Observations and inanities by a second-shift assistant supervisor in the Puppy-Grinding division of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy® (our motto: "Sure it's cruel, but think of the jobs!"), your host, Brent Rasmussen.
War On Terror
As if the introduction of full-body scanners after some nut set his nuts on fire wasn't enough - now security officials have decided to play a game of "hide the Semtex" and wound up losing a lump of it in a passenger's baggage on an international flight. A lump big enough to down a jetliner. And then they didn't bother to tell anyone for three days.
No, I am not making this up:
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) -- A failed airport security test ended up with a Slovak man unwittingly carrying hidden explosives in his luggage on a flight to Dublin, Slovak officials admitted Wednesday -- a mistake that enraged Irish authorities and shocked aviation experts worldwide.
While the Slovaks blamed the incident on ''a silly and unprofessional mistake,'' Irish officials and security experts said it was foolish for the Slovaks to hide actual bomb parts in the luggage of innocent passengers under any circumstances.
The passenger himself was detained by Irish police for several hours before being let go without charge Tuesday.
Look, not to be too explicit about this, but the use of full body scanners won't make a damned bit of difference to someone who wants to smuggle a bomb or bomb components onto a plane (or anywhere else.) Because there are these things called body cavities, where people have actually been known to insert and hide stuff.
The Dutch have already announced that henceforth all passengers heading to the US will have to go through such scanners. Yesterday on All Things Considered I listened to professional fear-monger and former Bush Administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff claim that full body scanners are the solution, but that the evil ACLU had thwarted their use:
the makers of Depends:
In the wake of the terrorism attempt Friday on a Northwest Airlines flight, federal officials on Saturday imposed new restrictions on travelers that could lengthen lines at airports and limit the ability of international passengers to move about an airplane.
The government was vague about the steps it was taking, saying that it wanted the security experience to be “unpredictable” and that passengers would not find the same measures at every airport — a prospect that may upset airlines and travelers alike.
But several airlines released detailed information about the restrictions, saying that passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. It was not clear how often the rule would affect domestic flights.
Good lord. I'd heard about this, as an "attempted assassination", but I hadn't heard the details:
On the evening of Aug. 28, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister — and the man in charge of the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts — was receiving members of the public in connection with the celebration of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. As part of the Ramadan celebration, it is customary for members of the Saudi royal family to hold public gatherings where citizens can seek to settle disputes or offer Ramadan greetings.
One of the highlights of the Friday gathering was supposed to be the prince’s meeting with Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a Saudi man who was a wanted militant from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Asiri had allegedly renounced terrorism and had requested to meet the prince in order to repent and then be accepted into the kingdom’s amnesty program.
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Following up to this post, a news item:
MINNEAPOLIS – Continental Express Flight 2816 smelled like diapers. It had no food and a full toilet. Its 47 passengers had been stranded on a tarmac in southern Minnesota since after midnight.
"They are getting really upset — you know, with the plane," the captain told her dispatcher just before 3 a.m. on Aug. 8.
Recordings released Friday of conversations among the captain, dispatcher and staff for another airline at the Rochester, Minn., airport expose a breakdown that kept the plane sitting on the tarmac for almost six hours — for no clear reason — and triggered a Department of Transportation investigation.
I hadn't heard that the DoT was involved. Good for them. Anyway, here's some more from the news article:
. . . why when I travel to Pittsburgh in a month, I'm willing to drive the 12 hours rather than fly:
Security and rules kept passengers confined all night in a small plane at Rochester due to thunderstorms.
When Link Christin boarded a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to the Twin Cities on Friday night, he expected to be on the ground in about three hours and ready for a comfy bed.
Instead, he was among 47 passengers who spent the night trapped inside a small airplane, parked at the Rochester airport, complete with crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets.
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The airline crew on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. The alternative of chartering a bus didn't work out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.
Following up to the March revelation that the Bush Administration had concluded that it had the legal authority to effectively suspend civil liberties, comes a piece in the New York Times about how they almost used that authority in 2002:
Bush Weighed Using Military in Arrests
WASHINGTON — Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.
Some of the advisers to President George W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.
You've probably heard about the 'Mancow Torture Video' by now - in which the talk show host has himself subjected to a little waterboarding experiment. It was covered on most of the political blogs I check, and even NPR did a piece on it Saturday. It struck me as mostly a publicity stunt (but then, I'm a cynical bastard), but it was at least noteworthy for the fact that Mancow, who had previously supported the use of waterboarding and considered it little more than splashing water on someone's face, was forced to admit that he considered it "absolute torture".
Anyway, here's an excerpt from a message sent to Andrew Sullivan, which he posted on his blog yesterday:
Got an email from a friend this morning. It was short, almost despairing:
I agree with David Brooks. He makes sense. Is this some alternate reality I've fallen into and can't get up?
My friend was talking about this column from Brooks last week:
President Obama and Dick Cheney conspired on Thursday to propagate a myth. The myth is that we lived through an eight-year period of Bush-Cheney anti-terror policy and now we have entered a very different period called the Obama-Biden anti-terror policy. As both Obama and Cheney understand, this is a completely bogus distortion of history.
