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Airport Security Backlash Gathering Steam

James Fallows continues to bang the drum on the absurd procedures to which Americans are subjected in the name of airport security, noting that far less draconian measures are used in Communist China and that American soldiers are prohibited from using such intrusive searches in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, AmericaBlog‘s Chris in Paris notes, former TSA security director Mo McGowan admits that the searches violate the 4th Amendment but, hey, “the truth of the matter is that we’re gonna have to do it.”

And John Tyner, a blogger who got his 15 minutes of fame over the weekend for posting a video of his interactions with TSA personnel at the San Diego airport is being investigated by TSA and could be subjected to an $11,000 fine for his refusal to let airport security grope his testicles.  (In fairness, Tyner was clearly trying to make a scene. Further, while I think the searches are unreasonable and unconstitutional, it would be an even more absurd policy to let people opt out of searches once they’ve been flagged.)

John Mica, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has written to the “heads of more than 150 airports nationwide suggesting they opt out of TSA screenings,” saying they’re all “a big Kabuki dance.”

And Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the hero of Flight 1549, is speaking out on the absurdity — and health risks — of requiring pilots to go through these scans, noting that they are not only pre-screened but have more obvious ways of creating mischief in the skies than smuggling contraband aboard the planes that they control.

Despite the growing number of stories like these, Nate Silver points out, the polling continues to show that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of these procedures. He speculates, however, that this is a function of the fact that most Americans don’t actually fly and are therefore never subject to the searches in question.

Not to mention, of course, the fact that the searches are useless against serious terrorists.

Few people, alas, are willing to subject themselves to the aggravation that Tyner’s going through.  They may silently stop flying — as many of us have, at least for shorter trips — but they’re not likely to do much about their outrage over the system.  And, since most people don’t really fly, anyway, it’s easy for politicians to demagogue the issue in the name of “public safety.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    “…his refusal to let airport security grope his testicles. (In fairness, Tyner was clearly trying to make a scene. Further, while I think the searches are unreasonable and unconstitutional, it would be an even more absurd policy to let people opt out of searches once they’ve been flagged.)”

    Yeah, and in further pursuit of “fairness” – the search is in no way a “groping of testicles”.
    So you are left with not much here..

    Oh, and maybe the security in China is a bit less because China is not a major target of terrorists. Could that possibly be?

    “, the fact that the searches are useless against serious terrorists.”

    How is that? Are you simply defining “serious terrorists” as those that use methods that would not be detected? Which would make your statement a tautology…
    The inspection methods are specifically designed to counter known threats – modes of attack that have been tried in the recent past.

    And furthermore, how can you claim they are useless given that there have been no successful attacks? They may in fact be calibrated perfectly to deter the actual terrorists that might otherwise be hiding some PETN on their body – apparently the method of choice these days.

    “..they’re not likely to do much about their outrage over the system”

    Well, with all due respect to my fellow citizens, this is because we are basically a nation of whiners. I seriously question the sincerity of this whole anti-screening flurry of the past few weeks. Some few on the far left just are opposed to anything having to do with dealing with terrorism, while the right is just in absolute anti-administration mode. When the right was in power, they, of course, were charging full speed ahead in embracing every possible security measure, without the slightest concern for personal freedom or integrity. Now that the other side has the responsibility, they can milk these ‘concerns” for political advantage. Thats all that is going on here….

    “this is a function of the fact that most Americans don’t actually fly”

    And this analysis flies in the face of the fact that of the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who do fly, and have dealt with these new security measures, 99.9% of them have not realized yet that they were supposed to be outraged about it. In other words, it is the flying public, as well as the non-flying public which seems overwhelmingly not to mind these measures.

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  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Frankly, I think the images of children violate the law when it comes to creating child porn. I can the future news item where TSA agent is found with 500 images of prepubescent children on his home computer or some such.

    But hey, we’ll be safe right?

    Oh and Tano, after reading your comments on this topic in numerous threads I have to say you strike me as the epitome of what de Toqueville had in mind at the end of his Democracy in America.

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  3. JKB says:

    Further, while I think the searches are unreasonable and unconstitutional, it would be an even more absurd policy to let people opt out of searches once they’ve been flagged.)

    That is the most absurd thing ever written. Unless a sworn law enforcement officer can articulate a reasonable suspicion (not predicated on the individual standing on their 4th amendment right) of illegal activity there is no authority for the government to search the individual. Just deciding that oops we can’t have constitutional rights if we attempt to travel is how you lose them all and how idiots give away the greatest country on earth.

