Backlash at TSA Security Finally Happening?

It appears that full body scanners, operated by leering yahoos under the cover of government authority, may finally be rousing the sheep who have meekly submitted to the absurd delays and indignities that have been piled on since 9/11 and sundry botched attempts.

It appears that full body scanners, operated by leering yahoos under the cover of government authority, may finally be rousing the sheep who have meekly submitted to the absurd delays and indignities that have been piled on since 9/11 and sundry botched attempts.  CNN reports a “Growing backlash against TSA body scanners, pat-downs.”

A growing pilot and passenger revolt over full-body scans and what many consider intrusive pat-downs couldn’t have come at a worse time for the nation’s air travel system.

Thanksgiving, the busiest travel time of the year, is less than two weeks away.  Grassroots groups are urging travelers to either not fly or to protest by opting out of the full-body scanners and undergo time-consuming pat-downs instead.

Such concerns prompted a meeting Friday of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano with leaders of travel industry groups.  Napolitano met with the U.S.Travel Association and 20 travel companies “to underscore the Department’s continued commitment to partnering with the nation’s travel and tourism industry to facilitate the flow of trade and travel while maintaining high security standards to protect the American people,” the department said in a statement.

[…]”While the meeting with Secretary Napolitano was informative, it was not entirely reassuring,” the U.S. Travel Association said in a statement.  “We certainly understand the challenges that DHS confronts, but the question remains, ‘where do we draw the line’? Our country desperately needs a long-term vision for aviation security screening, rather than an endless reaction to yesterday’s threat,” the statement said. “At the same time, fundamental American values must be protected.”

The travel industry is concerned that consumers may decide not to take a plane to Aunt Gertrude’s for the holiday.  “We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travelers vowing to stop flying,” Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, told Reuters.  A 2008 survey found that air travelers “avoided” 41 million trips because they believed the air travel system was either “broken” or in need of “moderate correction,” the U.S. Travel Association said. The decisions cost airlines $9.4 billion, the survey said.

One online group, “National Opt Out Day” calls for a day of protest against the scanners on Wednesday, November 24, the busiest travel day of the year.  Another group argues the TSA should remove the scanners from all airports. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a non-profit privacy advocacy group, is taking legal action, saying the TSA should be required to conduct a public rule-making to evaluate the privacy, security and health risks caused by the body scanners.

Pilots’ unions for US Airways and American Airlines are urging their members to avoid full-body scanning at airport security checkpoints, citing health risks and concerns about intrusiveness and security officer behavior.  “Pilots should NOT submit to AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) screening,” wrote Capt. Mike Cleary, president of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, in a letter to members this week. USAPA represents more than 5,000 US Airways pilots.  “Based on currently available medical information, USAPA has determined that frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks,” Cleary wrote.

Napolitano told industry leaders that biometric identification, such as retinal scanning and thorough background checks will expedite the screening of 80,000 passengers who participate in “trusted traveler” programs, the department said.

In a blog posting this week, the TSA said pat-downs “have long been one of the many security measures TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.”

[…]

The TSA has deployed nearly 350 advanced imaging technology (body scanner) units in nearly 70 U.S. airports, administrator John Pistole said recently. “By the end of calendar year 2011, we plan to have deployed approximately 1,000 units.”  The agency is exploring enhancements to the technology.  “This capability would make screening more efficient and would eliminate most privacy concerns about the technology,” Pistole said.

Privacy concerns aren’t the only reason for protests.  Some scientists and two major airline pilots unions contend not enough is known about the effects of the small doses of X-ray radiation emitted by one of the two types of airport scanning machines.  The Transportation Security Administration’s advanced imaging technology machines use two separate means of creating images of passengers — backscatter X-ray technology and millimeter-wave technology.  While the TSA says the machines are safe, backscatter technology raises concerns among some because it uses small doses of ionizing radiation. The use of millimeter-wave technology hasn’t received the same attention, and radiation experts say it poses no known health risks.

The Atlantic‘s James Fallows links several articles pointing to more evidence of a backlash.  Among them is a Salon piece by Patrick Smith (“News flash: Deadly terrorism existed before 9/11“) which reminds us that there were all manner of terrorist attacks involving air travel in the 1980s and we didn’t flip out.

