Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On the Secret Service: You know who else had an SS?

That's right, it was Hitler.

OK, so our (S)ecret (S)ervice is much less horrible. But thanks to them, it looks like the security perimeter around the White House might be getting a lot bigger.

Next time you're binge-watching Scandal or whatever on Netflix, take a minute to check out an old episode of "The West Wing". An early episode, I mean. They're all old, by now. You'll see stock establishing shots of cars and buses going by the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue back when it was still an Avenue, before it became a sprawling plaza cordoned off by Secret Service on either end.

But not much of DC survived the post-9/11 security blitz, and the White House most certainly didn't. And that's OK, I actually like the new Penn Ave. I ride through it every day going to and from work, and it's much more pleasant for bikes and pedestrians than I imagine the old Penn would have been. Sometimes a motorcade shuts it down completely, which is inconvenient, but that's just a fact of life here in Drama City.

Last weekend, though, some nutcase troubled former Army sniper named Omar J. Gonzalez jumped the security barriers with a hatchet down his pants and got through the White House's front door before being stopped by a guard. And now they want to turn the whole area into a fortress, and screen every single tourist, employee, or resident trying to go anywhere within a few blocks.

Local commentators (obviously) have roundly condemned that potential move, citing major disruptions to the lives of Washingtonians and our visitors. It's just the latest reminder that D.C. does not belong to the people who live here, but to the federal government, and increasingly to federal security forces.

My fear, though, is that a larger cordon around the White House will have the support of most of the country, because it'll be framed as an anti-terror tactic, and anyone who opposes it will be in league with terrorists or something. Citizens' concerns will be silenced, as ever, in the name of "security."

Oh, and because D.C. residents have no voting member of Congress to advocate for us. That doesn't help either.

I mean, I get that this is kerfuffle is kinda embarrassing for the Secret Service, and they need to be seen as taking decisive action. But I can't help fixating on this one minor detail: the guard at the door stopped Gonzalez. Gonzalez never got a chance to menace the first family, at all.

Doesn't that mean that the security measures in already place... worked?

"Oh, but he should never have gotten that far to begin with," cry the hawks. Fine. Probably not. But passive security measures like bollards, fences, and scanning checkpoints are never going to completely prevent a single person from slipping past on rare occasions, and we'd be naive to pretend that they ever will.

People jump the White House fence all the time. That's why we have trained, armed human beings and riled-up dogs standing behind those barriers. If anything, the Secret Service needs to review its procedures and maybe beef up patrols. Or, as Petula Dvorak argues, lock the front door. The measures they're discussing now just smack of encroaching totalitarianism. It's not worth further restricting our freedom of movement in the nation's capital just to make a big show of subjecting thousands of workers and residents, along with millions of tourists, to even more rigorous screening even further from the White House.

Because it'll be exactly that. A show. A really big, really expensive show to meant to stop something really bad that didn't really happen from not happening again.



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