Clayton Mitchell: The War at Home...and in the Airport

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By Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr.

In the post September 11 world, the American public demands iron-clad safety in airline travel. Concomitantly, the American public demands that the federal government refrain from invasions of personal privacy. As evidenced by the recent public protests of the TSA’s current security methods, these two demands have arrived at a collision point.

I have no doubt that the stakhanovite government officials, who employ both high-tech and low-tech surveillance tactics, endeavor to protect our airline passengers with conscientious prudence and due diligence. What is offensive are the unctuous asseverations of broadcast political commentators who believe that the TSA officers can a priori identify “harmless average Americans” and exempt them from security examinations based solely on their outward appearance. I remind these amateur clairvoyants that not all potential terrorists appear overtly conspicuous like Osama Bin Laden. Even Casper Milquetoasts like Timothy McVeigh and Colleen LaRose have plotted to kill the innocent in the name of infamous political movements.

The very people who advocated the warrantless wiretapping activities of the Bush Administration now wave the flag of the Fourth Amendment and meditate upon the Constitutional implications of airline security. The argument that a preemptory “pat-down” or a non-invasive electronic inspection of one’s person is an unconstitutional search is fatally-flawed.

While Americans have the fundamental right to interstate travel, no one has the Constitutional right to fly anywhere on a commercial airliner. A distinction can be made by intelligent persons between a benign cursory search for general commercial aviation safety reasons and a targeted search for illegitimate government investigatory purposes.

The conservative polemics further argue that the less intrusive El-Al Israeli Airline security methods should replace the current electronic body scanning and “pat-down” search methods. The quandary is that El-Al Israeli Airlines has to secure a fleet of only 35 aircrafts; the TSA has to ensure the safety of 30,000 domestic flights per day. Something tells me that the time-intensive El-Al Airline security model would not permit administrative efficiency and may result in very long delays at the airport. You see… the other thing Americans demand is that they not wait for anything.

Are the current TSA security procedures ideal? No. But to expect perfection in airline security is a quest for the impossible. No official examination of one’s person will result in eudemonia. But to paraphrase one conservative political commentator, “We’re at war and we need to act like we’re at war!”

If the President of the United States wasn’t Barack Hussein Obama but David Patreaus, and the Secretary of Homeland Security wasn’t Janet Napolitano but General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and if the current TSA airport security methods were proposed to Congress, who doubts that the conservative community would endorse them with earnest wartime enthusiasm?

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville.
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