9/11 phobia leads to grounding incidents, evacuations

Anyone who hoped to spend the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in quiet reflection will probably be disappointed. During the last few days, the prevailing sentiment in America has been fear, if not paranoia.

On Wednesday, an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Washington was canceled and all the passengers sent through security again after a passenger reported that two other travelers were acting suspiciously. Authorities interviewed the passengers and released them without charges. What caused the alert? That’s unclear.

A Southwest flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to BWI Airport yesterday was diverted to Nashville International Airport because of a passenger’s “suspicious behavior.” We don’t know what the passenger’s actions were (perhaps he was reading a book) but according to a Southwest spokesman, it “caused some concern” and triggered the diversion. All the passengers were rescreened in Nashville. Nothing was found, and the flight continued.

Several gates at Washington Dulles International Airport were evacuated late yesterday after a bomb-sniffing dog sniffed something. An ordnance team from Virginia State Police was sent to the scene, and two flights were canceled. In Kansas City this morning, an argument over carry-on luggage escalated into a completely unnecessary security scare.

A New York-bound flight this afternoon was given a fighter jet escort to JFK because passengers had locked themselves in the bathroom. Seriously. Even the airline involved called it a “big nothing.” Here’s another bathroom incident that happened today in Detroit.

The fear isn’t confined to the sky. In Los Angeles yesterday, a bus was evacuated because one of the passengers looked like a terrorist.

Meanwhile, government officials have admitted that efforts to disrupt a rumored 9/11 anniversary attack are becoming a “goose chase.” Authorities had been questioning all day the credibility of a tip from a previously reliable source that Al Qaeda had planned to attack Washington or New York, putting though both cities on high alert.

There’s some interesting wordplay going on, if you read closely. Officials have called it a “credible” threat, and then a “credible but unconfirmed” threat and then finally admitted — off the record — that it’s simply a “goose chase.” Maybe they’ll downgrade it to a “wild goose chase” tomorrow.

These clever semantics aren’t appreciated by most Americans and are glossed over by the TV and Internet pundits. That’s too bad.

The sad truth is, the Department of Homeland Security and TSA have a very powerful incentive to stir up our collective fear and paranoia, and critics say they are using rhetoric to further that goal.

Getting us riled up serves a purpose. If we believe we’re in imminent danger, we’re far less likely to question the increasingly heavy-handed security measures, including pat-downs, chat-downs and body-scans.

Some might say this is the best 9/11 anniversary ever for America’s security apparatus, because the people are finally buying it. I hope they’re wrong about that.

I’m interested in your opinion. Are security officials reacting appropriately to the 9/11 anniversary — or opportunistically?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • cjr001

    I’m rather glad I’m not having to fly this weekend. Not because I fear a terrorist attack, but because of all of the examples above.

  • Janice

    The question isn’t, “is the government over reacting?”, it’s “do we know if the government is over reacting?”.  I’ve had the same thoughts as you about the reporting of these incidents – boy, this sure makes homeland security look like it is really doing something important.  It thinks it is doing something really important, keeping itself in business.

  • Phil

    The “sky is falling” seems to be a standard saying whenever the government or one of its departments wants to stir up fear. Unfortuanately when the “sky does fall” who will listen?

  • Clare

    Since we’re all remembering this morning exactly where we were, and what we were doing, ten years ago today, I wonder how many remember the public-opinion polls that were done amazingly quickly, Sept. 12 or 13?  They were asking Americans, “would you be willing to cede some of your Constitutional rights in order to ‘up’ security, and protect the nation from similar attacks?” or words to that effect.  And a majority of Americans replied, “YES!” 

    But this was the emotional response of people in shock, NOT a calm, rational, well-thought-out approach to the issue. (Pollsters had no business asking such a question at that time, when so few of us were able to think clearly!  Good grief, back then I was living just a few minutes from the Pentagon…)  Our Constitution includes personal liberties and protections that may very well enable our enemies to get into the country and attack us–that doesn’t mean that we should change its provisions, much less toss it in the shredder in the name of “security.”  As Chris and many of his other readers have pointed out so well before, we’ll never have 100% security, even if we become a police state a la East Germany or North Korea.  But this is exactly the mentality being demonstrated by Napolitano, Pistole and their goon platoon: the more we eliminate individual rights, the safer we’ll all be.  Ten years later, we can all see how well THAT’s working.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    This administration is all about fear mongering when it comes to flying but Janet et al chooses to ignore the threat taking place along our borders.  They react in a manner that gains them votes, nothing more.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Unfortunately, fear plays well during election season.

