Friday, July 08, 2005

Heightened Alert

Here we go again. I can't even begin to assemble my thoughts on the subject of terrorism and war. I'm not sure if I even want to think about it for that long.

But here's something I have decided to think about. Heightened security. Orange alerts. What the heck do they mean? My wife, a law enforcement officer, has worked through several of these security status changes. Ask her to tell you the difference between what she does every day and what she does during times of "heightened security"... go ahead, ask her. The answer, inevitably, will be nothing. Perhaps the special forces take other actions, and perhaps she just has not been with the special units during these times, but who is all of this extra security for, anyway?

I believe the bag checks at public events, and the higher security presence after an incident, are more for perception, to give citizens a false sense of security and control over their lives when really there isn't much we can do in our daily existence to prevent these terrorist attacks. Yesterday and today, bomb-sniffing dogs searched the Metro trains, police with machine guns spot-checked the trains as they came through the stations, and the bathrooms were closed to prevent any dubious activity. Do we in America really think the terrorists don't pay any attention? Do you think they're going to put a bomb on a train that they know is going to be sniffed by a dog before they ever get a chance to set it off? Of course not. They're patient. They wait. They wait until we search for a few days or weeks and determine that we haven't found anything and, therefore, the threat has subsided. The dogs are removed. The armed guards slowly disappear from public venues. The bathrooms re-open. Then we go ahead and drop our alert level back down to Yellow or even Blue. We stop patrolling our Metros and public areas. We get lax with our security. We feel comfortable again that we've thwarted terrorism.

That's when we need protection the most.

I know in America we don't want to live in a police state. However, where are these extra security measures the rest of the time? What sense is a security check where they stop people carrying purses, but wave everyone else through? My wife and I went to a national museum the other day. She had her gun in a holster on her waist, under her shirt. There were no metal detectors, just a bunch of day-player security guards. They stopped the woman pushing the stroller, and they waved us through. "Not carrying a bag, don't need to be checked," they said. I've been to the Hollywood Bowl and had a camera case large enough to fit a camera or binoculars... or a gun or grenade. But it was too small.. they waved me through. "Let's stop only the guys with the coolers," was the apparent attitude.

I know we can't protect every place in a free country all of the time. As an ex-FBI expert said at a forum held by the Washington Post, "... if you put metal detectors at the transit stations, they will attack the shopping malls..." There's no way to put a shield around every place all of the time. Not to remain free. But these "displays" of heightened security aren't really an answer, either. We can't get it together only after something terrible has happened. We've got to get it right all of the time. As it's said, we have to be right ALL of the time to prevent terrorism. The terrorists only have to get it right ONCE.


At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tough question. No I don't want to live in a Police State. And yes, they only have to be right once.

Good to hear what you're up to these days. Hope the leg gets better.


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