EDITORIALS

How much security do traveling Americans need?

Posted July 18, 2011, at 6:30 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 03, 2011, at 9:34 a.m.

It’s summer, the peak of the travel year. Americans are boarding planes (and trains and automobiles), bound for vacations in the U.S. and abroad. The now-familiar airport routine is rarely questioned: put your keys, phone, watch and belt in the plastic bucket, slip off your shoes and, in some places, be prepared for a pat down.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that launched this new era of travel security, the question of how much security is enough is worth discussing. Join us here at The Maine Debate on Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to noon (and beyond) to explore where the line between safety and overly restrictive lockdown should be drawn.

On one side, the argument can be made that the U.S. was woefully naive about the threats that it faced and our transportation security measures lagged far behind what was required. Israel, for example, long used to terrorist threats, has developed a sophisticated response and residents are willing to pay for those measures. So have many European nations.

So perhaps the inconvenience travelers now endure is a small price to pay for safety.

But there is another view.

Some assert that the transportation security measures we have implemented — removing shoes, limiting liquids in carry-on luggage, pat-downs — are more token concessions to safety than effective deterrents. More effort in developing no-fly lists might be more effective. Many object to the loss of privacy and infringement on civil liberties that come with current procedures.

And then there is the cost.

The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Safety Administration, two huge government bureaucracies, were created in response to the 9/11 attacks. While the attacks highlighted some serious flaws in the nation’s security network and the lack of coordination among agencies dealing with foreign intelligence and visiting foreigners, some assert that the U.S. has overreacted to a one-time event.

In planning foreign policy, former Vice President Dick Cheney advocated for what came to be called the 1 percent doctrine. It called for foreign policy and national security leaders to prepare for the 1 percent probability that, for example, a group of rogue Pakistani military leaders would get a nuclear weapon into the hands of al-Qaida.

Should our transportation security measures be geared toward a similar 1 percent probability? Should security officers continue to implement technologies and methods that stay one step ahead of would-be suicide terrorists? Or is it enough to ensure that obvious weapons and explosive devices be kept off airplanes?

The larger question, which will be discussed more widely when the Sept. 11, 2001 anniversary in nearer, is what threats face the U.S. from al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorist groups?

Join us for The Maine Debate.

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