Halloween seems the appropriate time to ask this question. Who should we fear more? This guy?

Or the person operating this machine?

The latest terror scare is providing exactly the kind of cover the TSA needs to implement even more invasive screening procedures at our nations airports. All they have to do is haul the cave man boogeyman out and crank up the fear factor to justify it. What is clear is nothing about the story so far. Coordinating intelligence has been a black eye for the U.S. for a long, long time now. Recall the non-existent WMD? 9-1-1?  They also can’t seem to handle disseminating information to the media very well either.

I’ve read stories claiming that the potential explosives were a dry run, that they weren’t rigged to explode. We’ve also heard the opposite, that they were designed to be set off remotely in mid-flight via cell-phone. By the way, how’s your cell-phone service over the middle of the ocean? Just askin’. The picture that was released showing the circuit board with a skim coat of the explosive PETN on it had no detonator in place and the wires were cut. I haven’t definitively seen the explanation on that. Was it found in this exact condition? Was it armed and subsequently dis-armed by security to be made safe for handling and the picture-taking? Still don’t know.

My point is, they have lots of grey areas with this story enabling it to be twisted any way they choose to support whatever claim is being made. Yemen is claiming that no UPS cargo flights left the country for 48 hours prior to this incident. Yet we already have an arrest and a suspect in custody. So many questions remain. If this wasn’t a dry run, why weren’t they detonated? Do we have the usual incompetence ala the Christmas Day bomber in Detroit? These fanatics always seem to have the bomb-making capability, but can’t ever successfully detonate the darn things. In one of  the JFK planes, they had already off-loaded the cargo before this was caught. Was it a failure to detonate or a dry run? Don’t know. What about the passenger plane they made such a spectacle of by escorting it with fighter jets? Were they making sure it wasn’t headed for a building and prepared to shoot it down? Why was it allowed to land at JFK and not diverted to a less congested airport? Or was it just a show for the tv cameras?

You may have gathered by now that I don’t trust the government in these scenarios at all. And examples such as the WMD should give anyone pause before they do. I was a TSA screener myself. Right after 9-1-1, I joined the agency thinking I was contributing to the security of the country. I am also prior USAF, so serving the country is a high priority with me. I eventually found that the TSA was just a dog and pony show put into place for economic reasons, in other words, to keep the country flying. We gave the illusion of providing real security in the aftermath of 9-1-1. After a few very poorly handled situations, I had enough and resigned my position after only a year on the job.

In one instance, we had a passenger come through the checked bag line. His bag alerted on the ETD (electronic trace detection machine). More on this machine later. Anyway, he had a large bag with a variety of power tools in it. We checked and re-checked the bag and its contents and were not able to definitively locate the source of the alarm. In other words, one of the power tools could have contained an IED (improvised explosive device). Did we quarantine the bag? Refer the passenger to the authorities for further questioning? No, we put him on the plane of course. We didn’t want to inconvenience him by forcing him to miss his flight. As frustrating and annoying as something like that is for the traveler, instead we choose to potentially endanger the entire flight by allowing a potential threat on-board. This was just one of several incidences that turned me against the agency.

Oh, I mentioned more about the ETD. I was trained to service them at the field level. Mostly just calibration, cleaning and adjusting. Any major service work would require a factory rep or sending the unit back to the depot. However, I had a copy of the service manual I used for reference that explained the in’s and out’s of the machine. Well, I had it inside a duffel bag of mine. Sure enough, I used that duffel bag one day for traveling. And sure enough, when I went through the check-in line, my bag was hand-searched (this was after my time with the TSA and at a different airport so I knew no one). Lo and behold, the screener pulls out my ETD manual during his search. What did he do? Think it suspicious that a passenger had the manual for a screening machine? Maybe call his supervisor over and ask for their advice on how to proceed? Of course not. He sent me right on through.

I raise these examples just to show the incompetence level we have. The TSA never has been about real security. The air cargo issue has been around since the inception of the agency. It’s been on the back-burner always. I reason that it’s because it’s behind the scenes. The TSA likes to be very public and out front. Witness grandma having to take off her shoes. Now we have screeners sitting behind their screens getting quite a thrill gawking at your virtually naked body traipsing on through the line. It’s pathetic.

Supposedly, 65% of air cargo is currently being screened. It will take the agency until 2013 to be checking 100%. Twelve years after 9-1-1. Twelve years. Please. And don’t be misled. That 65% doesn’t mean every single package is being checked to get to that number. If you have a shrink wrapped pallet of boxes, only the entire pallet is being checked. Let’s say it’s a pallet of office copiers since the toner cartridges are in the news. Do you think the scanning equipment can positively ID something in the middle of it? Do you think they are going to bust down that entire pallet to look? After all, this entire fiasco is about commerce. Keeping people flying and not forcing any unnecessary burdens on shippers to increase their costs.

I firmly believe we will be hit again someday on a larger scale than what we’ve seen. I don’t see us being able to stop it unless we are willing to adopt severe hindrances such as El Al and the Israeli style screening. What do you think we’ll do in response to this latest incident? Do you think we’ll immediately implement 100% screening of all air cargo in response? Of course not. Instead, we’ll increase the number of pat-downs (or slide-downs as the latest and greatest method).

What is my intent of this post? Is it to scare people? No. It’s the opposite. Just as they always say you could die today crossing the street, go ahead and go about your business. Unless your willing to accept big brother giving you a rub-down each and every time before you fly (might as well add the oil and make it a full-blown massage), just accept the fact that it could happen someday, but it’s still not likely to ever be you. And just think of all the grandma’s shoes we check each day in the interest of being politically correct. Pissing away more and more of your tax dollars for an agency just to play rent-a-cop doesn’t make sense. Now all we’re going to hear is Yemen. Boy, watch out for those Yemenis. It’s the flavor of the week!

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