What She Said

Peggy Noonan on the bad joke known as the Transportation Security Administration:

I am almost always picked for extra screening. I must be on a list of middle aged Irish-American women terrorists. I know a message is being sent: We don’t do ethnic profiling in America. But that is not, I suspect, the message anyone receives. The message people receive is: This is all nonsense. What they think is: This is all kabuki. We’re being harassed and delayed so politicians can feel good. The security personnel themselves seem to know it’s nonsense: they’re always bored and distracted as they go through my clothing, my stockings, my computer, my earrings. They don’t treat me like a terror possibility, they treat me like a sad hunk of meat.

I don’t think most of us get extra screening because they think we are terrorists. I think we get it because they know we’re not. They screen people who are not terrorists because it helps them pretend they are protecting us, in the same way doctors in the middle ages used to wear tall hats: because they couldn’t cure you. It’s all show.


This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one–the ritual abuse of passengers.

Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

To put it another way, “UAE, ABC, NRA — I could care less who runs the ports, just as long as it’s not Homeland Security.” As Homer would say, it’s funny ’cause it’s true.

Or maybe not so funny, but unfortunately still true.

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43 Responses to “What She Said”

  1. California Conservative Says:

    Port Security: We Weren’t Wrong To Question, But We’re Satisfied By The Answers

    As of yesterday, the port story was proceeding, full steam ahead, as major headline news. Every outlet is scrambling to jump on board, getting their piece of the action. And just like any good reporter knows, scandal (or perception thereof) makes for …

  2. ed in texas Says:

    True story: Eldest son, trying to get on the plane after being on leave, is of course chosen for the full security shake. He’s in desert camo with his travel papers in the pocket on his arm, and he gets the ‘take off your boots’ routine, when he decides, no not today. TSA screener tells him it means he might take longer to clear security. He tells the screener “Sure, why don’t you get on the plane and go to Afghanistan with me?” TSA screener declines, and there’s no need for any further checks.

  3. Blaine Says:

    I am not sure if Peggy is saying we should give up and let everyone rush the plane at boarding call or set up a police state at each airport. Bread and Circuses. I want security but don’t bother me in any way. Personally, the amount of invasion of my privacy that would need to happen to make it a painless process is too much by far. I am not a frequent flyer, but airport security does not bother me.

  4. Below The Beltway Says:

    Forget About Seaports, What About Airports ?

    As the nation concentrates on what is quickly appearing to be the non-story of the takeover of port management, not security, by a company owned by Arabs, Peggy Noonan relates the story of her recent trip to and from Florida and wonders why nobod ……

  5. Joe Schmoe Says:

    A friend from college is a radiologist at the UCLA medical center. His parents are from India, and he looks like a terrorist, frankly. Dark, thin, intense. He gets the full search every time he flies. He knows it is necessary, and has never once complained about it, but it still sucks to be him when flying. The other passengers get nervous. He has to make small talk with everyone seated around him to reassure them. I would rather ignore the people sitting around me, but my friend has to work the crowd every time just to make sure that people think they are going to die when he gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the flight.

    For about a year, I too got the Peggy Noonan treatment and was searched every time I flew, coming and going. I am a white male lawyer in my early 30’s, Catholic, short, fat, glasses, born and raised in the Midwest. I don’t fit the terrorist profile. But I still got searched. No idea why.

    It didn’t bother me, and I don’t think it should bother Peggy. We are getting searched so that Muslim-looking travellers don’t get too offended. That’s a good thing. It’s a way of being polite.

    Sure, the TSA’s policies get out of hand sometimes. Once I was on a flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas. That morning another airline went out of business and at the last minute about 30 passengers were added to our flight. Beucase their tickets had been issued that same day, every single one got the full search. The group consisted of me, a girl who was a citizen of some country in the Middle East who lived in Vegas, and about 28 elderly Asian grandmothers on a gambling junket. Becuase they searched all of the Asian grandmothers, I missed my connecting flight, and a friend’s wedding. That was annoying.

    But the searches aren’t usually that inconvenient. Usually only 3-4 people get singled out, and that seems a small price to pay to be polite.

