Just finished celebrating a birthday. Fortunately, it was rather less depressing than last year's, though the recruiter's consoling comment that "everything happens for a reason" did end up looking damn near clairvoyant over the next 12 months - basic training has nothing on this. Still separated from my wife by circumstances and a continent, though she will be getting on an airplane at some point to be with us again. Airport idiocy, here we come.
Which neatly bridges 2 things much on my mind lately. One personal, and deliberately somewhat cryptic. The other (TSA) very public, and a source of more than considerable irritation to many of us. That irritation is boiling over into widespread anger at invasive, quasi police-state "security theater" that keeps no-one safer. As my friend Jack Wheeler puts it:
"After traveling around the world - and through airport security in 18 countries - over the past few months, then returning to the US, I can confirm that no country I know of on earth has airport security as stupid, obnoxious, and intrusive as the US. And yes, that includes North Korea."
The grains of irritation have been piling up for quite some time, and like any sand hill, you can never be sure when the system reaches its "critical state" and suddenly begins to give way. Eventually, however, it will - and when it does, things happen fast. That anger may have found its critical state flashpoints at last...
John "Don't Touch My Junk" Tyner may well be the grain that sets off the sand avalanche, via his viral YouTube audio recording. That backlash is quickly gathering steam, and a foresighted clause in the bill that created the TSA is giving it serious teeth.
So 4 cheers for Rep. John Mica [R-FL], who helped write the original TSA bill in 2001, and will soon chair the House Transportation Committee. He's now sent letters to over 150 airports, reminding about that intelligent clause that lets them opt out of having the TSA there.
Yeah, you read that right. And about f-ing time.
Orlando's Sanford International has opted out, which will be good news for Disneyworld fans, and for Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control employees. A number of other airports in Florida and Georgia are seriously considering it, and it seems likely that more will join them.
Personally, I do not see the TSA as capable of fixing itself. As the Washington Examiner points out:
"In a May 2010 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mica noted that the GAO "discovered that since the program's inception, at least 17 known terrorists ... have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports." One of those known terrorists was Faisal Shahzad, who made it past SPOT monitors onto a Dubai-bound plane at New York's JFK International Airport not long after trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Federal agents nabbed him just before departure."
That's why, if I'm Rep. Mica, my next step after airports have switched and passengers can see the difference, is to submit a house bill abolishing the TSA. It was a stupid idea then. It's still stupid. Undo the mistake, and show that government agencies can - and sometimes should - simply go away.
Politically, it also has much to recommend it. Let Senate Democrats risk putting themselves crosswise with a lot of constituents on a personal issue that really makes many angry. They thought ObamaCare was something? That was nothing. Let President Obama move to veto it, in order to keep his union funding coming. He'll lose the respect of many Americans in a way he won't recover, as the GOP reminds Americans again and again, through public and private channels, that if they hate the airport experience, they know whom to thank.
I'd support the same move if it was President McCain. Who would probably have started out clueless, then backtracked at 100 miles an hour. Obama won't backtrack.
Which makes this another good teaching moment and conversation about rights and the proper bounds of government. We'll need it, because replacing TSA employees with private ones doesn't necessarily solve our problem, unless methods also change.
We are still left with a system that does not see and advocate passengers as part of the solution - which, as Tyner points out so well, has been the common denominator of actual airborne terrorist attempts since Flight 93. We are still left with stupid security theater procedures that choose to make everyone victims, instead of targeting those with ill intent. The rise of narco-terrorism, and the potential for further escalation of Mexico's insurgency, means that profiling Muslims as the solution would create a blind spot that would make us less secure. Profile Muslims and Mexicans? Think for a second about the networks narco-terrorists can draw from, and already do. You're just asking to be blown up that way.
But states like Israel have managed to do this - partly because they're serious about security, and partly because, as anyone who knows Israelis will attest, those folks would not have stood for the TSA's brainless security theater for even one day without near-riots.
America can do this too. If it decides that it wants to. Or that it really, really doesn't want the current system. Which is a start. All it takes, sometimes, is that one last grain of sand.
Let the avalanche roll. And bury the TSA.
"LSU Sociology Professor Edward Shihadeh and Ph.D. candidate Raymond Barranco have published a study titled "Latino Employment and Black Violence: The Unintended Consequence of U.S. Immigration Policy," in the March 2010 issue of Social Forces, the field's preeminent journal.
The study confirms that Latino immigration and dominance of low skill jobs have displaced blacks from low-skill labor markets, which in turn led to more violence in urban black communities. According to their analysis, this is traceable to U.S. immigration policies over the last several decades."
