Wednesday, December 15, 2010

If You See Something, Say Something

“If you see something, say something," our national security officials are fond of telling us. Indeed, the idea that ordinary citizens should be vigilant in spotting suspicious behavior was broadly encouraged long before this handy slogan was popularized. In the days after 9/11, as the anthrax scare ramped up, President George W. Bush was pressed by reporters as to just what sort of things folks should be looking for. The exhausted commander in chief replied, in a wordier iteration of the current motto, "If you find a person that you've never seen before getting in a crop duster that doesn't belong to you – report it.”

To be sure, civilians have been an important line of defense in the War on Terror since the brave passengers of Flight 93 took control of their aircraft, up through the citizen-led thwartings of attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid and would-be underwear-exploder Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. With these examples in mind, we can agree that any villain attempting to blow up a plane or train or shopping mall using identifiable methods will come in for an intergalactic beat-down from all decent persons within reach.

But what if the danger you see is something different and coming from an unexpected source? More pointedly, what if the threat you spot originates from the government itself? What to say then, and to whom do you say it?

One disgraceful example continues to stand out. To wit, there is no more egregious and obscene internal threat to our way of life than the TSA’s continued sexual violation of American travelers, in the form of full-body, naked scanners and invasive hand searches at the nation’s airports. Ostensibly in the name of stopping terrorism, our government is stripping us bare.

In response to mounting citizen protest, we hear, “Flying is a privilege, not a right.” What catchy nonsense. The government is not in place to dispense privileges, nor does it give us our rights. Moreover, on a practical level, the very idea that citizens of such a vast and various country as ours, who need to travel for work, family, and myriad other reasons, should simply stop flying because of repulsive rules established by government officials is bollocks on stilts.

But let’s revisit that concept of rights. The US Constitution was written by Americans, for Americans. The same is true of its first ten Amendments, which we call the Bill of Rights. Of particular relevance is the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from "unreasonable searches."

One wearies of those who insist we cannot understand the Constitution’s plain meaning without comprehension of case law, precedent, and a Yale-educated interlocutor to walk us through the document’s “living” nature. As we peruse the brilliant yet simple words of James Madison, they ask, “Who’re you gonna believe – a bunch of lawyers or your lying eyes?”

Simply put, if taking naked pictures of innocent travelers isn’t "unreasonable search," I should like to know what bloody well is.

And so we find ourselves at loggerheads with our own government, personified by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Chief John Pistole. As these two insist on expanding this odious regime, one wonders if they have considered how it will end. Two possible scenarios come to mind:

In the first, Americans become inured to these searches, accepting personal violations as the price of peace. I picture Pistole and his staff, huddled in his secure, undisclosed office, sipping Champ-Ale and congratulating themselves on weathering a media storm, coming through it to find a docile populace, arms raised in surrender, naked in the scanning gaze of government.

In the second, the scanners go away. Decades from now, we see them and their images flash by in retrospectives of “the year that was,” a quick reminder of a time we allowed our leaders to go too far.

I believe and hope the latter scenario will prevail.

Again – “If you see something, say something.” I see something, alright. I see a government that sees too much. I see federal officials contravening the supreme law of this land and robbing citizens of their dignity. I see you, Secretary Napolitano and Mr. Pistole, and I'm saying something. I say it to those whose consent your government requires – the American people. I say do not let this stand, and don’t become used to this.

I have written a great deal about these searches because I truly believe we are at a turning point for America. I’ve stated that a nation that will not tell airport apparatchiks to keep their claws out of their crotch cannot vanquish al-Qaeda. But it’s more than that.

It is anathema to a free country that a leering government officer can point to your wife or daughter and force her to hold still for a naked photo. Yes, we have to defeat Islamist terrorists who wish to destroy us, but we will have nothing left to defend if we surrender our liberty.

Stay outraged, America, and stay free.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.