Guest Opinion

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Fly naked

During a layover in Atlanta recently, I let my mind wander as I

watched people come and go. Having been randomly selected for a detailed screening at the gate at my prior stop, airport security was fresh in my mind. From where I sat, I could see behind the partition they were using to create the impromptu screening area at gate D32.

I watched people empty their pockets and take off their shoes. Arms outstretched like the airplanes behind them, they patiently allowed the screener to wave the magic, beeping wand around them. BEEP,

wristwatch, OK. BEEP, belt buckle, OK. BEEP, steel plate in head, OK. Keys, cell phones, and handheld computers sat unexamined in a plastic bowl.

My mind wandered toward the many ways someone could comfortably circumvent the current screening procedures. One lady was wearing

shoes with soles so thick that, were they made of explosives,

several airplanes could be brought down. The screener made her take them off and then peered into them looking, I suppose, for dangerously sharp toenail clippings.

Travelers may not carry on nail clippers, pocket knives, knitting needles, or anything else slightly sharp. Keys, however, are OK.

How hard, I thought, would it be to make a very sharp thing look like a key? What about a very sharp credit card? If one carried on a kite kit, could he not threaten to put out someone's eye with the sticks?

The man next to me was

carrying on one of those wheeled garment bags that looked like it could hold a week's worth of clothes. What manner of subtly disguised

mischief might he have in there? By the time my flight was ready to board, any sense of security that had been

created by the X-ray machine and magic wand had evaporated. I walked down the aisle of the plane looking nervously at purses, diaper bags, computer cases, garment bags and other potential sources of terror.

The fatal flaw of airport screening is the presumption that terrorists will be deterred by the thought that they might be randomly selected. My observations convinced me that they need not have that fear. They only need to be slightly more clever than the man or woman with the wand. The screener is working for a little more than minimum wage. The terrorist is working for eternal glory. Which one do you think is more motivated?

It seems to me that there are only two rational solutions. We either go back to the old screening process, which was good enough to deter hijackers for many years (I mean all the way back to when there was

a real chance that there was an armed sky marshal on board any given flight), or we have to be absolutely sure that nobody is able to board an airplane and take it over. Since politicians never, ever go backward, we are left with the second option.

There is a way to be perfectly safe from airborne terrorists: fly

naked. Under my plan, travelers would go to a small cubicle next to the gate and put all of their belongings, including every stitch of clothing, into a bin. They would then board the plane along with all of the other naked passengers. Their belongings, along with their luggage, would be towed behind the plane in a glider. That way, if someone hid a bomb in their bag, they would

only be blowing up other people's bags.

When I first developed this plan, I thought it would be OK for the flight attendants to keep their clothes. After all, it is possible to avoid looking at other passengers but you must pay close attention to him or her who controls the peanuts. After thinking about it for a

while, though, it became obvious that the risk of someone holding the attendant hostage with her own lapel pin was too great. They, too,

must wear nothing. There are also too many potential weapons associated with in-flight food and beverage service. All of those plastic utensils are just waiting for someone to pounce upon them and wield them against a hapless passenger.

First-class seats might need to be reupholstered in fabric rather

than leather. Sweaty, naked people, even of the first class variety, and leather do not mix. Pilots, since they remain behind locked doors now, would be allowed to wear clothes unless they wanted to go naked

in order to show solidarity.

There you have it: a terrorist-proof plan for airline security. I

promise not to rest on my laurels. Next, I will turn my attention to protecting us from terrorist attacks at shopping malls. If we all shop naked...

Willard Samuel is an adjunct scholar at Frontiers of Freedom, a non-profit constitutional rights group.