Last month, Helen Chenoweth-Hage attempted to board a United Airlines flight from Boise to Reno when she was pulled aside by airline personnel for additional screening, including a pat-down search for weapons or unauthorized materials.To someone who grew up in the Soviet Union this definitely sounds like a blast from the past. Both the Communist Party and the security apparatus there often enforced internal regulations that were secret. Not infrequently, those regulations also ran counter to the official legal norms.
Chenoweth-Hage, an ultra-conservative former Congresswoman (R-ID), requested a copy of the regulation that authorizes such pat-downs.
"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).
"She refused to go through additional screening [without seeing the regulation], and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."
Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.
"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.
"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.
Thus, in a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.
Welcome to Boise, Idaho of 2004. There you may just be lucky enough to get a taste of Voronezh, Russia of 1980.