I remove my shoes and belt when a TSA agent asks. I’m polite when some officer throws away my toothpaste or barks, “Take off your jacket!” Working in the nation’s capital, I have endured endless bag checks, traffic delays and pedestrian diversions in the name of security.
So imagine my surprise to find that apparently all it takes to defeat the multimillion-dollar air defense of Washington, D.C., is a box of tinker toys, a rubber band and an angry postman. Not quite, but close.
Although the facts are still emerging, it seems as if this guy in his 60s from Florida slipped through some of the most heavily guarded airspace in the land at a dazzling 25 miles per hour. He was piloting a gyrocopter, which is basically the bastard child of a riding lawn mower and a helicopter. They fly a couple hundred feet up and are really slow.
What’s more, this man let all sorts of folks know what he was planning. He talked to the Tampa Bay Times and helped them produce a video about his plot. He reportedly chatted with the Secret Service (insert your joke here). His website says he even emailed the White House to let them know he was taking off to deliver more than 500 letters to members of Congress demanding campaign finance reform.
He says he launched more than an hour outside D.C.’s no-fly zone, and he thought he might be blasted from the sky by a jet, incinerated by a missile or at least shadowed by a helicopter. As he put it, a Boy Scout with a BB gun could have taken him down.
Too bad the vaunted security forces of the capital didn’t have one of those. Because as it is, he apparently sailed in undetected and unchallenged. Sure, he was arrested when he landed, and they didn’t let him deliver his letters. But he delivered an unintended message just the same. And amid their embarrassment, security forces ought to be grateful it was not a whole lot worse. Because one day, it could be.
Tom Foreman is a CNN correspondent and author of the upcoming book “My Year of Running Dangerously: A dad, a daughter, and a ridiculous plan.”