Remove your shoes for security and liberty

So I’m standing in my sock feet in Pearson International Airport in Toronto last weekend suffering the interminable indignity of waiting for my shoes to make their way down the conveyor belt back to me when my mind wonders what the world would look like today had the tragic events of 9-11 not happened.

By George Brown, editor

If you spend as much time waiting in airports as I have in the last while you have plenty of time to think.

So I’m standing in my sock feet in Pearson International Airport in Toronto last weekend suffering the interminable indignity of waiting for my shoes to make their way down the conveyor belt back to me when my mind wonders what the world would look like today had the tragic events of 9-11 not happened.

Canada would not have followed the Great Satan into a war in Afghanistan and 139 soldiers would not have died. Bush’s presidency would not have survived without a War on Terror to give it momentum and Hillary Clinton would be serving her second term as presidentress.

Would the Americans have invaded Iraq anyway? That had been at the top of their to-do list after George H. W. Bush’s failure in the First Gulf War. They wouldn’t have been looking for Osama bin Laden and knowing Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction it would have been a little more difficult to convince Americans it was a good idea. Not impossible, just more difficult.

Without the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 there still would have been a terrorist threat but not one great enough to warrant a War on Muslims.

Without 9-11 would it matter who packed my suitcase and whether it had been out of my sight? Would I be able to give myself a manicure on the flight, and could I slurp microwaved soup from a real spoon?

Without 9-11 Americans would be more concerned about their home grown, radical right — anti-government militia groups and fundamentalist cults. Back in the day, the rule of terrorism was to kill just enough people the get attention and to be taken seriously without causing society to rise up against you. Militia groups even distanced themselves from domestic terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh and his 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

If all you’re doing to make sure I’m safe and secure on an airplane is confiscate the formula the mom with the crying baby needs to ensure a quiet flight for all of us, you’re not doing enough and you’re starting at the wrong end. Security forces have to identify the terrorist before he eludes the security checkpoint and smuggles explosives onto the plane. This Nigerian nitwit who tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day paid cash and had no luggage; his father repeatedly warned authorities his son was involved with al-Qaida and might try something like bring down a plane.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) stops far short of the Israeli security model touted by some experts but then Canada is not perpetually at war. The model in Western society is to react after a threat has been discovered: banning box cutters, checking shoes for bombs and ensuring toothpaste hasn’t been replaced with C-4 explosive.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to identify the terrorist than to seize my half-bottle of aftershave? Make the airport secure by keeping non-travellers out of the building, walk a few police dogs through the Tim’s, and have the RCMP and undercover security teams confront travellers and identify threats before they board a plane. Why not have the airline check-in counter on the other side of security where you know both my luggage and I pose no risk?

The new airport security scanners that would be an alternative to body searches have prompted security concerns because it is a “virtual strip search” that records “naked” images of passengers. The image is not matched with the name of the passenger and stored in a computer. Lawmakers and enforcement agencies will continue to face challenges in designing security systems to prevent terrorist attacks. Western society abhors the loss of freedoms but security is a tradeoff.

CATSA is also developing a “passenger behaviour observation program” that stops just short of racial and ethnic profiling. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and is wearing a bomb… Some profiling is logical and effective: there’s a reason not a lot of Baptists have been arrested in terrorist cells.