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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 11/22/2010

The terrorists have won

By Ezra Klein

Ta-Nehisi Coates sums up the underlying reality behind the TSA hubbub in a single sentence:

It's worth remembering that the goal of the terrorist is to terrorize, and from that perspective, they've been really successful.

By Ezra Klein  | November 22, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
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We've destroyed two entire countries over hyped-up fears of terrorism. And we're worried about pat-downs? Puh-leeze.

Posted by: klautsack | November 22, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The terrorists knew that even if the underwear bomb didn't work the effects would be the same--virtual strip searches at the airport. Just imagine what it will be like when the next error plot involves something shoved up some bodily orifice.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | November 22, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't look at it this way. To me pat- downs/visual x-rays/ect. are measures towards protecting ourselves. I'm not terrorized by these or the reality that necessitates them. I'm terrorized when we don't do enough to protect ourselves and as a result people are killed.

Posted by: Woodstockct | November 22, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

The terrorists haven't one, they've just won a single victory in a single battle. This is a form of ongoing, one-on-one terrorism being inflicted on airline passengers by the TSA:

You want to think that is no big deal, fine. I still think it's an issue worth fighting over. That, and pat downs of young children, TSA agents putting their hands down the pants of folks wearing baggy pants (what will MC Hammer think) etc., all in some showy form of kabuki security theater-.

Now, the terrorists have only won if their ultimate goal is to prove that, in a lot of ways, we in the west are complete idiots.

However, given that I'm fairly certain the ultimate goal of "the terrorists" is to institute a global caliphate and having us all under sharia law and either converted, dead or living in perpetual 2nd class citizen dhimmitude, I'm pretty sure the terrorists have not actually won yet. I'm sure being able to manipulate our behaviors and having us act cowardly and weak-willed and foolish is a kick, but that's not victory. At least, it doesn't seem so to me.

Can't wait for the orifice bomber. That will make the already invasive TSA patdown really invasive. "Ma'am, please pull up your shirt and unbutton your pants. Now a little jelly. MRI, just like when you were pregnant . . ."

"It's not an invasion of your privacy, sir, it's a free mandatory colonoscopy . . . "

Speaking of which, the first terrorist who attempts to do something involving an implant, or something swallowed . . . ugh.

"Hold on a second, we just have to run this fiberoptic camera in your nostril and down into your stomach."

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 22, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it *AMAZING* that the Israeli Airline, El Al, despite being owned by and transporting many JEWS doesn't have this problem?

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | November 22, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

@Woodstock: "I don't look at it this way. To me pat- downs/visual x-rays/ect. are measures towards protecting ourselves."

While I applaud your philosophical approach, the pat-downs and visual x-rays are so much security kabuki. There is no evidence that any of this will add any degree of safety to our plane travel (indeed, just wait for the guy strapped with bombs who, when he sets off the detector, runs like a bat out of hell into the biggest crowd he can and detonates--then we'll be having to strip to get in the cab to take us to the airport).

Experts say the new system still wouldn't detect the underwear bomber, and, in any case, there will be some point at which a terrorist can do something. Even with the new precautions. And they will make sue of carry on luggage or a medical device or a young child or something to require yet another degree of invasive "security" that solves nothing. Terrorism is designed for the security we have now, and always will be, while terrorist prevention always seems designed for the last attack.

I dunno. I think the TSA is self-evidently in the wrong here, on all levels, and has been for years. It's just getting so bad that increasingly fewer people are wiling to put up with it.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 22, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

You link to a two paragraph statement in the Atlantic?

We haven't destroyed two countries. Afghanistan has never been a country and never will be in any real sense.

Our constitution puts us at a handicap (a good one by the way) in that we can't profile people. The Israelis don't operate under any such diffculty. So we're stuck with this method until something better comes along.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 22, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

@54465446: "So we're stuck with this method until something better comes along."

