Streetwise Professor

December 27, 2009

How the System Really Works

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 4:44 pm

Our nation’s ass-clown Secretary of Homeland Security assures us that the fact that NWA flight 253 DIDN’T go down in flames proves “the system works.”

Let’s see, an individual with more red flags than a May Day parade gets a multiple entry visa to the US even though: (a) he’s on a terrorist watch list, (b) has been denied a visa to the UK where he studied for several years, and (c) his own old man has told the US ambassador to Nigeria that the guy is an extremist.  He makes it through security in two airports with high explosive crammed around his package.  He gets approval to board a flight to the US after the government reviewed the passenger manifest.

If that’s the system working, God help us when it doesn’t.  Just like with Robert Richard Reid (h/t KMcC), the only thing standing between in air immolation of hundreds was the abject incompetence of the would be bomber.

Relying on the stupidity of one’s enemies is not a system.

You want to know how the system works?  I’ll tell you how the system works.

In June, on a family trip to Italy, Mrs. SWP really got to like fresh Italian tomatoes, and got the idea to bring home some seeds to grow in her garden.  I wondered whether it was OK to bring in seeds, so I checked on the Customs Department website, which said that seeds were on the “General List of Approved Products.”  Thinking it was OK, we bought a couple of packages.  We were good boys and girls, and declared them on our Customs form.  We were pulled aside when we went through Customs, and were told that no seeds were not allowed. l mentioned the web page, but to no avail.

But because we’d declared something, the Customs people went through all our baggage.  On the plane, we’d been given a snack, including a ham sandwich sealed in a plastic wrapper.  I wasn’t hungry, so I had put it in one of the carry-ons.

Big mistake.  A Customs agent said I was trying to bring meat into the country against the law.  I was nonplussed, as the damn thing had been given to me on the plane, and there had been no mention that was verboten.  But the agent relented, saying that since we’d been honest about declaring the seeds, she’d let me slide this time and not have to pay a $250 fine.  How big of her.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  Each of the three times I have come back into the country since, I’ve had the Immigration agent draw a big black mark on my Customs form.  When I get to Customs, they pull me aside and go through my stuff.  The first time this happened, I quite politely asked two different agents what was going on, and received abuse–yes, smart-assed abuse–in return.

So that’s how the “system works.”  American citizens who accidentally bring a ham sandwich off an airliner have a harder time getting into the country than does a foreigner with known terrorist connections and  Pentaerythritol tetranitrate jammed up against his junk.

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  1. (Richard Reid, not Robert. Feel free to delete this message)

    Comment by KMcC — December 27, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  2. Thanks. Speed kills again.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 27, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  3. Its all security theatre. real security will come from intelligence – like keeping an eye on people like this.

    I am not sure that relying on the incompetence of would bombers will fail. There have been several attempts to carry out bombings in the UK that have failed because the bombers are just ordinarily incompetent (fuses did not work), or unbelievably stupid (thinking that they could cause a significant explosion by setting fire to a vehicle containing gas cylinders, or, allegedly, that they could successfully synthesis explosives standing the the plane toilet)

    Comment by Graeme — December 28, 2009 @ 6:16 am

  4. Thanks for this post Professor. I have experienced this countless times. Once for being a little late for a flight in Florida, I was asked all sorts of questions about my personal life. The couple of women shut up their mouths when I mentioned breach of protocol and asked to meet their supervisor.

    The truth is most of these Federal employees are spoilt to death because there is no one to fire them. They raise and lower the threat levels randomly to justify their existence. We have not faced an incident after 9/11 simply because Afghanistan was the only total lawless country and every other nation’s leaders know that they would be taken out in a week if they did anything stupid.

    Comment by Surya — December 28, 2009 @ 10:43 am

  5. “Ass-clown Secretary of Homeland Security”


    Comment by Charles — December 28, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  6. I would also add – “Ass-clown Dept of Homeland Security”

    How many times have I told myself this very thing!

    Comment by Surya — December 28, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  7. You really are underestimating the awesome ingenuity of our government. Since this guy apparently tried this attack during the last part of the flight, there are now a whole host of new restrictions on activity during the last hour of flight (nothing in your lap, no getting up from your seat, etc., see

    What would have happened if this attack was in the 5th hour of 9 hour flight? Imagine all the goverment hours spent deciding whether they place the restrictions on the 5th hour from takeoff, the 4th hour prior to landing, or the hour beginning closest to 5/9ths of the way through the flight? Sounds like a jobs program to me.

    Comment by Greg — December 28, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  8. Yes, but I bet even an ‘ass clown’ would probably get the name of the shoe bomber right.

    –Robert Reid (not a relative of the one in question)

    Comment by Robert Reid — December 28, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  9. Googling yourself again, Robert?

    Lives don’t depend on whether I get the Shoebomber’s name right. Lives do depend on whether we have an ass clown as SHS.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 28, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  10. Greg–

    Beat me to it. A one hour in the seat restriction might make sense–on a 55 minute flight.

    I mean, if you tried to be absurd, you couldn’t come up with this.

    I hereby apologize to all ass clowns for insulting them so deeply by comparing them to our distinguished SHS and her ingenious minions.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 28, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

  11. I don’t see why taxpayers should have to subsidize airport security at all.

    I would privatize this function, making it more effective, and let airports themselves arrive at a free market solution towards balancing costs and hassle against the (very small, statistically speaking) threat of a terrorist attack.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 29, 2009 @ 3:38 am

  12. 1) The expectation of certain event’s likelihood being small doesn’t imply that the loss given that event would also be small;
    2) Why would the private sector want to undertake such function? What kind of returns would such venture promise?
    3) Which private entity has so far expressed interest in owning such operation?

    In fact, about three years ago, a private company attempted to provide security gate clearance operations ( I, for one, enthusiastically purchased one-year membership. The next year, when they increased the membership fees, I presumed being forced to, I cancelled my membership. I presume, my cancelation was reflective of the general sentiment. Currently, that company is out of business.

    Comment by MJ — January 2, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  13. Just came back from London, and after going through security and customs, I was manhandled at the gate by British storm troopers. Clearly An american in his mid-20’s is a great terrorist threat. By all means, go through my bag, open the candies I got for my little sister, go through the pockets of my dirty levis (jokes on them, they went through the ‘dirty clothes’ bag), but all the same. This isn’t political correctness, 2 years ago I requested my TSA file with an FOIA filing, after months of back and forth I got it, and it’s frightening. It had the credit car numbers and IP address of plane tickets my dad bought me for a flight to spain when I was 12. They have all this information on me, and they can’t stop the ‘junkbomber’? love it

    Comment by Jack — January 4, 2010 @ 11:03 am

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