Fallows’ colleague Jeffrey Goldberg has been chronicling his personal resistance for a few weeks. In “For the First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance,” he reports on a trip last month through Baltimore:

At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”

I answered, “If you’re a terrorist, you’re going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina.” He blushed when I said “vagina.”

“Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

“What am I not going to like?” I asked.

“We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.

“Resistance?” I asked.

“Your testicles,” he explained.

‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”

[…]

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The Dick-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

[…]

I draw three lessons from this week’s experience: The pat-down, while more effective than previous pat-downs, will not stop dedicated and clever terrorists from smuggling on board small weapons or explosives. When I served as a military policeman in an Israeli army prison, many of the prisoners “bangled” contraband up their asses. I know this not because I checked, but because eventually they told me this when I asked.

The second lesson is that the effectiveness of pat-downs does not matter very much, because the obvious goal of the TSA is to make the pat-down embarrassing enough for the average passenger that the vast majority of people will choose high-tech humiliation over the low-tech ball check.

The third lesson remains constant: By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them. Plots must be broken up long before the plotters reach the target. If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane.

In a follow-up (“‘Are Any Parts of Your Body Sore?’ Asks the Man From TSA“)

Reagan National, 6:40 a.m. today. I opt-out of the humiliating back-scatter machine and ask for a pat-down. Once again, the TSA officers eye me suspiciously. “Wait here,” one says. I wait, and wait some more. One obvious technique the TSA is using to funnel passengers through the back-scatter imager is to waste their time — many people can’t afford to wait five minutes for a pat-down, and will exchange the humiliation of the Federal Dick-Measurer for a speedier trip through security.

So, Americans are going to either have to give up the right to fly — something we’ve taken for granted for nearly a century — or endure further indignities and invasions of our privacy from immature, low IQ yahoos to whom we’ve foolishly given badges and empowered as Federal agents.  All, incidentally, as a bit of security theater to give the illusion of safety that virtually no one is buying anymore.

Alas, the agents have all the power here.  Their ability to embarrass, harass, and delay citizens while conducting unreasonable searches and seizures will ensure that only a token number resist the scans.  And full-body gropings aren’t exactly less intrusive.

The more likely way to change this is for the airline industry to use their muscle to force a change. They haven’t managed to do it so far, despite the annoyances and delays of the previous layers of security theater.   And, surely, they’re losing money as more of us opt to drive for mid-length trips.

Regardless, I’m slightly amused that scanners seem to be the final straw.  While they’re intrusive, they at least potentially make flying infinitesimally safer.  That’s more than I can say for tacking  my laptop out and putting it in a separate tray, taking off my shoes, taking off my sport coat, putting all my toiletries in a plastic bag, disallowing normal sized tubes of toothpaste, and so forth.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Terrorism, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bethany says:

    I wish we did security like the Israelis. Assess threat levels based on ethnicity and body language. We waste so much time on grannies in an effort to not seem like we’re racially profiling. But what is wrong with racially profiling?

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “The more likely way to change this is for the airline industry to use their muscle to force a change.”

    It was the airline industry that created this mess to begin with when they surrendered the security function to the TSA so they wouldn’t have to bear the cost of providing security. They were all too happy to have the TSA assume this role in the beginning but now they have created a monster that has come home to bite them.

    In the end, we will probably end up with a bail out of the airlines and then the government will own them too. Just think how great the service will be then.

  3. Tano says:

    Wow. Joyner ranting like a little Rush-wannabe. This is disappointing.
    And whats up with all this “humiliation” stuff anyway? I went thru the backscatter last week and then went on my way. Was I supposed to feel humiliated or something? Who knew? Or is there some special sensitivity at work here for guys who don’t measure up in some way? 🙂
    Yeah, there is immaturity around, but I don’t think you put your finger on it…

    “So, Americans are going to either have to give up the right to fly …or endure further indignities and invasions of our privacy .”

    Or, of course, there is another alternative. We could get blown up by a terrorist, whether foreign or domestic.

    From Goldberg: “By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them.”

    Really? So I guess we can get rid of all that airport security, right? I mean, why bother with metal detectors, or watch lists, or restricted areas. If the die is cast long before the airport is reached, then we can make our airports as secure as subway stations. Is that what y’all believe?

