December 30th, 2009

Punishing the Many to Protect the Few

photo credit: msmall

Terrorists are not admittedly intelligent individuals, by and large, though they seem to consistently outsmart those who have been tasked with ensuring this nation’s safety. At least, one easily comes to this conclusion by casually observing the responses enacted by politicians and their bureaucratic minions following any sort of threat or actual attack.

What is terrorism? Stripped of its fear-inducing layer of propaganda, it is little more than an attempt to incite panic. One dictionary defines it as “the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature”. In this post, I’ll leave aside the blatantly obvious fact that most acts of alleged terrorism are actually retaliatory responses to our own aggressive meddling in others’ lives, and simply assume that the things we label as “terrorism” have no historical context and are purely meant to induce fear.

9/11 happened. It happened using airplanes. And what followed was the implementation of a bureaucratic monstrosity that a third grader would propose. The creation of a new department at the federal government to “secure the homeland”, the increased scrutiny and regulation of liquids of all sizes by the newly-created TSA, the passage of the previously-written, unread, and rushed Patriot Act, and a slew of other hasty responses have all compounded together to produce an oppressive security state that does not, in reality, provide security.

Our recent so-called “underwear bomber” is the latest illustration of the thin veneer of reassurance that coats the government’s underlying ineptitude and inabilities. That false facade is expertly explained as follows:

“Security theater” refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.

Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at U.S. airports in the months after 9/11 — their guns had no bullets. The U.S. color-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.

As a nation, we have sacrificed liberty for a safety that is not real. We have allowed ourselves to be oppressed, regulated, micromanaged, and restricted by a set of policies that do not and cannot work. And with each subsequent threat or attempt by a terrorist to attack a small group of people, we subjects ourselves to further mandates by the Washingtonian High Command.

Think about it: how much money, energy, and time are we spending on attaining security on airplanes? What good does all of that do when a terrorist chooses another venue, such as a bus, train, cruise liner, movie theater, school, sports arena, or any other location that includes a large number of people in close quarters?

Given how infrequently acts of airborne terrorism occur—you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning—are we willing to create the equivalent of a TSA for every other mode of transportation, and enable the DHS to provide security for every other high-density public location?

In the past decade we have seen the alarming extent to which our federal officials have been eager to punish the many to protect the few. Terrorism is about using a singular event to shape policy, and in that specific context those using it have been successful. This nation has been completely transformed as a result of the fear-based quest for security—a goal which has not been achieved, as last week’s incident demonstrates.

Americans are paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes to subject themselves to searches, seizures, regulations, and bureaucracy that does not work. The solution is simple: eliminate the TSA and DHS, repeal the Patriot Act, return the security of airplanes to those who own them, and allow individuals to weigh the risk factor of flying (or any method of travel) before choosing to participate. Government should be empowered only to accumulate and act upon intelligence of impending attacks, and prosecute and administer justice to those who have been able to commit a crime.

Above all, it is imperative that we refuse the temptation to spend more money, inflate the government, and clamp down on innocent individuals in the name of providing security that—like a 99 cent magic trick—is merely an illusion.

29 Responses to “Punishing the Many to Protect the Few”

  1. Clumpy
    December 30, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    My heart beats in tune with yours, my friend :). Dick Cheney’s recent (actually, I read them earlier) comments attempting to justify his administration’s brutal foreign policy depress me. Let’s hope that we can wise up as a nation and that this type of demonization and not-too-subtle racism and fearmongering finally dies the death it deserves.

    I understand the human tendency to overemphasize small risks and neglect large ones, so education in a bid to keep our country’s soul may be the answer. Thousands died in 9/11, tens of thousands more in the wars that followed, all while we allowed powergrabbing despots to erode our liberties at home.

  2. rmwarnick
    December 30, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    I’m with you. We’ve spent something like $40 billion on “security theater.” It doesn’t make me feel secure, it’s as if the government wants to instill fear, so we won’t complain about all the wars overseas.

    In the last eight years, the U.S. and its closest allies have killed Muslims in at least nine different countries. Many of them were noncombatants, women and children. If I were the head of al-Qaeda, that would be just what I wanted as part of my plan.

    All it took was a total of 21 terrorists on six passenger planes.