Part of this is simply intuitive, especially if you live in California. There are curveballs in the research conclusions, however, which point to an unexpected linkage mechanism and unintended policy consequences. It doesn't really slot left or right. Which makes it pretty interesting as a starting point for debate.
The lameness of airport security in the USA - or security theater, as it should be called - is difficult to properly express. It will end when people consistently demand better - and not one second of useless inconvenience before.
Before I forget, and for future reference, here's a fine post about the contrasting way the Israelis do it. With far less inconvenience, and a better security record.
The guy's a Berkeley humanities (now there's an oxymoron for you) professor, but he does bring up an interesting parallel:
"This spring in El Paso, after a talk I gave on the Indian raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, a man in the back row raised his hand. "Do you see any similarities between the borderland violence you've just described for the 1830s and 1840s and the current drug war?" The energy in the room changed immediately.
More than any other American city, El Paso has borne witness to the tragedy of Mexico's raging drug war...."
He has his own thoughts, and they're not as barking mad as you'd expect. But I suspect the wars also has lessons to teach that he hasn't considered.
As some of you may have heard, AT&T had its fiber optic cable around San Jose cut in several places, resulting in disrupted service to several counties that included cell phones and 911. Police and firefighters called up extra manpower and significantly increased street patrols, to improve the odds that if someone was in trouble, help would be nearby.
"The first four fiber-optic cables were cut shortly before 1:30 a.m. in an underground vault along Monterey Highway north of Blossom Hill Road in south San Jose, police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said. The cables belong to AT&T, and most of the service disruption came from this attack.
Four more underground cables, at least two of which belong to AT&T, were cut about two hours later at two locations near each other along Old County Road near Bing Street in San Carlos, authorities said. Two additional lines were sliced on Hayes Avenue in south San Jose.
In each case, the vandals had to pry up heavy manhole covers with a special tool, climb down a shaft and chop through heavy cables. Britton said the four cables cut in San Jose were about the width of a silver dollar and were encased in tough plastic sheath. One cable contained 360 fibers, and the other three had 48 fibers each.
At least 500 total fiber-optic strands were sliced, and each had to be painstakingly spliced back together, requiring hours of work."
Interesting times. Sure looks like an inside job. but the biggest thing that went through my mind is the amount of disruption, over several counties, caused by one cut line. Aside from terrorists (or it that "man-caused disasters" in liberalspeak?), I've heard that this place is known to have the occasional earthquake.
Is that kind of infrastructure concentration really a good idea? Sure doesn't look like it.
18 hours ago: U.S. Army soldiers from Ft. Rucker patrol the downtown area of Samson, Alabama after a shooting spree March 10, 2009. At least 10 people including the suspected gunman and his mother were killed in the shooting spree and car chase in southern Alabama on Tuesday, authorities said.It's kind of weird to me that the local LEO's didn't call for reinforcements (I assume they are neck-deep in investigating the horrible crime) from neighboring counties under mutual aid. Any thoughts of the non-black helicopter kind?
As ought to be reasonable to assume given my pseudonym, I support widening the ability of law-abiding, noncriminal Americans (actually Britons and Canadians as well) to own and possess arms for both self-defense and recreation. I didn't write much about Heller, because as a non-lawyer there wasn't much I could usefully add to the dialog.
But post-Heller, we're seeing interesting regulatory and legal challenges to the prevailing "no-guns no-way" stance, and there are useful things that folks like us can do.
The National Parks Service has extended their comment period on a proposed rule change that would make bringing guns into national parks legal; that's a good idea on so many levels, I'm not sure where to begin - between predatory animals and predatory humans, and a thin-stretched population of park rangers I think it's highly responsible to be prepared to protect yourself and your family and friends.
Note that the firmly anti-gun National Parks Conservation Association has set up a form where you can send a comment directly to the regulators. You may want to edit their default message just a bit, however - mine was edited to read:
"America's national parks are some of the most peaceful places in our country. While they offer solitude and an opportunity for reflection, they also present risks from natural and human predators. That's why I am so pleased to learn that the administration is considering allowing loaded guns in our national parks.
Our park rangers cannot keep up with the activity already happening in our parks, and opening up the parks to allow guns even where hunting is not allowed will allow responsible, armed citizens to defend themselves and their loved ones when the Park Service cannot be available to defend them from threatening wildlife and criminals.
Please do open up our parks to loaded guns. This administration would be setting a truly decent and honorable precedent by allowing loaded weapons in our parks, and respecting the trustworthiness and basic rights of the millions of law-abiding respectful American citizens.
