The story of Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, a Nigerian who flew from New York’s JFK airport to Los Angeles’ LAX with a boarding pass that was either stolen or picked out of the garbage—and was in any case completely invalid—and nothing more than a University of Michigan ID card, is, I think, all about hypnotism.
No—I’m not implying that Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi hypnotized the Transportation Security Administration employees in order to board the plane, or that he mesmerized the staff of the Virgin America flight who, after detecting his lack of credentials during the flight, neglected to inform the authorities and have him arrested on landing. [Correction: the authorities were notified, but Noibi was allowed to go free after being interviewed by an FBI agent at LAX.] (He was only arrested when he attempted to fly again several days later.) Rather, I’m suggesting that the whole country has been hypnotized by the monotonous, exhausting and intrusive security procedures at airports, to the point where it is believed that if everyone removes their shoes and allows their diapers to be checked, that everything’s going to be OK. The TSA employees themselves, clearly, are basically functioning in a nearly catatonic stupor, going through the same tired and tiring rigmarole with passenger after passenger, and have lost sight (if they ever had it) of the ultimate actual goal: preventing terrorists from boarding planes. The goal seems instead to be only ensuring that innocent people follow a vast array of regulations and standards.
The TSA spokesman’s response to the story of Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi is:
Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint. TSA’s review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening.
Ah, everything’s alright then. This is reminiscent of the response some months ago when a man boarded an aircraft at JFK airport in New York, and as his bag was being stuffed into the overhead compartment a plethora of box-cutters fell out. The TSA said then:
There have been a number of additional security layers that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from causing harm with boxcutters.
They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals, hardened cockpit doors, flight crews trained in self-defense and a more vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene.
Get that? It’s OK that they missed the box-cutters because a “more vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene” is listed as one of “a number of additional security layers that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from causing harm with boxcutters.”
The TSA is now depending on you being willing to do battle with a fellow passenger or group of passengers armed with box-cutters. They are claiming that this is part of how the federal government has improved the security of air travel. (And all it took was giving people a good scare with some spectacular special effects on September 11th, 2001.)
Fine, box-cutters are no cause to worry; but why then does everyone get exhaustively searched for sharp objects or for anything that might be used as a weapon? It seems you might want the innocent passengers to have at least something they might use during the bloody fight with terrorists trying to slash everyone in sight.
Let’s recap the TSA logic, because it is a thing of great and mysterious beauty. The illicit boarding of the recent flight by Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi is not a big deal, because he had already passed through “many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint.” The fact that another man brought multiple box-cutters on board in his carry on bag at JFK was no big deal because all the extra layers of airplane security now mean that he couldn’t have caused harm.
So, put this together, and if we had woken up this morning to news that Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi had boarded a plane without a valid boarding pass or ID, but with boxcutters, and had during the flight slashed the throat of a passenger sitting in front of him, and wounded various other people before finally being subdued, the TSA spokesperson would be saying, “Our review indicates that the multiple layers of security functioned as intended.”
It is either madness or mass hypnosis.
However, it’s pretty clear that it will take many more deaths—in some spectacular fashion—before airport security procedures are changed to focus less on putting millions of the innocent through the same grueling, grinding and humiliating rituals, and more on identifying the potentially guilty. (And then, just maybe, giving their boarding passes a second look … )