(In)sanity About Security: the Saga Goes On

Yesterday I passed along a good-news (in the circumstances) account, from a lawyer who had seen a pointless piece of security theater dismantled in Manhattan. Another lawyer writes with another side of the story:

You welcome "any similar accounts of the security-theater ratchet being reversed", but I offer you the exact opposite.

I am a prosecutor assigned to a courthouse, and every day I go to work I must clear security. This is more than reasonable, of course, but until last year we could clear security by showing our "State Attorney Badges" that were equipped with our picture. Without the badge and corresponding picture, you must go through detectors and place all bags, briefcases, and boxes into an x-ray machine.

Then last year, security was tightened, and the powers to be (AKA "judicial administration") determined that prosecutors must go through the same security system as everyone else. Our precious badges meant nothing. [JF note: this is like making airline pilots, who will soon be controlling the plane, go through TSA security along with the other passengers.] But the genius part of this measure was that the planners failed to account for the fact that prosecutors come to court everyday with evidence that is presented in trial. This evidence includes, among other things, guns, knives and drugs. Suddenly, prosecutors who were trusted by the public to keep evidence in their offices, and trusted to bring charges against citizens based on that evidence, were no longer allowed to bring that evidence to court to prove the cases.

Eventually, the administration decided to issue new badges and cards and pictures to prosecutors who could then pass through security if they showed the badge. WITH ONE EXCEPTION--THEY MUST PASS THROUGH SECURITY SCREENING IF THEY HAVE ANYTHING IN THEIR HANDS!! Evidence boxes are then X-rayed to determine that they do, in fact, contain firearms or weapons. Nothing is done, mind you, but they get to inspect the evidence first. It should also be noted that nothing stops me from carrying a holstered gun or placing a knife in my pocket and using it if I see fit. Nothing at all. But still it goes on...

Kafka would be proud.
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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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