    As these incidents are buried on the back pages of newspapers, we will lose more of our rights. Remember, until Congress and our President have to fly the way we do, none of this will change. Our elected officials care nothing for us; they are all bought and paid for corporations and lobbyists.

  • Jim Zakany

    This administration is doing more to enhance border security than the previous, and in fact all previous administrations.

    We aren’t paying for our services now, and there seems to be little appetite for paying more – so how much better a job would you like done, and are you willing to pay for the services you demand?

  • Kairho

    Not just “this” administration.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’d like to know what the “incidents” or “suspicious behavior” was. I was once hassled by a gate agent because I was wearing a tie that had 010101110 printed all over it in tiny writing, spelling out in binary ‘I hate wearing ties.’

    Apparently that was “suspicious” to the guy despite it being a complete geeky joke. Maybe he thought I was trying to pass secret codes to someone? 

    Fortunately, when he called the Red Coat about it, the guy just laughed and apologized.

  • Drontil

    Somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, a terrorist is peeing his pants because he’s laughing so hard at the frenzy we are in over this “threat.”

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    We also should remember that this kind of fearmongering happens at almost predictable intervals in our nation’s history.

    Haven’t we learned anything from the past? I think we are better than this.

  • Patriot

    The best way to “keep your job” is to make your job “seem” necessary.

    The TSA is ineffective and should be disbanded.  They cost WAY more than they are worth.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    “We aren’t paying for our services now . . .” 

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Would you please clarify?

  • Patsy

    While I agree here, what do you replace it with?

  • Rick

    “We aren’t paying for our services now . . .” 

    We refuse to raise taxes to pay for services.  Raising taxes has become the easiest way to become unelected.  When did we decide that we are entitled to free ANYTHINGWEWANT from the government, but should not have to pay.

    I’m a small businessperson.  I don’t like taxes.  But I love the roads used to deliver my goods.  I love the air traffic controllers keeping planes from bouncing on my head.  I love knowing the police and firefolks will show up when I have trouble.  And I am willing to pay what is needed, even if it’s an increase.

  • Rick

    Many in Congress do fly like we do.  Our local representative, Pete DeFazio, flies home most weekends, and I have stood many Friday nights on the jetway, waiting for my carryon, next to him as he waits for his.

  • Rick

    ps are you the Raven who writes such great articles for The Sun Magazine?  If so, I’m a huge fan.  And if not, sorry to bother you!

  • The Condor

     Have a Happy Fear Day!

  • Clare

    Well, how about replacing it with what we had before?

    Just eliminate the loopholes that gave us 9/11, like not checking for box-cutters, and allowing on board foreign male nutjobs who behave like they’re going to leap up and shout “Allah akbar!” at any given moment, and that about wraps it up! 

    Where do people GET this notion that the government can do anything and everything better than the private sector can? 

  • Lisa Simeone

    While I hate, loathe, and despise the TSA, it was private security that was on duty on 9/11.

    How about we all just go about our lives in freedom and dignity like civilized human beings, instead of cowering and crawling like worms?

  • Lisa Simeone

    Hi, Patsy. I’m copying & pasting info I’ve posted here many times before.  Apologies to those who’ve seen it before:

    FACT: No bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11. The planes themselves were commandeered, something that won’t happen again because the cockpit doors have been secured, and because passengers will no longer silently submit (which is more than I can say for TSA apologists).

    FACT: The last time a bomb smuggled aboard an airplane in the USA detonated was December 11, 1967. The plane landed safely; no fatalities, no injuries.  Aviation Safety Network: 

    FACT: The last time a bomb was smuggled aboard an aircraft in the US from which there were fatalities was May 22, 1962. 
    Aviation Safety Network: 

    Almost 50 years. And for all that time, until just recently, the TSA reign of molestation and rank stupidity didn’t exist. Gee, how is it possible we all haven’t been blown out of the sky by now?  After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

  • Brooklyn

    I remember those polls, and I voted “no” right away even though I was living in Manhattan. My colleagues were somewhat annoyed because I’d been predicting something similar ever since the Shrub’s election; his threats and posturing had so alienated the Muslim world that you could see 9/11 coming months ahead.  And of course, we never did get a good explanation of why the FBI’s very specific warnings were ignored.  Is it possible (gasp) that the Shrub knew exactly what was coming down the pike and welcomed it with open arms so that he could make us what we are today – a police state with everyone cowering under the bed and the TSA and Homeland Security running our lives?  Nah, that would be Un-American, wouldn’t it?

  • Lisa Simeone

    Rep. Peter DeFazio met with a top official from the Transportation Security Administration after the Oregon lawmaker complained about being singled out for special security screening at Portland International Airport.

    Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported that the 12-term Democrat lost his temper and denounced the security as “stupid” on Monday.

    DeFazio told The Associated Press on Tuesday he was unhappy about being singled out for security screening, but denied the newspaper’s account that he caused a “ruckus” that drew extra security officers . . . .http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/travel/2008876457_apairportincident.html

  • Lisa Simeone

    Although false flag operations have been used throughout history, I think in the case of 9/11 it was incompetence and not foreknowledge.  They should have known, yes (especially since Condoleezza Rice & pals had received a report specifically warning about the possibility of airplanes attacking buildings — in fact, the report was even titled that way), but I think the various turf wars and lack of communication between intelligence agencies were to blame rather than a grand scheme. Sorry, but Bush just doesn’t have it in his brainpower for grand schemes (though Cheney does).

  • emanon256

    That tie sounds awesome!

  • Ribaholic60

    “a bus was evacuated because somebody looked like a terrorist”

    Can somebody please tell me what a terrorist looks like?
    If we can spot people who look like terrorists, round them all up and we’ll all be safe.  Right?

  • Patsy

    Not that I want to get into a spitting contest…but what is this nonsense about bombs?  Who needs to smuggle one on?  The plane is THE bomb.  They key is control of the bomb.

    Would what happened on 9/11/2001 happen again where passengers would passively sit there and wait for the hijackers to divert the flight to wherever?  Probably not…I think incidents over the past 10 years have proved that. 

    But you still need security. 

    Do I think taking your shoes off and scanning them make a difference?  Apparently those that tried to put explosives in their shoes/underwear wherever think so.  Somehow, I don’t think much will fit in my Reeboks (oh and by the way, those were on US flights.  just saying)

    But you still need security.

    Do I think that the 3 oz limit is ridiculous?  Of course it is – me and my buddies can put those bottles together and create a bomb or a poisonous gas or whatever ridiculous thing they’ll come up with next.

    But you still need security.

    Do I think that the bad guys will continue to put explosives/bombs into Boomboxes, Printer Cartridges whatever?  BTW – Yes I do because it’s already been done.

    Do I think that patting down grandma’s and babies in diapers is making us safer (maybe so, maybe no, as my father said a locked door only keeps an honest man out — in other words, if someone wants to bring a plane down badly enough, it will happen)

    But you still need security.

    Is it better off in the hands of the airlines or airport authority (with no consistency between airports)?   Is it better centralized by one governmental source such as TSA so that you do have consistency?  Is it better that you cross your fingers and hope (not to die)?  For the record, I don’t have the answer and I don’t hear one from you either.

    Do I feel more secure on September 11, 2011 than I did on September 11, 2001?  No…not really.  A lot of the new security measures are more window dressing than anything else.


  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Still not sure that’s what @google-953ae1eb20ecdfeefdb4c9cd63db5774:disqus  meant by “We aren’t paying for our services now” as I have this mental filter that gets turned on when someone mentions border security.  I was thinking of services like roofing, landscaping, constructions etc.

    But I do agree with the substance of your post.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Refreshing to know that some do travel like the rest of us, but this happened over two years ago and things have not improved. 

  • Raven_Altosk

    No, I’m not. 
    It’s no bother. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Why not let airlines protect their customers and their assets?  Airlines are the only ones who have the proper motivations!  Airlines lose big whenever passengers feel unsafe and they lose if they use ridiculously expensive and ineffective measures.  Airlines win if they invest in security proportionate to the threat and security that makes their customers feel safe, rather than abused.  

    What we have now is the government butting in to a private transaction between me and my airline, and the government’s motivations are all wrong: If something bad happens, then TSA will get a massive increase in funding.   Government wins if it hires vast workforces, wastes money quickly, and stays off Congress’ sh*t list.   Though TSA doesn’t seem to be doing a great job of the latter, it’s obvious that no one at TSA has any motivation either to stop abusing people or to stop wasting astronomical sums of money on pretend security.

  • y_p_w

    I certainly agree about sharp objects.  Over a decade ago I remember going through airport security with a small Swiss Army knife.  Security let me take it through, saying, “OK – it’s just a pocket knife”.

    However – that kind of racial profiling you’re taking about seems a little bit odd.  From all accounts, the hijackers didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary.  Some became thoroughly Americanized.  They wouldn’t have seemed any different than any of my Muslim former coworkers or professors who I’m sure aren’t Al Qaeda.  What are they really going to do?  Perhaps profile every non-Caucausian?  Around the world there are radicalized Muslims of Indonesian, Malaysian, South Asian, or African ancestry.  There are converts of all ethnicities.  Does “Jihad Jane” ring a bell?