While I'm not sure our lack of profiling is a good thing (due to what the means: essentially, we can't even profile by nervous or erratic behavior, due to who that would generally end up with us focusing on), I'm not sure we're stuck with the method until something better comes along. We could pull it back. Other than harassing paying customers, I don't know that the new security theater does a single thing to enhance safety over what we were doing 1 year ago. And that was more theater than security.

For me, I'm stuck traveling to places I can get to in a car. Lots of good places like that. So, I'm cool.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 22, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"I'm terrorized when we don't do enough to protect ourselves and as a result people are killed."

You'll be glad to know that we've just got some tiger repellant in stock. Send a check, and a case will be on the way.

"It's just getting so bad that increasingly fewer people are wiling to put up with it."

ITYM "it's affecting Executive Platinum frequent flyers in a way that they're not willing to put up with."

Let's stipulate that everybody's preferred screening policy would be "let me go straight through, along with everyone ahead of me in the line, except for that one shifty-looking guy." Let's also stipulate that air travel in the US can't operate in its current commercial form with the multi-hour check-in times that are commonplace for international travel. Finally, let's stipulate that the TSA is in a no-win situation, given that, as Jeffrey Goldberg rightly notes, the place to stop planned attacks is long before the airport.

My point is that perfect security is unattainable, and idiotic protocols adopted in its pursuit are futile, but I don't see the current outrage resolving into an acceptance of that, or any desire to move to a model that accepts risk and substitutes vigilance for procedural box-checking. This is the opposite of a sensible debate.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | November 22, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Kevin, it's not about stopping anybody. It serves two purposes:

1) Reassure the traveling public, as funny as that may sound. If people are complaining it's because they feel safe. So unlike what the dumb*ss Ezra quoted said, this means that the traveling public is NOT terrorized.

2) Catch the odd man out. You won't ever stopped a dedicated terrorist team that plans the job well, but those things come along few and far between. What you're worried about is the oddball acting with limited or no support and cashing in his terrorist lottery ticket. You don't think the fence around the White House is there to stop terrorists do you?

Posted by: 54465446 | November 22, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, Coates is a touch off on this one. The goal of terrorists is not "to terrorize." They use terror as a tactic to achieve their goals. I'm not sure what exactly the full goal(s) were/are of the September 11 folks and their current day comrades (putting aside the "inside job" hypothesis). I know they want all US presence out of Saudi Arabia. They talk about Palestine, though I'm not sure how important that is to them at heart, rather than as a recruiting slogan. Anyway... they are being successful in propagating terror, but their actual goals haven't been achieved.

Posted by: JonathanTE | November 22, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

@54465446: I'm not sure about the goal being to reassure. I don't think folks are any more reassured than they were two weeks ago. Less so, even. I'm not reassured, because I think it's theater, so it doesn't reassure me at all. I'd rather they devote that energy to double checking every bolt and seal on the plane. Knowing that they were doing that would be more reassuring to me.

Catching the odd man out: I have no problem with this, but recent changes don't make this any more likely.

To whit:

Adam Savage, by accident, after going through the scanner, took two twelve inch razor blades onto his flight. Whoops! That's the TSA--and full body scanners--in action. I feel reassured.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 22, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

People are angry because of the pretense involved, because everyone has to act as though a 90 year old grandmother from Boise is just as much a possible terrorist as a young man. It's the extreme enforcement of political correctness, the absolute insistence that we are all equally likely to be terrorists that is causing the public to rebel, to the very small extent they are.

Posted by: truck1 | November 22, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

The only victory by the terrorists this time was the creation of a media-driven irrelevant discussion of the moment until something more silly comes along (like the finals of Dancing with the Stars).

Terrorism is real and those who don't want to fight should just keep their junk to themselves and stay off of airlines and leave the safe skies to those who care.

