Healthy paranoia or police state?

This article is circulating around the message boards and mailing lists today.

Here’s a more detailed report:

—–

January 6, 2004 04:19 PM EST

HEBRON, Ky. – A woman was taken off a Paris-to-Cincinnati flight just before
it left France on Tuesday because of suspicious wires poking out of her
leather motorcycle jacket. Security officials later determined she was not a
threat.

It turned out that the jacket was designed to heat up like an electric
blanket to keep the wearer warm, officials said.

However, as a precaution, Delta Flight 43 was kept a half-mile away from the
terminal at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport after it
landed. U.S. officials said they planned to re-screen passengers and
baggage.

The nation is under orange alert, the second-highest of five color-coded
terrorism threat levels. The government has started photographing and
fingerprinting foreigners arriving at U.S. airports, and some international
flights have been canceled or delayed because of terrorism fears.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Jenifer Marty said the
plane would be kept away from the terminal.

The plane landed at a cargo area where Air Force One lands when President
Bush visits. Police cars and Delta passenger buses were gathered at the
site, which is surrounded by a 10-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire.

A Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
passenger was taken off the plane before it left France because of concerns
about the wires. Police bomb disposal experts were called in to check the
woman’s jacket, said French police officials speaking on customary condition
of anonymity.

It later was learned the wires were part of her leather motorcycle jacket,
officials said.

The Boeing 767-300 is a regularly scheduled flight from Charles de Gaulle
airport outside Paris.

—–

I’m torn about this one. On one hand, I’m a motorcyclist, and I’m pretty damn familiar with heated clothes and what they look like. It seems ridiculous to me for someone not to understand what the gear was for. It’s not like she had bare wires sticking out; it’d be like having a walkman headset plug dangling from a pocket.

On the other hand, most of the population doesn’t ride, and we’re being trained to be so damn suspicious of one another. If someone — especially someone on an airplane — does something we don’t understand, or wears something we don’t recognize, it must be dangerous. Subversive. A threat. We’re at security level orange, remember; we can’t be too careful.

OK, so I’m being a bit facetious there. Honestly, I can see why they’d want to inspect the jacket, but I think they took it too far. Confiscate the clothes and return them to her later; OK. But to quarantine the aircraft and seriously inconvenience everyone involved seems a bit excessive.

I wonder if I’d feel the same empathy if it’d been gear for a hobby I don’t participate in. Had I been a non-riding passenger sitting across the aisle from her, would I have feared for my life? Would I feel threatened by wires sticking out of clothes? It’s hard to tell. I’d like to think not, that I’d have more common sense and more faith in my fellow man. But I don’t know. I hope we return to a sense of normalcy soon. I don’t like being told by my government to fear and distrust.

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