  • Brooklyn

    Exactly – Cheney does – and who do you think was running that Administration?  For that matter, so did Bush Senior. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…

  • Brooklyn

    I’m not sure how that would work for small or foreign airlines, which typically share a terminal or part of a terminal in a large airport.  Maybe the airport should provide the security and the airlines should pay in proportion to the number of flights they have in and out of the airport in question? Other countries, however, handle security at the government level without going overboard the way the TSA and Homeland Security do (except for Israel, where I’ll never go again; once was quite enough). The problem isn’t the concept, it’s us!

  • Lisa Simeone

    Good grief, now we’re going to be watched by fellow passengers to see how often we have to pee??  Too often, and You’re A Terrorist!

    By the way, From a tweet I found online:

    For scorekeepers, TWO passengers — not three — spent “too much time” in bathroom, sparking scare. 3rd passenger suspicious, not in broom
    about 1 hour ago via web
    ReplyRetweetFavorite@edhenryTVEd Henry

    Mile-high club?

  • Lisa Simeone

    Patsy, nobody here has ever argued that we don’t need security.  But rational, logical security, not paranoid, hysterical, fear-mongering security.  And not sham security, which is what the TSA provides.

    There are exactly two things that have made flying safer since 9/11.  I already mentioned them in my first reply, but I’ll repeat:

    Reinforced cockpit doors.

    Passengers willing to fight back.

    That’s it.  All this other garbage — and abuse — that’s being foisted upon us is exactly that.  Garbage and abuse.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Only thing is the airlines are thrilled that the govt (meaning us) is picking up the costs.  They’re still charging “security” fees and pocketing the extra money.

    Until they’re brought to their knees financially, nothing will change.  They’re the ones who got the govt to relax the (still insane) liquids rule.  The feds wanted to ban all liquids from all carry-ons for all time.  When the airlines balked, govt backed down.

    Again, money talks.  Always has, always will.  And in this country, there is nothing that talks louder.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Oh, I know.  They’ve gotten worse.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Brooklyn, I know Cheney was in charge.  I still think 9/11 wasn’t planned by the U.S. govt, just proof of the negligence of U.S. intelligence agencies.

  • Mark K

    Just to clarify, the shoe and underwear bombers did not board the planes at airports where the US had any say in security — Paris and London.  So Lisa’s statement is accurate.

  • nancydrewed

    Lisa — this is going to get very interesting with our aging population of males and the number of men with enlarged prostate. Women, post-menopause, are famous for “need to pee right now moments”.  Tally cards issued to FA’s in our future? Yeesh. My tax dollars hard at work.

  • $5860117

    I see DHS goons.  They’re everywhere.

  • http://www.allaboutcabo.com Lauriegourley

    I live 10 blocks from ground zero and it has been a ghost town down here all weekend. I understand fear gets attention but at what time do we stop allowing the media to scare us. I spend time in Mexico and yes there are problems in certain areas of the country but when I have friends and family afraid for my life in Cabo I question what messages they are believing.

  • cjr001

    Here’s the result of that particular incident, btw:

    No charges against 3 detained at Detroit airport

    “America now spooked by it’s own shadow” is something you’d expect to read in The Onion.

  • davidglass

    The “Department of Homeland Security” has 56 billion reasons to scare Americans needlessly and create “suspicious events” that turn out to have no factual basis. Their annual budget.

  • Tampa Jim

    I flew out of Charlotte, NC Terminal A this afternoon (9/11). When I got to the security line, there were only a few passengers ahead of me. I asked the TSA agent checking boarding passes and ID’s which of the three open lanes I should go to and she replied “it doesn’t matter, go to which ever one you like”. A quick look made me realize that all passengers were being subjected to full body scans at two of the lanes. Passengers in the third lane passed through only a metal detector. Guess which lane I chose? This is the first time that I can remember my being able to choose the type of airport screening that I preferred. Thank you TSA!

  • Lisa Simeone

    “The three passengers who were taken off the plane in handcuffs were released Sunday night, and no charges were filed against them, airport spokesman Scott Wintner said.”

    So no charges filed, but having to pee can still get you handcuffed. And cause fighter jets to scramble. And invite a SWAT team on board. Nah, we’re not paranoid in this country.

  • Carrie Charney

    They asked you too many questions?

