As you’ve no doubt heard, some fellow keen on moving up to the top spot on the president’s drone-strike authorization checklist advised the noble warriors to prove their righteous manliness with a mass attack at the Mall of America, among other places. Opinions on the threat’s credibility vary, but the head of Homeland Security said we should be “particularly careful.”
You assume that term was chosen for a reason. Not careful, but particularly careful. Perhaps there’s a sliding scale.
No threat: General carelessness.
Slight threat: Take care sporadically.
Elevated threat: Be careful, especially on the escalators.
Vague but credible threat: Be generally careful.
Credible specific threat: Be particularly careful.
Holy cow, something’s up: Be specifically careful as well as particularly careful.
Imminent, verified threat: Apply a microscopic level of care to every movement.
You may wonder what this means in real-world terms. Let’s say you’re going to the mall. Any mall. You see a guy with a scarf over his face and a black T-shirt that says ISIS on the back, dragging a cloth bag with a barrel sticking out of the top. The threat level, as far as you know, is “General whatever, you know,” so it’s not like you should be particularly careful. You can conclude that ISIS stands for Incredible Savings In Sears, and he’s helping with some promotion they have going.
Besides, isn’t the terrorist group called ISIL? Well, as the Cole Porter lyric had it, You say ISIS, I say ISIL, let’s chop the whole thing off.
But if the threat is “Be kinda aware of things,” you might report the fellow to mall security. When you leave the mall later you see a guy on a Segway tossing a lasso at the ISIS-shirt guy who’s running for the exits, and think hey, maybe I helped.
Particularly careful. It’s like that inane phrase by the side of the road on the way to the airport: If you see something, say something.
“OK, I saw a hawk! It was so cool. Swooped down and picked up a rabbit and, I mean, poor rabbit, but it was so graceful. Nature is awesome.”
That’s not what we mean, sir.
“Oh, like terrorism stuff? There was a guy who was sweaty and kept whispering into his phone and left a satchel by the ice cream place and it was, like, ticking, but I figured he was maybe a dude trying to get rid of a clock.”
It’s like the questions they used to ask at the airport: “Has anyone you don’t know given you an object and asked you to carry it on the plane?”
There are about 850 million air passengers a year, and that means the question was answered “no” 850 million times. The person who asks knows it’s nonsense. The person who says “Nope!” knows it’s nonsense. It’s like asking if you were in control of your bags all the time. Everyone says yes, even though the luggage was in the trunk when you drove to the terminal, and there could have been a secret midget terrorist in the trunk stuffing explosives into your hand cream, which would sweep right through security because it was under three ounces, and anything over three ounces is defused by the Ziploc plastic bag.
So how can we make the MOA safe, truly safe, particularly safe? Metal detectors, obviously. Explosive-sniffing corgis, which could run under the cars in the parking ramp. Give them little blue uniforms and everyone would think it was adorable.
We could remove our belts, because that puts everyone at ease. If ever I was on a plane that was hijacked, I’d think C’mon, this has to be a gag. We all took our belts off.
We could make all incoming shoppers put their stuff in plastic bins, so someone can look at the X-ray and say “Wow, that’s an amazing tangle of wires and solid objects you got there. Next.”
Or you could prevent these things if it is known far and wide that on any given day, there is a highly trained law enforcement officer with a weapon every 10 yards, posing as a shopper, and anyone who tries anything will find himself suddenly staring up at the ceiling, surprised that a suburban mom pulled a cannon out of a Gap bag and facilitated his desire to meet his maker.
The alternative is armed patrols, but they dampen the mood. Last time I was in the Amsterdam airport we passed some guys ’n’ gals in flak jackets carrying small bullet-dispensing devices, and while it was reassuring, it also wasn’t. It’s like the gas company showing up and asking if you had anywhere to stay in case the house next door blew up. Oh, no reason! Just asking.
The airport loudspeaker kept playing a call for two gentlemen who had purchased tickets and checked bags, but not boarded a plane. This was suspicious, to say the least. They were requested to come to the gate, because otherwise the airline would Offlo Jabagaj.
They meant “offload your baggage,” but the accent made it sound like Offlo Jabagaj. After a while I imagined a burly, scowling man with an impressive mustache: Mr. Jabagaj, first name Offlo. He would give you some hard words in a detention room for causing trouble. He didn’t exist, but after hearing the message six times I was afraid of him. He seemed the sort of chap who took security seriously. Particularly seriously.
We hope Offlo’s brother’s works at the mall.