Thursday, August 10, 2006

Big Guns

Following today's announcement by the British Security Service, three major security changes will be implemented immediately at Logan Airport.
  • No liquids will be allowed through check-in.
  • National Guard members will be posted as security.
  • Assault rifles will be issued to state police.
The first is obvious. According to published reports, the British plot involved using a binary explosive which could be carried as two separate, inert liquids. Since we don't have the necessary equipment to distinguish these components from harmless liquids like coffee or shampoo, the best short-term solution while suspects from this particular terror cell remain loose is simply to ban all liquids.

The second is trickier. Nobody questions that we have serious problems with airport security in the United States, but none of those problems are solved — or even addressed — by posting National Guardsmen in airports. We've seen no evidence that any terror organization has ever plotted to create a disturbance inside an airport. The only rationalization I can see is that, if something tragic did occur in the air, a National Guard presence might help to keep a crowded airport calm.

But the third is just plain gratuitous. What's the purpose of equipping state troopers with assault rifles? There shouldn't be anything a state cop can accomplish in the middle of a crowded airport with an automatic that he can't accomplish with a .45 — and if there is, then he hasn't been trained sufficiently with his service weapon. For that matter, do state troopers receive any substantial training with assault rifles? Exactly what threat do we think this measure will deter?

When we re-opened airports following 9/11, we immediately banned curbside check-in. Nevermind that it had nothing to do with what happened; nevermind that the hijackers relied on a dozen different loopholes in our national security, none of which we were plugging while we inconvenienced travelers. We're fond of quoting Ben Franklin, who warned of trading liberty for safety — but we're not affecting safety, we're just spinning our wheels. And I object to equipping police officers with military weapons for the purpose of political cosmetics.


At August 20, 2006 3:26 PM, Blogger Schizohedron said...

The topic of armed police and Guard personnel at airports came up at my poker game last week. One guy asserted that the assault weapons were empty of bullets. His reasoning: Someone could get in close to one of these guys, disable or kill them with a knife, and shoot into the crowd. So they were there primarily for show. What I didn't think of at the time, but realized while reading your post, was that in my experience (NYC subways and Port Authority and Hoboken transit terminals), personnel with rifles are stationed in pairs, making the harm a nut like this could do minimal.

Still, is there any chance they might be carrying empty weapons? Even if the nut-with-a-knife theory has flaws, would the authorities chance stray rounds going into a crowd as these soldiers shot at a perceived or manifest threat?

Frankly, seeing untested youths cradling M16s makes me more uneasy than the distinctly remote chance of being a victim of terrorism.


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