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New US security measures – a Muslim ban by a thousand cuts?

March 21, 2017

I really wonder whether in some US government departments there is an inability to distinguish between intelligence and intelligence. By which I mean the difference between received intelligence and innate intelligence, between paranoia and common sense, or between emotion and logic.

The Transportation Safety Agency’s ban on airline passengers carrying any electronic device bigger than a mobile phone in cabin baggage on certain flights into the United States is a case in point.

The ban applies to airlines flying non-stop into the US from ten airports in the Middle East. But not to US airlines. The focus appears to be on the security procedures of the airports concerned, and by implication, the trustworthiness of ground staff and airline employees.

Understandable, given the explosion over Sinai two years ago that brought down a Russian airliner flying from Cairo, about which I commented at the time. But I’m not sure the airport authorities in Dubai, Qatar and some of the airports affected will take kindly to their security procedures being compared with those in Cairo.

So by the new rules, an American Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi to New York is OK, because it’s American. But an Etihad flight is not. Not so logical when you consider – as the journalist Yaroslav Trofimov pointed out on Twitter this morning – that flights from Istanbul and Dubai are not OK, but those from Dakar and Caracas are.

Also not so logical when you imagine that a terrorist intent on blowing up a plane with some fiendish and as yet unidentified method will be motivated to find a route that takes them on to an American flight. Presumably they would be undeterred by the prospect of being offered one of AA’s awful pizzas at the end of the journey, on the basis that the flight wouldn’t make it that far.

You could understand the TSA’s thinking (or that of the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the White House or whoever else is behind the decision) reckoning that a rush of people suddenly changing their flights to US airlines would raise a useful red flag for extra special screening. But that “intelligence” would only have a limited shelf life.

The bureaucrats or their political masters have surely taken into account that no flag carrier of a Middle East country to the best of my knowledge has ever been targeted by a terrorist intent on attacking America or American citizens, with the exception of El Al, which flies out of Israel. Tel Aviv, apparently, is not on the list.

The media chatter is centred on two possible motives for the decision. Buzzfeed quotes a “former US official” as saying that the measure is “a Muslim ban by a thousand cuts”. Trofimov says that “The new US restrictions will make many wonder whether the real aim is to hurt Gulf carriers like Emirates and Qatar and Turkish Airlines”. Two outcomes for the price of one, perhaps?

The whole exercise strikes me as irredeemably dumb, unless it has been prompted by some intelligence of the paranoid, spooky sort. It will piss off the thousands of law-abiding kids from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries whose student fees prop up many US educational institutions. It will confirm in the minds of millions of people in the affected countries that they are not welcome in the US under any circumstances, as if the previous attempted bans haven’t already done so. And it will certainly make me think twice about travelling to America on a US airline, and not just because of the pizza.

As I write this I’m imagining a Doonesbury cartoon with two American bureaucrats in discussion:

“We need to do something about the Muslims”


“Because they hate us.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“Let’s ban a bunch of them from coming here.”

“Then they’ll hate us even more.”

“That’s fine. Then we can ban the rest of them. Problem solved!”

I’m sure Doonesbury would come up with something subtler, but hopefully you get the gist.

I do wonder how it is that a country with so many fine minds has ended up with a government run by so many stupid people.

It’s almost as though all that intelligence has cancelled itself out. On the other hand, perhaps it’s fake news, in which case I’m the dimwit.

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