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  4. c.red says:

    Where can I sign up? TSA really is obnoxious these days and I’m not convinced they actually are very effective.

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I think it is more about the Homeland Security Lobby, Security Workers Union, corporate contractors and funding than it is about actual security. It’s hard to justify fees for hundreds of airport guards if they stand around visibilly not doing anything.

    (Somewhat OT and true story – I was recently in an airport and saw four guards standing around one of those metal tables at the terminal gate with a single bag sitting on it. I overheard one of them say, “I’m not going to open it, you open it.” and then the consensus became to get a supervisor. Just so you know, it takes five TSA guards to deal with one lost bag.)

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  5. legion says:

    I think the TSA is about to get a lesson in civics. They do NOT get to decide what is a proper level & application of security for Americans – American society does. This is what it looks like when society pushes back & says “you’ve gone too far”.

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  6. Ben says:

    Tano, all the reports so far have been that TSA agents are telling people that the new procedure is to slide their hand up each leg until they “meet resistance”. What, pray tell, at the top end of your legs is going to provide “resistance”? Might that be your testicles? I certainly as hell don’t want to have to choose between being electronically strip searched by the full body imaging, or having someone slide their hands up into my testicles.

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  7. […] of the gathering public outcry against invasive screenings by the Transportation Security Administratio… that James Joyner wrote about earlier today, Glenn Reynolds passes along a link which shows that […]

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  8. Tano says:

    ” it would be an even more absurd policy to let people opt out of searches once they’ve been flagged.)

    That is the most absurd thing ever written. ”

    Actually, I think it is your position that is the most absurd thing ever written – that if someone refuses to comply with the security search, then we should simply allow them to go through without being searched.

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  9. Tano says:

    “What, pray tell, at the top end of your legs is going to provide “resistance”? ”

    Stopping when you meet resistance on the edge of your hand does not equal “groping”.

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  10. Steve Verdon says:

    TSA Now Putting Hands Down Fliers Pants

    What’s next a reach around while being done in the butt? Christ.

    And this is all prompted by government failure. This is a result of the underwear bomber who was on watch lists and even the CIA new about him and didn’t want him on the various databases. If government actually did its job in the first place we might not have a need for this.

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  11. Ben says:

    Tano,
    Any intentional, unwelcome and unconsented-to touching of testicles/penis/anus/vulva/breasts is a groping in most definitions I’ve seen.

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  12. Tano says:

    “TSA Now Putting Hands Down Fliers Pants”

    Ah, the testimony of a right-wing radio entertainer. Gee, what kind of a spoilsport would cast a skeptical eye at that?

    “And this is all prompted by government failure.”

    And gee, who woulda guessed that? A libertarian somehow comes to the conclusion that this is all the fault of a government failure, rather than say,,,,gee, I don’t know, maybe the fact that there really are terrorists out there trying to blow us up?

    Yeah, lets do away with the TSA,, lets cut the government down to the bone, and then the government would be able to do its job protecting us so much better.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    You know, there is a problem with this ongoing debate. Because the idea that the TSA searches are anything but nonsense is effectively put to paid by the following oft repeated (but not oft enough) fact: right now, at the very moment I’m writing this, every major airport in the country has corralled off hundreds, even thousands of men, women and childre, herded them together in enclosed areas where anyone can work their way into the middle of that crowd while holding all manner of unsearched bags that could contain bombs, guns or flamethrowers. This is the typical line on the outside of the security barrier. There is literally no place in the airport that could have greater fatalities when attacked. This has been going on for 9 years!

    Arguing about the relative merits of whether having someone grab granny out of the line and feel up her bra is a worthwhile security like debating if we should take more Titanic deckhands off iceberg watch so we can put them on the shuffleboard safety squad.

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  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Ah, the testimony of a right-wing radio entertainer. Gee, what kind of a spoilsport would cast a skeptical eye at that?

    You didn’t read the whole article Tano.

    Not a right wing radio host.

    A Missouri City man says what he experienced at a security checkpoint in a Florida airport was nothing short of criminal.

    Thomas Mollman says he’ll never look at flying the same way again.

    “I felt violated. I felt abused,” Mollman said.

    The 54-year-old Missouri City man had recently undergone surgery and was on pain medication. He was headed home to Houston when a TSA officer stopped him as he was going through security at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

    “He found the cell phone. He found my watch. I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not thinking too straight.’ I showed him what my head looked like,” said Mollman.

    Mollman was patted down and taken to a body scanner, where he claims a TSA officer inappropriately touched him in what was now his third search.

