- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

In a lot of years now of writing about crime, I've noticed that we don't appear to be very serious about it. Appeasing this group or that, being nice, and a predilection for simple inattention often take precedence. When something happens, there follows a brief flurry of concern, followed by business as usual.
Is this happening in the case of terrorism? I don't know.
The evidence available to me is largely anecdotal. But it doesn't look good. For example, Human Events has reported that better than 80 percent of security people at Washington Dulles International Airport aren't American citizens. Have they been dismissed? Are there now laws or rules in place mandating citizenship?
Security forces at airports are notoriously composed of low-end people who get paid little. Are there now hiring rules in effect to screen for intelligent and motivated people? Have salaries been raised to attract good people, despite political considerations?
Friends who have flown recently say they see no obvious difference at the X-ray stations. Have foreign governments changed their security for flights coming into the United States, or going anywhere else? The husband of a friend of mine (I said this was anecdotal) recently came through Paris and reported that he saw the same slack security that has been normal.
How tight, really, is security? I can go to the ticket counter, show my picture ID, get my boarding pass, and give it to someone else. I mentioned in a recent column going through security at Baltimore-Washington International Airport before the attacks, with a long-bladed scuba knife that I'd forgotten about. I didn't get caught.
I see no reason not to believe Michael Parker of Sierra Times (an Internet publication). He reports carrying several knives aboard several flights after the attacks. Given that the terrorists in question are entirely Islamic, the obvious and practical thing from a police point of view would be to search, very carefully indeed, anyone looking Middle Eastern or carrying a passport from a Middle Eastern country, and perhaps ban holders of such passports from flying.
This I think we cannot do, as it would be politically unpalatable. In particular it would be is being called "profiling," which is the kiss of death. The greatest sin of the police today lies in recognizing politically incorrect patterns. (Which is exactly what "profiling" is.) Any attempt to watch groups that we know perfectly well contain terrorists will be attacked as discrimination.
In effect, I suspect, we will choose to lose another 7,000 people rather than to concede publicly what we already know privately. We just reopened Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport under tight security with limited traffic for several months. How much of the pressure for reopening arose from economic and political concerns, and how much from real changes in security policy? I don't know. But I can guess.
Maybe someone has addressed the obvious questions. For example, how do you stop an airliner that drops to rooftop level and heads for the Capitol? If you shoot it down, you kill 250 Americans plus whoever gets hit by the pieces, and the terrorists have won. How do you avoid mistakenly shooting down a plane that malfunctions? Have we figured this out? Or are we trying to appease businesses involved with Reagan Airport? There is talk of putting air marshals on flights.
I have reports, which I haven't verified, saying that preference will be given to the disabled. This is exactly the kind of thing I would expect: The belief that jobs exist for the benefit of the employed rather than for the purposes of the employer. The quality of urban police departments often suffers from the same approach. It is not a sign of seriousness.
An obvious idea would be to arm pilots and lock cockpit doors. I don't know where the idea is going, but I hear the predictable talk about how we shouldn't have guns, or shouldn't have to have them, etc. It's an interesting concept: People will trust pilots to fly them 3,000 miles in a metal box at 600 mph and 35,000 feet, but won't trust them with a pistol. Practically speaking, this means that, while the pilots cower behind locked doors, the terrorists will be free to kill at will and figure ways to bring the craft down from inside. Should they be able to open the door not that hard they will own the plane. But guns are incorrect. If terrorism continues, how many times will we have to lose people before we get serious?

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