There's also the opportunity to send a message to your friends about the importance of this - I sent a message to Kim DuToit and Glenn Reynolds. I'm sure you can think of a few friends who would like to participate!
If you'd prefer to submit your comments directly (you never know if NCPA vets comments before sending them on) you can do so directly on the US Department of the Interior website.
A recent DID article explained the differences between the smaller MQ-1 Predator and MC-1 Sky Warrior UAVs, and their more advanced cousin the MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer that can fly at 50,000 feet. As we noted at the time, however, the MQ-9 is also the basis for other UAVs, some of which are used for research. One is NASA's Ikhana unmanned research aircraft (pron. ee-kah-nah, Choctaw language, means "intelligent").
NASA has also been intelligent, running wildfire related exercises and missions since August. Ikhana flew over several of the Southern California wildfires Wednesday, Oct 24/07, using its payload capacity to carry a special thermal-infrared imaging equipment that can look right through smoke and haze and record high-quality imagery of key hot spots. The imagery is processed on board, downlinked, and overlaid on Google Earth maps at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California, Then it's made available by the National Interagency Fire Center to incident commanders in the field to aid them in allocating their fire-fighting resources.
Each flight is being coordinated with the FAA, to allow the remotely piloted aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining separation from other aircraft. The missions are controlled by pilots remotely from a ground control station at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. The above 3-D image was taken at 10:21 a.m. PDT over the Harris Fire in San Diego County, looking west. The hot spots (in yellow) are concentrated on the ridgeline in the left center of the photo.
Nice work, NASA. More MQ-9 Ikhana images can be found via this NASA page, or you can look at Ikhana's page of past photos, which includes one detailing its wildfire sensor package.
This is maybe the fourth post I've done on the Plame thing. In the first I pointed out that being less than candid about something like this was stupid on the part of the White House.
In the second, I made basically the same point.
In the third one, I expressed puzzlement at Ambassador Wilson's claim that his report debunked the claim that Iraq had sought (rather than acquired) uranium ore in Niger, given that the Senate report on the subject reported him as having said that they did.
In this one, I'll express befuddlement at former-spook Larry Johnson(who admittedly has said and done some darn odd things)'s claim that the Washington Post was flatly lying when it challenged Special Prosecutor Fitzpatrick's prosecution on the basis that no crime actually was committed.
The basis for this befuddlement, to my legal-document reading, law-writing, but-not-lawyer eyes looks like this:
The subject code - Title 5026 of the US Code - says:
(4) The term "covert agent" means: (A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency;
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and
(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or
(B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information, and;
(i) who resides and acts outside the United States as an agent of, or informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency, or
(ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or
© an individual, other than a United States citizen, whose past or present intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information and who is a present or former agent of, or a present or former informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency.
OK, Valerie Plame clearly fits into (A), which means that for her to be a covert agent - as defined in law - she had to meet two tests - that her "identity as such an officer, employee, or member [was] classified information" AND (note the logical AND required) that she "is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States" at the time of her disclosure.
No one has disputed (i),and no one has asserted (ii) - and unless both are true, under the definition of the specific code, she's not a 'covert agent' - and so no crime was committed.
Now Johnson finesses this nicely, by leaping from
She offers up two special gems:
- Valerie Plame was not covert.
- Ambassador Joseph Wilson (Valerie's husband) misled the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife's CIA status.
Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak's column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class--which was comprised of Case Officers, Analysts, Scientists, and Admin folks--were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer.
Note the distinction between the two words - 'covert' (which is a defined term under the law) and 'undercover' (which may mean similar things, but isn't the same thing). So either Johnson is finessing neatly, or he's clueless (which I doubt).
So sharp-minded folks out there - what exactly am I missing?
First it was the strange event with the truck at the port of Miami yesterday which ultimately has been dismissed as a "misunderstanding". Then today it was a cargo container at the same port, destined for a cruise ship, that tested positive for C4 6 times but has now been declared non-threatening.Now al Watan reports that these are only 2 of several disturbing incidents in the last few days. Via Counterterrorism Blog:
there have been a number of thefts of airport vehicles in US airports in the past few days including an United Air car on Chicago O'Hare's airport. Also attempts were made in the Buffalo airport to steal authorized vehicles, and supposedly airport authorities around the country have noticed strange people watching restricted areas in airports.
Misunderstandings and false positives on chem tests do occur. But so do probes of our security and -- as we've seen -- plans for terror attacks in the US. It's going to be a tumultuous year.
I have posted, at Grim's Hall, a piece on the importance of wearing arms. On 9/11, especially, it is a topic to which I think we should turn our minds.