In two incidents on September 11 (the recent one), F-16s were scrambled to escort planes on which "suspicious activity" had been reported. The activity: using the bathroom. Frontier Flight 623 and American Flight 34 were escorted to their destinations after passengers either made "too many" trips to the bathroom or stayed "too long."
The F-16s tailed the plane to Detroit, where the three were detained and interrogated. An FBI spokesperson later said that it turned out one passenger had just been ill, and the other one was "using the restroom" apparently for the standard reason. Why any of them, let alone all three, had been detained at all was not immediately clear.
Oh, wait -- turns out they weren't white. Mystery solved?
Shoshana Hebshi, a U.S. citizen who described herself as half-Arab, half-Jewish, and from Ohio, wrote about this on her blog. She apparently was sending tweets during the incident, not realizing she was one of the "suspicious people" the SWAT team was there to get. The others were two Indian men (not clear whether they were from India or Indian-Americans) sitting in the same row, who did not know her or each other. She had not even been to the bathroom. But, apparently for no reason other than matching skin color, all three were taken away for several hours of interrogation.
The Flight 34 story is less clear. That one also involved three passengers and a bathroom, but these passengers had been drinking. What they did wrong isn't clear - an unnamed "security official" was quoted as saying simply that they were "not compliant," which ought to send a chill up your spine. Again, the crew did not believe there was a threat, and no one on board requested assistance, but the TSA still sent two F-16s "out of an abundance of caution." No one was arrested in that case.
Hi there! Just here to kill you if necessary. That guy still pooping?
Let's just stop for a second, helpful passengers, and remember that the F-16s are not there to help you. They are there to shoot down the plane if necessary. What else could they do? So the TSA is out there scrambling armed fighters to intercept passenger jets out of "an abundance of caution," just because somebody reportedly spent too long on the john. Does that make you feel safer?
Extra caution due to the 9/11 anniversary does not fully explain this. In June, a flight from D.C. to Ghana turned around and got an F-16 escort after two passengers got in a slap-fight when one of them reclined his seat too far. The slap-fight had already been broken up, there was no real danger, and police made no arrests. Now, fighting on board an airplane is not cool, no matter how much I may have wanted to beat up the screaming infant and its impotent parents sitting next to me on 9/11/11. But these overreactions to minor incidents are just silly.
According to security expert Bruce Schneier, "[e]xactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money." After all, the 9/11 strategy stopped working on 9/11, as soon as passengers learned what was going on. (Ask the shoe and underwear bombers where all those bruises came from.) And yet we are still so terrified of a strategy that worked for less than one day that, ten years later, we scramble fighters in response to a slap-fight or long toilet stay.
This is just the latest example of the expensive, outrageous and pointless things that we have subjected ourselves to in the name of "airline safety," though they don't make us any safer. It is a pretty good example, though, since - just as a reminder - in addition to all the other unnecessary bullshit it does, the TSA is out there sending armed fighters to intercept passenger planes if they hear that somebody has been in the bathroom too long.
These are tough times for unattended packages. Used to be you could sit around for weeks with not a care in the world, but these days you can't get 15 minutes alone before somebody comes along and wants to blow you up just because you make them nervous. All an unattended package really wants is to be left alone. Is that so much to ask?
But post-9/11, every unattended package is a potential co-conspirator, and that was the approach taken on Thursday when somebody found a briefcase sitting unattended at a talent agency on Rodeo Drive. To be fair, I guess it's not impossible that al Qaeda might try to blow up Beverly Hills, and so police were called and the area was evacuated. Not knowing what was inside, police had assumed it was a bomb and blew it up before it could blow up first. Sadly, it was not a bomb, but rather a laptop and (apparently) the completed draft of a movie script.
This is the part where someone reminds you to keep multiple backups and not all in the same place.
Police said the owner was "distraught" when he learned what had happened, and I imagine he had a sinking feeling when he saw a cloud of confetti looming over the intersection. Hopefully, he was distraught because he lost a good laptop, not because both of the only copies of his script were in that briefcase. But no word on that yet.
The world may never know what it just [lost]/[was spared from] (choose one). If there was any justice in the world, somebody would have blown up the script for "Armageddon," but no.
After a ten-month test of the same scanners currently irritating many U.S. travelers, German federal police have concluded that they aren't worth using. This appears to be largely because, according to the report, the scanners "triggered an unnecessary alarm in seven out of ten cases."
How many of the other 30 percent might have been false negatives, I guess we'll never know.
Don't stand like this
The remarkable 70 percent of cases triggering false positives was said to have been caused by such diabolical devices as multiple layers of clothing, boots, zippers and, most dangerous of all, pleated pants. (Some of those pleats can be sharp!) In ten percent of cases, the alarm was reportedly triggered by the passenger's "posture," and I would very much like to find out what kind of "posture" these things are apparently designed to look for. Is there a "terrorist posture" I need to be worried about? Or a counter-terrorist stance I should be adopting?
According to a neighbor, the woman travels frequently and so I won't be surprised if it turns out that she had just been groped herself for the umpteenth time and was finally so fed up with the security charade that she snapped. Counter-groping is not the right response by any means, and I am not endorsing it, but I do think that "how do you like it?" is not an unfair question to ask the TSA at this point.
In the interest of fairness, I thought I'd point out an instance where TSA officers actually found something potentially dangerous before it got on board a plane. I'm not sure how many times this has happened in the ten years the agency has existed, so I didn't want you to miss it.
