"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I've Got a Secret 

From the Federation of American Scientists comes this latest installment in our continuing series, "When Bad Things Happen to Bad People":
Last month, Helen Chenoweth-Hage attempted to board a United Airlines flight from Boise to Reno when she was pulled aside by airline personnel for additional screening, including a pat-down search for weapons or unauthorized materials.

Chenoweth-Hage, an ultra-conservative former Congresswoman (R-ID), requested a copy of the regulation that authorizes such pat-downs.

"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).

"She refused to go through additional screening [without seeing the regulation], and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.

"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.

"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.

Thus, in a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.

First, a word about Ms. Chenoweth-Hage. To describe her as an "ultra-conservative" does her a disservice; in fact, she's a raging wingnut who could probably with a straight face describe Rush Limbaugh as a tool of the liberal media. My old home state has a genuine talent for electing the very nuttiest of the nutbar right, and our Helen is extraordinary even by Idaho standards.

That said, this story is truly chilling. Due process demands, at minimum, that citizens be given notice of the law. That's why statutes are codified. It's one reason why ex post facto laws are repugnant to the Constitution. It is inconceivable that American citizens may ever be subject to secret laws. And, although the issue here is not a statute but rather an administrative regulation, that is a difference without a distinction. As a well-settled legal matter, any regulation carrying the force of law must be duly and publicly promulgated.

Worse than occult regulations, however, is the arrogance displayed here by the TSA's tinpot goon, Julian Gonzales. Go back and re-read his comments. His is not the attitude of a public servant; it is an attitude befitting the King's delegate, speaking to the rabble. If we mere subjects insist upon knowing the law, we will be denied our rights - "it's pretty simple." The agency will not comply with Constitutional norms because "we don't have to."

What we see here is nothing less than Mr. Gonzales channeling the soul of some long-dead and little-mourned Stalinist apparatchik, and doing so without reflection or remorse. And it is all of a piece with the way business is done here in Chimpy's America. Shred the Constitution and all hail the thugs in their neatly pressed uniforms, because now we're really gonna get down to business! Don't like it? Tough. Get over it.




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