    “I was wearing shorts at the time – between the underwear, right on the skin, all the way around the back, all the way around my front, 360 degrees, touched inappropriately,” he said.

    Mollman, who by this point is humiliated, says he was never given a reason for the invasive searches and was sent on his way.

    “This was an assault. This was no different than a sexual assault,” said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

    And gee, who woulda guessed that? A libertarian somehow comes to the conclusion that this is all the fault of a government failure, rather than say,,,,gee, I don’t know, maybe the fact that there really are terrorists out there trying to blow us up?

    And only a lickspittle statist would gladly give away his rights for some percieved increase in his safety. Do you have to be such a complete ass all the time.

    The point is, the government screwed up and let the underwear bomber on a plane when they shouldn’t have. Now we have this. Nude body scanning, rather invasive pat downs, and now two reports of actually reaching inside people’s pants.

    Yeah, lets do away with the TSA….

    I didn’t write that.

    …lets cut the government down to the bone, and then the government would be able to do its job protecting us so much better.

    I didn’t write that either.

    Grow up Tano.

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  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***And gee, who woulda guessed that? A libertarian somehow comes to the conclusion that this is all the fault of a government failure, rather than say,,,,gee, I don’t know, maybe the fact that there really are terrorists out there trying to blow us up?***

    lol, nice excuses for groping everyone and their grandma….

    Profile now!!!!

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  16. Tano says:

    So Steve, lets see now. You are not for doing away with TSA, and you are not for cutting government to the bone. And you do want the government to do its job and protect us.

    So how do you imagine doing this? Shall we have metal-detectors at airports, or not? Search bags or not? How much lick-spittling are you in favor of?

    Should we be statist enough so that all potential terrorist shall reside in government databases, and their movements tracked 24/7? Shall all supplies of PETN be monitored by the government, such that whenever a gram or two intercepts the path of one of the potential terrorists we track, the SWAT teams are immediately deployed – so that we never need bother innocent people at airports?

    How do you propose to keep plastic explosives off of passenger planes? Or should we just be content to know that if the terrorist blows up the plane, then he will also be, at the same moment, accepting the consequences of his own actions?

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  17. mantis says:

    Some few on the far left just are opposed to anything having to do with dealing with terrorism, while the right is just in absolute anti-administration mode.

    And some of us are concerned that ineffective technologies purchased by the previous administration and greatly profiting a client of former HSA chief Michael Chertoff’s consulting company, the Chertoff Group, are not going to keep anyone any safer, but will subject air travelers to invasive procedures and/or force them to become unwitting porno stars. Oh, and when the TSA says those machines can’t save the images, they’re lying.

    The TSA claimed last year that the machines cannot store nor transmit the images, but officials later admitted that the agency required manufacturers to include those functions for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.”

    So some of us would like to see our airport safety procedures resemble systems that have been proven to work (see: Israel), that focus on behavioral profiling, instead of a massive system of underpaid, undertrained workers ogling and groping travelers.

    And furthermore, how can you claim they are useless given that there have been no successful attacks?

    These systems have not been in widespread use yet, and before the past couple of months were barely used at all. Are you saying that extremely limited deployment is responsible for the fact that we haven’t had any successful terrorist attacks on airplanes/airports? What do you base this on?

    When the right was in power, they, of course, were charging full speed ahead in embracing every possible security measure, without the slightest concern for personal freedom or integrity. Now that the other side has the responsibility, they can milk these ‘concerns” for political advantage. Thats all that is going on here….

    I’m on the left, and I’m opposed to these. So, you know, there might be a bit more going on here.

    In other words, it is the flying public, as well as the non-flying public which seems overwhelmingly not to mind these measures.

    Just you wait.

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  18. Steve Verdon says:

    I notice Tano that all of your approaches deal only with the use of government coercion. You seem to have an affinity for it. Body scanners, groin checks, and now SWAT deployments in all your wild straw man suggestions.

    The point is that the procedures and databases that were in place failed. TSA failed. The government failed. So the solution is to give these failures even more power? Not say to them, “Why don’t you stop failing in the first place?”

    I think we all realize who the real ideologue is here and it is you. You seem to have an affection for government power so long as you perceive it as enhancing your security, and whether it actually does or invades yours or others privacy is of not much concern. We got it. From now you you can just type:

    Obligatory government suck up post by Tano.

    We’ll know what it means.

    How do you propose to keep plastic explosives off of passenger planes?

