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August 11, 2006
Washington Editorials On Bombing Plot: The Serious And The Silly

Two editorials in Washington newspapers show the difference between serious thinking and silly whining in the aftermath of the bombing plot discovery in Britain yesterday. While the Washington Examiner argues that some profiling should be considered along with the massive inconvenience to all travelers with the new security rules placed in effect yesterday, the Washington Post complains about first-class passengers paying for expedited service.

The Examiner wonders when American airports will get serious regarding the specific threats we face:

A key to their ability to crack the conspiracy was the ability to sneak and peek — that is, to enter suspected plotters’ homes covertly to gather information. U.S. law enforcement officials are not permitted to carry out such operations, except as provided under Section 213 of the Patriot Act. The ACLU is doing everything in its power to hamper or otherwise force the repeal of part or all of that law.

Second, scan the many news photos of the long lines of frustrated travelers Thursday, and it is impossible not to notice how few match the typical terrorist profile — natives of or descended from families that came from or still live in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or another Middle Eastern, Asian or African nation with a Muslim majority or significant Muslim minority.

We recognize that the vast majority of Muslims do not share the Jihadist obsessions with killing Americans, Brits and other Westerners. But there is one undeniable fact about the 1993 World Trace Center bombers, the Sept. 11 murderers, the Madrid bombers, the London subway bombers and the present liquid bomb plotters — all are clearly identifiable as being from Muslim nations. We’ve yet to see bombers who look even remotely like a gray-haired governess from Southampton, a harried middle-aged U.S. sales executive from Los Angeles or a haggard dad and mom with kids in tow returning home to Atlanta.

There is no room left for the blind politically correct procedures that ignore this reality — our enemy is nearly always a young to middle-aged man from a Muslim nation or culture, and it is madness not to focus mainly on those who most readily match the known profile. If preventing another Sept. 11 horror means delaying all travelers from such nations, well, then so be it.

One interesting facet of terrorism recently has been the rise of the home-grown jihadi. In Canada's Toronto cell and in yesterday's bombing plot, the majority of the suspects had domestic nationality and citizenship. Terrorist organizations have plotted to grow these cells from within for two purposes. First, they want to stymie security procedures they assumed would target Arabs and Muslims, perhaps not realizing the allergic reaction some would have to even the hint of such restrictions. Second, they want to force Western governments to slowly reject Muslims, so that more of them can be radicalized into opposition with the West and recruited into the ranks of the terrorists. We haven't seen much to suggest they have succeeded in any measure on either goal.

However, the Examiner has a point about foreign nationals and heightened security. Currently, the TSA operates under a bizarre rule that restricts them from conducting random searches of more than two passengers on any flight with Arabic surnames. The screeners appear to go out of their way to ensure that a broad spectrum of people get attention for these routine spot-checks, infamously shaking down an octagenarian Medal of Honor winner in one incident. These efforts waste time and resources. We have seen enough of these plots to understand that the consistent profile is that of young Muslim men, and if the authorities would finally acknowledge this as reality and start providing tougher screening for those who meet the profile, the rest of us would complain much less about the security restrictions on everyone else.

In contrast, the Post wastes ink and pixels complaining about the unfairness of the free market in its editorial today:

Most air travelers took the beefed-up security -- and the occasionally interminable waits that followed -- in stride. First- and business-class passengers in most airports, on the other hand, didn't have to. As usual, higher-class passengers skipped most of the security queues at hubs such as Dulles and Los Angeles international airports. That's hardly fair.

We understand why travelers in first class and business get preferential treatment in airline baggage lines; it's one of the perks they pay for. Checked baggage handling is a service that airlines elect to provide, and they can administer it however they see fit. But does the same logic extend to an official public service? When security alerts like yesterday's bring hassle and delay, it shouldn't be only the travelers with coach seats who have to sacrifice their time to ensure the safety of American aviation.

This complaint is so silly it beggars belief. First-class passengers pay a lot more money that other travelers, and they do so to get better and faster service. Anyone who wants to pay first-class fares can get the same level of service. The pricing determines the value of the service. If the only expedited service provided for high-cost fares was a chance to check bags a little more quickly than others, it's doubtful anyone would pay for them. If the Post expects "fairness" in flights, then they may as well complain about premium-rate flyers boarding first, having more legroom, or getting better food.

Customers with first-class tickets still have to pass through the same security procedures as the rest of us. No one gets a pass from the rules and regulations. They get a preferred spot in line because they paid for it. And that's all it is -- not a Get Out Of Jail Free card, not a pass on the metal detector, or anything else.

The exposure of this massive plot and its use of hard-to-detect technology and tactics provides us with critical information about the terrorist threat, and we have lessons to learn from it. Bitching about the privileges of first class doesn't advance airport security, but it does provide an outlet for a little class-warfare impulse among newspaper editorial boards.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 11, 2006 6:21 AM

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Tracked on August 11, 2006 11:13 PM


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