The War on Terror Spectator

Dial TSA for Murder

Time for it to investigate the bigger threat.

By 12.8.10

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The public furor over enhanced security screening policies implemented by the Transportation Security Administration has its roots in the September 11 terrorist attacks. On that date, 19 Muslim foreigners who were terrorist sleeper cells boarded four jetliners, overpowered the aircrew, and attempted to use the aircraft as deadly missiles. Three of the four hijacked jetliners reached their destinations of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania as passengers fought to retake control of the plane.

The federal government's immediate response was to sack all of the private security screeners at the nation's airports who were diligently following government inspection protocols and replace them with an agency of more than 43,000 employees. TSA has since grown by more than 55% to 67,000 employees.

Washington, D.C. decision-makers obviously believe TSA is doing a great job. Its employees received more than $98 million in bonuses and pay raises in 2008 due to superior performance. Moreover, the percentage of TSA employees receiving bonuses exceeded the average of the entire federal workforce.

As has been well-documented, a number of terrorism-related incidents have occurred since 9/11 that have forced the TSA to increase its invasive security screening of elderly widows in walkers, toddlers traveling on family vacations, servicemen on R&R from Afghanistan, firefighters traveling to weddings, the disabled wearing prosthetic devices, longtime airline crewmembers and anyone else who poses a threat identical to those who have actually attempted or carried-out a terrorist attack. How anyone believes he could differentiate between Great Grandma, three-year old Jimmy, and a Muslim would-be bomber is beyond me.

Major U.S. air travel terrorism attempts since 9/11 include the following.

A British national, Richard Reid was in and out British prison since his teen years for a variety of crimes. Upon the advice of his immigrant father he converted to Islam. One reason was that he would allegedly receive better food in prison than would non-Muslim inmates.

After his conversion Reid aligned himself with Al Qaeda and traveled to Afghanistan where he received terrorism training and a pair of shoes laden with explosives. The plan was to detonate his shoes on a U.S.-bound flight.

In December 2001, Reid failed in his first attempt to board a Miami-destined flight as Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport security screeners thought it odd the scruffy Reid had not checked any luggage for an international flight. Undeterred, Reid boarded a flight the following day and was overpowered by passengers when he attempted to light the fuse protruding from one shoe.

As a result of this overseas-originated terrorism attempt, new U.S. airport rules demand all travelers on flights originating in the U.S. remove their shoes for x-ray screening. This is a security measure that is not employed at foreign airports.

In August 2006, British law enforcement arrested a dozen Muslim men who were in the final stages of a plot to simultaneously blow-up seven U.S. and Canada-bound airliners using explosives contained in sports bottles that were to be carried onboard the flights.

Most of the plotters knew one another from their association with a London Islamic charity. Several of the men had traveled frequently between the UK and Pakistan and some had ongoing contact with Pakistanis under terror surveillance.

British intelligence officials became aware of the plotters about two months before their arrests and began surveillance of their activities. Law enforcement moved in when they thought carrying-out the plot was imminent.

The elaborate plan, concocted overseas, called for adding gel explosives to sports bottles with the explosive material colored orange to appear as a sports drink and to mask the detonating mechanism inserted in each bomb.

As a consequence, the TSA banned all drinks from being transported through the airport screening process. All remaining liquids and gels must be in 3-ounce or smaller containers and collectively all containers must fit into a quart-sized plastic bag that must be screened separately from the rest of carry-on baggage. The hotel industry has yet to report an increase in guests demanding extra miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Twenty-three-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a devout Muslim born into a wealthy Nigerian family. He attended college in the UK where he obtained a bachelors degree and also engaged in various Islamic activities. He left the UK after graduation and he was subsequently denied a follow-on visa to return as British authorities became suspicious of him. About the same time, U.S. authorities issued Abdulmutallab a multiple-entry visa to enter America.

Abdulmutallab spent a number months in 2009 in Yemen engaged in what is believed to be Al Qaeda-associated training. British officials notified the U.S. of a potential threat posed by Abdulmutallab but without providing his entire name. Around the same time, Abdulmutallab's father contacted CIA officials in Nigeria and warned them about his son's involvement in radical Islam. In spite of the father's warning, Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa was not revoked and his name was not added to air travel screening lists detailing potential threats.

