IN THE NEWS
One of the lessons of 9/11 should be, "Forget the exotic threats for the time being. Start working on the easier, lower tech ones, like hijacking airliners with pepper spray and box cutters, then crashing them into buildings."
That focus, of course, requires a great deal of information sifting and filtering. The famous "signal-to-noise" ratio needs to be kept high, since there's a lot of noise. Consider the number of airline passengers travelling in and out of the United States each day, the number of ports of entry to monitor, the crossing points at the borders with Canada and Mexico, the number of boats the Coast Guard needs to track...It's a staggering amount of data.
That's why, when faced with real risks, cool heads need to prevail. If we jump at every terrorist-shaped shadow, we're going to be easily overwhelmed with potential threats, to the point where we can't possibly catch a real terrorist. An astute customs official caught someone involved in the planned "Millennium Bombings." That person needs to know whom to wave on, and whom to pull over.
Therefore, alarmist characters like Annie Jacobsen make a bad situation worse. There's a definite line between being alert and being panic-striken. It's not that fine a line, too, just one that requires a bit of maturity, good sense, and caution--both about your fellow passengers, and your own fears.
Read the piece in Salon and see what you think. I concluded that, given the signal-to-noise challenge I've outlined, the author has good reason to be outraged. Not only do people like Jacobsen raise the risk of abusing innocent travellers, but they also clog the information arteries with junk.