Oh, where to start? It bothers me that I have become so jaded by the administration's breathless announcements of terra situations--coincidentally timed to wipe out negative news like Libby's indictment or Lieberman's primary loss--that my first reaction to the Liquid Bombs On A Plane story is to doubt it, or at least to question the true extent and signficance of it compared to the ominous picture initally painted.
Questions? I got questions. If the bad guys have been rounded up and the threat neutralized, why is the terra alert system jacked up to Kiss-You-Ass-Goodbye red? Isn't this more of a parallel How Bad It Could Have Been system at work instead?
If liquids pose such a deadly threat, to the extent that even the minute volumes contained in eyewetting drop bottles or lip gloss could destroy an aircraft, why did the TSA have passengers dumping them all indiscriminantly into the same plastic trash barrels at the security gate (as pointed out on AmericaBlog)? Seriously, how are we supposed to trust either the claimed level of the threat or the measures put in place to ameliorate it when this is the response?
Were I a terrorist mastermind (note to my NSA minders: I'm not really a terrorist mastermind, not yet, so this is pure conjecture), I swear I would send my lower-level flunkies onto planes with all sorts of absurd incendiary modifications in their clothing and necessary personal items. I'd pack plastique into a female flunky's underwire but leave the detonator cord dangling in plain view, so it would be discovered and the TSA would require all female passengers to shed their bras before boarding. I'd have an eldery flunky attempt to ignite his hearing aid. I'd have one make frequent trips to the bathroom, where he would make ominous clanking and beeping noises, to ensure that all the bathrooms on every jet would be boarded up.
Dance, dammit! Lemme see you dance!!!
Or maybe I'd just realize that every piece of checked baggage isn't opened and screened. If you're sophisticated enough to measure out quantities of explosives and disguise them as eyeliner, you're sure as hell sophisticated enough to put together a device that will detonate in the cargo hold. 60% of that stuff goes uninspected.
Anecdote time. Traveling more than ten miles through Peru can be a hassle, and was especially hassle-ish in the late '80s when the Maoist rebel group Sendero Luminoso was quite effectively blowing stuff up and killing people throughout the southern Andes. Airport security was unbelievably tight, but efficient. You showed up two hours before your flight, and the boarding process involved going to the waiting room designated for your flight, displaying your ticket, having it matched to your passport, and then plopping your checked bag on a table and opening it for the nice army officer to go through. Every folded bit of clothing was patted down, containers opened, unfamiliar items required to be explained (case in point: tampons). When the inspection was finished, you closed your bag and they sealed it with tape, and it went to the cart. The cart was then escorted to the plane by armed guards.
Nerve-wracking but effective, and definitely made more efficient by the sheer numbers of guys they had working the inspection tables. It would, of course, require a complete reconfiguration of airport security in this country. But I can't help thinking it would do more to actually ensure the security of an airplane than patting down a random sample of passengers, taking their shoes off, or confiscating their potentially deadly liquids by mixing them all in the same vat.