  6. Doug Says:

    Joe,

    “We are getting searched so that Muslim-looking travellers don’t get too offended. That’s a good thing. It’s a way of being polite.”

    Do you really think that politeness should be a primary criteria in running airport security ? There’s no rational reason that you, Peggy, or my 68 year old father should be subjected to heightened scrutiny.

  7. richard mcenroe Says:

    I would believe we are serious about transportation security the day Norm Minetta is dragged out of his office and flung on a Greyhound Bus going as far from DC as possible.

  8. Will Collier Says:

    I believe some of the comments here are missing the point. If what passes for security in US airports today were actually useful, or even done with some facsimile of intelligence, most people wouldn’t mind the intrusiveness.

    Instead, we’ve got the worst of both worlds, intrusive incompetence. I fly a *lot*, and I place a lot more trust in my fellow passengers than the burger flippers with TSA badges at the “security” gates.

  9. Paula Says:

    Most Muslims in this country are not Arab, and many Arabs in this country are not Muslim. We also have our own home grown nut cases. Domestic terrorism may not be a much of a threat but it’s could still happen.

    Security should search anyone who gives any indication of suspicious behavior. Ignoring the fact the 9/11 terrorist were Middle Eastern is foolish, but pretending that they are the only potential threat is equally dangerous. If the terrorist realize that only people who look a certain way are searched they will easily work around security.

    I could care less how often I am searched, if some screener runs the back of her hands between my breast, or if I am interviewed

  10. David Says:

    I was getting on a plane from LA to Denver a year ago. Waiting in line to board this full flight was a young couple with dark brown skin. He was wearing white dockers, a flowered shirt and a turban. His wife was wearing a long red dress, sandals and a head scarf. He appeared relaxed and comfortable with the whole flight process. Except that he never stopped looking around. His eyes never seemed to stop moving. He was very intently watching everything and everyone. She seemed scared to death. She was cluthing a large bag with both arms like her very life depended on it. She was constantly glaring at anyone who got near them. Since he was constantly translating for her, I assume she didn’t speak english. Between the two of them they looked VERY suspicious.

    As we were waiting to board, several of us were pulled aside for secondary searches. Me (tall, bald, 40s, overweight, pasty white skin), several middle aged business men, a couple old ladies, and one young punk carrying a skateboard who I would have pulled aside to search just because he was annoying everyone around him.

    The very suspicious couple was not searched. While I was being searched I pointed them out to the security agent and politely asked them to look through her bag. They refused. The guy behind me also pointed out how suspiciously they were behaving and asked the agent to search her bag. Again they refused. In all I heard 4 people who thought this couple look too suspicious. As they passed into the jetway the stewardess who was taking tickets turned and asked the security agent “Did you search them?” When told no, she shook her head, picked up the phone and talked in a low whisper to someone.

    Getting on the plane I discovered that the suspicious couple was sitting two rows in front of me. One of the guys who had complained about them was sitting in the row immediately behind them.

    As we settled in, an arguement started between the suspicious couple and the stewardess because the woman would not put her bag in the overhead or under the seat in front of her. Finally her husband got her to let go of her bag and put it under the seat in front of her.

    About this time the guy sitting right in front of me called the stewardess over and loudly demanded that she get a security guard on the plane and search that woman’s bag. The stewardess asked the man if she could search the bag. He refused. So she went to the front of the cabin and made a call. She came back and informed us that security insists that the bag had been x-rayed and that was enough. We were told that would be all. The stewardess obviously didn’t agree with what she was telling us.

    The guy in front of me then looked straight at the couple and told the man, “If either of you touch that bag while this plane is in motion I will take you out. Got it?” HE thrn turned and asked everyone sitting around us, “You all got my back on this. Right?” The suspicious man started to protest but suddenly realized that he was outnumbered about 12 to 1. So he sat down.

    The flight was uneventful. But stressful. The suspicious couple slept through most of it.

    I left that flight absolutely convinced that we have no airline security we have a process for irritating passengers.

    Like I heard the head of El-Al security say in an interview “American airlines will never be secure until we stop screening for weapons and start screening for terrorists.

  11. Ginpundit Says:

    “There’s no rational reason that you, Peggy, or my 68 year old father should be subjected to heightened scrutiny.”

