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John Tyner’s Junk November 22, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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I am really unmoved by all the flap about TSA’s new screening procedures. I am especially unmoved by the much praised John Tyner. The very people who are complaining so much about intrusive pat-downs will be the first to complain if there is a successful terrorist attack. I agree with Jacques Berlinerblau:

Reading through the professions of outrage over the TSA’s new passenger screening procedures, I experienced a series of painful flashbacks. Listening to Mr. John Tyner (now viralized, lionized, and perhaps soon to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor) liken a pre-flight pat down to “a sexual assault” and expounding on the integrity of his “junk” evoked a flood of really bad grad-school memories.

Before I start reminiscing, let me get something off my chest: I too really hate those pesky security checks at airports. I hate the snaking lines. I hate taking off my cuff links. I absolutely hate it when the TSA dude confiscates my 14-ounce bottle of contact-lens fluid.

But you know what else I really hate? I hate when my plane blows up. God, I hate that!

I could have sworn that conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer and George Will and the editorial board of The Washington Times hated that as well. I always liked that about conservatives.

But what is revealed by their reactions to “Nutgate”—a Google search leads me to believe that I invented this term and I’m insisting upon paternity because it works on so many levels—is the degree to which anti-government ideology has replaced “national security” as the new coin of the conservative realm.

In this mindset, the TSA agent represents a government (with a Democrat at its head) bent on molesting law-abiding citizens. The guy prattling on about his genitals is depicted as a folk hero and a patriot (as guys who talk about such things often are).

But my question is this: Do we have any reason to believe that the TSA’s procedures overestimate the ruthlessness and resolve of our enemies?

Juan Cole explains why all of this is foolish:

The old scanners and procedures designed to discover metal (guns, knives, bombs with timers or detonators) are helpless before a relatively low-tech alternative kind of explosive that is favored by al-Qaeda and similar groups.

The inspectors are looking for forms of PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, which is from the same family of explosives as nitroglycerin and which is used to make plastic explosives such as Semtex.

Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, used PETN, as did Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the crotch bomber, last year this time over Detroit. PETN was in the HP cartridges sent by a Yemeni terrorist in cargo planes recently. And, a suicide bomber put some up his anus and used it in an attempt to assassinate the son of the Saudi minister of the interior (which does counter-terrorism). Yes, he was the first ass bomber, and he missed his target, though he no longer cares about that, what with being dead and all.

The problem with PETN is that it cannot be detected by sniffing dogs or by ordinary scanners. But if you had a pouch of it on your person, the new scanners could see the pouch, and likewise a thorough pat-down would lead to its discovery.

The TSA guys are trying to look more systematically for PETN. That is why they have adopted these more intrusive methods. And, there has been chatter among the terrorist groups abroad about launching attacks on American airliners with this relatively undetectable explosive.

None of us likes the result, which is a significant invasion of privacy.

But if al-Qaeda and its sympathizers could manage to blow up only a few airliners with PETN, they could have a significant negative effect on the economy and could very possibly drive some American airlines into bankruptcy. Al-Qaeda is about using small numbers of men and low-tech techniques to paralyze a whole civilization, which was the point of the September 11 attacks.

Since the Bush administration hyped the ‘war on terror’ trope half to death, many in the American public no longer want to hear about this danger. But it is part of my business in life to deliver the horrific news that the threat is real.

The question is really what level of risk Americans are willing to live with. On the one hand, studies suggest that the crotch bomber could not really have brought down the airliner over Detroit last year, even if he had been able to detonate his payload. And, 500 million Europeans decline to take off their shoes when they travel by air, but there haven’t been any successful shoe bombings over there, nevertheless.

On the other hand, it would only take a few small teams making a concerted effort at bombing airliners, to spook travelers and consumers. With the US at risk of a double dip recession, this moment might appeal to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda wannabes to strike. Al-Qaeda in Yemen is openly talking of a low-tech, high-explosive war against US economic interests, a war of a thousand cuts. Its planned method? PETN-based mail bombs.

I doubt it is possible to outlaw or control PETN. The only alternative to looking for it systematically on air passengers and in cargo would be to just take a chance that no al-Qaeda operatives will be able successfully to detonate a PETN based explosive on an airliner.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com