  3. Neal Davis
    December 31, 2009 at 8:20 am #

    You know, it’s been on my to-do list for three days, but I finally sat down and wrote my elected officials about controlling TSA’s excess after reading this. My letter:

    I am writing in response to recent calls by the federal government and the Obama administration to beef up security around air travel, both foreign and domestic, in response to the so-called Christmas Day terrorist attack. Mr. Durbin, how long do we have to put up with the melodramatic community theatre that is TSA and Homeland Security before we realize that too much is too much? After billions of dollars spent on a façade of invasion of privacy and the erection of a top-heavy pyramid of petty dictators, the TSA security personnel, it is time to repeal the Transportation Security Administration. It is time to repeal the Patriot Act, rather than keeping it on a lifeline, and to get rid of the Department of Homeland Security. Air travel poses risks, as does any other activity in life, but to control it with show theatre as has been done is to hand the terrorists a very public victory. The moral of the Christmas Day attack was not that the system is broken, or the system works. It is that the system is irrelevant, and Americans can take care of themselves. TSA didn’t protect the people on that plane—DHS didn’t protect them—they protected themselves. Please return the arrogated power to protect us to the people and private sector, those who own and operate the vehicles in which these terrorist attempts happened. If it had been standing policy to protect ourselves and fight back, 9/11 would not have happened the way it did.

  4. Kelly W.
    December 31, 2009 at 8:40 am #

    Since 9/11, I have learned that we shouldn’t fear terror or terrorists.

    I have also learned the ones to fear are those who use these fake terror events for their own ends.

  5. Kelly W.
    December 31, 2009 at 8:52 am #

    It is interesting to read past the newspaper and TV news accounts of the underwear bomber. Some details have been edited from public consumption. (Maybe we can’t handle the truth?)

    *The alleged bomber was shabbily dressed and had no passport, yet was escorted onto the plane by a sharply dressed man claiming they let Sudanese people onto planes without passports all the time.

    *The material the alleged bomber used was a MILITARY grade explosive.

    *The alleged bomber was being filmed, why?

    *The citizen-rescuer immediately attacked the alleged bomber and searched his body for hidden explosives.

    *The alleged bomber was known and followed by US government previously, and was known to them, and was on the terror watch list.

    Some of these alleged accusations beg the question if we really are getting the whole truth, and if not, why. It is clear the event of the underwear bomber is being used for political purposes – such as Lieberman’s comments of a pre-emptive war on Yemen.

  6. Eric
    December 31, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    This is a great post–especially the conclusion.

    Our government is trying to bluff its way into thinking we are safe. It should be the people’s decision about what is and is not safe. Though there is power in a well-executed, occaisional bluff, when all we do is bluff, it is only a matter of time before nobody believes in anything we do.

  7. Eric
    December 31, 2009 at 9:33 am #

    “The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” ~ Dwight Eisenhower

  8. Clumpy
    December 31, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it, and I can only come to one conclusion. People who think that preserving America’s right to thump its own chest and do whatever we want to other nations under the guise of the “war on terror” would rather see America weakened on their terms than be proven wrong. Frankly the civilian death tolls bother me far more than civil liberties at home, though to ignore either would be ridiculous.

    It’s going to take more than one dove to bring Al Qaeda down, so here’s hoping we pick our Republicans better and expect more of all of our candidates.

  9. Connor
    December 31, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    This information is an important development in relation to the underwear bomber story, and lends credence to the concerns Kelly listed above.

  10. Clumpy
    December 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm #

    Wow, whatever happened to “this incident is under investigation”? When they treat the public like this it seems pretty clear that they’re either lying to cover up bad law enforcement or something shadier is going on. And with even our representatives trying to get another war on in Yemen or Iran I wouldn’t be too surprised at the “something shadier.”

  11. Kelly W.
    December 31, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    Here’s a URL of some alleged oddities in the underwear bomber incident.

  12. a concerned mommy
    January 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    I agree!!! This whole body scanner thing has me thinking that I won’t be flying anymore. It’s like they’re inadvertently saying, “let’s just let the terrorists win by making sure all Americans are either too scared to fly or too modest to go through the scanners and searches.” As soon as a terrorist bombs the subway, are they going to have scanners and body cavity searches there? I’d rather take the chance that the person next to me has toxic chemicals hidden on their crotch and be left alone. Give the stewardesses tasers, and let’s get over the mania. You can’t prevent every disaster, but you can make everybody miserable.

  13. Clumpy
    January 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm #


    I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first class and giving them free drinks. – Bruce Schneier

  14. Connor
    January 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    This article is a must-read regarding the TSA, airplane security, and Whole-Body Imaging.

  15. Josh Williams
    January 3, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    ……Dick Cheney’s recent……comments attempting to justify his administration’s brutal foreign policy….

    “Conservative of the Year Award”?

    Sometimes I wonder if Cheney realizes what a “tool” he is.

