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Fri, July 19

Organic Matters: Safety of our commercial flights still not up to where it should be for comfort

I am not certain when the last time was that I took a commercial airline flight, but I think it was when I went to the funeral of my aunt and godmother in 1989.

I may never have reason to fly again, since my only living relatives are a nephew, a niece and a handful of cousins scattered throughout New York, Virginia and New Mexico.

The recent incident of a North Carolina college student placing box cutters aboard two Southwest Airlines planes and leaving a written explanation of how he did it to point out flaws that still exist in airport security measures bolstered my belief that flying still carries an element of risk.

The young man's act was one of civil disobedience for sure and, yes, he broke federal law.

But someone making a contribution that could improve security for all in the future, an act in which nobody was harmed, should be praised not prosecuted.

If the student had simply gone to authorities to tell them of security problems at airports would anyone have taken him seriously, or even listened? I doubt it.

A demonstration was necessary.

An Associated Press story last week indicates the FBI plans to invoke national security guidelines to more easily investigate the background of individuals for potential terrorist activities.

The guidelines permit the FBI to conduct a "threat assessment" on anyone without any evidence of a crime or threat to national security.

Talk about Big Brother looking over your shoulder this is it.

Court orders would still be needed to conduct wiretaps and search warrants.

But the relaxed guidelines will permit credit checks on individuals or put someone's name through a law enforcement database before beginning a formal investigation.

There has been plenty of hoopla about the Do Not Call lists being implemented to protect consumers from unwanted telephone solicitations.

I'm afraid the new security guidelines will be even more intrusive on our right to privacy.

Uncle Sam has given federal authorities increasing powers of surveillance and detention through the Patriot Act, while at the same time trying to stifle creative thinkers like that college student.

"This is exactly what Americans are worried about," Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the AP.

"It's the notion that the government can put your life under a microscope without any evidence that you're doing anything wrong."

Some equally disturbing news in the war on terrorism emerged last week with the announcement federal officials believe al-Qaida was trying to bring additional hijackers into the country before the attacks of Sept.

11, 2001.

The 19 hijackers of the four jets that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field were in the United States by late June of that year.

Documents with many parts heavily blacked out to protect classified information suggest the operation was much more in flux than previously thought.

Additional hijackers may have attempted to enter the U.S.

to bolster the 19 who died in the attacks.

Another theory that has been put forth is that a second wave of hijackings from West Coast cities was planned that day with other targets, perhaps Hoover Dam, to be struck.

We probably will never know for certain.

But the potential for more deaths than the roughly 2,800 of Sept.

11 makes me shiver to think about it.

Finally, it was good to read about and see television pictures of the USS Nimitz returning to its homeport of San Diego last week following an eight-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The carrier's 6,000 sailors had joyful reunions with family members as reporters looked on.

It turns out that 64 Navy wives gave birth during the Nimitz's mission, so there were a lot of new fathers seeing babies in person for the first time.

Nimitz aircraft flew more than 6,500 sorties during the carrier's first deployment since a major overhaul in 1997.

It was one of six carrier battle groups positioned within striking distance of Iraq.

It's too bad it will not be the last such cruise the Nimitz and other carriers in our fleet must make in the effort to stamp out terrorists still entrenched in the Persian Gulf region.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.

His columns appear bi-weekly.


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