I flew into Atlanta Georgia airport in the summer of 2009, looking forward to a conference in Asheville NC followed by a leisurely tour of the Smokey Mountains. I hadn’t been in the USA since 2006 but my memories of Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles airports during that visit were all good; polite officials welcoming me and hoping that my stay in the USA was a good one. Not so in 2009. My experiences at Atlanta airport were traumatic. Bullied for fifteen minutes by a Passport Control official, accused of breaking federal law and threatened with arrest, and then being separated from my luggage with no explanation. My cabin bag was examined out of my sight – it contained all my valuables, including money and credit cards. I tell you this because I’ve just learned that the Department of Homeland Security has asked Congress to give the green light on funding for a massive expansion of TSA (Transport Security Administration) checkpoints. The federal agency are already responsible for over 9,000 such checkpoints. Americans now fear that their homeland is turning into a police state following the passage of an ‘indefinite detention’ bill. The increase in funding is to create 12 more VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) teams to add the federal agency’s 25 units that are already scattered across the country and responsible for manning checkpoints on highways, in bus and train terminals, at sports events and even high school prom nights.
I’m back in the States next June. This time I’ll go with trepidation. Whilst I've no objection at all to carefully monitored security checks, there is no reason to conduct those checks in a bullying, authoritarian manner. If people are treated with disrespect and made to feel like criminals, the people will rebel eventually. Being polite and respectful costs nothing and achieves much more. We may be told the current strategy is part of the War on Terror but from where I’m standing it’s a War against Peace and this doesn’t feel like a good road to be travelling down.