  16. Josh Williams
    January 3, 2010 at 2:48 am #

    Some details have been edited from public consumption. (Maybe we can’t handle the truth?)

    Kelly, could you please provide some references/links to back up these points, please. This is just for my peace of mind; I’d be much obliged- thanks.

    Also, I’m not sure what qualifies as “military grade” explosives.

    The military usually doesn’t produce their own explosives, they just say to the chemical company…”mix explosive X, binder Y, and additive Z together, please.” A lot of compositions used by the military are also commonly used by civilian pyrotechnic companies. It’s unfortunate that explosives are just so useful, that it’s not extremely hard to get a hold of them.

    In fairness, what Abdumutallab used is called PETN.

    This is quite common both in military and civilian applications, (I should say more so the latter.) for example detonation cord. Richard Reid hid PETN based “det cord” in his shoes. Both bombers probably used it because it’s both powerful and easy to find.

    I should also say that the amount of explosive carried by either Reid or Abdumutallab, unless they had placed it in some critical area, was extremely unlikely to cause serious damage to the plane.

  17. Kelly W.
    January 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Josh, I provided one source in comment #11.

    Is PETN available in Yemen? If it is so easy to obtain, how does one go about getting PETN in Yemen?

    You appear to be somewhat knowlegdeable on the subject of explosives. If the military goes to their exclusive labs to say: We want our exclusive lab to mix up so much of part A, then so much of binder B, etc., does this not imply that the military grade PETN the underwear bomber possessed had some way to get the military’s recipe of PETN for himself? How did he do that?

    You make it appear that this explosive is easy to obtain. I can’t even get firecrackers here in Utah. But you make it appear that I could, however, easily obtain PETN. I assume that to do so, I would have to illegally or covertly obtain it. But to do so, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to go to a supply house and just steal it. I’m sure that to get it, I’d have to have inside contacts sneak it to me. I’m also sure that only legit people can get it for the purposes of stuff like controlled demolition. The PETN that gets manufactured by the lab must be constantly accounted for. If the lab makes a batch of PETN for military purposes, I’m sure the lab knows exactly how much was made, and who signed for the the finished product. If the underwear bomber had a military composition PETN, I’ll bet it could be traced. But, I’ll also bet there is never any attempt to trace the PETN. That kind of info is the info that the mainstream public can’t get its hands on, because we apparently can’t handle the truth.

    That was my line of questioning when I hear the PETN was of military grade.

    The anthrax used right after 9/11 was also traceable. It was traced to inside government labs as the source. That anthrax did not come from al Qaeda. I am proposing that the PETN did not come from al Qaeda either.

  18. Kelly W.
    January 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    I have only “heard” the PETN was military grade. If we gave the underwear bomber the benefit of the doubt, and the PETN wasn’t military grade, I still think the “commercial grade” PETN could still be traced back to the source lab it came from.

    If it were traced to a commercial lab and not the military, I’ll bet the story would still show there are more Gadiantons involved than just one patsy with a pair of underwear.

  19. Clumpy
    January 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    “Sometimes I wonder if Cheney realizes what a “tool” he is.”

    Oh, Cheney made a fortune off of Operation Hugs and Kisses Screaming Eagle Something Something Freedom.

  20. Kelly W.
    January 3, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    Cheney might have made a fortune, but it doesn’t compare to the fortune Halliburton and KBR made off of Cheney.

  21. Marc
    January 4, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    So obvious this whole underwear bomber thing is a fabrication to scare the sheep into submission. Bahhhh…..

  22. Kelly W.
    January 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Josh asked for a reference to my doubts about the underwear bomber. I would suggest he might look into the following article:

  23. Josh Williams
    January 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Thanks, Kelly.

    I missed the link in #11

    I know a little bit about chemistry, bits and pieces; math-and-science-y trivia is something of a hobby for me.

    PETN has actually been around since the very end of the 19’th century, it was used in both world wars. PETN refers to a specific chemical compound, not a mixture of different ingredients like “plastic” explosives. You get PETN based explosives through bribery or larceny. Who knows where and how exactly terrorist groups get their materials, they obviously have the means.

    Sourcing the explosive depends on whether or not the manufacturer added some kind of “tagging agent.” Some companies do this, where they’re required by law, but otherwise, why would they? Who would want to risk bad publicity? Though, in principle, this is like asking who made an empty unlabeled soup can. There’s nothing inherent in the chemical compound that would tell you where it came from. Also, at best, you would know who made it, not who sold or stole from whom. If Abdumutallab used some specific mixture of ingredients, as opposed to the pure explosive, that might tell you who manufactured the stuff.

