Homeland Security

Marc Randazza lives an interesting life:

They open the bag, and see that I’m traveling with exactly one t-shirt, one toothbrush, one pair of socks, a pair of underwear, and 50 porn movies, which they lay out on the table one by one.

Whole story here.

My first thought when I read about the suspicious objects found in public areas around Boston was that they were geocaches.

Geocaching is the pastime of hiding small containers in public places and posting their latitude and longitude on web sites for other people to find. A GPS receiver will get them within a few feet but then they have to hunt around a bit. There are log books inside and prizes and various other traditions.

It’s a very geeky thing to do. (I only tried it once.)

It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it’s a pretty wholesome activity. Even the Boy Scouts do it. (That’s no surprise—why do you think they call them “scouts”?) I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until some legislator starts a crusade against it.

There’s already been an incident here in Chicago involving a cache that may have been too near a federal building.

Sooner or later, some idiot will put drugs in a geocache, or some pedophile will jump a kid looking for a geocache, or some terrorists will use geocaching methods. Then some legislator will see a chance at a headline. People rarely tolerate fun that they can’t understand.

Update: Then again, maybe there’s hope. A bomb squad in Bellevue, Washington was called to the site of a geocache back in 2004. They had to damage the cache to open it, but they left a nice note in the log book.

Now that I think about it, I’ll bet a lot of local cops are aware of geocaching activity in their area and don’t have a problem with it. Heck, I’ll bet a few of them are geocachers themselves: It’s 4am, they’re in their patrol car, and there’s nothing going on. What can they do to kill the time that won’t get them in trouble?

Tired of all the tedium of going through airport security? Then set your laptop up so that when they ask you to open it, it shows this.

(Created by Michael Solomon, referred by Philipp Lenssen.)

P.S. For God’s sake, don’t really do this. You will be charged with a crime.

Military intelligence analysts have this saying: “Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”

Even so, this is probably nothing…

  1. October 2 at the University of Oklahoma: Joel Hinrichs III dies in an explosion he set off about 100 yards from a stadium filled with 80,000 people. Police call it a suicide, not a suicide bombing, but you have to wonder why he did it in such a public place. There are also rumors—perhaps completely unfounded—of attempts to buy ammonium nitrate (an ingredient in some bombs) and of contact with a nearby mosque.

  2. October 7 at UCLA: The Los Angeles police bomb squad detonated an explosive device found in an apartment complex. Residents reported hearing an explosion earlier.

  3. October 10 at Georgia Tech: A custodian was slightly injured when a plastic water bottle exploded as he picked it up. The Atlanta police bomb squad found and destroyed two more bottles rigged to explode. It’s being investigated as a terrorist act, although it may be nothing more that a prank gone bad.

For all I know, police find small bombs at universities all the time. After all, we’re talking about crazy college kids, some of whom are probably majoring in chemistry.

Still, I sure hope this isn’t the start of something bad.

Update: Nope. Looks like coincidence and rumors. Joel Hinrichs appears to have just committed suicide in a very public way. There’s no real evidence that he made any attempt to enter the stadium or otherwise take anyone with him. The UCLA thing appears to have been a meth lab, and the Georgia Tech thing is a prank with dry ice in a bottle. Cathy Young covers the blog over-reaction.

My wife went on a business trip on Wednesday and came back Thursday with an amusing story about how she almost got strip searched at the airport.

Strip searched. Ha, ha, ha.

She and her boss were going through the line and the security folks sent her boss in one direction and my wife into some side room. They made my wife take off her shoes. They X-rayed my wife’s purse and found something that bothered them, so they started going through it, taking stuff out and spreading it all over.

Making my wife stand there barefooted while they go through her purse. Great.

They couldn’t find the problem, so this dragged on and on. Meanwhile, my wife’s boss didn’t know what had happened to her, so she called my wife on her cell phone. My wife reached for it, and Skippy the TSA twit yelled at her not to touch it. You know, because they’re in the middle of a search.

I’m seething with anger that this stranger, this self-important little prick would be yelling at my wife. I don’t want to let it show, because my wife would only get upset, and this doesn’t seem to bother her as much as it bothers me.

Eventually, they found what they were looking for: a small utility knife in a credit-card toolkit at the bottom of my wife’s purse. Before they said anything, my wife just told them to take it so she could go.

