A Look Back at Top Events of March
As the month comes to a close, let’s look at some events so bizarre that you just couldn’t script them:
» World Trade Center Security Breach Number Two: Freindly Fire’s last column detailed how a 16-year old thrill seeker bypassed security at the new World Trade Center, roaming the building for hours. Turns out that infiltration wasn’t even the first breach of the Freedom Tower. Six months ago, a group of parachutists did the same thing before jumping from the top. In both cases, the trespassers had unfettered access to what was supposed to be, for obvious reasons, one of the nation’s most secure structures.
But here’s the best part. Despite all the reports this week highlighting the inexcusable security lapses, yet another guard was caught sleeping on the job. Even more bizarre, he was the only guard at the ground floor security desk, yet he "could barely see half the lobby" (his own words) because he is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other. And to top it off, ABC News reported that he was named Security Officer Of The Year.
So that we don’t have to revisit this, is there anyone out there who hasn’t sneaked into the Freedom Tower?
» TSA "Theatre" Now Playing — again: The Transportation Security Administration just released a report recommending that armed police be present at security checkpoints and ticket counters, as well as in places where many people gather. Gee, that narrows it down. Well, except for anyone watching a 76ers game.
They’re good ideas. But it begs the question: Why aren’t police there now? That’s easy. Because we A) much prefer window dressings to real solutions, B) have extremely short memories, C) don’t want to "offend" anyone by instituting policies that would actually make flying safer, and D) lack even basic common sense.
The debate, like always, will revolve around either irrelevant issues or no-brainer solutions that could be implemented in five minutes, yet the government still refuses to do its job of actually protecting us. Consider:
1) A frequent traveler with no criminal record can be granted TSA PreCheck status, a screening initiative that supposedly enhances aviation security and expedites the process. There’s another, much more apt label: American stupidity.
Once enrolled, you breeze through your own airport security line while enjoying benefits of not removing shoes, belts or jackets. And neither laptops nor clear bags holding liquids are required to be removed from carry-ons.
Which means one of two things. Either A) the show-us-your-shoes/belts/laptops mandate for all other security lines is completely bogus, since TSA machines are capable of scanning those items whether or not they are removed, or, B) more likely and much more terrifying, the TSA is admitting it isn’t screening PreCheck travelers with the scrutiny employed on everyone else. There is no third option.
Are they serious? Do they not think a terrorist, especially a homegrown one, isn’t smart enough to game the system? Keep a clean record, become a member of TSA PreCheck, and then — showtime. Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh is a prime example: U.S. citizen, Bronze medal winner, Gulf War veteran — yet still a murderous terrorist. Time to end all special privileges for flyers. If they don’t like it — take the bus to Europe.
2) A passenger flying on America’s biggest airline recently went through security (TSA PreCheck, of course), and, upon arriving at his gate, was informed that his meeting had been canceled in his destination city. Informing airline personnel that he had canceled his flight, he asked where he could retrieve his checked bags. Their response? They don’t take bags off domestic flights.
Isn’t that a big no-no? Most terrorists aren’t suicidal, preferring to watch their target explode while sipping a latte instead of going down with the ship — or plane. Since a passenger checking in but not flying is rare, it should be standard procedure to get his bags off the plane ASAP. No exceptions. Yet complacency still rules the day at our airports.
» Boston bomber should never have bombed: Once again, a simple lack of common sense came back to haunt us. A report being released by the House Homeland Security Committee documents the missed opportunities to detain Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev before he acted.
Russian intelligence, starting in March 2011 (more than two years prior to the bombing), warned both the FBI and CIA that Tsarnaev had ties to violent Muslim militants. The CIA in turn notified the National Counterterrorism Center, Homeland Security, and the State Department. Yet Tsarnaev passed right through our grasp at JFK Airport twice — first flying to Russia, and then returning six months later after his terrorist training.
The reason for this foul-up? His name was spelled "Tsarnayev," with an extra "y," in a database. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.
Google any subject and the computer knows what you are trying to find, even if you are misspelling the word or phrase. Yet the most powerful, and certainly the most important, computers in our government can’t figure out whom we are attempting to access in a database, or at least bring up a list of people with similar names?
The president just stated his fear of a nuclear bomb exploding in New York. Based on the above, he, and we, should be afraid. Very afraid.
» Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s unpopularity goes global: It’s bad enough Corbett’s popularity is in the toilet at home, but he just suffered a blow of global proportions, this time courtesy of Pope Francis. Corbett’s much-ballyhooed trip to Rome — together with Archbishop Chaput and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter — had made big headlines, since the purpose was to convince the pontiff to attend World Conference on Families in Philadelphia next year. All that was needed was the guv to work his oratory magic and seal the deal during a private audience with the Holy Father in his papal apartment.
One small problem: The pope changed the plans, opting instead to meet Corbett and the Pennsylvania delegation in public after his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square instead. All involved insist it was not a snub, merely a change of schedule.
While atoning for his sins might’ve actually done the governor some good, why the last-minute change of plans?
Did the world’s most popular man simply not want to break bread with America’s least popular governor? Or did the pope become wise to Corbett’s Jerry Sandusky Sins — an issue that hits close to home for the church?
Whatever the reason, Corbett’s response that "with the church, you never know what’s going to happen" probably didn’t endear him to the pontiff. Given the pope’s change of plans, Corbett is now the Rodney Dangerfield of politics — he truly gets "no respect."
With all these sins of commission and omission, maybe we should call the pope and beg for absolution to get America back on track.
Since Tom Corbett will soon have a lot of time on his hands, maybe we could ask him to ring Pope Francis for us. On second thought, maybe not.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column