatory courses at Captain Chris' Close Combat Training.

  • Poop Slinger||

    I bomb my underwear at least once per day. Need the ammo.

  • creech||

    Are all these terrorists morons? Why do they persist in targetting airliners when, even with some slipups, they are now the hardest target? The Detroit bound dude could have simply flown to the U.S. and then assembled a bomb here out of a cell phone and some easily obtained consumer items, and targetted a city bus, folks leaving a movie theatre, etc. etc. That this hasn't happened demonstrates, perhaps, that terrorists are few and far between.

  • LibertyBill||

    Well to believe that your gonna get 72 Virgins if you kill innocent people is pretty moronic IMO.

  • FatwaBill||

    Blasphemer! Racist!

  • The 9/11 Hijackers||

    We were laboring under that delusion, but it turns out that 72 demons get us.

    Please spread the word.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

  • The 9/11 Hijackers||

    Our pain never ceases.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Well, you didn't specify what kind of "demon", and Dodge did build that car in the 70s...

  • LibertyBill||

    Why would you want Virgins anyway? You would think one porn star or five strippers would be enough.

  • ||

    Al Qaeda hates planes.

  • ed||

    But they went after buses and trains in Britain.

  • ||

    Just planes without wings, man. Planes without wings.

  • JD||

    I did see one comment to the effect that because there's so much security around airplanes, they're kind of a "prestige target", and so increased security (or even security theater) may have the effect of focusing terrorist efforts on flights - being able to bomb a flight is like saying, "Ha ha, you can't stop us no matter what you do." I doubt the government is smart enough to consciously use this as a strategy, but it's an interesting thought.

  • Barack W Bush||

    You seem to know alot about committing acts of terror! Off to Gitmo with you!

  • Robert||

    Presumably it's the same reason Dillinger robbed a police station.

  • Binky||

    But these precautions are easily evaded by anyone who does a little preflight research and wears a watch (next on the list of banned items?).

    What's a "watch"?

  • Inquiring Mind||

    The whole last hour stuff makes no sense to me. If you're not going to try to blow up the plane at altitude where decompression can help you, why not try to blow it up on take-off when the plane is full of fuel and there's a whole bunch of witnesses at the airport to horrify? Not to mention you could get lucky and the plane could veer off into other planes or even the terminal.

  • Itchy Puss||

    So much for smuggling small amounts of dope from Amsterman in ones underpants.

  • ||

    Could I just by pass security if I wear ass-less chaps?

  • ||

    At the cock bar.

  • Inquiring Mind||

    No, because then terrorists will make assless chaps from Semtex.

  • JimS||

    Remember when we didn't have all of this security? I do. A statistically tiny proportion of passengers have cost society so much in time, cost, and aggravation, and it's getting worse every year. And these aren't random people - there's a pattern that's discernible to anyone who deals with data logically and objectively. How much more are you willing to tolerate for the sake of these few?

  • ||

    "Last week a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to sabotage a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit by detonating explosives hidden in his underwear. One shudders to think what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will make us send through the scanners now."
    I have read that a terrorist swallowed explosives - I don't know if the detonator was jalapenos chasers.

  • Archie Bunker||

    The easiest way to solve this problem is give every passenger a gun when they board.

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on...

  • nike shox||

    is good


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