More fun for commuters in the nation’s capital: Last week, Metro officials announced that “anti-terrorism teams” will immediately begin conducting random bag searches.
Metro officials said about one of every three riders at designated stops will be pulled aside. Their bags will not be opened unless a residue swab or a police dog indicates a potential threat. Even then, the rider can decline the search and leave.
It is nice that the searches will not be as invasive as an airport porno-scanner or a Transportation Security Administration agent’s cold rubber glove. But if a hypothetical terrorist can walk his backpack bomb from one station to board at another instead, what is the point?
Like so many other homeland security schemes, the only “logic” behind this one is a mindless bureaucratic imperative. It will add to the capital’s growing security-state atmosphere without making it measurably safer.
Today, Metro passengers regularly hear Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s flat monotone over the loudspeaker: “If you see something, say something.” That has been such a success, apparently, that earlier this month, “Big Sis” announced she is having herself piped through Walmart intercoms nationwide.
If we have to hear the secretary every time we schlep to work or shop at a chain store, we ought to at least pick a sexier voice. I nominate Scarlett Johansson.
Meanwhile, Monday’s Washington Post featured another installment in its valuable “Top Secret America” series on our post-9/11 “Intelligence-Industrial Complex.” During the past decade, the feds have issued $31 billion in homeland security grants, paying local law enforcement to install surveillance cameras on city streets and purchase biometric scanners developed for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Post reported that the FBI is building a massive database on thousands of Americans whose only “crime” is “acting suspiciously” around “a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.” These reports generate “a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless.”
Since terrorist activity is rare, many counterterror agents are finding “there is just not enough terrorism-related work to do.” So they are using spy technology to fight ordinary crime.
The British Empire, it was said, developed in “a fit of absence of mind.” So too with the bureaucratic empire we are building around counterterrorism.
It is past time we thought consciously about the road we are on before it is too late to turn back.
Examiner columnist Gene Healy is the author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”