    Doug, quick question: Following this line of reasoning, who *should* be subjected to heightened scrutiny?

  12. Scott in CA Says:

    I suggest we have a voluntary system where you can apply for a national ID based on verification of your identity. I’ll gladly give a DNA sample, a urine sample, iris scans, fingerprints, or whatever. All I ask in return is to be able to board my ONE HOUR flight to Vegas without having to take off my shoes or get snarled at by some self-important dropout with a wand.

  13. Doug Says:

    Ginpundit,

    SInce I’m not a security expert, I can’t say precisely what the criteria should be for subjecting someone to heightened security, but I do know that there needs to be at least some common sense applied to the matter.

    Treating 68 year old retired men as potential terrorist threats, when its clear that the only reason they were picked is because of some random selection process, makes no sense whatsoever.

  14. monkeyboy Says:

    If all we search are swarthy arabs and suspicious Sihks, then the terrorist will use blond converts, like the woman from The Netherlands who blew herself up in Israel.

    After all, in this model, do you search a guy named Jose Padilla?

  15. kev Says:

    Some things are as predictable as the changing of seasons. One of those things is a rant by some media person who has just suffered the indignity of being pulled aside for extra scrutiny before boarding a plane, just like any other common plebe. Said rant is usually unfocused, insulting, unconstructive in offering any real alternative, and ultimately useless, hijacking a few inches of newsprint (or some bandwidth) for no good reason. Call it – oh, I don’t know – the O’Reilly Factor.

  16. Doug Says:

    I am not saying that we search only Arabs, or only Muslims. Honestly, everyone who tries to get onto an airport concourse is going to have their bag x-rayed and will have to go through a metal detector at the very least. The problem is that the heightened screening that comes after that does not seem to be being applied in a rational basis.

  17. Cyndi F. Says:

    Where is Peggy flying? Her breathless, dramatic account of that dull procedure of getting through security is a bit overwrought. She may be speaking for those who don’t fly very often and find the procedure unfamiliar and stressful. I fly regularly, and find TSA personnel friendly and straightforward. People like Peggy forget that while they might find their few hours in the airport unpleasent, the employees have to deal with stressed-out, angry, clueless travellers day in and day out. I’d get a bit annoyed too if I had to keep dealing with people like the guy in front of me in Baltimore who kept arguing about taking his coat off and putting it through the x-ray machine.

  18. BillyFish Says:

    I think the point Peggy was trying to make is that we make insist we are not profiling passengers getting on a plane simply because they are Muslim but yet Congress is in uproar because a Muslim nation will be administering our ports. Evidently they have no problem with the Brits running it. If that isn’t a case of racism, I’d like to see them define it.

    If we refuse to racially profile at airport security, why racially profile a business transaction since this is all this really is.

    The GoP I think are legitimately concerned but I think the Dems are simply jumping on the discontent over this just to score political points.

    Think about it. The Dems don’t want us wiretapping calls from foreigners to some nut in Jersey City without first jumping through the FISA court, yet with the port lease, proper procedure was followed but they insist that Bush use executive authority to kill the deal.

    This could be a new definiton for hypocrisy.

  19. Ronin Says:

    We need to just go ahead and cross that threshold of complete loss of personal privacy in a airport and be done with it. We have the technology readily available to see RIGHT THROUGH everything we are wearing and carrying for a full glimpse of whatever you may or may not be packing. But privacy concerns shy too many people away, get the hell over it. If I could get from the curb to the plane seat in less than 20 minutes just by allowing a few people to see me nekkid as a jaybird on my way to the plane then take a good look boys and girls cause why should I give a crap? Hell let there be two lines, one for the people who dont care and can practically sprint to thier plane and the other line for the modest types who would prever to be poked and wanded a few dozen times. Ill wait for you at the terminal bar.

    Oh on that Sihk couple, I would be wide eyed and near freaked out too as a woman if everybody in an airport kept staring at me and whispering under thier breath, and the bag? my bets on femminine hygene products and marital aid’s. Listen kids, aint a damn one of the 9/11 hijackers had a turban on.

