More on the Glider-Borne Terror Threat

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A few days ago I mentioned the glider pilot in South Carolina who was handcuffed, arrested, held overnight in a cell, questioned by the FBI and DHS, and finally released after 24 hours all for doing something (a) that was completely legal and (b) that he had no reason to believe was not legal. I offered this as one more entry in the ongoing chronicles of the security state: I'm very well aware that this and much worse has happened to a lot of people, and that the novelty in this case was that the "possible terrorist" was a septuagenarian white man from the professional class.

Pryce-Brazil.jpgReaders weigh in. First:

Shocking -- and yet another event that further convinces me that the sort of Big Brother we're facing is more like Terry Gilliam's Brazil [right] than the ominous near-omniscience of 1984, Minority Report etc.

From Michael Ham:

I think it's worth pointing out that that the aggressive (and to my mind, egregious) actions of DHS and the FBI are perfectly legal--indeed, they could have locked the pilot up indefinitely in a prison (a secret prison, if they chose) with no access to lawyers or due process.

That's allowable if they suspect him of terrorist inclinations, thanks to the PATRIOT Act, which the Senate recently continued with no discussion at all. In fact, it would be perfectly legal for Obama to have him killed on suspicion (a "signature strike"). Once dead, since he's an adult male, the Obama administration would identify him as a militant: any adult male killed in a drone strike is ipso facto a militant--this is explicitly in accordance with the doctrine of the Obama Administration.

When I say "perfectly legal", I mean that Obama does it and it cannot be considered in court (just as the US kidnappings and torture of innocent people cannot be considered in court), because the Obama Administration uses the state-secrets loophole to keep these things out of court: no recourse for injured parties.

From Mark Huddleston, the president of the University of New Hampshire:

Thanks for spreading the word on this nonsense to the non-aviation community.

I used to fly out of Delaware, and, post-9/11, worried about being shot down for inadvertently trespassing on the (admittedly well charted) new no-go areas around the Chesapeake, my once-favorite VFR  meandering area. I basically quit flying VFR. This is the (il)logical extension.

From a reader in California:

First, did the local officials understand how gliders function?  You know, using thermals to get lift which requires them to circle.  Also, a cursory inspection of the glider would show nothing dangerous and I doubt crashing into the plant would do anything more than disintegrate the glider without endangering the plant.

Second, is it legal to refuse to release someone in custody until they sign a promissory note not to sue?  On it's face, that appears to be an admission of wrongful arrest (or what ever the legal term is as I'm not a lawyer).

Finally, I assume he didn't have a gun with him or there would be hell to pay for abridging his 2nd amendment rights.  Just kidding!
Sailplane1.jpg

From Lee Harrison of the University of Albany:

I'm a sailplane pilot ... got my privates in gliders in 1971, didn't get a power ticket till '73.  I like flying sailplanes more than I like flying power, and I own a Ka-6 (antique wooden and fabric sailplane from the early 60s, nothing like competitive today, still safe and fun to fly). [Ka-6 photo at right.]

You can bet this story has gone through the soaring community like wild-fire.... There must be some sort of acknowledgement that this was nuts, some sort of progress on it not happening again.

The idea that someone would use a sailplane to attack a nuclear plant is NUTS!  And the idea that someone intending to attack a plant would circle over it is nutty too...  For the record, I keep my sailplane at Saratoga Airport (5B2) where there is vigorous soaring activity, and the Navy's Milton training reactors are about 5 miles SW.  We fly over those reactors all the time; indeed when they are operating they often generate useful and reliable lift.  And there's never been a problem, they are entirely blase' about it

In Europe, particularly the low countries (Belgium, Holland, northwest Germany) it's completely routine for sailplanes to use the updrafts from power plants, nuclear or fossil, and nobody worries about it.  ... Scariest damn flight I've made as a passenger was riding in a Duo-Discus (high-performance two-seater) with an ace Belgian soaring pilot as he set out insouciantly on a jaunt -- with a cloud base at about 1 km, crappy erratic lift, and over thickly settled land with damn few places I'd have wanted to try to land that sailplane.   He knew exactly where all the power plants were, knew we could use one later in the afternoon to get that last lift to get home .. and did.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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