    “…from immature, low IQ yahoos to whom we’ve foolishly given badges and empowered as Federal agents”

    Thats just nasty. These people are, overwhelmingly, normally intelligent, hard working people, doing a job that helps keep us secure, and doing it in one of the least attractive venues – dealing with the general public when that public is stressed out, in an unfamiliar environment, and likely to slip into posturing or ranting mode – something that we can see here, seems to lie just beneath the surface of quite a few of us.

  4. Linda says:

    When I travel now, I weigh the costs; whether it is cheaper to drive (time and associated costs) vs or to fly (and still needing to rent a car at my destination). My last trip I drove.

    The TSA could learn a thing or two from Israeli airport security. And make us safer in the long run. But that makes too much sense, so the status quo of playing catch up will continue.

  5. Tano says:

    “When I travel now, I weigh the costs; whether it is cheaper to drive …vs or to fly ”

    You didn’t do this before?

  6. Bryan Pick says:

    Tano –

    “So, Americans are going to either have to give up the right to fly …or endure further indignities and invasions of our privacy .”

    Or, of course, there is another alternative. We could get blown up by a terrorist, whether foreign or domestic.

    I think somebody is going to succeed at blowing up another jet at some point. But that’s something we should rationally trade off with other things we value: our time, our privacy, our dignity, convenience.
    Perhaps the problem here is that the federal government has taken upon itself the responsibility for making those trade-offs for us. Or maybe it’s just that the government has bungled the job so badly with inconsistent practices, security theater instead of real security, and unaccountable agents who sometimes act like unaccountable agents.

    From Goldberg: “By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them.”

    Really? So I guess we can get rid of all that airport security, right? I mean, why bother with metal detectors, or watch lists, or restricted areas. If the die is cast long before the airport is reached, then we can make our airports as secure as subway stations. Is that what y’all believe?

    I think airports should be as secure as the customers want them to be. I don’t pay too much attention to what that will require, but I imagine that will mean sniffing and scanning for explosive devices and guns, and otherwise leaving people alone. As long as terrorists can’t seize control of the cockpit, an airplane is no more inherently dangerous than a van parked on the street or a crowded subway train.

    [TSA agents] are, overwhelmingly, normally intelligent, hard working people, doing a job that helps keep us secure, and doing it in one of the least attractive venues – dealing with the general public when that public is stressed out, in an unfamiliar environment, and likely to slip into posturing or ranting mode

    I don’t know how you came to such a broad conclusion about TSA agents; how do you know they’re intelligent or hard-working, and by what standard?

    But I’m sure dealing with stressed-out people is demanding. Perhaps their job would be easier if they stuck with real security instead of security theater.

  7. steve says:

    “I wish we did security like the Israelis.”

    Takes more time and costs more. They profile everyone, not just by race. They assume someone might have slipped something into Granny’s bag while she was not looking. You would also need to rebuild our airports.

    We ned to concentrate on intelligence and not panic every time someone sets off an explosive.

    Steve

  8. Tano says:

    “Perhaps the problem here is that the federal government has taken upon itself the responsibility for making those trade-offs for us”

    Really? You mean the TSA is somehow operating on its own, without supervision of an elected executive, and financing itself independently of any elected legislature?

    “. Or maybe it’s just that the government has bungled the job so badly …”

    Really? How many airplanes, and how many of our fellow citizens have we lost to terrorists since 9/11? I think its rather clear that they have done their job very well indeed.

    “security theater instead of real security,”

    Once again, the air transportation system has been remarkably secure. If we were forcing granny to go through strip searches while terrorists were getting bombs through and blowing up planes on a regular basis, then you might have a point. But the reality is nothing like that.

    “and unaccountable agents who sometimes act like unaccountable agents.”

    How are they unaccountable? If they do anything wrong, is there no recourse? Do you have a sheaf of examples of passengers complaining about agents doing things they are not supposed to, and being rebuffed? Is there evidence that the bureaucracy dismisses out of hand any complaints? What exactly do you mean unaccountable?

    “I think airports should be as secure as the customers want them to be.”

    And isn’t that exactly what they are? Lots of people like to rant about how the security measures seem to respond to the latest threat, but …..duh, of course they do. If we hear about an attempted attack that utilizes a certain method to hide a bomb, and that method works, and we escape the terrible consequences through luck, then you don’t think that the average customer will DEMAND that the system be made secure against such methods?

