Air Security Follies and the Death of Innocence

Airport security is nothing if not a rich pageant and an endless source of amusement. Yesterday, I saw none other than Tweety Bird pass through the TSA checkpoint at Reagan National Airport. I am not joking (so far).

From my vantage some distance behind her in line, I couldn’t quite see the entire process, but I did see that she was sent to secondary search — perhaps for lack of ID, perhaps because the magnetometer suggested her bulbous, yellow head was full of daggers and C-4. She opted for secondary in a side-room, away from public view.

When I got to the front of the line, I managed to quiz the TSA ID-checker about whether Ms. Bird had presented government-issued ID. She had not.

But I had seen Tweety emerge from secondary in just a few short minutes. This does not square with the new procedure whereby people without ID are subject to dossier review against TSA’s public records databases, a time-consuming process by all reports.

One of two possibilities presented itself:

It may be that the new dossier-check policy does not apply to birds. After all, birds are likely to have exceedingly thin files. They have no Social Security Numbers — not yet, anyway — and little access to the financial services that would form the basis of a credit file. Only a few birds own vehicles or property (the emancipated pets of deceased, eccentric millionaires). So, perhaps, for lack of records about them, birds have of necessity been made exempt.

But this would open a gaping hole in our air security system. Al Qaeda would have to do nothing more than recruit birds to carry out attacks on air transportation. They wouldn’t even have to be “clean-skin” birds with no history of terrorism (or “clean-feathers,” I suppose). Birds that we knew to be associated with the bombing of the USS Cole, for example, (waterfowl, one assumes) would easily be able to access air transportation for lack of a check of their IDs against the terrorist watch-list at the airport.

Putting a bird on a plane to attack us — how diabolically, ingeniously ironic. Have we no defense against it?

Though I’ve been disappointed before — like, with the entire concept of watch-listing — I can’t believe that the DHS and TSA would leave open such a vulnerability.

My second theory is more plausible, though I was somewhat gut-wrenched when it occured to me, and still am.

Our memory of life scrolls out behind us like a fabric, ornamented by moments, inflection points, of two kinds: the times when change comes, and the times when we realize it has come.

On one day, a child’s mother does not meet her at the schoolbus, and a change has come. She looks down the street. A best friend says to a best friend, “See ya’ later,” and it’s for the last time. Your first true love didn’t understand you and never will.

The second moment, the recognition, may take decades. You’re alone in the world, child. The best friend simply left. There’s no crescendo. Four days after my mother passed, I awoke in the black pre-dawn, and the tears flowed.

The TSA guy said something that I didn’t understand: “It’s their policy not to take the head off.”

“It’s their policy not to take the head off.” What could that possibly mean?

And then, like flu, revelation.

I think that maybe Tweety Bird was actually a human person in a Tweety Bird costume. The TSA guy may have allowed the person through the normal ID checkpoint, and in the seclusion of the secondary search room the person in the Tweety Bird costume took off the head, showed his or her ID, and got a pat-down search and wanding of the big yellow feet.

So I guess they will improvise for people in gigantic costumes at the checkpoint. I wonder if people dressed as, say, The Incredible Hulk get the same treatment as classic Warner Brothers characters.

But I still feel like I lost something in airport security yesterday. Tweety Bird isn’t real.

Oh, and also, I noticed that they’re not requiring participants in the Clear card Registered Traveler program to also show government-issued ID. That is (or was) a policy that was perfectly incoherent because the Clear card is a biometric proof of the ID the person used to join Registered Traveler. I’ll be checking to see if they’ve dispensed with the double-ID requirement nationally or just at DCA.