Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA, Outrage, and War

So in case you didn't hear, the TSA is under fire for enhancing search procedures. Specifically, people are up in arms about the body scanner that leaves little to the imagination or (if you elect to not go through the scanner) enhanced pat downs. Neither of these options are enjoyable, but how much of this is a real uproar and how much is media grabbing?

According to a CBS poll out last week, 81% of Americans support full-body X-ray scanner with only 15% not supporting the measure. This hasn't stopped calls for a boycott of TSA on Wednesday (the busiest travel day of the year) by some. TSA Administrator John S. Pistole has a statement out which correctly reminds people "we cannot forget less then a year ago a suicide bomber...tried to bring down a plane over Detroit." He has also urged people just this morning to not cause slowdowns at security checkpoints so people can get home to see loved ones.

As someone who will be flying Wednesday, I'm really hoping people heed his request. Of course, bigger happenings are afoot in the halls of Congress. Ron Paul has introduced legislation that would open up TSA employees to prosecution if they engage in enhanced pat downs. Rep. John Mica of Florida has said TSA should be ditched for private contractors. Of course the TSA, when asked for comment simply stated private contractors wouldn't be a cure all since "TSA sets the security standards that must be followed." Perhaps Rep. Mica will be more comfortable having a private contractor copping a feel as opposed to a federal employee?

I spend a fair bit of time in airports. I have been patted down just so I could board a plane in Columbia. I have been interrogated by a Federale in Mexico. I have suffered long lines, forgotten belts, and I tend to look for men in suits when figuring out which security line I'm going to go through, but I take this as all part of the process. The security procedures could be overblown, but clearly (based on the CBS poll) most American are fine with whats being done.

My issue is this: How can you be up in arms about security procedures at airports designed to protect American lives when you voted to send American troops to Iraq? As someone who voted to send troops to Iraq, Rep. Mica should have to answer that question. How is it tolerable to put U.S. troops in harms way but not to go through a full body scanner? (Ron Paul doesn't have to answer the same question. He is consistent in his convictions.)

As for me, I hope people go with the flow through airport security on Wednesday. It won't be enjoyable and special preparations may be needed (fluffer?), but we're in it together. This is the world we live in and while we debate that balance between civil liberty and security I just want to make it to the airplane on time. Overhead space will be at a premium.


Colin said...

The TSA is security theater that does little to actually make us safer. It's an outrage.

Little boys being searched. Nuns. Old women. I read yesterday that a bladder cancer survivor wet their pants because of the pat down and a breast cancer survivor who had to reveal her prosthetic breast. It's beyond absurd.

And for what? Are we really safer? Let's recall that the underwear bomber boarded his plane in Amsterdam and the shoe bomber boarded his flight in Paris, thus these screenings would have done zilch to prevent such attacks.

It's not at all apparent that the TSA has done much if anything to prevent any actual attacks. But you know what has? Passengers. Flight 93 was stopped by passengers before destroying the White House. Passengers stopped both Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

This follows basic security theory, which holds that redundant and unseen countermeasures are much, much more effective than defined checkpoints, which can be identified and defeated. Anecdotally, I can remember standing in line in Denver and then cursing myself for forgetting to take off my little naiclipper/blade combo thingie off of my keychain. Rather than give it up, I placed it in the my digital camera case, figuring that in the X-ray machine it might look like part of the camera. Well, it worked (or maybe the TSA screener just wasn't looking very hard, which is a distinct possibility). Now if this is something that I could think up in just 2 minutes, imagine what a terrorist dedicating themselves to defeating a security checkpoint could come up with?

Let's also note that the TSA is always in a reactive mode. At first we could carry small blades on planes, but then they were banned after 9/11. Our shoes didn't have to be screened until Richard Reid showed up. Then liquids were restricted after a plot was discovered. Now we have the full body scanners after the underwear bomber. We always fight the last battle.

Meanwhile, the Israelis haven't suffered a terror incident for decades without resorting to the ridiculous procedures that we employ.

The real solution here is to abolish the TSA and federal security guidelines. Let the airports and airlines decide their own security arrangements -- it's not like they don't have a huge amount of self interest at stake. Let passengers choose their own security/convenience tradeoffs. If you want the full cavity search, fly the airline that demands that. If you'd rather preserve some of your time and dignity but chance it a little more, that should be an option too. It's your life.

Surveying the absurd procedures which have been put in place over the last 9 years, it's tempting to conclude that the terrorists really have won. If terrorizing the populace and forcing them to adjust their lifestyle is the goal, they really have prevailed. Land of the free, home of the brave indeed.

Colin said...


Nick said...

Jason! I totally disagree with you on this. If I get blown up in an airplane, or if I get blown up in the security line waiting for TSA to grab my junk--whats the difference?! The notion that we are any safer because of these measures is just totally off-base in my mind. As is the notion that it has somehow become "unreasonable" for me to expect that I should be able to get on a plane without a) having someone look at me naked and/or b) having someone feel around my grundle for explosives. Also, I am skeptical of this 81% of people support the measures number. Are those actual fliers or just the general public? How many of those who support the measures haven't actually gone through the screenings yet? I think public opinion is clearly headed toward the negative on this one, and I do hope that we are finally drawing the line somewhere. Anyways, just my thoughts, cheers man, -Nick C

Nick said...