Strident voices have been busy of late proclaiming Edward Snowden a heroic whistleblower for disclosing details of
intelligence gathering. Less loud, but more thoughtful, commentators argue that
he is a traitor whose systematic leaking of classified information has
seriously damaged our security.
Honest disagreement is possible about which label Snowden deserves. However, it is hard to disagree with President Obama’s statement that it is time for a national discussion of how much personal freedom and privacy Americans should be willing to sacrifice in the interests of security. That discussion now is occurring—in the media, on the internet, and in gatherings of families and friends.
Although I believe we must continue to combat terrorism, I think we have overreacted to 9/11 in ways large and small.
The huge mistakes are obvious. Invading
Iraq on a pretext and hanging around for years
at tremendous costs in lives and dollars have done incalculable damage to the
strength of our nation and our position in the world. We can’t undo those
blunders, but at least we gradually are withdrawing from untenable positions in
the Middle East.
|I want to be there during searches|
Personal experiences color my thoughts about overdoing security measures in smaller ways. Security people did it right the first time my luggage was searched in an airport after 9/11. I was allowed to stand next to the searcher and observe every move. And, my belongings were handled carefully and returned to my suitcases in a semblance of order. This was exactly how our luggage was searched several times after airline trips to
9/11. I have no objection to that sort of procedure.
More recently, however, both I and beautiful wife Sandy had our luggage searched when we were not present. Apparently, the system had changed, and not for the better. When we opened bags after the trips, our belongings were in complete disarray.
Searching one’s property without a warrant or some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing when the owner is not present to me is a clear violation of constitutional law. There have been documented cases of security personnel stealing items from luggage they were inspecting, another reason this practice should be stopped. If requiring that the person whose property is searched be present causes travel delays, so be it.
Several years after 9/11,
was taken out of a line in the Kalamazoo
airport for a strip search. Admittedly, she appears to fit the classic profile
of a terrorist. On tip toes, she can stretch to a menacing 5 foot 2. The
majority of her hair is gray. She is more than slightly beyond the age
associated with optimum physical strength. Bottom line: Sandy is not a particularly threatening
It probably is necessary for security people to pick subjects at random for intensive searches to avoid charges of profiling, but what followed
selection was uncalled for and served no purpose.
First, she was told to leave her purse, ticket, and boarding pass behind as she was led to a search booth. She refused. After some argument, the security types allowed her to take the items along.
A man entered the booth and instructed
Sandy to remove her clothing. She demanded
that he be replaced by a woman. After more argument, her demand was met. (I
later advised her that the experience might have been enhanced had she stuck
with the man, but stopped saying that when she obviously failed to admire my brilliant
How much freedom and privacy should we be willing to give up in the interest of security? There’s a reasonable balance to be struck. Perfection isn't possible, but we need to discuss the issues and make necessary changes in the systems now in place.