November 16, 2001

I am pleased that your recent experience with the airlines was good. Mine was not. This week I went from Tucson to San Francisco, thence to San Diego, and then back to Tucson.

On two out of the three legs of the trip, I was "selected" for an extra thorough security search. This involves emptying everything out of your pockets and a detailed inspection of everything you are carrying on board (and as I travel light with only a carry-on, that means everything). Now I am quite sure I know why I was selected. I traveled on three different airlines, and as far as they knew I had only bought a one-way ticket as their computer systems were clearly not good enough to link them all together.

On the second leg (and the only one in which I was not selected) the security screeners decided to go through everything anyway. This time they found a small nail clipper (which had passed the first screening) to which a small (~1 inch) nail file was attached. This security screener decided this was unacceptable in spite of its not having any sharp edge. His supervisor agreed with him and said that I could either check my carryon or surrender the clipper. I asked if the nail file was the only problem. When he said "yes" I simply twisted off the nail file and laid it on the table.

Has the world lost its collective mind? Has common sense gone completely out the window? It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that the other end of the clipper was both stronger and sharper than the nail file or that the ball point pens I had in my pocket, or that my house keys would have been far more effective as weapons. Someone has written a rule that nail files (of whatever size and length) are no-no's.

The collective effect of this is that I have completely sworn off of pleasure air travel and will only travel for *essential* business reasons. There have been several reports that most (of not all) of the major air carriers are facing imminent bankruptcy. In my opinion they will deserve it, and not just for the security fiascos either.

I have been asked whether I was worried about air travel. I answer, "No, but I am grievously annoyed at the FAA's security mandates and the airlines response." Quite honestly I worry more about young National Guardsmen with M16's than I do about terrorists. I worry much more about the loss of civil liberties than I do about terrorism. I worry far more about the bad things my government is likely to do to me than what bin Laden and his followers are likely to do. History has demonstrated on numerous occasions that once the camel has his nose under the tent it is only a matter of time until he is in the tent with you.

Bob McClure

To the preceding I received the following message:

>> Quite honestly I worry more about young National Guardsmen >>with M16's than I do about terrorists.

Luckily, the practice is that National Guardsmen may not load their weapons unless specifically ordered to do so--and they are only ordered to do so if there is a specific threat. So the weapons are almost certainly unloaded. (Indeed, they might not be carrying live ammunition). In any event, they have no cartridge in the chamber, and so cannot fire by accident.

And my response:

I am aware of the practice of not having loaded weapons, but I was commenting on the psychological effect. I suppose that unloaded weapons might have some deterrent effect on terrorists, but I also notice that I am not allowed to carry an unloaded weapon on an airplane either.  Hmm!  What do you suppose the rationale for that is? Answer: the one at whom the weapon is pointed doesn't *know* whether it is loaded or not. Hence, worry.