    For the next 30 years on any western flight with a decent number of passengers there will NOT be any attempted hijacking. And if there is, it wont go any further than 4 seats before the hijacker is torn limb from limb. Remember what happend to the shoebomber? You would need a flamethrower to hijack a plane these days, A BIG flamethrower, and you would still have to light just about everybody up on the way to the cockpit.

  20. rbj Says:

    I wouldn’t mind the searches so much if I could actually take my Swiss Army knife with me. It is incredibly useful, and it sucks having to leave it home. Now anyone who tries to hijack a plane is going to get gang tackled by the other passengers. And thrashed to within an inch of his life for causing a days delay.

  21. Joe Says:

    All this security ignores one simple fact; none of the 9/11 hijackings would have occurred had the cockpit doors been kept closed and locked.

    Today, it makes little sense since anyone who attempts a hijacking will be beaten to death by the passengers.

  22. tim maguire Says:

    As ronin and Will pointed out–there is no threat from hijacking. As passengers, we see to that ourselves.

    Let’s face it. Virtually all anti-terrorism measures are not designed to provide safety. They’re designed to create the illusion of safety. Now one can argue the relative merits of giving up an essential liberty for a little temporary safety, I don’t see how there could be an argument regarding giving up an essential liberty for an illusion.

  23. Will Allen Says:

    I will forever sorrowfully remember a Wall Street Journal front page article, many months prior to 9/11, in which the dangers of unfortified cockpits, and crews not trained to maintain the secuirty of the cockpit, above all other non-flying concerns, was explored. Then again, without a full blown disaster to modify behavior, how likely was there to be a real shift in priorities?

  24. Cyndi F. Says:

    The problem in the future will not be hijacking, it will be a bomb in a suitcase. In this case, as the Isrealis can tell you, women travelling alone ARE a high security risk, as some in the past have found that their Palestinean boyfriend added a little something extra to their luggage.

    I’m with you, Ronin. Sheesh, no wonder the Sikh woman was terrified, with people threatening her and her husband if they touch their carryon bag. As I recall, one of the few retaliation murders in the U.S. after 9/11 was that of a Sikh man, by a yahoo too ignorant to know that Sikhs aren’t Muslim.

  25. David Says:

    Cyndi et al, I too can understand the sikh couple being scared AFTER being threatened. But you miss the point, if Airline security would have responded to several passengers concerns in the first place the situation would have never happened.

    There was a couple acting VERY suspiciously in the terminal, for over an hour. Several passengers pointed out the suspicious behaviour to airport security only to be ignored.

    Even the flight crew was nervous about the way this couple was acting.

    If a security agent would have simply looked into this woman’s bag the entire situation would have been eliminated.

    My point in relaying this was to point out that airline security was not doing their jobs. We have been told as American Citizens and as airline passengers that we are supposed to pay attention to our surroundings and be aware of what is happening around us. Then when we do that, and see something suspicious, and report it, the authorities refuse to even listen to them.

    I know that Sikh’s are not Muslim. I know that none of the 9/11 highhackers wore turbans. I don’t care what a person is wearing. If anyone acts like this couple was acting I would be suspicious. They were acting like scared poeple who had something to hide.

  26. Tushar D Says:

    I agree with Ronin, rbj and Joe that there will be no more hijackings happening in near future.

    A real Airport security system should look like this:

    A special pass for frequent fliers that meet the following criteria:
    1. Is a US Citizen by birth.
    1. Must have taken atleast 10 flights in last 3 months.
    2. Can produce a employment/taxation(for self employed persons) record dating back atleast 5 years.
    3. Has a spotless police record.
    4. Has a clean Credit history

    Applicants will undergo a thorough background check
    The pass will expire if the person does not fly for 2 months straight.
    Conressmen, Senators and registered lobbyist not eligible for this pass (because I would love to see congressmen spilling out from the lobbyist’s pockets, and pork falling out of the congressman’s pockets).

    Why create this select group of people?
    so that a fraction of people can zip through, freeing up resources for more thorough checking of rest of the people.

    I am from India, and in the words of Joe Schmoe, I ..uh..look like a terrorist.
    I expect to be checked more frequently and thoroughly than a 60 year old blonde grandma.
    I would worry if I am not.
    Racial profiling is not an inherently bad thing, it is just politically incorrect. Learn from the Israelis.

