Julia Spitz: Terrorism, politics and barn doors
We need airtight air security.
We need loopholeless ethics rules for legislators.
What we don't need is to padlock the barn door long after the horse is gone and punish all the animals left inside.
Yet that's what we've got with "ethics reform" from Beacon Hill. And that's what we risk getting in from the underwear bomber's attempted attack aboard a Detroit-bound plane Christmas Day.
If thwarting terrorists was easy, the old chestnut asked at check-in -- "Did you pack this bag yourself?" -- would be enough to keep us safe.
Of course, the only people rattled by that question are the supremely honest among us who feel prompted to confess a spouse did, in fact, put a sweater and a pair of socks in the suitcase without our direct supervision.
Suicide bombers are a lot less likely to have trouble lying about who packed their bags, shoes or underwear. Which has left the rest of us sweating about the size of our toothpaste tube and trying to remember to wear slip-on shoes.
Random screening is frustrating, and sometimes seemingly ridiculous. Does the elderly woman in a wheelchair really need a pat-down? Haven't all who've been caught looked like terrorists?
The attack committed by an 88-year-old, grandfatherly white American at the Holocaust Museum in Washington this year offers some insight into why the seemingly ridiculous can be a very good idea.
Perhaps security guard Stephen Johns' murder could have been prevented if the museum had a watch list of known white supremacists. James von Brunn's anti-Semitic Web site proved he wasn't likely to visit the museum with good intentions.
It's hard to know exactly how well the terror watch lists work. Law enforcement officials rarely release details on crimes that didn't happen.
We only know the system didn't work this time since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to blow up the Detroit-bound plane, was reportedly on such a list. Add the fact his father contacted Nigerian and American authorities with concerns about his son's intentions, and there is no reason this man should have been on that flight.
Mistakes were made all along the way.
Perhaps the fact it was Christmas played a role. Staffing is scarce during the holidays. Sometimes those left are more likely to be charitable, in the spirit of the season.
There are lessons to be learned, just as post-9/11 airplane passengers learned to be more vigilant and more willing to take responsibility for the safety of their flight. In both this case, and that of shoe bomber Richard Reid, passengers subdued the would-be attackers.
In this case, lessons should include: If a parent tells authorities there might be a problem, authorities should take that information very, very seriously. If a person is on one country's watch list, all allies in the fight against terror should get that information and take it very, very seriously. If a person does something current policy says should raise red flags, such as pay for a $2,831 ticket in cash, again, it should trigger questions from law-enforcement authorities, not a green light to get on the flight.
What shouldn't come from this is checking all potential passengers' underwear.
Too often, we implement rules that would have worked if we could go back in time. Not what will prevent a deranged fanatic's next move.
We make sure that barn door is locked up tight. And punish those who have done nothing wrong.
That seems to be the logic used by our legislators in requiring conflict-of-interest training and testing for local municipal employees as the solution to Beacon Hill's ethics problems.
Has any community reported a rampant problem with lunch ladies accepting bribes to dole out extra chicken nuggets? Or could the problem be with lawmakers who steer state contracts to cronies and/or stuff cash into their bra?
The 25-question exam, to be given to folks such as school cafeteria workers, crossing guards and bus drivers, but not members of the state Legislature, is just a different way to ask, "Did you pack this bag yourself?"
Those the ethics reform should apply to would have no qualms about cheating on the test.
Beacon Hill's failure isn't life-threatening. It'll just cost local towns a good chunk of change -- an estimated $32,000 in Westborough -- and hours of lost productivity from workers whose ranks are already stretched thin by state cuts.
But if all we learn from the latest attempted terror attack is to get passengers to take off more clothes, the failure will cost far more than longer, more intrusive waits in line.
Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or email@example.com. Check metrowestdailynews.com for the Spitz Bits blog.