9/11 phobia leads to grounding incidents, evacuations

Anyone who hoped to spend the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in quiet reflection will probably be disappointed. During the last few days, the prevailing sentiment in America has been fear, if not paranoia.

On Wednesday, an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Washington was canceled and all the passengers sent through security again after a passenger reported that two other travelers were acting suspiciously. Authorities interviewed the passengers and released them without charges. What caused the alert? That’s unclear.

A Southwest flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to BWI Airport yesterday was diverted to Nashville International Airport because of a passenger’s “suspicious behavior.” We don’t know what the passenger’s actions were (perhaps he was reading a book) but according to a Southwest spokesman, it “caused some concern” and triggered the diversion. All the passengers were rescreened in Nashville. Nothing was found, and the flight continued.

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Several gates at Washington Dulles International Airport were evacuated late yesterday after a bomb-sniffing dog sniffed something. An ordnance team from Virginia State Police was sent to the scene, and two flights were canceled. In Kansas City this morning, an argument over carry-on luggage escalated into a completely unnecessary security scare.

A New York-bound flight this afternoon was given a fighter jet escort to JFK because passengers had locked themselves in the bathroom. Seriously. Even the airline involved called it a “big nothing.” Here’s another bathroom incident that happened today in Detroit.

The fear isn’t confined to the sky. In Los Angeles yesterday, a bus was evacuated because one of the passengers looked like a terrorist.

Meanwhile, government officials have admitted that efforts to disrupt a rumored 9/11 anniversary attack are becoming a “goose chase.” Authorities had been questioning all day the credibility of a tip from a previously reliable source that Al Qaeda had planned to attack Washington or New York, putting though both cities on high alert.

There’s some interesting wordplay going on, if you read closely. Officials have called it a “credible” threat, and then a “credible but unconfirmed” threat and then finally admitted — off the record — that it’s simply a “goose chase.” Maybe they’ll downgrade it to a “wild goose chase” tomorrow.

These clever semantics aren’t appreciated by most Americans and are glossed over by the TV and Internet pundits. That’s too bad.

The sad truth is, the Department of Homeland Security and TSA have a very powerful incentive to stir up our collective fear and paranoia, and critics say they are using rhetoric to further that goal.

Getting us riled up serves a purpose. If we believe we’re in imminent danger, we’re far less likely to question the increasingly heavy-handed security measures, including pat-downs, chat-downs and body-scans.

Some might say this is the best 9/11 anniversary ever for America’s security apparatus, because the people are finally buying it. I hope they’re wrong about that.

I’m interested in your opinion. Are security officials reacting appropriately to the 9/11 anniversary — or opportunistically?