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.
Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.
So, there was a convention in St. Louis weekend before last. No big deal - just the sort of regional thing that is held in cities around the US regularly. This was a political convention, for a group which is a little out of the mainstream, but just a bit: Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty. Not my cup of tea, but like I said, no big deal.
And at this convention they sold the usual books and bumper stickers and t-shirts you might expect, and there were probably ticket sales to special events and whatnot. All this is standard fare. Following the convention, one young man who had responsibility for handling some portion of the sales receipts was trying to get home, and went to the airport to catch his flight back to Virginia. There, going through the security checkpoint . . .
Bomb disposal teams were called in and buildings evacuated after workmen mistook a Monty Python film prop for a hand grenade.
Water company engineers spotted the object when they lifted up a fire hydrant cover during work on a street in Shoreditch, east London.
The road was cordoned off and a nearby pub was evacuated amid fears that the "grenade" could explode.
But after nearly an hour of analysis bomb experts realised that the cause of the scare was in fact a copy of the "Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch" used by Eric Idle to slaughter a killer rabbit in the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail.
Makes me wonder whether there isn't a new version of the DVD coming out - this'd be a brilliant marketing gimmick.
This is what I was afraid would happen.
And it makes me, well, worried. Very worried.
Prompted by 9/11, we watched the fairly rapid curtailment of civil liberties during the Bush administration (though supported & enabled entirely too much by Democrats in Congress). The Patriot Act. The expansion of FISA. Warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. Legal opinions which effectively gave the president dictatorial powers, and which allowed for torture of terrorism suspects.
Offered, without need for additional comment:
Yesterday the Obama Administration released a series of nine previously secret legal opinions crafted by the Office of Legal Counsel to enhance the presidential powers of George W. Bush. Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the President was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as a counterterrorism operations inside the United States.
Here’s Neil Lewis’s summary in the New York Times:
...in an excellent (and fairly tame, by his standards) piece today:
In other words, the Obama administration, in both of these decisions, is saying that it's time to stop fucking with the Constitution. Whether it's the individual rights of women or the habeas corpus rights of prisoners, the law professor in the President knows that "liberty and justice for all" is an actual pledge.
Check it out.
Via dKos, this story:
BELFAST, Maine — James G. Cummings, who police say was shot to death by his wife two months ago, allegedly had a cache of radioactive materials in his home suitable for building a “dirty bomb.”
According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9.
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It says that four 1-gallon containers of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide and magnesium ribbon were found in the home.
Well, in spite of the fact that I doubt it will really change anything, this is good news:
Transportation Security Administration officials and JetBlue Airways are paying $240,000 to settle (.pdf) a discrimination lawsuit against a District of Columbia man who, as a condition of boarding a domestic flight, was forced to cover his shirt that displayed Arabic writing.
Oh noes! Not evil Arabic writing!! Next thing you know, there'll be evil Arabic numerals, taking over our culture!
According to a civil rights lawsuit, TSA and JetBlue demanded Raed Jarrar to sit at the back of a 2006 flight from New York to Oakland because his shirt read "We Will Not Be Silent" in English and Arabic.
That's pretty much my maxim for dealing with any government agency, at any level: no matter what they tell you, the situation will always turn out to be worse the more you find out about it.
You know what's going to happen when they're talking about road construction being delayed or taxes having to go up. I expect it when I hear that the economy is "having difficulties". That's bad enough. But when they start talking about infringements on your civil liberties, you might as well reach for the lube and grab your ankles.
Latest such instance:
The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.
Yeah, those evil bike-lane loving terrorists had to be watched!
Vice President Dick Cheney is reported to have set forth the "One Percent Doctrine" following the 9-11 attacks. The basic premise is that if there is just 1% chance that an enemy is planning a serious terrorist attack, we have to treat it as though it were a certainty, and respond accordingly.
So, I suppose it really is no surprise that all the absurdity of "behaviour detection" that the TSA employs at airports leads to just a 1% arrest rate, and that they proclaim this as ""incredibly effective." No, seriously:
WASHINGTON — Fewer than 1% of airline passengers singled out at airports for suspicious behavior are arrested, Transportation Security Administration figures show, raising complaints that too many innocent people are stopped.
Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money a link to this post:
I have believed from the start that Bush should have nuked Tora Bora in 2001. The GWOT would have ended right then and there. It would have sent the right message: Don't Tread On Me!
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Nuking Tora Bora with a few small tactical nukes would have killed the entire al Qaeda leadership and warned everyone - terrorists and the nations which aid or harbor them - that they shouldn't fuck with us. Had Dubya done this the Bush Doctrine ("you're either with us or against us") would've has some teeth - and some positive effect. Now it's too late; what we could've done then in righteous reprisal can not be done now. Not until we are attacked here in the USA again.
Poor lad sounds almost sad that there haven't been any recent attacks which killed thousands of Americans...
Anyway, thought-experiment time: what do you think would have happened had we followed this course of action?