Column Date 2007-05-06

Underwear terrorism: the next al-Qaeda tactic?

(The first in our groundbreaking new series “Get The News Before It Happens.” The story below has not actually occurred yet. But when it does, remember that you read it here first.)

Seattle, WA. The Department of Homeland Security removed a passenger from a Seattle commuter flight this morning when passengers smelled something burning and alerted the captain of the aircraft.

Airport authorities said that the passenger, described as a chubby, male caucasian in his mid 40s, had lit a match while the plane was still at the gate. He allegedly unbuckled his pants and tried to set his underwear on fire.

The man was taken into custody and his underpants rushed to a forensic laboratory in Washington, D.C. The terrorist threat level was raised to “yellow.”

A behavioral psychologist who happened to be on the flight said the man had been talking to himself during the entire boarding process and appeared to be seriously mentally unbalanced. Members of the flight crew said that they saw nothing out of the ordinary, pointing out that many passengers appear to be talking to themselves while using their cellphones’ wireless earpieces.

“He just looked like another businessman arguing with somebody on the phone,” said one flight attendant. “Nobody noticed that he wasn’t wearing an earpiece and didn’t have a cellphone.”

Homeland Security officials in Washington quickly announced a new initiative to fight potential “underwear terrorism.”

“We have no choice other than to ban underwear on all flights until our labs can analyze the suspect’s underwear and figure out if this is some new kind of al-Qaeda plot,” said a grim-faced Homeland Security spokesperson.

This new episode is reminiscent of an incident, five years ago, when Richard C. Reid tried to set his sneakers on fire aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Explosives found inside his sneakers resulted in a policy that requires all passengers to remove their shoes for x-rays before boarding a flight.

More recently, Homeland Security banned liquids and gels on aircraft because of the potential of mixing together otherwise harmless chemicals to make explosives on board the plane.

Currently, only 3–ounce containers of liquids or gels are allowed, since mixing these small quantities together would not result in enough explosive force to do any damage.

A similar approach might solve the exploding underwear problem, an official said, suggesting that women only be allowed to wear mini-thongs, and men just jock straps on board aircraft.

Another possibility is that all passengers would be required to remove their underwear before the security checkpoints, and send the underwear (along with their shoes, belts, watches, cellphones, money-clips, sunglasses, rings, bracelets, loose change and American flag lapel pins) through the x-ray machine.

“Actually, nobody really has to wear underwear,” remarked one anonymous TSA official. “In the ancient world, men didn’t wear anything under their loincloths,” he said, “and even as recently as Roman times, it is debatable whether women wore undergarments at all.”

How the TSA was actually planning to check passengers’ underwear was not disclosed, although sources said that the rumor they were training “crotch-sniffing” dogs was completely unfounded.

Calls to Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein were not returned.

©2007 Peter Tannen