I have been scratching my head trying to figure out how in the world Umar Abdulmutallab, a 23 year old Nigerian student, outsmarted homeland security and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I would have more faith in homeland security if he was a seasoned bomb expert with a profile worthy of replica in a James Bond movie; but, he was just some punk kid who was brainwashed in Yemen and sent to do a job. This terrorist should have been no match for us!
Since terrorists brought down the twin towers, air travel has never been the same. I am a frequent traveler so have gone through security countless times since 9/11 and each time, in the name of our collective security, I have willingly tolerated increasing restrictions on my freedom and privacy. But, why do security changes that are visible to travelers like me happen only after the most recent terrorist incident? I have concluded that it is because homeland security is constantly reacting to punks like Mr. Abdulmutallab instead of staying one step ahead of them.
After 9/11/01, if you were not travelling, then you were no longer allowed to go beyond the security check point. This meant no more lingering goodbyes or enthusiastic welcome homes at the gate. This was a slight inconvenience that I took in stride because we all had to make sacrifices to ensure our collective safety. Just when I started to feel a bit safer, months later, on 12/22/01, there was another terrorist attempt. On a flight from Paris to Miami, a terrorist placed a bomb in his shoe and was caught while trying to ignite it with a match. Immediately after this, TSA required us to take off our shoes and put them through the scanner. Although I always seemed to have some guy in front of me with foot funk so bad that it made a frontal assault on my nostrils, I did not complain. In fact, I adjusted, started wearing matching socks with no holes when I traveled, and placed my shoes on the belt with a smile. If fewer than 1% of Americans are bearing the burden of war and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq on multiple tours, the least I can do is take off my shoes in the fight against terrorism.
Just when I thought we were in the clear, there was another terrorist attempt in the summer of 2006. This time a cadre of terrorists hatched a plot to detonate liquid explosives they brought on board in their hand luggage. Soon after this incident, travelers were no longer allowed to take liquids over a certain size in their hand luggage. I travelled soon after the liquid bomb plot was uncovered, purchased a $70 bottle of perfume in the shopping area outside of security, and had to throw it away to get through security. I am not going to lie, this time I was pissed (you think they would have mentioned the new rules to me at the store). Nevertheless, I sucked it up because these measures would improve our safety, right?
I had just begun to forgive TSA for the perfume fiasco and had retrofitted all my shampoos, lotions, and other carryon liquids into 3.4 ounce containers. Then the terrorist Santa, Mr. Abdulmutallab, strikes trying to light up our Christmas. On a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, he hid liquid explosives in his underwear and planned to detonate it with liquid from a syringe. Yet again, this terrorist attempt sparked another change in airport security. Travelers on flights originating internationally are now subject to body pat-downs. I will gladly allow any TSA employee to feel me up, so long as I feel it will improve my safety. But, I do not feel safer.
I know that there are many proactive measures TSA has taken that are not apparent to frequent travelers like me, but from my vantage point, it seems like they are always one step behind the terrorists. What if the terrorist hid the liquid explosives in a wig; will TSA be required to start patting down the heads of people with big hair. What if the terrorists hid the bomb in an electrical device; will TSA require us to turn them on to prove they function. What if the terrorists swallow sacks of the liquid explosives like Colombian drug lords force people to swallow sacks of cocaine to bring it in the US; will TSA put a limit on how long an individual can spend in the toilet?
I want to believe that my country is doing all it can to ensure air travel is safe. But, how can I when the latest terrorist attempt is the impetus behind every major change in security protocol that I experience. Homeland security needs to do more to show the public that it is working proactively to make air travel safe.