  27. Aladdin Says:

    I admit that I’ve scrutinized my fellow passengers before–and I’m half Arab. I’m certain that I’ve been scrutinized as well. I have to say, just contemplating that I’m being scrutinized (even if it’s not actually happening) makes flying a less pleasant experience for me. I’m not complaining about it, I’m not asking for special treatment, I’m just telling you that it’s so.

    That said, I very much understand the point about little old ladies being pulled out of line (hey, does Peggy Noonan qualify as a little old lady?). Then again, I also understand the point about Padilla, Reid, and non-Arab threats; didn’t I read that the plan was to use Malaysians to hijack the plane to attack Los Angeles? And who’s to say some non-Arab, non-Muslim crank might not want to hijack or bomb a plane? If that were to happen, imagine the response if TSA said, “Uh, well, we were just checking Arabs.”

    As I’ve written on my site, approximately 75% of Arab Americans are Christian/non-Muslim, and only 25% of American Muslims are Arab. A system that focuses only on Arabs is a pretty lousy dragnet.

    But as for the current system, yes, Will’s right, it sucks–Ms. Noonan’s diva melodrama notwithstanding.

  28. Brett Says:

    Will is correct: the problem here isn’t the intrusiveness of the security procedures per se, but rather that the security procedures are both intrusive AND incompetent.

    I don’t have a problem with airport security, even fairly aggressive airport security, in the abstract: if nothing else, the airlines have an enormous capital investment to protect. But when I’m pulled out of line, searched, and my personal information sent to Washington for no other reason than because I neglected to read the latest-greatest TSA “prohibited items” list, and hadn’t heard that ordinary cigarette lighters are no longer permitted on flights, something is grievously wrong. We don’t have a system for providing airport security; we have a system for annoying airline passengers.

  29. Sandy P Says:

    Joe, there have been rumors about people trying to get thru to the cockpit via the bathroom, mirror down, etc.

    Went skiing in Austria in 90. Flew in and out via Frankfort.

    There was a Sikh in line, they pulled him out and really gave him the once over.

    I had a can of StaticGuard in my bag and no sprechenzie deutch and they wouldn’t let me spray it.

    Anyone ever try to pantomime static free?

  30. King Bastard Says:

    Must be easier than pantonmiming “have a bomb”.

  31. Pundit Review Says:

    Bush is Right on Ports Sale.

    Today’s article in the WSJ entitled “Ports in Storm” (subs req) makes the case that Bush is right to aprove sale of port management to Dubai World Ports. On balance, I concur with this assessment.
    The author Zachary Karabell rebuts …

  32. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) Says:

    The whole Homeland Security/TSA overhaul of airport security has been pointless…and merely serves to discourage and inconvenience the passengers. We already had excellent security at the airports and airways..just keep the miscreants out of the cockpit. I wonder how much of a hit our GDP takes every year now if you factor the wasted time and inconvenince of TSA screening? Rather than making air-travel more convenient and inviting, they have created a moster where it’s easier to rationalize driving to your destination rather than flying.

    …And you really think that the next time someone manages to actually attempt to take and airliner that the passengers will NOT fight back? What has happened to the land of the free and home of the brave? Are we now sheep?….

  33. Billy Fish Says:

    And you really think that the next time someone manages to actually attempt to take and airliner that the passengers will NOT fight back?

    I think the days of actually tying to take over the plane are over. More than likely what would happen is the shoe bomber scenario where they some how get an explosive on the plane and just bring it down.

  34. Chip Anderson Says:

    I fly every two or three months and over time, the TSA rules as to what you can carry seem dumb for some things.

    For instance, I used to have a butane lighter all the time, no problem. Now I can’t carry it unless I leave it in my pocket where it won’t get detected. I could carry matches instead as they will allow that. I could also, at the same time, carry up to five litres of booze. Hmmmm, Everclear and matches. Makes for not good stuff.

    Heck, I used to not take off my shoes and they would wand me on the other side but not have me take off my shoes until I after did it a couple of times at the same airport and now I have to take them off anyhow. So, now, off come the shoes into the tray.

    I often fly with a septarian and he’s lost several pocket knives due to poor memory. Thank goodness he doesn’t carry.