    All these people in this thread who claim that business for the airlines will go down if these security measures are kept in place are quite wrong, I do believe. The opposite is probably true – there will be a far larger number of people who refuse to fly if they get the sense that the airlines and the TSA are not doing everything they possibly can to secure the system from known modes of attack.

    “As long as terrorists can’t seize control of the cockpit, an airplane is no more inherently dangerous than a van parked on the street ”

    Setting off a bomb as a plane descends into a metropolitan area can kill the several hundred people on board, as well as up to another several hundred on the ground if the plane falls in a certain way. Thats an order of magnitude worse than a van on the street. And, of course, that doesn’t even consider the devastating effect that would have on air travel in general, if people think this type of thing is far more likely to happen than they do now.

    “Perhaps their job would be easier if they stuck with real security instead of security theater.”

    TSA agents do not make policy. Their job is defined for them, and they simply carry it out. And, once again, given the track record of the past ten years, how can you claim that they are delivering something less than real security?

  9. JKB says:

    This will continue as long as people are willing to hand deliver their daughters to her molesters

    All for what? For some vacation? Just don’t visit California. When they plan a conference in Phoenix, just decline to attend since it requires air travel. Do a road trip to Disney World instead of flying in. Make a hard decision as to whether that business trip is worth the financial and moral costs. Think of how it will spread the wealth when conferences have to be held regionally and therefore require more venues or you need a west coast and east coast sales rep who can drive to their customers.

    Sure it requires a bit of sacrifice now but they’ll take it out of your right to privacy anyway. So just stop, take the reduced economic activity to teach Congress and the bureaucracy a lesson on the costs of what they’ve done.

    Now this doesn’t hold true for those with exhibitionist tendencies or who enjoy being felt up, who might gain some sexual excitement from the intrusions, they should go through security multiple times and not hide their excitement.

  10. Tano says:

    “but they’ll take it out of your right to privacy anyway.”

    Well, glad to see at least that you support the existence of a right to privacy.
    Long live the living constitution!

  11. legion says:

    But what is wrong with racially profiling?
    A good question, and one I pretty much never see addressed. The reason is that, in America at least, profiling inevitably winds up being performed based on bigotry and bullying, rather than actual threat information. We tend not to trust governments – or authority figures in general – because they continually show us they can’t be trusted.

  12. I wish we did security like the Israelis. Assess threat levels based on ethnicity and body language. We waste so much time on grannies in an effort to not seem like we’re racially profiling. But what is wrong with racially profiling?

    In other words, “I have no problem with government engaging in humiliating and unwarranted searches as long as it is only happening to THOSE PEOPLE.”

  13. Really? How many airplanes, and how many of our fellow citizens have we lost to terrorists since 9/11? I think its rather clear that they have done their job very well indeed.

    To the extent this is due to policy changes, there are only two things that have changed since 9/11 that have created results: reenforcing cockpit doors and the fact that passengers no longer comply with attempted hijackers. The former is the only one the governmnet can take credit for.

    To a far larger extent, the lack of airline based terrorism is due to the fact that the level of bungling incompetence on display by the terrorists exceeds the level of bungling incompetence on display by our security aparatus.

  14. Tano says:

    “…there are only two things that have changed since 9/11 that have created results:

    And you know this….how?

    Seriously. Give me some reason to think this is anything other than you asserting, with no evidence to back you up, that the only thing that works is what you hope or want to work.

    “the lack of airline based terrorism is due to the fact that the level of bungling incompetence on display by the terrorists exceeds the level of bungling incompetence on display by our security aparatus.”

    Yeah, everyone is a bumbling incompetent except you, when you set yourself to analyzing security threats. Did it ever occur to you that the terrorists look like bumbling incompetents because our security measures have succeeded in closing off all the modes of attack that would be within their capabilities, and they are now left floundering around trying ever more far-fetched methods? In other words, because we are succeeding?

  15. anjin-san says:

    > “…from immature, low IQ yahoos to whom we’ve foolishly given badges and empowered as Federal agents”

    You are not going to treat us to another “sky waiter” rant are you? You have made it pretty clear that you feel working class folks are your inferiors. No need to keep harping on the subject.

  16. Bryan Pick says:

    “Perhaps the problem here is that the federal government has taken upon itself the responsibility for making those trade-offs for us”

    Really? You mean the TSA is somehow operating on its own, without supervision of an elected executive, and financing itself independently of any elected legislature?