Our heroes noticed "something suspicious" at Baltimore-Washington International Airport last week, and the something turned out to be 13 knives inside a man's carry-on luggage. The 25-year-old man told officers that he is a knife collector, which might very well be true because (1) he had several different kinds, (2) terrorists only need one knife apiece, and (3) they would have a smarter weapon-smuggling plan than just dumping a bunch of knives into a carry-on bag. But this remains to be seen.
I do want to point out that this success was achieved with the standard X-ray machine, not any of the "enhanced," expensive, invasive and pointless security measures that the TSA has come up with over the past decade. Had the man been carrying the knives, he would have set off the standard (and pre-9/11) metal detectors with no enhanced groping required. So this isolated quasi-success should not be taken as evidence that the TSA's efforts over the past decade have been worth a damn.
Still, congratulations on your successful arrest of (most likely) a fairly dim knife collector.
Because otherwise, it won't have a clue as to how you got a stun gun through all its ultra-clever security-checkpoint procedures.
A cleaning crew reportedly found the stun gun in a seatback pocket while tidying up a plane that had landed at Newark. The flight had originated at Logan International in Boston but had made several other stops during the day. The Newark Port Authority has turned the weapon over to the Trouser Search Administration, which said it and the FBI are jointly investigating the matter but that it was currently unclear how the device got on board.
For now, I guess we can only assume that, somewhere along the way, a 95-year-old potential terrorist's diaper went unsearched. We must close this loophole (preferably with new federal legislation making it a felony for any 95-year-old cancer patient to conceal a stun gun in his or her diaper).
"All current information indicates this is not part of an attack," an FBI agent was quoted as saying. Well, since the "current information" includes the fact that there was no attack, that seems like a pretty solid conclusion, but it's still not a very comforting statement. It is a little more comforting that we have at least finally located a team of people that is actually able to detect weapons on airplanes, and so I hereby nominate JetBlue's cleaning crew to take over the TSA.
First, the sagging-pants incident. In that case, DeShon Marman was arrested because he was wearing his pants (and for some reason, pajama pants) in that ridiculous style that puts underwear on display. As I have argued before, this is thoroughly stupid-looking and should be mocked, but shouldn't be illegal. But more to the point, that's not really why he was arrested. He was really charged not with having low pants - he was sitting in his seat prior to being arrested anyway - but for not following orders given by airline and/or security personnel, no matter how stupid and arbitrary any such order may be.
In fact, a spokesperson for the airline involved - US Airways - admitted this week that this is exactly what happened, saying he hadn't been removed because of his pants, but because he didn't do what the pilot told him to do. "The root of the matter," she said, is that "if you don't comply with the captain's requests, the captain has the right to handle the issue because it's one of safety." So, if the captain doesn't like your pants, it's not about the pants but about the fact that disobeying a pants-related order presents a safety issue because of disobedience. Do I have that right?
Marman's lawyer says, and I think the video confirms this, that his client wasn't being disruptive. He just said he didn't think there was a problem, he had paid his fare and wanted to travel. The crew, on the other hand, was being unreasonable and condescending. Whether that was because of racism or his youth or an overbearing security policy, or some combination, is hard to say.
On the other hand, the racism argument just got a great big boost as a result of today's development. Specifically, it appears that although US Airways got all upset about sagging pants in Marman's case, it was just fine with no pants at all in this guy's case (right).
The pantless man was a passenger on a US Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix on June 9, and remained a passenger even though others complained. (The picture was taken by another passenger, Jill Tarlow.) A spokesperson said that in that case, the employees had been correct to ignore those complaints because "[w]e don't have a dress-code policy." You don't? "Obviously, if their private parts are exposed, that's not appropriate," she continued. But "if they're not exposing their private parts, they're allowed to fly."
This, by the way, was the same spokesperson quoted above. And again, it appears her position is that you can wear or not wear whatever you want, so long as your private parts are covered, unless an airline employee orders you to do something about your clothes, in which case you must obey (even though the order violates the airline's no-dress-code policy) or else you will be arrested because your disobedience itself presents a "safety issue."
Marman's attorney, who is probably in a very good mood today, was not slow to point out the "hypocrisy" involved and the somewhat disparate treatment of the two pants offenders. "A white man is allowed to fly in underwear without question," he said, "but my client was asked to pull up his pajama pants because they hung below his waist." Again, your client should be asked by everyone to pull up his pants because it looks stupid and nobody wants to see his underwear. But I insist that neither low pants nor mere disobedience should be or can be a crime.
I think Ben Franklin said something like that, but if he didn't, he should have.
My concern is that if they've decided this rule doesn't apply to them, where will it end?
Before you know it, they'll be failing to fully respect the Fourth Amendment.
I don't have a source for this picture (please let me know if you do), butThis picture looks real to me. That is, one of them's not paying attention at all, and the other one's only bothering because he's pissed that somebody's taking a picture of him doing something wrong. So that seems true to form.
Update: It looks like our heroes were captured on film by comedian Chris Burns (on Twitter: @chrisburns), who has graciously given me the OK to repost this picture. Okay, I had already posted it, but he has graciously given me the OK to leave it here.
"My wife stole [it] and took it to work with her. Appparently a big hit in the ER.... Highly recommended." —Keith Lee, author of The Associate's Mind and The Marble and the Sculptor
"[H]ysterically funny.... I was unable to make it through the Introduction without ...annoying all around me with my loud laughter.... Buy this book." —Scott Greenfield, Simple Justice
"As a writer, I get a lot of books. My husband usually [just] glances at them .... This one, he hasn't put down. I can't get it out of his hands. Every time I look over, he's reading and laughing.... [C]heck out this awesome book." —Allison Leotta, novelist and author of The Prime-Time Crime Review