Posted by: TomMiller1 | November 22, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

i believe that mostly, we have succeeded in terrorizing ourselves.

we live in a world of fear and paranoia...and the fires are stoked by the media.

fear...paranoia...danger...speed....constant hysteria.
replacing peacefulness, trust, well-being.
it says more about ourselves, and the nightmarish perception of the way we see each other, and the world....than it says about our perceived enemies.
every twig in the night, has become a snake.
we are succeeding in wringing calm and common sense out of every living thing, not to mention beauty and decency.

outside of my window, is a giant spider in a huge web it has spun. 62 panels, and each has 35 rungs in each panel.
the spider sits in solitude, in a night much bigger than it is.
in grace and solitude, this spider rests in its web,
in its place in the world.
it seems, in its most sentient way, to "know" its place in the world.
i dont think that most human beings are managing quite as well, as this still spider.

Posted by: jkaren | November 22, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

"Can't wait for the orifice bomber. That will make the already invasive TSA patdown really invasive. "Ma'am, please pull up your shirt and unbutton your pants. Now a little jelly. MRI, just like when you were pregnant . . ."

Kevin, check out the following link - it has already happened:

"There is no evidence that any of this will add any degree of safety to our plane travel (indeed, just wait for the guy strapped with bombs who, when he sets off the detector, runs like a bat out of hell into the biggest crowd he can and detonates--then we'll be having to strip to get in the cab to take us to the airport)."

Certainly. There will always be a way to get around the new security measures. It's an illusion of security.

Posted by: justin84 | November 22, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

we are creating a very ghastly and insane world, in what really was a garden of eden....and the systems we are creating, the things we are doing, are without soul.
body scanners, patdowns, oilspills......what a nightmare we are creating here.


Posted by: jkaren | November 22, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

i think we are succeeding in creating a deeply emotionally and mentally disturbed and frightfilled civilization.

body scanners, patdowns, oil spills destroying wildlife...
i question the entire quality of life, the kind of civilization we are creating.
images from this year....for the most part, have not been uplifting or ennobling, good, life affirming, positive or beautiful.

Posted by: jkaren | November 22, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I do not like TSA security procedures either...but think of all the other things terrorism has caused us to do...trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives spent on two large wars and several other small and secret wars, a compromise of our values (water-boarding, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram)

Body-scanners are way down the list on what gets me upset.

Posted by: Mazzi455 | November 22, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse


I watched the video. They're not razor blades, but hack saw blades in a wrapper unattached to a frame. Unless he was planning on sawing his way thorugh the airplane, like flossing your teeth, they're not dangerous in anyway.

It is theater, the same as the state police sitting on the side of the road doesn't stop people from speeding. It you want to know about reassurance, just try to remember how difficult it was to get people flying again in the year after 9/11.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 22, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse


The 24/7 news cycle has made you fearful. You as an American citizen live in the safest most cocoon like world ever invented. You don't believe that of course, but it's true. You don't believe that because if I child disappears in Boise Idaho, you see it an hour later. I'm not being sarcastic, I'm pointing out the obvious.

The Natalee Holloway story is an awful tragedy. It has been in the news for 5 years now. Yet in all that time, no other young girl that we know of has disappeared on a vacation trip to the Carribbean despite probably tens of thousands of them going. Still many people live in fear of such an unlikely event.

My 90 year old father likes to tell people the true story of how when he graduated high school in 1938 the only job he could get was washing pots in a hospital for .12 an hour, and that took him a year to find. Yet we think the last two years have been incredibly awful because we lack perspective.

I could go and on, but you are very unlikley statistically speaking, to ever have anything worse than losing a job happen to you as a individual. Some people will have a string of terrible troubles, and some none at all of course.

Turn off the 24 hour news, and your troubled mind will begin to ease.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 22, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

So would less security at the airport mean that the we've won?

We are now casting judgement on our actions against terrorists based on our airport security policies? Huh?

I just don't get this argument at all ...