    You are hilarious. Yeah, instead of having the process in the hands of people who feel immediate pressure from customers, we have to try to sift through each legislator’s position on the TSA and elect the right president every 4 years?

    Get real. They’re making the trade-offs for us. There is nothing even close to accountability for the TSA right now.

    “Or maybe it’s just that the government has bungled the job so badly …”

    Really? How many airplanes, and how many of our fellow citizens have we lost to terrorists since 9/11? I think its rather clear that they have done their job very well indeed.

    How many of our fellow citizens have we lost to subway bombs since 9/11? How about truck bombs?

    And all without frisking every subway and automobile commuter!

    “security theater instead of real security,”

    Once again, the air transportation system has been remarkably secure. If we were forcing granny to go through strip searches while terrorists were getting bombs through and blowing up planes on a regular basis, then you might have a point. But the reality is nothing like that.

    Well, I believe two times (that I can recall) it’s been passengers who stopped a terrorist attempt — I’m thinking of the shoe bomber and underwear bomber. There will be other creative ways of attempting attacks too, until someone hides something in a cavity, or in their stomach, or gets more creative like Bruce Schneier, or just decides to hit a softer target.

    In the meantime, the air transportation security system has imposed significant costs on travelers and on airlines. And we shouldn’t ignore those costs.

    “and unaccountable agents who sometimes act like unaccountable agents.”

    How are they unaccountable? If they do anything wrong, is there no recourse? Do you have a sheaf of examples of passengers complaining about agents doing things they are not supposed to, and being rebuffed? Is there evidence that the bureaucracy dismisses out of hand any complaints? What exactly do you mean unaccountable?

    I’m not going to do your homework for you. The press has been rife with examples of little abuses and indignities, and I didn’t save up all the links so that I could answer your question. Honestly, demanding a “sheaf of examples” from a random guy on the Internet?

    “I think airports should be as secure as the customers want them to be.”

    And isn’t that exactly what they are? Lots of people like to rant about how the security measures seem to respond to the latest threat, but …..duh, of course they do. If we hear about an attempted attack that utilizes a certain method to hide a bomb, and that method works, and we escape the terrible consequences through luck, then you don’t think that the average customer will DEMAND that the system be made secure against such methods?

    All these people in this thread who claim that business for the airlines will go down if these security measures are kept in place are quite wrong, I do believe. The opposite is probably true – there will be a far larger number of people who refuse to fly if they get the sense that the airlines and the TSA are not doing everything they possibly can to secure the system from known modes of attack.

    Then I suppose you wouldn’t have a problem with putting the airlines and airports in charge and finding out if you’re right.

    See, the TSA doesn’t care how many people fly. Airlines and airports do.

    “As long as terrorists can’t seize control of the cockpit, an airplane is no more inherently dangerous than a van parked on the street ”

    Setting off a bomb as a plane descends into a metropolitan area can kill the several hundred people on board, as well as up to another several hundred on the ground if the plane falls in a certain way. Thats an order of magnitude worse than a van on the street. And, of course, that doesn’t even consider the devastating effect that would have on air travel in general, if people think this type of thing is far more likely to happen than they do now.

    No, it’s not an order of magnitude (ten times) worse. A plane hit with a small explosive inside the cabin is highly unlikely to kill several hundred people on the ground even in a metropolitan area, and may not even cause the plane to crash. Again, if you sniff and scan for explosives and keep people from entering the cockpit, it’s no easier to cause mass casualties than with a van on the street or on a crowded train.

    The Oklahoma City Bombing, despite targeting a building with only 646 people inside, killed 168 and injured almost 700 more. A suicide bomber could do a lot more damage in a really crowded place like Manhattan. So, why don’t you demand that every single truck or van coming near a decent-sized building be thoroughly inspected? Damn the costs! And if there hasn’t been another bombing like it since 1995, it’s only because of security agents, right?

    “Perhaps their job would be easier if they stuck with real security instead of security theater.”

    TSA agents do not make policy. Their job is defined for them, and they simply carry it out. And, once again, given the track record of the past ten years, how can you claim that they are delivering something less than real security?

    The TSA does make policy, even if individual agents don’t.
    And a couple of their precautions do increase security, but there’s an awful lot that mostly just inconveniences innocent passengers to project the image of security.

