According to the Washington Metro Transit Police, there is “no specific or credible threat to the [Washington subway] system at this time.” Reuters reports that, nonetheless, the Metro police are planning “to randomly select bags before passengers enter subway stations and they will swab them or have an explosives-sniffing dog check the bags.”
This makes total sense … But let me see if I have it right before saying that with too much confidence. Someone was recently arrested making bomb threats against the subway system. But there is no credible evidence of any specific remaining threat. Therefore, it makes sense to now start randomly checking bags in the subway system – a system that has millions of riders and many, many entry/exit points and limited resources with which to deter/stop/punish regular crimes. Huh?
But why stop there? Why restrict the program to the subway? Why not just start randomly searching people without cause on the street …. I mean, there are people out there, even active terrorists, who would like to do harm to people and property. Therefore no one is truly safe and secure as long as people can walk around with bags that might – until searched and verified as safe – contain an explosive. Indeed, freedom itself is a contributing factor that allows terrorists to do what they do. Therefore, we can increase our security by targeting freedom itself. But maybe the problem is confined to public transportation and thus we have to focus on airports and subways because it isn’t as if terrorists will seek out alternative targets should these random checks actually stop someone (which is statistically pretty dubious given the cost of even such a limited program, the amount of police assets, and the number of riders on the system). It is not as if terrorists have targeted buildings like the World Trade Center (the first attack by ground), or clubs like the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, or shopping areas in places like Stockholm, or any number of regular old targets!
We have just gone
totally batshit crazy trying to protect ourselves from a very, very small risk of damage to persons, places, our economy, our system of governance, and our way of life posed by terrorism. Cost-benefit analysis suggests that random defensive measures are just not going to pass the smell test (pun intended) – leaving aside the threat these measures themselves represent to our values and our way of life. And I say this as a relatively hawkish libertarian who thinks we should be aggressively seeking to attrit if not destroy active anti-American terrorist groups and their state supporters. Therefore, I think the war in Afghanistan (although maybe not the way we are fighting it) is totally justified, as are – in theory – the use of special forces/SOF in other parts of the globe. I also support active police measures like those carried out by federal and local law enforcement communities to stop emerging evidence-based threats. But please, random searches on the subway……