At exactly the same time on Sunday that a man carrying a knife jumped over the White House fence and ran across the lawn and through the front door, thousands of ordinary citizens were being detained and patted down at airports across the country.
What is wrong with this picture?
Throughout our history, we’ve experienced many times when our personal security has been at risk but none as great as what’s happening today. It would be nice to know that the individuals and agencies charged with keeping us safe are doing a good job and not just giving that appearance.
There should be no greater advertisement for how effective all these entities are than through the protection given to the most shielded person in the country, the President of the United States. So when someone carrying a weapon can run right into the president’s house that should give us all pause.
Are we harboring a false sense of security?
I certainly don’t want to sound paranoid, but I also want to be smart. As a taxpayer, I’d like to know that my money is being used effectively for its intended purpose. As a citizen, I’d like to know that when some strange TSA agent invades more than just my personal space by laying their hands on me, it’s for a very good reason and not simply as part of some show to make me believe I’m safer because of it.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Oval Office with my family. It was a wonderful experience we’ll never forget.
We’ll also never forget what happened before we made it past the guard house. About fifty yards before we reached the guard station, we found ourselves on the sidewalk behind a group of Middle Eastern men carrying cameras. As tourists always do, they were taking lots of pictures. They stood out because these were rather unusual pictures. Mostly, they appeared to photographing the tops of light poles on the sidewalk by the White House.
As I recall, these aren’t your garden variety light poles. The finials that make up the top of the poles are rather ornate. However, with so many other interesting things to photograph in Washington, this choice just seemed odd.
There is that motto we’ve all heard a thousand times now, “If you see something—say something.” I think that’s prudent and I want to do my part to help if I can, but I also know the risk of being perceived as paranoid or profiling innocent people which is why I’m generally pretty careful before actually speaking up.
On this particular occasion, I decided to go ahead because this was, after all, the White House just a year or so after 9/11. After our tour, I mentioned to our host what we’d seen. She agreed that sounded very odd, but as far as I knew that was the end of it. I’d done my civic duty which is all I could do.
In our history, despite our best efforts to secure the president and the public, we’ve experienced many lapses that cost us dearly. The first most blatant instance occurred on the night of April 14, 1865, when the man assigned to guard Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre took an unfortunate break to visit a bar for a drink. His lapse in judgment shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise. Prior to that night, he’d had other instances where he’d been drunk on duty, fallen asleep, and visited a brothel. Sadly, this wasn’t the last such security breach in history.
I’m not saying that the people assigned to protect the President, the White House, and each one of us aren’t doing a fabulous job because I’m obviously not privy to all the threats thwarted on their watch.
I am saying, however, that what happened this past weekend certainly gives reason to wonder how much safety and security is real and how much may just be for show.
We have a right to know that it’s the former and not the latter.