    Given the track record of the past 15 years, when people have been able to freely drive trucks from the middle of nowhere into crowded urban areas, and untold tons of contraband have been smuggled across our borders and through ports, I don’t think we can give all the credit to our police agencies for another OKC bombing not happening.

  17. Bryan Pick says:

    “…there are only two things that have changed since 9/11 that have created results:”

    And you know this….how?

    Seriously. Give me some reason to think this is anything other than you asserting, with no evidence to back you up, that the only thing that works is what you hope or want to work.

    Smoky Dragon is probably referring to the work of security expert Bruce Schneier. Look him up.

  18. Bryan Pick says:

    D’oh, I meant “Stormy Dragon” of course.

  19. James Joyner says:

    You have made it pretty clear that you feel working class folks are your inferiors.

    Nonsense. I simply think it’s a bad idea to grant substantial discretionary power over others to people of minimal competence, training, and vetting. It’s one thing to entrust an FBI agent with that kind of authority, quite another someone with the approximate skill set of a mall cop.

  20. Tano says:

    “Or maybe it’s just that the government has bungled the job so badly …”
    Really? How many airplanes, and how many of our fellow citizens have we lost to terrorists since 9/11?
    “How many of our fellow citizens have we lost to subway bombs since 9/11? How about truck bombs?”

    How do you imagine that pointing out the lack of subway bombs, when asked about the absence of any airplane bombs, supports your assertion that the government has bungled the security job so badly? If you want to prove bungling, you might want to point to actual failures, rather than unrelated successes.

    “In the meantime, the air transportation security system has imposed significant costs on travelers and on airlines. And we shouldn’t ignore those costs.”

    I have no problem with coming to grips with the costs involved, or even making cost-benefit analyses. But to do that effectively, one needs to get out of rant mode and look beyond just the inconveniences involved.

    “I’m not going to do your homework for you. The press has been rife with examples of little abuses and indignities, ”

    Its not my homework. You are the one making the charge – its up to you to document it. Its not up to those who read you and are skeptical of what you say to go out and find justifications for your charges (or not). That is your homework.

    “Honestly, demanding a “sheaf of examples” from a random guy on the Internet?”

    You are not a random guy on the internet. You are the one making a claim. I am just trying to determine whether you arrived at your conclusions based on any real world occurrences, or on some gut level feeling.

    “the TSA doesn’t care how many people fly. Airlines and airports do.”

    Which is precisely why TSA should be in charge of security. We are dealing with people’s lives here, and the possibility of an event that would have grave ramifications far beyond just the actual people involved. Yeah, it is better to err on the side of caution – although sure ,that should be within reason. The airlines are guaranteed to err on the side of danger – they are under such enormous economic pressure as it is, on top of the normal bottom line pressure. Every day when there is not a successful attack, the urge to cut a few more corners will be greater. It is a good thing to have a separate body, one accountable to the political process (i.e. the will of the people) to attend to security.

    “Again, if you sniff and scan for explosives and keep people from entering the cockpit…”

    Whoa. So what exactly is your problem? What do you think these scanners are doing other than scanning for explosives?
    Seriously, what do you propose be done differently? Should we walk through metal detectors? Should we scan for explosives? Should we maintain lists of known terrorists who are prevented from flying? Should we secure certain areas in the airport from unauthorized entry? What are we doing that you would eliminate?

    “…there’s an awful lot that mostly just inconveniences innocent passengers to project the image of security.”

    What is wrong with projecting an image of security? That is probably one of the most effective forms of security – it may well serve as a severe deterrent to many terrorist attempts. If the terrorists knows that everyone will be searched- even if he recruits some little old lady to carry the bomb, and that the luggage will be scanned, etc. then most of them may well not even try.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that what’s being missed is that what’s being done is actually security theater. It’s got to be intrusive and inconvenient or it doesn’t serve its purpose.

    Have the procedures in use actually reduced terrorist attacks or saved any lives? Who knows? Have they done so more than other measures costing the same? Again, who knows?

    Highly visible, inconvenient, and obtrusive measures convince people that everything possible is being done for their security while flying whether it’s true or not. You may not be able to cover your own ass while it’s going on but rest assured that our elected representatives are covering theirs.

