January 29, 2011
' ... without the pat-down'? Whoa, Mr. President!By Robert Morrison
Wait a minute, Mr. President. Did we hear you correctly in your State of the Union
address? Did you really say your new high-speed trains would be "faster than flying...without the pat-down"? Your administration is said to be quietly pushing back against public resistance to those intrusive TSA pat-downs. We all remember the patriot hero John Tyner from last fall. He's the Oceanside, California software engineer who said, "Don't touch my junk!"
For you to make fun of those privacy concerns is particularly uncaring. You are a privileged person who doesn't have to go through that gantlet every time he flies.
It's rather like your put-down of Scott Brown in Massachusetts last January. "Anyone can buy a truck," you said then, as you campaigned for sure loser Martha Coakley. No, Mr. President, not everyone can buy a truck. With your policies, some of us are still stuck driving ten- and fifteen-year-old vehicles.
Let's get back to your case for high-speed trains without the pat-downs. It would have been far better for you to put yourself and your loved ones through one of those pat-downs before making a joke of them.
Assuming your administration is correct, and that these pat-downs are necessary for the safety of the flying public, why would you announce in advance to al-Qaeda that your high-speed trains will have a lower level of security? It doesn't make sense.
My wife and I traveled to France in '04. There was heightened security everywhere because the U.S. had just invaded Iraq. As we were pursuing al-Qaeda from the mountains of Tora-Bora in Afghanistan to the bridges in Fallujah, Iraq, all Western nations were edgy.
We were most impressed with the security in the French capital. All the landmarks were patrolled. French paratroopers could be seen at the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Mont Saint Michel had tight security.
What was especially reassuring was the security on the French trains. No, we didn't get patted down. But every train car we entered was swept by security teams with bomb-sniffing dogs. Briskly, quietly, and matter-of-factly, the police moved through every train and every car.
Those dogs sniffed everywhere -- except people's underwear. They were German shepherds to us Americans, but the French, being French, called them chiens loups -- wolf dogs.
Were such procedures necessary? Events soon proved that they were. In Madrid, just weeks after we returned from Paris, we saw tragically how al-Qaeda could strike against trains.
In a bomb attack in the Spanish capital on March 11, 2004, 191 people were killed and 1,800 wounded less than a mile from the Atocha Station.
The next year, in London, an attack on mass transit trains killed 52 and left 700 wounded.
Britons call that attack 7/7 because it occurred on July 7, 2005.
So here you are, Mr. President, in the same week your Department of Homeland Security announces that it is scrapping the old color-coded warning system, making light of the need for airport pat-downs and offering a lower level of security for trains.
I don't know whether the airport pat-downs are necessary or not. That's not my job -- it's yours. But if they are needed, they would seem to be necessary for trains, too. And if there is any credible threat against U.S. mass transit, it is grossly inappropriate for you -- more protected than any potentate, pope, or prime minister in the world -- to be making jokes about it.
I doubt very seriously that the survivors of the Madrid and London attacks or the families of the dead from those trains -- if they watched your State of the Union address -- cared to join Chris Matthews and your media amen corner in a hearty laugh about the pat-downs.
It is true that I was not in sympathy with much else in your presidential message. But that's political fair play. Your pat-down ha-ha served only to convince many of us in your audience that you are not serious about serious things.