  • Vamuggle

    Because airlines can and will file bankruptcy

  • Patsy

    I go through US security when I’m on a US destined flight departing outside the US. I take my shoes off in Ireland too

  • Patsy

    And the airlines didn’t provide sham security? That’s my point…it really isn’t any different and we really aren’t safer. BTW…I flew yesterday and had no issues going through security

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m surprised the airlines haven’t put change slots on the potty doors. You know, just to squeeze that extra cash out of you at the most inopportune moments…

  • Guest

    Amen to that!!!

  • Mel

    I HAVE to buy that tie for my son the Uber Computer Geek!! I’m officially on the hunt for it now!

  • Philip

    Yesterday, 9/11, my local newspaper published the costs for “security” since that fateful day: 2104 BILLION dollars! (includes two wars, over 6000 military deaths, and the incomprehensible murder by George W Bush of 125,000 innocent Iraqis called euphemistically “collateral damage”).  Along with the “scare” announcement that an imminent bombing in New York or Washington, based on “no credible evidence” would take place, gave me a knee jerk reaction. I immediately wrote a Letter to the Editor that I felt strongly that the government needs to justify and continue those huge costs and the way to do it is to keep the public on edge with death ‘just around the corner’.

    I am very pleased that here in this select group of Chris’s friends, many similar comments and feelings are articulated. I was also bolstered in my thoughts by several op-ed columns that said the same thing. Keep the public confused with false accusations, treat them like sheep to the slaughter, and we will continue to pay good tax money that goes into lucrative entities, like the TSA, and greedy pockets. 

    I would hope that all of you here, no matter pro or con, would also write a Letter to the Editor. When I wrote I thought I was alone, but I see that there is a public outcry of what justice and truth we want is expected from our government leaders. The president struggles (I like him), Congress is at a level now of a grass roots movement “to throw the bums out.” They are elected as ‘our voice’ and somehow their voice is controlled by the lobbyists and ignorant people who just like to vent; scream, bitch and moan.

    We are seeing all around us that we, ‘the little people’ can have a very ‘large voice.’ This column is only one outlet.  Speak up wherever you can!

    Thanks guys!

  • Jim Zakany

    Rick explained my comment well. Government revenue – from whatever source – has been under-running government spending and looks like it will continue to do so.

    But my direct point was that illegal border crossings are at their lowest levels in forty years and crime rates in border communities are plummeting. To say “this administration” is ignoring our borders is silly.

    This isn’t a political board, but it irks me when someone tried to inject politics via misinformation. Yes, border security is a government service performed by civil servants.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Welcome to the club, Philip!  Some of us have been speaking out for years.

    And sorry, though I voted for him, Obama has proven to be just as bad — yes, no hyperbole — as Bush.  He has not only continued, but expanded, the worst abuses of the Bush administration.  Our civil liberties continue to be eviscerated, drone attacks abroad have increased, he’s gotten us into even more wars, while doing jack sh*t to end the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is increasing the size and scope of the National Security State, and he is every bit as beholden to corporate interests as Bush was.

  • jennj99738

    I knew exactly where you would find it.  Thinkgeek!  Unfortunately, it’s out of stock–probably due to Raven’s post! ;) 


  • cjr001

    The woman on the Denver to Detroit flight who was detained has spoken out on her blog about the incident:

    Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit

    Disgusting. Whomever it was that thought there was something suspicious going on needs to be subjected to this themselves, so they won’t be so callous and stupid toward others in the future.

  • Lisa Simeone


    Thank you, United Sheeple of America.  This is what you’re doing to your fellow human beings.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    This is awful. Truly awful.

  • Xyl

    It really comes down to making such a public stink about the “unconfirmed credible threat” that the security folks hope that if anyone was thinking of doing anything on 9/11, they would be scared off by the heightened security. End result, the terrorists (if any) go away for the day and the police and homeland security have “saved the day.”

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yes, that’s where I got it from!

  • Mexican Jack Bauer

    Right now, it’s a hassle to get I-94 permits coming south of the border! This tells me 2 things:

    1 – The US is at war, and
    2 – It’s obvious who’s winning it, and obviously it ain’t the US

  • Linda Bator

    Actually untrue.  Here in Michigan, all military personnel were brought to their base 9/10, and locked down.  Not phone calls out, no internet, etc.  Radio silence, and high alert due to a terrorist threat.  So they knew, just chose to do nothing about it!

  • Linda Bator

    Same here.  And funny, but London doesn’t employ our TSA agents, but are even stricter on liquids, chat-downs, shoes off, sharps, number of lighters, etc.  And were stricter LONG before we ever were.  Americans just feel there should be safety in place, it just shouldn’t inconvenience US.  (So just who are THEY?)