  22. Ben says:

    The fact that I have a Sophie’s choice between having my wife and child photographed naked by people who WILL leer, save, and print these photographs (as has been reported and proven with copies of said pictures), or having them groped, including the grabbing and squeezing of breasts, and the use of palms and fingers in the “crotchal” region, is an unacceptable choice for me. We will not be flying anywhere until this changes.

    Tano, give me a break, do a google search for christ’s sake.

    http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=tsa+grope+fondle+pat+down

  23. Seriously. Give me some reason to think this is anything other than you asserting, with no evidence to back you up, that the only thing that works is what you hope or want to work.

    1. Numerous audits by both the Federal Air Marshals and the TSA itself have shown that it is laughably easy to sneak weapons and explosives past the screeners, both in luggage and on one’s person.
    2. I have yet to hear of a case of an attempted hijacking or bombing being thwarted by the terrorist having been caught by a screener.
    3. There have, however, been a number of cases where the terrorist was foiled because they were apprehended by the other passengers or they were incapable of making a functioning bomb.

  24. Bryan Pick says:

    How do you imagine that pointing out the lack of subway bombs, when asked about the absence of any airplane bombs, supports your assertion that the government has bungled the security job so badly? If you want to prove bungling, you might want to point to actual failures, rather than unrelated successes.

    You just ignored all of the related points I made, so I suspect you’re not arguing in good faith. I won’t continue this discussion unless you faithfully represent my position.

    To be clear: You are using the lack of successful attacks since 9/11 as evidence that the TSA has not been bungling. I pointed out that we haven’t had any other successful attacks on targets that don’t have any guards to speak of. I’ve also pointed out two times when it was other passengers who stopped the attacks, not the TSA screeners.

    I have no problem with coming to grips with the costs involved, or even making cost-benefit analyses. But to do that effectively, one needs to get out of rant mode and look beyond just the inconveniences involved.

    Great. Go read Bruce Schneier.

    Its not my homework. You are the one making the charge – its up to you to document it.

    You’d have to be living in a cave not to hear about all the TSA complaints right now. I’m seeing tons of them on Twitter today. Do as Ben says, and do a search.
    And again, go read Bruce Schneier. He documents all kinds of stupid and horrible stuff on his blog.

    “the TSA doesn’t care how many people fly. Airlines and airports do.”

    Which is precisely why TSA should be in charge of security. We are dealing with people’s lives here, and the possibility of an event that would have grave ramifications far beyond just the actual people involved. Yeah, it is better to err on the side of caution – although sure ,that should be within reason. The airlines are guaranteed to err on the side of danger – they are under such enormous economic pressure as it is, on top of the normal bottom line pressure. Every day when there is not a successful attack, the urge to cut a few more corners will be greater. It is a good thing to have a separate body, one accountable to the political process (i.e. the will of the people) to attend to security.

    Again, the TSA is not finely accountable to the political process (how many candidates run on their position on the TSA, and how often does their election turn on it?).

    Moreover, I’d say it’s foolish to conflate the political process with “the will of the people.” You don’t think the will of the people is expressed through the market (fewer people buying tickets) or through torts when people are harmed by negligence, but you do think the people’s preferences for the TSA are accurately expressed through representative elections every 2-6 years?

    “Again, if you sniff and scan for explosives and keep people from entering the cockpit…”

    Whoa. So what exactly is your problem? What do you think these scanners are doing other than scanning for explosives?
    Seriously, what do you propose be done differently? Should we walk through metal detectors? Should we scan for explosives? Should we maintain lists of known terrorists who are prevented from flying? Should we secure certain areas in the airport from unauthorized entry? What are we doing that you would eliminate?

    Look for obvious bombs, and when possible “sniff” for explosives using dogs and machines, and otherwise leave people alone. They don’t need to see you naked. They don’t need to pat you down for the smallest items. They don’t need to stop people from carrying small blades or 20 ounces of coffee. They don’t need to black-list people who leave bullets in their checked luggage.

    Generally speaking, if someone has to be MacGyver or Rambo to kill more than a dozen people, don’t introduce a new security measure at the airport to combat it. It’s stupid to respond to every specific threat (even those that fail because they’re inherently hard to pull off) with a specific countermeasure. Rely on intelligence and basic police work; check for obvious bombs; use armed, undercover sky marshals; reinforce cockpit doors; remind people every once in a while of the spirit of United 93.

    “…there’s an awful lot that mostly just inconveniences innocent passengers to project the image of security.”

