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Monday, September 5,2011

The photograph TSA apparently doesn't want you to see

By Dennis Powell

Photo Caption: This photo taken by Dennis Powell at the Columbus Airport the TSA doesn't want you to see.

It's something one remembers: the color of the sky, the temperature and flavor of the air, the silence. Especially the silence.

Ten years ago this Sunday morning, a lot of places in the U.S. that were normally noisy fell silent. They are the places where airplanes are normally heard. Where I was living, almost directly under an aviation intersection, there was always the distant roar of jet engines, as airliners reached that waypoint in their journeys.

They had done that, even, earlier that morning. But by noon on Sept. 11, 2001, there were no airplane sounds. I noticed it when I went out to check on the horse, not because the horse needed checking on but because it was welcome to see something normal, something oblivious to all that had already taken place that day. The horse was a thoroughbred, and thoroughbreds specialize in being oblivious.

I had received a phone call, that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I figured it was a traffic plane or some such. The Hudson River corridor was approved for planes flying under visual flight rules, so maybe some low-time pilot had gotten himself into trouble. I switched on the television to, of all things, CNBC. They were showing the two tall buildings when the second plane hit. Oddly, the reporter speculating about the first crash didn't notice this, but Mark Haines, in the studio, did.

Over the next few hours there would be many over-the-top reports broadcast, most true that yet another plane had crashed into the Pentagon and that a fourth had crashed someplace in Pennsylvania but some not, such as the widely reported story of a car bomb at the State Department.

It was in many ways more than the senses could process. Running ahead of the senses were the questions. Who had done this? How much worse would it become? How would we respond?

The answers to the first two questions were fairly clear fairly quickly. The senses could not process the answer to the third because nothing involving sense was involved.

If on that tragic day you or anyone, small or mighty, wise or foolish, brilliant or dim would have tried to guess what we would do, not one among us, not a single one, would have come close to getting it right. A reaction so manifestly stupid and pointless can come only from government.

(This would be the same government, by the way, which until that day had advised airline flight crews to cooperate with hijackers. On Sept. 11, 2001, that advice didn't work out very well when the flight crews of all four airliners followed it.)

Our chief domestic response to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, was to hire a bunch of federal rent-a-cops and give them the task of irritating and humiliating the general public as much as they could, so long as they did not disturb anyone who might pose an actual threat.

They are good at that job.

Last Thursday I took a friend to the Port Columbus International Airport, as I am called upon to do from time to time. As happens, the flight was delayed. I do not dump people at the airport and drive away I wait until they are safely aloft, lest they get stranded at the airport. So, with an hour or so to wait, I wandered around, at one point thinking that a panoramic picture of the main concourse there, as public a place as you'll find in all the country, might be worth making. So I did.

Whereupon a woman in a TSA uniform came up and demanded to know what I was doing there, why I was doing it, and so on. I smiled and showed her the picture I had made and even gave her one of my business cards. She seemed suspicious in a bad movie about a third-world dictatorship sort of way.

I was very polite, as is my way. Finally I headed up the escalator toward the car. As I left, I saw the sun reflecting nicely in one of the big windows bordering the parking lot. It looked as if it might make a nice picture, so I raised my camera to my eye.

Just then comes a Columbus policeman on a bicycle. In contrast to the surly, sullen TSA harridan, he was superbly polite and pleasant. The TSA, he said, had reported me as a suspicious person and he had been sent to check me out. We talked amiably, but then he suggested that the TSA was not happy with me, kind of shrugged in a "whatcha gonna do?" fashion, and we both laughed. I left, figuring that at that moment the TSA was trying to find someone who knew the alphabet well enough to enter my name onto a watch list.

But I had my picture. That's the important thing. I was free, now, to share with you the photograph I took, the one that mobilized the crack storm troopers of the Transportation Safety Administration.

I don't enjoy it, though, because when I see it I am reminded of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and how our response has been tragic, too.

Editor's note: Dennis E. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. His column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at


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The terrorists have won; they have changed America. We are told by our own government that we must be afraid all the time, that terrorists are all around us --- indeed our government tellsus that the terrorists are us.




Think you're being a little silly about all this. I'm one of the potential victims of the attacks on 9/11. I'm glad the TSA, flawed though they are, are hostile and suspicious.

So you took a panoramic picture and posted it on a blog bewailing the attention your behavior got from an alert TSA agent. My opinion is you would be one of the first to point the finger at the TSA's incompetence if 30 people around the country were doing the same thing around the same time and no one noticed, subsequent to an attack.

The fact is, if someone came around my home or workplace that wasn't doing business or known to me taking pictures, I would approach and ask questions also. People have been doing this for 100s of years. It's just recently that people have been ignoring everything around them and choosing to rely on Police/Government/Someone Else to protect them.

If you see something, say something. It's not about a loss of innocence. It's about waking up from a funk of urban anonymity and self-absorption. It's a good thing in my opinion.



There has not been a single documented attack where photographs were necessary or even used to further the attack.  When we raided Bin Laden's compound, nary a photo of a target was to be seen.  No photos needed on 9/11, either.

Photography is not a crime; it is, in fact, a right protected by the Constitution. You may be willing to trade your freedom for the illusion of temporary safety, but other reasonable people cannot. Preventing photography, fondling genitals, asking intrusive questions and dosing people with x-rays doesn't make America any safer, it simply makes it look as if something is being done.


The airport checkpoints have a limited permissible purpose - searching for weapons, incendiaries and explosives.  The TSA has gone far beyond that purpose, though, and is now seeing to provide revenue protection and is searching for violations of a wide array of laws to the detriment of their actual, lawful aim.

We can never be completely safe.  Anyone who tells you that you can is simply trying to sell you something.  There is risk involved in all activities, even walking to the office (which, if you walk more than 4 blocks in NYC each day, is actually 40,000 times more likely to cause you injury than any terrorist attack).

It’s time to stop living in fear.  The longer we continue to give up our liberty and our freedoms because of what bad people might do, the longer they can rightly continue to claim a victory over us.