In fact, chemists worldwide doubt that even the most accomplished terrorist can concoct such a combustive cocktail high above the Atlantic. A British jury this summer didn't buy the allegations, either. Due to lack of evidence, only eight of the plot's original 25 suspects finally made it to trial. As it turns out, police should have freed all the defendants: jurors refused to convict anyone of terrorism. They exonerated one man, returned no verdict on four others, and settled on lesser charges for the remaining three.
But none of these facts seem to matter to the TSA. It needs something to justify its existence: Despite six years of patting down passengers, it hasn't reported uncovering a single terrorist. No wonder it latched onto the nonsense about liquid bombs. Ferreting out and confiscating everyday substances not only makes work for 43,000 screeners, it also fools us into thinking this protects us.
The TSA has always been a political, not practical, response to 9/11. It hassles us at checkpoints not because of penetrating insights on security or some brilliant breakthrough, but because politicians handed it power. Specialists in security didn't invent the TSA; the Bush administration imposed it on us. So we might hope the incoming president would abolish this absurd agency.
Unfortunately, Barack Obama wants to improve the TSA rather than send it packing. His suggestions for that improvement? Passengers still aren't screened against a comprehensive terrorist watch list, his website proclaims. Such a list must be developed.
Why? The watch list has already kept Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts off planes: Will a comprehensive list bar Republican congressmen, too? That'll protect us about as well as unionizing screeners will – another change the campaigning Obama said he favors.