Abdulmutallab began his overseas travel to the U.S. on Christmas Day 2009 on an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. He purchased the one-way ticket with cash and had not checked any luggage for this international flight. Airline passengers subdued Abdulmutallab as he attempted to light the explosives sewn into his underpants.

Abdulmutallab's bungled bombing attempt forced the TSA to implement new security screening policies for flights originating in the U.S. that include naked, full body scans (using machines that the GAO states will not likely detect underwear explosives) and "enhanced pat-downs" including "genital probing."

Such extensive practices are not in routine use in overseas airports. However, in some countries suspicious and unusual behavior (or what U.S. critics refer to as the racist policy of "profiling") may attract the interest of screeners who would then direct the suspicious-acting passenger to secondary screening measures.

So far, the TSA has yet to identify a common thread tying together these terrorism incidents thereby necessitating the deeply invasive inspections of Americans boarding flights in airports such as Alpena, Michigan; Havasupai, Arizona; and Johnson City, Tennessee.

That the perpetrators were all foreign-born Muslims who consorted with radical Islamic clerics, attended suspect mosques, worked with questionable Islamic charities, espoused anti-American or anti-Western views, and traveled to countries known for terrorism can only be chalked up to coincidence. The TSA is clearly justified in its policy that it "does not conduct ethnic or religious profiling."

(At this very moment, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is interrupting its lobbying campaign that Muslims should be permitted to conduct self pat-downs in order to immediately launch an argument that associating a Muslim with any single act of terrorism is a false and racist allegation based on western bigotry toward the "religion of peace." Readers may be interested to know that the Department of Justice has named CAIR an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the criminal case of an Islamic group whose leaders provided material support to the terrorist group, Hamas.)

Let us now review the facts. The number of Americans who perished in 2009 due to bombings on U.S.-originated airline flights is in the low zero digits. The same in 2008. And 2007. And for a bunch of years before that. This doesn't mean that a rogue IBM executive, despondent Baptist minister, or former U.S. House Speaker being reintroduced to commercial airline travel doesn't pose a legitimate bombing threat. Of course they do. TSA tells us so.

Yet, it is time America put TSA to a more effective use to combat an even bigger threat to the homeland. No doubt, it will require the willing suspension of disbelief to accept that there are indeed larger threats to America than the one posed by a wheelchair-bound, double-amputee veteran of the Iraq war who claims he is traveling to Boise to see his family but in reality is probably intent on blowing-up the 19-passenger Beech 1900 turboprop commuter jet on which he would be traveling to that municipal outpost in fly-over country.

The larger threat to American society that begs the considerable expertise of the TSA is homicides. According to the FBI, 13,636 people were murdered in the U.S. last year, which are 13,636 more than were killed in U.S. airline bombing incidents during the same period. There were 14,137 homicides in 2008, 14,831 in 2007 and 14,990 in 2006. The corresponding number of deaths due to terrorism on U.S.-originated airline flights during the same years was zero, nada, and zip.

Fortunately, TSA can easily narrow-down its suspect pool of likely perpetrators in which to investigate in order to find America's cold-blooded killers. Offenders include males, females, adults, minors, nearly every race and ethnicity, relatives, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. In other words, everyone is a likely murderer. Everyone is a suspect. Just as they are likely to be an airline suicide bomber.

What is even more disturbing is that just as every antiques dealer from Fire Island, New York may be ready to blow himself up on his JetBlue flight to Rutland, Vermont, every corn farmer from Lincoln, Nebraska, is not only a likely murderer but may also be a serial killer.

It is beyond comprehension that a security-conscious U.S. Department of Homeland Security with such talented government employees as it has in the TSA would allow these homicidal maniacs to remain at-large without being stopped, frisked, grabbed, groped and otherwise patted-down for a murder weapon or other evidence of evil-doing.

TSA must stop them before they kill again.

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About the Author
Mark Hyman hosts "Behind the Headlines," a commentary program for Sinclair Broadcast Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @markhyman.