    What is wrong with projecting an image of security? That is probably one of the most effective forms of security – it may well serve as a severe deterrent to many terrorist attempts. If the terrorists knows that everyone will be searched- even if he recruits some little old lady to carry the bomb, and that the luggage will be scanned, etc. then most of them may well not even try.

    Boy, I remember not too long ago when the trappings of a police state got Lefties all fired up. “Look at all these guys in black SWAT gear doing security at a Bush event! Overkill and intimidation! Garrison society!”

    If a terrorist knows we’ll be searching his shoes, he probably won’t try a shoe bomb, but he’s still got plenty of other options, some of which may be more likely to succeed. Security theater says, “Hey, remember that specific threat that made the news? We’re checking for that specific threat now.”

  25. anjin-san says:

    > Lefties all fired up. “Look at all these guys in black SWAT gear doing security at a Bush event! Overkill and intimidation! Garrison society!”

    Pretty much crap. – I don’t know of a single reasonable Democrat who was upset about providing security for President Bush. There was some upset over the fact that Bush would only work a room that had been scrubbed in a political sense.

  26. anjin-san says:

    One of the things I find fascinating about this discussion is how the right only seems to have an interest in these sorts of issues when there is a dog in their political hunt. TSA gives them a good opportunity to rail against bureaucracy, intrusive government and so on (of course it is a bureaucracy they created, but that is a sidebar).

    There was almost no interest on the right in discussing the recent aircraft bombing attempt by Al Queda in Yemen. Why? There was no stick in the story to beat Obama with. Just as with the Gulf oil spill. When it was going badly, they were all over it, even though the right has a long track record of not giving a crap about the environment. The moment the situation started to improve, they lost all interest in it.

  27. Bryan Pick says:

    So, you consider unreasonable any of the Dems who whined about beefed-up security, eh?

    I’ll stick just with Bush events if you like, although it was more of a general criticism.
    Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, around the time of the 2005 inauguration, complained that reporters weren’t asking pointed questions about “the costly security overkill (nearly 9,000 police officers and military personnel will be deployed) — a buildup that clearly plays to Bush’s political advantage by keeping terrorist threats at the top of people’s minds.”

    You want to bet he was alone, and no mainstream Lefty blogs had similar complaints? To take another major event, how about the security overkill at the 2004 convention in New York?

    Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of Dems who are still ticked off with “security theater” today, and I respect their consistency. But I’m amused to see some others on TSA’s side.

  28. tom p says:

    “So, Americans are going to either have to give up the right to fly”

    I don’t have time to read the comments, so I don’t know if anybody else pointed this out, but James, this is the most ludicrous statement you have ever made. How in Dog’s name can we, as human beings, have a right to do something we are physically incapable of?

  29. anjin-san says:

    > To take another major event, how about the security overkill at the 2004 convention in New York?

    There were clear abuses in this case where people’s consittutional rights were trampled – that is different that having a strong security presence.

    Considering who would have become President if Bush were to have come to harm, most Democrats had no problem with lots of security around Bush.

  30. John Burgess says:

    @Linda: You really want to emulate Israeli security? Do you know that Israeli (and El Al) security conduct internal searches if they believe it warranted? Even of young, blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian women? You really want to go there?

  31. Doug Dever says:

    Tano says: “Or is there some special sensitivity at work here for guys who don’t measure up in some way?”

    Why is it someone stands up to a violation of their rights, the other side has to resort to comments about phallic size? Believe in the 2nd Amendment, you must own guns because you have a small penis. Don’t want a choice between going through a potentially unsafe machine or being treated like a criminal in order to board an airplane, it must be your tiny dick. Why not just admit that you have no argument to stand on other than you don’t care if the government infringes on your civil liberties because big brother must know best and you’re a good sheep?

    Tell me something Tano… when some nut job decides to smuggle a bomb in his anus and attempts to detonate it on a plane (where he will be stopped by the passengers of said plane – and not by TSA – as has happened in every incident since 9/11), what are you and the rest of the big brother TSA apologists going to say? Will it be “They only have to put their fingers up there a few seconds” or ‘They’re only checking the first couple of inches?”

  32. anjin-san says:

    > when some nut job decides to smuggle a bomb in his anus and attempts to detonate it on a plane

    We know one thing for sure. If this happens it will be ALL OBAMA’S FAULT.