Americans seem willing to tolerate many risks, except for the remote chance of a terrorist attack. Every time we step onto a bus, off a curb, or into a bathtub, one of us could die, and in fact some do. Statistically speaking, any of those outcomes is infinitely more probable than some sort of surgically implanted terrorist device taking down the plane on which you are flying.
Despite this obvious truth, the Obama administration has now raised the anxiety level of millions of travelers across the globe with the specter of a plastic explosive breast, or a dynamite (of the chemical variety) nose job, or similarly nefarious contraption. This will create widespread fear that does nothing to improve our security.
First, would AQAP, a collection of sadists in the hinterlands of the Middle East’s backwater, attempt such an attack if they could? Of course they would. And the administration suggests they are trying. Fair enough. But do they have the capability?
Considerably less complicated plots have failed in spectacular fashion. The shoe and underwear bombers immediately come to mind. And the increased logistical difficulties of inserting an explosive device into a person’s body are obvious. If it were deeply inserted into a body cavity, swallowed, or sowed somewhere, it would seem to dampen explosive power. It might cause an awful mess, but could a device that fits inside the body really take down a plane? Unlikely, but perhaps.
Moreover, this threat reporting provides no guidance to the public. Experts admit these surgically implanted explosives would slip right past the very expensive- and some say very unsafe- x-ray machines demanded this year by many security officials and lawmakers. And we can't have passengers trying to discern whether the person next to them has bomb in their belly.
Thus we are now told TSA and other security agents will have to look for the terrorist, so to speak, not the device. Behavioral observation, not high-tech machines, is our best defense against this threat. Really?
This should have been TSA policy from the beginning, before so many old ladies were humiliated and toddlers patted down. The threat Muslim extremists pose to our airways has remained fundamentally the same since 9/11. The difference is, now we are forced to reckon with the increasingly nasty alternatives proposed and implemented by government bureaucrats.
The enhanced TSA pat-down procedures have pushed the pendulum far enough that we now openly question the so-called experts. Our quest for perfect counterterrorism measures in a post-9/11 world gave the government a near-blank check with our air travel for years. Today we question those choices with good reason. In any case, the current threat can only be countered by procedures that boil down to common sense.
All Americans are starting to understand that terrorism is an enduring risk. For years it has dictated far too much of our public policy, for air travel in particular. A terrorist attack could indeed happen any day. But the erosion of our liberties is a certainty unless we ask the right questions and demand the right solutions.