    I’m all for onboard security. You mess around on the flight and you’ll get mobbed, starting with me coming at you.

  35. JD Says:

    I honestly fail to see Noonan’s problem. IMHO, no one should mind getting The Full Monty – if nothing else, then pour encourager les autres would apply. The Islamokooks already know that even the mild-mannered elderly Chinese lady on a gambling junket is subject to random search, and so the above-referred strategerie of getting someone who isn’t the sterotypical Muslim terrorist (swarthy, dark eyed, fierce expression) is cast into doubt.

    When I went back to help my folks dig out of Katrina, I flew into Jackson from SFO, but returned from Memphis – thus, effectively two one-way tickets. Combine that with checking a bag full of tools and a rather scruffy appearance from early-hour traveling, got me The Full Monty both coming and going.

    The more you fight, the longer it takes. Wear flip-flops on the plane, change into socks when aboard. Be prepared for suckage. Flying is no longer a pleasure, it is a means of getting from here to there, and we are no longer passengers, we are cargo. Get over it.

  36. richard mcenroe Says:

    Ya know, if that dumb Irish broad hadn’t taken Abdul’s radio bomb onto that Pan Am flight that blew up over Lockerbie, Noonan would have nothing to worry about.

  37. Peter Jackson Says:

    Two comments: Being married to a Telegu woman, I bet I can tell you why the Sikh woman was being freaky about the bag: it had all of the family jewelry that her mother had given her in it. Every time we travel to visit my in-laws in New England, my wife’s mother hounds her into bringing most of her jewelry so she can wear it at various family events to show it off to the other women. For Indian women, jewelry is a HUGE status thing, and as most of us are aware, status is a huge Indian thing.

    And now for number two. I’ve never posted about this anywhere before, but it still freaks me out somewhat. One year BEFORE 9/11

  38. michael farris Says:

    “The guy in front of me then looked straight at the couple and told the man, “If either of you touch that bag while this plane is in motion I will take you out.”

    Did he apologize after the flight?

  39. michael farris Says:

    The jewelry hypothesis makes sense, especially if it x-rayed okay. Among other things, it’s what Indians traditionally have instead of social security.

  40. Ginpundit Says:

    I recommend checking out this article, which calls into question the effectiveness of certain methods of profiling:

    http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060206fa_fact

    This passage struck me as being particularly relevant to how airport screeners profile passengers:

    “Before Kelly became the New York police commissioner, he served as the head of the U.S. Customs Service, and while he was there he overhauled the criteria that border-control officers use to identify and search suspected smugglers. There had been a list of forty-three suspicious traits. He replaced it with a list of six broad criteria. Is there something suspicious about their physical appearance? Are they nervous? Is there specific intelligence targeting this person? Does the drug-sniffing dog raise an alarm? Is there something amiss in their paperwork or explanations? Has contraband been found that implicates this person?

    You

  41. Brett Says:

    Flying is no longer a pleasure, it is a means of getting from here to there, and we are no longer passengers, we are cargo. Get over it.

    Hey, JD? If you’re content to be treated like cargo, that’s fine, but I’m not. And since there’s nothing suggesting that the security regime at airports does anything to discourage would-be terrorists — or, indeed, that it accomplishes anything other than to piss people — kindly go fuck yourself and your get-over-its.

  42. edgr Says:

    Take a look at what Bruce Schneier has said about TSA and their various programs like secure-flight.

    He’s a well respected security expert and sat on a board reviewing the TSA, and basically the conclusion he came to was that it was not improving security in any way.

    Search http://www.schneier.com/, he has written quite a lot on the topic.

  43. Sailorette Says:

    As you might guess from my ‘nick, I’m in the military. The only time *anybody* I know in the military has flow anywhere without being searched at every airport is either when they get their tickets from the counter and make sure to show the lady behind the desk their traveling orders. You do this each time you change companies.

    Oh, actually, there was one other time– a friend of mine got out of the Navy, and they took his ID when he went through the check-out procedure in San Diego. Brach looks like the guys on 9/11 were his big brothers. He flew from San Diego to the middle of the country with no picture ID, and wasn’t stopped by security once.

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