The worst part is that even if I’d been there, there’d be nothing I could do. They’ve got the numbers, they’ve got the guns, and they’ve got the overbearing federal law enforcement. Yell at them, call them the idiots they are, and they could accuse you of trying to distract them in their duties or some such bullshit. They’ve done it to other people.

Eventually, my wife caught up to her boss, who’d been a little worried. My wife tells it like it’s funny, and maybe it is to her.

Me, I think that internal checkpoints are one of the surest signs of creeping totalitarianism. I think that when the authorities can question you and you can’t question them, it’s tyranny. Only a little bit of tyranny in this case, but even a little bit is way too much.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson might be a good administrator for all I know. Certainly his earlier work on Wisconsin’s welfare system showed that it was possible to reform welfare without putting poor people through hell. But I’ve never found him reassuring when it comes to bioterrorism.

Which is a little ironic, when you consider that during the Anthrax attacks of 2001, reassurance seemed to be the only thing he had to offer. Consider this from an October 5th NY Times article by Gina Kolata:

“It is an isolated case, and it is not contagious,” Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said at a White House briefing yesterday afternoon. “There is no terrorism.”

(Thompson’s office disputed this quote on November 1st, claiming that he was interrupted as he said “There’s no evidence of terrorism — at this —-” By then, of course, everyone knew it was terrorism.)

Anyway, in an AP story by Terence Hunt, Tommy Thompson tries his best to undo the reassurance:

Thompson had said he worries “every single night” about a possible terror attack on the food supply, and despite dramatic increases in inspections of food imports, only “a very minute amount” of food is tested at ports and airports.

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” Thompson said. “We are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that.”

Thanks man, for helping out in every way you can.

(On the other hand, if Tommy Thompson is spreading fear and uncertainty about a terrorism issue, maybe it’s a sign of something really scary. Damn…)

Orin Kerr speculates on possible pre-election attacks on America by Al Qaeda:

I think it’s somewhat less likely than it used to be that Al Qaeda would try attacks focused on killing lots of people or destroying symbolic targets. The U.S. response to 9/11 taught that the U.S. isn’t going to back off its policies in response to that sort of attack. Violence perceived as a general “attack on America” boosts morale among those who hate the U.S., but it only stiffens U.S. resolve.

I think the more likely Al Qaeda move would be to try to destabilize the U.S. political system.

Whatever Al Qaeda does next next will be far less impressive than the attacks of 9/11, and they may not be able to do anything. They’re on the run, they don’t have the resources they used to, and they have to waste more time and energy keeping the operation a secret. Also, much of their leadership is dead or captured. Whatever they do will have to be done with little effort.

Also, I don’t think Al Qaeda leadership is likely to understand politics in a democracy well enough to try to disrupt the political process. In addition, government offices are likely to be well-defended. Besides, most of us aren’t too emotional about our leaders: we like some of them, but we don’t love them. Sure, we’d be pissed off if they assassinated a few candidates, but we wouldn’t be heartbroken.

And that’s what I think they will want to do. They will want to break our hearts, so we no longer have the will power to continue the war. No matter who wins this November, if enough Americans want the war to end, it will end.

So, what targets will break our hearts?

Obviously, children. Compared to government agencies, school children are soft targets. Blowing up a few school buses or even schools would hurt us tremendously. Only fifteen children died at Columbine, and it still haunts us.

Of course, that could backfire. Of all the things Al Qaeda thought might happen after 9/11, they probably never thought we’d invade two Middle Eastern countries. They may have thought through the aftermath more carefully this time. Who could they kill that would break our hearts enough to increase the anti-war fervor, but that we don’t love enough to use their names as a rallying cry?

Celebrities. Just pick a few popular names: David Letterman, Jay Leno, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Tom Hanks. You’d hate to see something happen to them, but would you want to avenge them?

Many of these people may actually oppose the war, but that works to Al Qaeda’s advantage because it would radicalize their fans. Killing, say Rush Limbaugh, wouldn’t engage the left and the right would just become more pissed off than before.

Leonard Pitts has a great article about the modern state of airport security, as revealed by the bunch of New York Daily News reporters who managed to smuggle contraband past the security checkpoints.

You know the part that scares me? Not just that someone managed to get weapons through security, but that journalists did. Not to dis my own, but we members of the Fourth Estate aren’t exactly known for our technical savvy and mechanical know-how. We’re the kind of folks who keep Jiffy Lube in business. If a bunch of English majors can breach airline security, anyone can.