Dangerous Security Theater: Scrambling Fighter Jets
This story exemplifies everything that’s wrong with our see-something-say-something war on terror: a perfectly innocent person on an airplane, a random person identifying him as a terrorist threat, and a complete overreaction on the part of the authorities.
Typical overreaction, but in this case—as in several others over the past decade—F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to escort the airplane to the ground. Very expensive, and potentially catastrophically fatal.
This blog post makes the point well:
What bothers me about this is not so much that they interrogated the wrong person—that happens all the time, not that it’s okay—but rather the fighter jets. I think most people probably understand this, but just to make it totally clear, if they send up fighters that is not because they are bringing the first-class passengers some more of those little hot towels. It is so they can be ready to SHOOT YOU DOWN if necessary. Now, I realize the odds that would ever happen, even accidentally, are very tiny. I still question whether it’s wise to put fighters next to a passenger plane at the drop of a hat, or in this case because of an anonymous tip about a sleeping passenger.
According to the Seattle Times report, though, interceptions like this are apparently much more common than I thought. Citing a NORAD spokesman, it says this has happened “thousands of times” since 9/11. In this press release NORAD says there have been “over fifteen hundred” since 9/11, most apparently involving planes that violated “temporary flight restriction” areas. Either way, while this is a small percentage of all flights, of course, it still seems like one hell of a lot of interceptions—especially since in every single case, it has been unnecessary, and is (as NORAD admits) “at great expense to the taxpayer.”