The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz
Website: Liberty Book Shop
Imagine finding that -- as you innocently boarded a commercial flight at McCarran Airport last year -- you’d been falsely identified by a U.S. air marshal as a potential terrorist.

Placed on a watch list without being told why, you could face intrusive searches each time you travel -- even find yourself barred from air travel, entirely.

Former Clark County Superintendent of Schools Carlos Garcia found himself on one of those mysterious “watch lists” in 2004 -- barred from obtaining his boarding pass from the airport’s electronic kiosks, waiting in line every time he flew until the staff could determine he wasn’t that other, particular “Carlos Garcia” who was, for some reason, deemed “suspicious.”

“My biggest frustration is that there’s got to be a way to get off the list, and no one seems to know what it is,” Mr. Garcia told the Review-Journal at the time.

There is a way, supposedly. You can apply for a clearance indicating you’re “OK” -- a process that requires you to give up any remaining privacy you may retain, providing the federal government with far more information about you than they have any right to know.

Still, even if they’ve been singled out inappropriately, many Americans might still voice the opinion that “It’s better to be safe than sorry; I’m sure it was just an honest mistake.”

But what if it wasn’t? What if it turned out our air marshals, threatened with losing raises, bonuses and special assignments unless they submit at least one “Surveillance Detection Report” per month, turned out to be simply choosing people at random, meeting a monthly quota by placing on these lists people the marshals have no reason to suspect at all?

That’s exactly the way U.S. air marshals based in Las Vegas have told a Denver TV station it works.

And the marshals have produced documents that show their performance reviews are directly linked to producing “enough” SDRs, according to the report on Denver’s KMGH-TV, Channel 7.

In one example, a tourist leaving Las Vegas became the subject of an SDR merely for snapping a photo of the Las Vegas skyline as his plane rolled down the runway.

“You’re saying that was not an accurate portrayal of a potential terrorist activity?” the station’s reporter asked.

“No, it was not,” the air marshal replied.

“Every false report represents an enormous waste of resources,” wrote Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, in a letter last week to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Every man-hour spent hassling the innocent is time not spent on real security issues.”

Mr. Steinhardt demanded an investigation.

Good luck with that. Maybe we can turn over the task to the folks who conduct our local coroner’s inquests every time a Metro cop shoots an unarmed civilian in the back.

In fact, what does our current “transportation security” regime really do, other than “waste resources ... hassling the innocent”?

Millions of productive passenger hours and billions of taxpayer dollars are spent making sure everyday Americans who exhibit none of the characteristics of terrorists -- including old ladies in wheelchairs and pain-wracked medical patients headed out of town for treatment -- have their breasts and crotches groped and are stripped of their nail files, their sewing kits, their cigarette lighters, their keychains decorated with single empty brass cartridge cases, bottles of their own breast milk (the TSA won’t even release a list of what is and is not allowed, their “rules” shifting constantly and sometimes apparently made up on the spot) ... all to what avail?

Every one of the Sept. 11 terrorists went through the metal detectors and answered the silly questions about “Did anyone else pack your bag”? The system batted zero: It caught not a single one.

In Israel and in European countries which have seen many more hijackings, security officers devote their time to politely questioning a smaller number of passengers who actually trigger their suspicions, rather than attempting to herd the entire flying public through senseless cattle chutes.

An airport manager in Texas commented -- when this whole “just-for-show” boondoggle was launched -- that given the number of workers in high-turnover jobs who vacuum the planes or stock them with soda pop, and the miles of sparsely patrolled fence lines surrounding our airports, the whole operation resembled “putting a steel door on a grass hut.”

Is the TSA really about terrorists -- or is it about making the public “feel better,” while actually hoping to catch Americans carrying non-prescribed drugs, or constitutionally guaranteed firearms, or what FINCEN and the IRS consider “too much” cash?

If the air marshals have to make up phantom “suspicious persons” to get promoted, might that not be evidence that we’re putting all this money and energy in the wrong place -- that perhaps our enemies are smart enough to be setting up their next strike somewhere else?

In 1940, after all, the French rested secure, knowing how much they’d invested in their “impregnable” Maginot line.

But the Germans never attacked the Maginot line. They went around.