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GRAND GUIGNOL, SECURITY DIVISION
By Joe Brancatelli
January 7, 2010 -- We're among friends, so it's okay to admit it: You haven't really paid that much attention to the security claptrap since Christmas Day.
You heard some loon with explosives in his underwear set his privates on fire on a flight from Amsterdam and you realized it was going to be Grand Guignol all the way. And so it has been.
I haven't talked to the TV and movie producers among the JoeSentMe membership, but I think they'd all tell you the same thing if you presented the last two weeks to one of them as a screenplay. I don't think a book publisher in the nation would accept a novel with this much lunacy in it, either.
But here we are. "Great Balls of Fire," as the inimitable (if execrable) New York Post offered in a Page One headline. And it gets weirder. To wit:
THE DOTS THEY COULDN'T CONNECT
In case you missed it, the Underwear Bomber was traveling on a one-way ticket. He paid for it in cash. He had no luggage. And he was flying from Nigeria to Detroit on Christmas Eve without a coat. You'd have thought any one of those dots would have at least gotten him the dreaded SSSS sign on his boarding pass.
LET'S TALK WHEN HE GETS HERE
It turns out someone, somewhere, actually connected at least some of those dots. Law enforcement officials tell the Los Angeles Times that that Customs and Immigrations agents were preparing to meet Northwest Flight 253 when it arrived in Detroit and question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
A MOMENT OF GENUINE COMEDY
On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has been having a field day with the incident and the intelligence foul-ups that surrounded it. His best line: "So even if the bomb works, there's going to be 72 very disappointed virgins" waiting for Abdulmutallab in heaven.
WE KNEW SNOW GLOBES WERE DANGEROUS, BUT…
About 24 hours after Newark Airport was cleared by a security breach on late Sunday (January 3) and early Monday (January 4), Meadows Field in Bakersfield, California, was shut down. The problem? Bottles of a "suspicious" liquid in the luggage of a 31-year-old gardener tested positive for explosives. After further tests, the liquid turned out to be honey.
HEY, IT'S JERSEY…
The hours-long shutdown of Newark's Terminal C was a comedy of errors. Well, a comedy if you weren't stuck in it. Among the errors: The security cameras owned by the airport but used by the Transportation Security Administration weren't working. The incident wouldn't have been captured except for back-up cameras maintained by Continental Airlines, the carrier that operates a hub at Terminal C. What did the video show? The perpetrator who entered a sterile area did it to sneak one last goodbye kiss from a woman passenger. He walked right past a security desk that was supposed to be manned by a TSA official. The TSA agent had left his post to make a telephone call.
CAN WE TALK?
You may have heard that Joan Rivers was denied boarding for a flight from Costa Rica last weekend. She claimed she was stranded at the airport without money or even an ATM card. She also claimed the reason she was denied boarding was because her passport said "Joan Rosenberg AKA Joan Rivers." Uh, apparently not. As she later admitted on Larry King Live, she was carrying a boarding pass with the name Joseph Rosenberg on it. In other words, at least in this one instance, the system did work. You can see the Rivers interview with King here. The payoff comes around the 2:20 mark.
While all this craziness was going on, security officials in Slovakia decided to test the efficacy of the country's checked-baggage screening systems. It slipped real bomb components into the checked bags of nine passengers. They didn't tell the passengers, you understand. Slovakian airport security did catch eight of the bags, but one unwitting passenger made it all the way to Dublin. Slovakian authorities sheepishly alerted Irish police to the contraband, about 90 grams of RDX plastic explosive. But the Slovakians never explicitly said the passenger, a 49-year-old electrician, was unaware of his bag's content. Irish police raided his residence on Monday. Slovakian officials then criticized the actions of Irish police. "For an incomprehensible reason, they took the person into custody and undertook further security measures."
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.