November 8, 2010

"Two . . . one . . . takeoff. The F-16 fighter jet piloted by Lt. Col. Kevin Kelly of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing — with me aboard — accelerates vertically, 12,000 feet in 10 seconds. Col. Kelly demonstrates a number of combat maneuvers that are part of the “Jersey Devils’” mission role." (Excerpt from 2009 “Friendly Fire” article).

Included in that mission is protecting the airspace of the United States eastern seaboard from all threats.

The 177th were first on the scene over New York on 9/11, so it’s not a stretch to think that they were somehow involved in protecting our national interests last week when a number of inbound cargo and passenger aircraft, thought to be carrying terrorists’ explosives, were forced to the ground.

While America is protected by units like the 177th, it’s incomprehensible that some leaders view using them as our primary strategy to combat terrorism. In fact, they are the last line of defense when all else fails, a situation all too common.

Instead of taking the fight to the enemy, we have a policy based on two losing tenets: reaction and reliance on Lady Luck. Since reacting to the enemy means we’re always a step behind, and luck inevitably runs out, it’s time we stop bowing to the altar of political correctness and get serious — especially since another attack could drive the economy into a depression.

Here are four steps to bolster our security:

1) Profile. How is it possible that we profile packages but not people? That absurdity is blatantly obvious to all except those making policy. And profiling works — just ask the Israelis, who have had only one hijacking on El Al. The critical difference? They don’t care if someone feels “offended” when they are singled out for additional screening.

Flying is a privilege, not a right. If one feels slighted, fine. Take the bus to Europe. But to show a “compassionate” side, we could offer a $10 gift card, good in any American airport, to anyone actively profiled. Such a move would go a long way towards mitigating any hurt feelings while still accomplishing our security goals, and easily afforded by a 10-cent surcharge on airline tickets.

2) Profile the right people. This means not harassing 80-year-old grandmothers from Missouri, but taking a closer look at those fitting certain age, gender, ethnicity, and country of origin/passage characteristics. All the hijackers from 9/11 were males of roughly the same age, and all of Middle Eastern origin. Seems like a good place to start.

But to be proactive, we should focus on al-Qaida’s next generation of bombers: women and children. When no one is off the table, and interrogations are performed at any point, we will make huge gains.

3) Discard irrelevant security measures. Dollar for dollar, shoe-bomber Richard Reid did more damage to us than the 9/11 attacks. When that bumbling bomber bent over to light his shoe, he cost us billions in useless regulations and lost productivity — even though we can bring lighters, matches, and even lighter fluid onto a plane. And in most of Europe, shoes aren’t screened.

One hopes this isn’t merely a grandstand play. Remember the millions of lighters confiscated? After all that, the policy was discarded, with the then-head of the TSA saying, "Taking lighters away is security theater."

Which brings us back to profiling. If we inspected the shoes of just those fitting a high-risk profile (and occasionally at random), we would be in a far better position to catch terrorists. And the tedious monotony would be alleviated from security screeners, ensuring their sharpness.

4) Require DHS personnel to perform screening of passengers and cargo on direct flights to the U.S. Not at all airports, but those in nations posing the greatest threat. And if a country doesn’t approve, it’s simple: they don’t fly here.

Think back to the Times Square bomber. Despite being on the No-Fly List, and buying a one-way ticket to the Middle East in cash, he actually boarded a plane at JFK airport. How? Emirates Airlines hadn’t consulted the updated No-Fly List against its passenger manifests. How we don’t have real-time access to every airline’s passenger records is unfathomable. Remember, flying is a privilege, so privacy concerns shouldn’t apply.

This isn’t a panacea, of course, but it is a huge step in taking away our enemies’ safe havens and keeping them off-kilter, which is the best way to thwart an attack.

There is no such thing as “guaranteed security,” as we live in a high-risk world. But one thing is certain: if we continue burying our head in the sand by failing to implement a comprehensive security plan — one with no regard to political correctness — we will have no one but ourselves to blame when the next big one hits.

And by then, it will be way too late.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.