    Serious suggestion: we have lots and lots of dogs in this country that have been abandoned. The numbers are staggering and heart breaking. You’d like a dog that has a high prey drive–i.e. will be focused on doing its job–and has a level of intelligence. Dog’s also have a pretty good ability to sniff out things like bombs. Personally, I’d recommend well bred American Pit Bull Terriers of which there are literally thousands right now waiting to die in the shelter system. From that population we could probably put more dogs in airports than we have these machines. The could check passengers, luggage, and planes as well as other parts of the terminal. Instead they will end up filling up a dead bucket.

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  19. Steve Verdon says:

    GAO Report Says Scanners May Not Have Stopped Xmas Day Bomber

    GAO Report

    Homeland Security: Better Use of Terrorist Watchlist Information and Improvements in Deployment of Passenger Screening Checkpoint Technologies Could Further Strengthen Security

    The White House’s review of the December 25 attempted terrorist attack noted that Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father met with U.S. Embassy officers in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss his concerns that his son may have come under the influence of unidentified extremists and had planned to travel to Yemen.14 However, according to NCTC, the information in the State Department’s nomination report did not meet the criteria for watchlisting in TSC’s consolidated terrorist screening database per the government’s established and approved nomination standards. NCTC also noted that the State Department cable nominating Mr. Abdulmutallab had no indication that the father was the source of the information. According to the White House review of the December 25 attempted attack, the U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered and potentially disrupted the attack—including by placing Mr. Abdulmutallab on the No Fly list—but analysts within the intelligence community failed to connect the dots that could have identified and warned of the specific threat.

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  20. matt says:

    APBT are damned good at working if you train them well..

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  21. […] Airport Security Backlash Gathering Steam (outsidethebeltway.com) […]

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  22. Steve Verdon says:

    Exactly my thought, they almost love it. And with all those people around they would love it. And we wouldn’t have incidents like this either. It has been my experience that young kids love APBTs, probably cause they haven’t heard all the fear mongering. Heck the kid wouldn’t even known a search was in progress.

    Down with the nanny state and up with the nanny dog!

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  23. […] of airport security procedures to add to the number of OTB posts on the subject (a few examples:  here, here and here), I suspect that opposition to the procedures will ultimately not matter much.  The […]

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  24. anjin-san says:

    > Just deciding that oops we can’t have constitutional rights

    For years after 9.11, the battle cry of the right was “Oh God, oh please, I don’t care what you do, just keep me safe from Osama”. The Stalinists liberals warned about the ongoing expansion of the power of the federal government under Unitary Executive Bush, and were rewarded for their efforts by being called traitors and being asked why they hated America.

    Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the right is doing what it does best, whining at ear shattering volume. I guess you guys are feeling your oats now that you don’t have Cheney telling you how scared you need to be every 15 minutes.

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  25. James Joyner says:

    For years after 9.11, the battle cry of the right was “Oh God, oh please, I don’t care what you do, just keep me safe from Osama” […] Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the right is doing what it does best, whining at ear shattering volume. I guess you guys are feeling your oats now that you don’t have Cheney telling you how scared you need to be every 15 minutes.

    I don’t know about “the right” but, here at OTB, we’ve been railing about this sort of stuff from the get-go. I wasn’t blogging when TSA was set up but vehemently opposed it, on the notion that we’d wind up hiring the very incompetents were were trying to replace, simply at higher salaries, tenure, and a federal badge. And some of my very earliest posts at OTB were making fun of the stupid DHS color coded alert chart.

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  26. Steve Verdon says:

    Putting me on the right is rather amusing considering a number of my positions.

    To totally shift gears, I think it would be great to radically reform our banking system to take as much power large financial institutions currently have away from them and put in the hands of other market participants. Considering that by and large Republican and Democrat politicians oppose this it underscores the limited range of thinking of those who insist on the left-right paradigm.

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  27. matt says:

    Your link tells me stuff I already know from first hand experience. I rescued a pit mix and my sister has the most loving 60 lb female APBT you could ever imagine (she’s changed a lot of views with her dog).

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  28. Madge says:

    Oh please, this is all about the government seeing what they can get away with in the new world order of enslavement. Apparently they can get away with a lot since parents will stand there idle by while their small children sons and daughters are sexually molested right in front of them and of course in the name of safety. There are Youtube videos of children being groped by TSA and thousands of stories from people explaining their groping experiences and it would be nice if your news media would actually show the public so that the American sheeple will wake from their comas.

    Those who are willing to give away their freedom in the name of security deserve neither freedom nor security. Benjamin Franklin.

    Some of us do still know our constitution and our rights. We’re more than willing to exercise them!!!!!!!!!!!!

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