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April 12, 2007

Creating a Market for Security


by Paul Craig Roberts

The War on Terror is a marketing campaign for security industries and terrorism experts. The latter are pulling in the consulting fees, and the former are rapidly inventing new products that enable "our" government to watch our every move and to know our location at every moment.

Although it should be working on its corporate ethics, BAE Systems is working on an "Onboard Threat Detection System." The system consists of tiny cameras and microphones implanted in airline seats. The Onboard Threat Detection System records every facial expression and every whisper of every passenger, allowing watchful eyes and ears to detect terrorists before they can strike. BAE says its system is so sophisticated that it can differentiate between nervous flyers and real terrorists.

Think about this for a moment. Aside from the Big Brother aspect, the Onboard Threat Detection System is either redundant or the security authorities have no confidence in the expensive and intrusive airport security through which passengers are herded.

We have reached the point where we can no longer fly with more than three ounces of lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorants, because the government pretends that we might concoct a bomb out of the ingredients. Three ounces of shampoo is safe, but three and one-half ounces blows the airliner to smithereens.

We must shed coats, shoes, and belts to pass through airport security. We are wanded and patted down. Luggage is x-rayed and searched. IDs and boarding passes are endlessly checked as we proceed from check-in to gate. And we still need an Onboard Threat Detection System to monitor our expressions and words.

Other firms are developing chip implants that identify a person to scanning machines and allow our movements to be monitored by GPS systems. Still others are developing ID cards that have retina scans and our DNA. No doubt we will be required to have both.

All of this is to protect us from terrorists.

No thought is given to whether the intrusion from the protection is a greater threat than possible terrorist acts by foreigners protesting American hegemony over their own lives. If American hegemony has this big a price, I can do without it.

Some of us remember when it was possible to read a book in an airport while waiting on a flight. Today it can't be done without ear plugs. TVs blaring the latest propaganda compete with incessant repetitive terrorist warnings interrupted by announcements of flight cancellations and gate changes. The cacophony of sound is maddening. If only we could go back to the days of crying babies and screaming children.

Once a terrorist warning is produced, it lives forever. Every US airport endlessly plays the same ancient warning from decades ago instructing passengers to carefully watch their luggage and not to accept items from other people to carry aboard flights. This warning dates from pre-security days when the explosion of an airliner in flight was blamed on a passenger accepting a parcel from a stranger to carry to a person waiting at the flight's destination. Allegedly, the parcel was a bomb.

To hear this warning today thirty or forty times after passing through security makes a person wonder about the efficiency of airport security. Were all those warrantless searches pointless?

The greatest problem confronted by marketers of anti-terrorist products is the shortage of terrorist attacks. The only terrorist events Americans have experienced are the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As for 9/11, we still don't have a good explanation of how so much security failed in one morning.

To prime the market for anti-terrorism products, the Bush administration used 9/11 to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. The Bush administration has been attempting to occupy both countries for several years at a cost to taxpayers estimated at one trillion dollars.

The main result of the military action has been to stir up resentment among Muslims in the hopes that the resentment will find expression in terrorist acts in the US. We have been made less safe in order that entrepreneurs can make big bucks protecting us with new security products. It would have been much better just to give the trillion dollars to the security firms and not invaded the two countries.

Keep that in mind when you are being monitored in your airliner seat and are blinking too much because you still wear the old hard contact lenses or are suffering from allergies. Excessive blinking is a telltale sign of stress and means that the blinker is about to commit a terrorist act. When you are arrested don't bother arguing with the foolproof Onboard Threat Detection System. Just be thankful that your senators and representative received enough campaign donations from security firms to be concerned with your security.


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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