Fiddling around while real airline security danger looms 

Let’s see if I have this straight. The government plans on stealing a high-tech look at the birthday suits of millions of would-be air passengers, and if they refuse, it figures on feeling their crotches. The viewing will be done with body scanners that can cost as much as $200,000 each. Their use along with the patdowns is probably unconstitutional and it’s highly unlikely anyone will be one iota safer from any half-alert Islamist radical.

On top of this overkill comes the kicker. It’s that this same government has been downright negligent in putting together plans to contain the harm from a seemingly inevitable terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction. The consequence could be literally hundreds of thousands of lives lost.

Owing to a spurt of installations the last few weeks, we now have something like 373 at 68 airports with plans to have another 700 or so by the end of next year. Like the voyeurism of Peeping Toms, the government’s may be illegal, according to Marc Rotenberg. A teacher of law at Georgetown University, he has written that courts have yet to review likely violations of various legal strictures, not the least of which is the constitutional prohibition of unreasonable searches.

What’s especially perplexing is that the whole humiliating exercise is pretty much pointless. The present system seems to be functioning reasonably well to dissuade those looking for the terrorist path of least resistance, and zooming along in a U.S. plane remains one of the least risky modes of travel there is; we’ve just recently had two consecutive years without a single passenger fatality. The scanners meanwhile have a serous limitation. They don’t see inside body cavities.

I’m with those who say that as an additional safeguard, the best bet is explicit, diligent, no-excuses profiling. This methodology might seem unfair to its primarily innocent subjects, but falls far short of making some generalized statement that they are culpable by reason of race. It’s a demonstrably effective tactic that inconveniences a few instead of everyone.

Some are also pushing to have dogs once more prove they are our best friends by using their noses for extensive, ever-alert, always-on-the-spot bomb sniffing. They will leave your rights intact and embarrass you not a whit.

Next, the much, much bigger terrorist issue: the virtual certainty that terrorists will hit us with biological weapons. They don’t cost much to produce, the expertise to put them together is not hard to come by and they can be as easily smuggled into this country as massive quantities of drugs that are smuggled in regularly.

Testimony to that effect comes from retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, who spoke a year ago at a Heritage Foundation session on terrorism. While keen intelligence is important, prevention is impossible. He said you have to make sure you immediately respond to an attack with the right kinds of vaccinations and other measures, and here is one example why: A crop duster spraying a city with anthrax spores could otherwise murder as many Americans as were killed in combat in World War II — close to 400,000.

And we’re fiddling around with body scanners?

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Jay Ambrose

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