Another Tack: 'TSA sincerely regrets'
Sarah Honig, THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 21, 2005
The dismembered, mangled remains of three suitcase locks, carefully taped onto printed notices, have to me become emblematic of the state of America's internal security and by extension, unfortunately, that of the entire free world.
And it's nothing to instill cheer in worried hearts. But let me not get ahead of myself.
I recently returned with my daughter from a visit to the US. Our trip home started uneventfully in Denver. We were bound for Toronto, where, so our travel agent imperiously decreed, we'd connect to a direct flight to Israel. Prior to that last leg of the journey, we were called aside by the Israeli security team, who informed us that our checked-in luggage was "tinkered with" in Denver and is "therefore a potential security risk." We were asked to open it, go through everything and make sure that it's all ours, that no one had inserted anything.
We then realized that our cases were indeed unlocked. Inside each we discovered a "notice of baggage inspection" from the Transportation Security Administration - an arm of the US Department of Homeland Security - informing us that our bags were selected in a "search for prohibited items." The screener, the notices elucidated, was "forced to break the locks on your bag. TSA sincerely regrets having to do this. However, TSA is not liable for damages resulting from this necessary security precaution."
It was precisely this precaution that made Israeli security personnel edgy about our bags and, with quintessential Sabra informality, they weren't loath to vent annoyance towards their American counterparts.
"The TSA creates security hazards," they assessed. "There's nothing as vulnerable as unlocked luggage into which anything could be slipped, even by airport employees, whose trustworthiness often goes unascertained for reasons of political correctness."
Hence Israeli crews regard bags the TSA selected for special scrutiny as exasperatingly problematic, not because Americans suspected them but because they did so unnecessarily brutishly, rendering them truly exposed to unfriendly tampering.
ISRAELIS WERE mystified when initially the TSA altogether instructed passengers not to lock their luggage. They couldn't understand why, if bags raise suspicion, their owners couldn't be paged and asked to unlock them, since "seeing the owners, chatting them up and posing key questions could indicate how cautiously their belongings should be considered."
However, during whatever brief impersonal contact we had with Denver's TSA personnel - when they examined our carry-ons - we were never asked if anyone gave us anything, where we packed, etc. But we removed our shoes and saw towheaded tots, arms raised and stretched sideways, frisked thoroughly by electronic devices and gloved hands.
We saw little old ladies taken behind screens to be presumably patted down and inspected more intimately. My daughter's paperback novel was probed painstakingly page by page till she inquired if anyone thought it contained a hollowed-out interior to conceal weapons. An expressionless officer sternly admonished her.
It was refreshing to meet his Israeli counterparts one airport later. We made eye contact, smiled and schmoozed. The TSA, they opined, was "stupid. Not profiling may be politically correct but grossly incorrect security-wise."
The issue isn't our inconvenience or the damage to our property (an acquaintance of ours had his suitcase's fancy built-in combination lock busted and the zipper literally ripped out). While time was wasted on grandmothers, preschoolers and my daughter's reading material, swarthy Middle-Eastern types, some sporting full Muslim regalia, marched blithely right into the gated areas.
Pulling off another 9/11 hasn't really been made that much more difficult by TSA tough-guy posturing. This is only one misguided facet of America's anti-terrorist global offensive, in which inordinate effort is expended leaning on allies like Israel to appease assorted Arab terror-mongers.
It's a matter of warped priorities. Freedom's guardians lose sight of their own Fourth Amendment, which stipulates that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated." Legally, my baggage cannot be opened without my consent or a warrant. I, for one, would have gladly agreed to any inspection in my presence.
Instead, my cooperation unsought, the TSA's self-righteous disclaimer directed me to the official Web site where I learned that it's now OK to use locks, but only of two specified approved brands. I wonder what kickbacks the manufacturers had to fork over to win such invaluable endorsement. Only their products, according to the TSA, can be unlocked and relocked.
No kidding! Doubtlessly members of America's burgeoning criminal classes could have tutored TSA agents in the esoteric art of lock-picking. But that would have demolished the TSA's advertising sideline and stifled the Free World's spirit of commercial enterprise. Long live the profit motive - be it in hardware retail or in oil conglomerates.
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