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The New Paranoia: Really Going Overboard

August 14th, 2003

David Socha, 17, was arrested for making a bomb / hijacking threat on a flight from Boston to Hawaii via San Francisco at the beginning of the month. He was arraigned in court on felony charges and faces 20 years in prison and a $10- to $50,000 fine for his crime.

What was his crime?

Inside his luggage, on top of some clothes, he left a note for anyone who hand-searched his bag: “F— you. Stay the f— out of my bag you —-sucker. Have you found a —- bomb yet? No, just clothes. Am I right? Yea, so f— you.”

Not exactly the most cooperative stance to take with airport security, to be certain. However, take a close look at the note. If you read it carefully, you’ll notice that it is not a bomb threat. Obviously, Socha did not at all like the idea of strangers pawing through his luggage, and felt impelled to let them know about it. But the note did not in any way imply there was a bomb in his luggage–in fact, it implied that there was not a bomb in his luggage.

But he was arrested anyway. I can think of only two reasons: (a) the inspectors wildly over-reacted to the word “bomb” appearing in any context whatsoever, or (b) the inspectors were insulted by the note and decided to make an example of the young man. Either way, the inspectors were irresponsible, and are wasting a great deal of taxpayer money with this farce.

More insidiously, some news reports misquoted the note, reporting it as asking, “Have you found the bomb yet?” [emphasis added]. The alteration turns the note from an annoyed outburst to an illegal threat. Furthermore, the stories in the press quote poeople completely uninvolved in the case in ways that seem to incriminate the youth, such as WCVB’s assertion that unaffected travelers “showed little sympathy for Socha” (they were given the altered note text to judge him on), or The Boston Globe’s cliched quote of a neighbor saying, and I am not making this up, “I’m surprised, I thought he was a good kid.” They further incriminated the boy by quoting an official as saying, “Putting a false bomb threat in your luggage is not something we take lightly.” Again, there was no bomb threat.

Now, I would be the first one to advise someone not to make bomb jokes in an airport. I would never attempt even the slightest bit of levity when flight security is involved. But, I mean, come on. This goes way too far, and does nothing to serve the interests of security. Sure, it was a dumb thing done by a teenager, but the reaction was far out of proportion to the crime. There are few enough tax dollars being spent on domestic security (Bush has yet to take such funding seriously, instead going after real threats like Hussein’s amazing disappearing WMD program), let’s not waste them on petty vindictiveness like this.

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