Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Well, since it’s almost New Year’s Eve, I thought maybe I’d offer a New Year’s resolution for the entire darn country.
This year, let’s actually catch a terrorist when he’s trying to get on the plane with a bomb.
How cool would that be? Actually catching one of those weasels in the act.
We never catch anyone, do we?
We’ve spent billions of dollars, annoyed billions of people and confiscated billions of toenail clippers. But as far as I can recall, our peerless airport security operations have never actually caught a terrorist.
Our best – maybe our only – defense against terrorism has been the sheer mind-numbing incompetence of our enemies.
I am, of course, thinking about the hapless jerk who set fire to his testicles on an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day. (Gives a whole new meaning to “chestnuts roasting by an open fire,” doesn’t it?)
But before we dig in too deeply, let me jump back for a little historical perspective.
I’m thinking of the incident almost 30 years ago, when the nation went on alert in response to warnings that a crack team of Libyan assassins, under direct orders of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, had snuck into the country and were going to assassinate President Reagan.
While some of us were horrified, a friend of mine – from a stalwart military family – was left giggling helplessly at the idea.
“It sounds like a bad movie,” he said. “A bunch of clueless Arabs wandering around the country trying to kill the president.”
Now, if that sounds stupidly racist, let’s fast-forward for a moment to the next time I heard something like that. It was right after the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center – and it was a prominent Arab commentator claiming it was “impossible” that the attack had been carried out by his people. “I guarantee you it wasn’t Arabs,” he said. “We could never manage an attack like that. We’re not that organized.”
He was, of course, wrong. It was a team of Arab fanatics who pulled off the World Trade Center attack – but I’m not certain it was really all that brilliant an operation.
Don’t get me wrong. The attack was brutal, the results tragic. It was an international crime of major proportions. But people have spent a lot of time marveling at the complexity of their achievement – and I never quite bought that part of it.
Was it really that amazing an operation? No codes were broken, no deep secrets stolen. No one infiltrated anything. No super spies, no super stealth.
Their pre-operation training consisted of guys wandering into flight schools and saying they wanted to learn how to fly a jumbo jet – and, no thanks, no need to bother with any of that taking-off or landing stuff.
How could anyone actually expect to get away with that?
Well, yes, they did get away with it. Nineteen maniacs with box cutters killed thousands and triggered a chain of events that would kill hundreds of thousands more – and cost trillions of dollars.
But it wasn’t because they were so clever. It was because we were so … well, I was going to say we were so dumb. But it’s not a matter of intelligence on our part, it’s a matter of carelessness, laziness, impatience, and, if you want to put the best face on it, our trusting, open-hearted national character. (Personally, I’m going with careless, lazy and impatient. But that’s just me.)
In any case, they snuck one past us. But then we went on high alert.
The clatter of confiscated nail clippers and bottle of babies’ formula has been deafening.
But we still haven’t actually, you know, caught anyone.
Remember the guy with the bomb in his shoe? Let me say that again: the guy with the bomb in his shoe. It sounds like something Wile E. Coyote would rustle up in a Roadrunner cartoon. The Acme Shoe Bomb.
But we didn’t stop that guy from getting on the plane. He just couldn’t get the fuse lit. He was sitting on the plane trying to light the fuse sticking out of his shoe and – can you believe it? – the man sitting next to him got suspicious. Gee. Who would have thought that wouldn’t work?
And so now the clatter of confiscated nail clippers is accompanied by the stench of feet, as we take off our shoes and shuffle through Airport Security.
Security? Linus’ blankie provides more genuine security – as evidenced by that guy back there in coach with his pants on fire.
This latest genius marched on the plane with a bomb sewn in his underpants. Again, I feel the need to repeat: a bomb sewn in his underpants.
Folks, this is not super-spy adventureland. Bombs in their underwear. Bombs in their shoes. And we still can’t catch them.
They’re too smart for our best security efforts – lucky for us they’re also too dumb to light the fuse.
And now the whiz kids want to install the latest, greatest super-snooper devices that will electronically strip us all naked.
Way cool – but we already know the would-be bombers can get around those super-nifty machines. How? Well, pretty recently, there was an attack on a Saudi prince by a guy with a bomb hidden … um … where the sun don’t shine (even in Saudi Arabia). Bomb went off. Bomber died. Prince survived.
So, pretty soon, we’ll have packs of butt-sniffing dogs in every airport in the world.
And how do you think that’ll work out?
Well, the dogs will be happy.
Happy New Year, everyone!
(And, to wrap up on a personal note: I will be taking an extended break from writing this column in the new year. I expect it will be at least March before the column resumes.)
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