Posted by: kromerm | November 22, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

"The 24/7 news cycle has made you fearful"

it hasnt made me fearful, it has made me angry.
the way our world is presented to us, is filled with fear, paranoia, hysteria and hate.
we live in a relatively safe world, i agree....but a few days ago, there was an article here, on whether facebook makes us less "human."
i think we are losing our connections with nature....and that is making us less human. (i dont mean hunting things.)
and what our culture inescapably fills us with, is harsh and ugly and scary and not kind.
bodyscanners, oil drenched pelicans, the constant repetitious stories about people like sarah palin that are made who??
why with all of the magical and remarkable things in the world, is the news about her?
and anything that creates more fear, more terror, that amps our hysteria, our anger... that makes us peaceless and what swirls around us.
how did our culture become like this?
there is goodness, and kindness and beauty all around us. especially in this season.
how does that become so lost, and so replaced by horrible things that make us fearful and irritated and paranoid and mad...instead of grateful and humble and looking for the good in the world?
we do live in relative peacefulness. we do have much to be thankful why is the reflecting pool so muddied and sickly?

Posted by: jkaren | November 22, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

klautsack has a valid point:

"We've destroyed two entire countries over hyped-up fears of terrorism. And we're worried about pat-downs? Puh-leeze."

He's right... it is a shame that bringing death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of INNOCENT people, halfway around the world, didn't trouble a lot of Americans who are now all up in arms about being fondled, themselves, by rude officials in the airport.

But let me make another point. Use of one sad blunder is used to justify the next one, we only compound the earlier error. The United States should not have invaded Iraq (certainly not for the reasons we gave, and were given, at the time), and, while we had our reasons for going into Afghanistan we probably shouldn't have stayed on to try to run things after al Qaeda was uprooted and dispersed from there... no later than '04.

Getting out of either of those messes is looking longer and bloodier and more fraught with other trouble for us than ever, these six years after OUR actual, legitimate mission was done, and OUR people could have been home. We let this happen because we permitted our leaders to incite and exploit an exaggerated fear of terrorism to do things that THEY wanted to do... things that were against OUR interests all along.

We only compound the mess by continuing to pander to fear. These "security measures" are a rain dance for the tourists. They are meaningless. The next attacker, if there is one, will take them into account and devise the attack to evade them, just as past attackers have done. There IS no absolute safety... Americans are sacrificing their dignity, privacy and liberty for nothing. The terrorists HAVE won.

Posted by: Iconoblaster | November 23, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The only terrorist in this whole saga is the US government, and its operatives and sycophants have pulled a master stroke on the nation to get people to believe it's men living in caves that are the threat. This is nothing more than a bald faced attack on what are left on our civil rights and liberties, which began well before 9/11 and has only accelerated since then, not only with these so-called false flag alerts but the fact that these criminals in charge have handed over our money to to the cabal of oligarchic robber barons while the rest of us sink into greater poverty. No money and the complete evisceration of our rights. Yes, the terrorists have won, for the moment. I just hope it's not too late for people to actually wake up and take this country back from the war criminals and oligarchs. If it is too late, then my only suggestion are two: Exile or mass revolution. Otherwise America is destined to become another "third-world" plantation cum full-scale police state.

Posted by: jsdoodlerex | November 23, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Tell the TSA what you think here:

Ahead of Holiday Travel: TSA wants comments on Travel Frisking
If you would like complain use this link...

If you would like to make a suggestion use this link...

TSA Statement from Administrator John S. Pistole

"We welcome feedback and comments on the screening procedures from the traveling public, and we will work to make them as minimally invasive as possible while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve. We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security. In all such security programs, especially those that are applied nation-wide, there is a continual process of refinement and adjustment to ensure that best practices are applied and that feedback and comment from the traveling public is taken into account. This has always been viewed as an evolving program that will be adapted as conditions warrant, and we greatly appreciate the cooperation and understanding of the American people.

We cannot forget that less than one year ago a suicide bomber with explosives in his underwear tried to bring down a plane over Detroit. The terrorists allegedly behind the thwarted cargo attempt last month are out there bragging about how they will strike again.

We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren't necessary but that just isn't the case."

Posted by: jgmann | November 23, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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