  24. Josh Williams
    January 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

    More to the subject:

    This isn’t a black or white, all or nothing question. Most security measures are “effective” to one extent or another, by providing practical obstacles, and more importantly a psychological deterrent. The question is, how effective, and does it justify the cost and the invasion of privacy?

    Airport security catches thousands of smugglers every year, so the have at least SOME effectiveness in that field. I wonder how many terrorism attempts have been caught, which weren’t made front page news (for one reason or another.) The fact that the terrorist actually makes it onto the plane make it that much more newsworthy. This is a great example how the Availability Heuristic warps our perception of probability.

    I agree that security measures that are the most visible, expensive, and intrusive, are generally the least effective ones, For these measure the cost alone. Anyone who has the intelligence, the means, and the determination to pose a serious threat to safety, is not going to get themselves caught by something which is immediately obvious.

    On the other hand, if people have a psychological need for security theater, let them pay for it themselves. This is a delusion you probably cannot cure in people. The government would do well not to mandate any airport security, At best, they could require airlines to hold a modest life insurance plan for all passengers, not that it’s really needed from a statistical point of view.

  25. Connor
    January 6, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    On the subject of a now-possible “boob bomber”:

    So should we travel naked and consent to invasive searches? I don’t know what the ironclad system is to prevent terrorist acts on airplanes. But as an expert in anatomy, I know that the TSA’s body scan machines will do nothing to protect against the inevitable shift to body-cavity-placed explosives. Rather than effective security, the TSA’s latest effort will result in even longer security lines and state-sponsored pornography.

  26. Kelly W.
    January 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    My understanding about PETN is that the new body scanners will NOT detect it. Can anyone enlighten me on that question?

    Undoubtedly – whether the underwear bomber was really an al Qaeda thing or just a false flag – the opportunity to get the naked scanners in airports is being used for all it’s worth. Someone is getting rich making and selling all those scanners.

    Besides, the underwear bomber never went through any scanner at all, being escorted through security by some unknown, well-dressed man.

  27. Kelly W.
    January 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

    I’ve been looking into the naked scanner issue just a bit. Perhaps the copy and paste below would interest you concerning the costs:
    “Yet the rush toward full-body scans already seems unstoppable. They were mandated today as part of the “enhanced” screening for travelers from selected countries, and hundreds of the machines are already on order, at a cost of about $150,000 apiece. Within days of the bombing attempt, Reuters was reporting that the “greater U.S. government shift toward using the high-tech devices could create a boom for makers of security imaging products, and it has already created a speculative spike in share prices in some companies.” The body scanner is sure to get a go-ahead because of the illustrious personages hawking them. Chief among them is former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. For days after the attack, Chertoff made the rounds on the media promoting the scanners, calling the bombing attempt “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery”—all without disclosing his relationship to Rapiscan. According to the Washington Post: Chertoff’s advocacy for the technology dates back to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government’s first batch of the scanners—five from California-based Rapiscan Systems.”
    The article goes on, you can read the entire article at:–.html

  28. Kelly W.
    February 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Just ran across some more info on the underwear bomber. Here is a partial cut and paste below. Read the whole story at

    “A January 27 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security established that US intelligence agencies stopped the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The Nigerian student, whom US officials suspected of being affiliated with the Yemeni terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on Christmas Day. Revocation of Abdulmutallab’s visa would have prevented him from boarding the airplane.

    The hearing was reported in a brief article posted January 27 on the web site of the Detroit News, headlined, “Terror Suspect Kept Visa to Avoid Tipping Off Larger Investigation.”

    The revelation that US intelligence agencies made a deliberate decision to allow Abdulmutallab to board the commercial flight, without any special airport screening, has been buried in the media. As of this writing, nearly a week after the hearing, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have published no articles on the subject. Nor have the broadcast or cable media reported on it.

    This is despite—or perhaps more accurately, because of—the fact that this information exposes the official government story of the near-disaster to be a lie. President Obama, who has joined with top US intelligence, FBI and Homeland Security officials to insist that Abdulmutallab was inadvertently allowed to board the plane carrying explosives because of a failure to “connect the dots,” has from the start been deceiving the American people.”

  29. Asx trading
    July 27, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    I agree. Most of the times these so-called Terrorists are only acting as retaliation to the horror that was brought to them by our meddling government. Why do we spend millions and millions over some war that is not our own? The Government should re access its own actions. 9/11 is not a call for war, it’s a call for realization that it is time for the Government to change its intentions and bring peace first to its citizens.

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