NOTE: The video above is from 2008, before the enhanced pat-downs were in place. Note also that, if this were my daughter, my reaction would have caused me to be arrested on the spot.
On one hand, the very idea and purpose of airport security evokes images of Hani Hanjour, casually walking through Dulles International Airport on the morning of September 11, 2001 en route to his final destination: buried in the “D” ring of the Western side of the Pentagon, with 184 innocent people dead in his wake. On the other hand, there are hands: hands on women’s breasts and buttocks, hands on men in places usually reserved for doctors who subsequently say things like, “turn your head and cough.”
In 1759, in his Historical Review of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “[t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In 2010, airport security is a balancing of interests. Avoid attack. Avoid assault. Avoid innocent death. Avoid indecent interaction.
The truth is, until we fight radical Islamic terrorism on a systemic level, we will continue to be one, two, three steps behind those who wish to destroy us. Richard Reid packs explosives into his shoes, and suddenly we’re shuffling through airport security in our stocking feet. Intelligence services here and abroad intercept plans to bring down multiple airliners using liquid explosive, and suddenly shot-glass-sized bottles of Pantene become the norm for travelers, and journeying parents everywhere, already burdened with burp cloths and strollers and dirty diapers suddenly find themselves having to defend breastmilk. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tucks a little PETN behind his scrotum, and suddenly … well … we have stories like these, following a Washington Post poll on airport security:
The other day, while being patted down, I observed a “supervisor” demand that a diabetic patient wearing an insulin pump go through the x-ray machine. The passenger tried to reason with them and told them that the machine would render his pump inoperable. The only answer from the supervisor was, “Either you go through the machine or you won’t get on the flight.” The passenger, protesting loudly, went through the machine and yes, his pump went dead.
I don’t know the final result of this incident since I had to catch a flight but, there was a local police officer standing nearby and, in our conversation, we both knew that there was a better and easier way to handle the situation. It was clearly a case of an “ignorant “supervisor” arrogantly taking advantage of his position to control the lives of others.
Ever since my cancer, whenever I fly, I end up being harassed. My feeding tube, without which I will die, is lightly held in my stomach by a little balloon and is easily pulled out during a “pat down”. I am threatened with arrest for pulling up my shirt (Sir, you must keep your hands down, sir, we will arrest you if you don’t keep your hands at your side, sir) so they can see the tube dangling from my stomach. This is after I have shown a written letter from my surgeon on her medical letterhead explaining it all and after I have orally told them.
I’m just resigned to it now, but it’s irritating to see the false TSA web site about special lines for medical patients or special accomodations when in real life at the airports, if you have a feeding tube, you must fight to keep TSA from pulling it right out of your stomach.
I observed a very elderly man being forced to get out of a wheel chair and stand up, with his arms and legs spread out, so that he could be wanded down. His wife was taken to a different line so he was alone. He looked frantic and I asked the supervisor why it was necessary. His answer was “he looked OK” to which I asked him “what medical school did you attend?”
Add this to my daughter being forced to walk through security, out of her wheel chair, when she had 2 broken bones in her leg and a soft cast. To this day, we do not know if her walking without crutches – early in her recovery period – contributed to her never fully getting her range of motion back. Thanks Denver Airport!
And then, there’s the story of the traveler who refused to either subject himself to the revealing backscatter machines or have his “junk” handled by the TSA in San Diego and, as a result, was threatened with legal action and essentially ejected from the airport — only to be investigated for “leaving” the security area from which he was ejected.
Over the past few days, reaction to the San Diego story and to the enhanced TSA screenings as a whole has dominated an already busy post-election news cycle. While some on the right believe that a little indignity and discomfort is a small price to pay for true security, many are putting their foot down and saying “enough is enough.” In fact, Wednesday, November 24 is National Opt Out Day, an effort coinciding with a Thanksgiving holiday that will see 40 million Americans traveling, an effort intended to raise awareness not only of what TSA agents are doing, but how best we can provide security without foregoing liberty.
The way I look at it, airport security as it stands now is a microcosm of the current state of our federal government. Identify a problem, but instead of tailoring a solution to that specific problem, form a solution that (a) adversely affects everyone and (b) may not even work. Our federal government, for example, saw specific problems with the health care system–uninsured Americans, for example–and instead of addressing those specific problems by constructing legislation meant to specifically provide for those uninsured citizens, the government took it upon itself to radically transform the health care system for everybody, with increasingly problematic results. When it comes to airport security, instead of addressing the specific problem of young Muslim men who enjoy hiding explosives in shoes and underbritches and everywhere in between, we allowed political correctness to run the show and in turn made the entire traveling process more cumbersome for everyone.
And so, the way to fix the airport security problem is very much like the process by which we can turn around our nation — get the government out, and allow common sense in. When it comes to revitalizing the American economy, while the federal government looked to amass more decision-making power and increase the regulatory burden on Wall Street, the answer lies in just the opposite: minimizing government interference and facilitating recovery and prosperity through a common sense approach to business growth. When it comes to airport security, while the federal government has looked to increasing scrutiny on innocent passengers according to how the most recent close call was originally planned (imagine what’s next for the TSA if the next prospective bomber hides explosives like a suppository), the answer lies in profiling (like the Israeli model), forcing the government out of the airport security business, and allowing the airlines and private groups to essentially build a marketplace for airport security, thus driving down costs while increasing incentive to succeed. Duane Lester, proprietor of All American Blogger (and all-around good guy) put it pretty nicely in a piece entitled Don’t Change the System, End It: A Free Market Case for Ending the TSA:
Nationalizing the TSA was a mistake. It needs to be corrected. I would rather let the airlines hire the security for their flights and have it conducted right before you boarded the flight. Each airline could set its own standards, each could decide what requirements would have to be met in order to fly with them and passengers could choose who to fly with based on their level of comfort with the security.
If a passenger doesn’t mind a TSA employee checking him for a hernia before he takes his seat and puts a priority on security, they can fly on airlines with super strict security. But if you don’t want to have some random dude giving you a pre-flight rub and tug, then choose the airline that uses metal and explosive detectors and x-ray machines.
The passenger that was threatened with a civil suit checked the airports website before he left for his flight. It said they didn’t use the clothes shedding backscatter X-ray machine. When he got there, he found they did and the TSA blamed him for not knowing the search requirements.
An airline would be more invested in having accurate information on their website, so passengers could make an informed decision on who they wanted to fly with, based on security protocols. The market forces would compel them to keep it updated.
I’m sure there are those who think that airlines would sacrifice security for the bottom line. Believe it or not, pilots and flight attendants don’t want to die either, and I’m sure they will not allow their safety to take a back seat to profit, the same way the federal government has let your civil rights take a back seat to a false sense of security.
And multiple hijackings or bombings tend to hurt the bottom line more than the most rudimentary security measures.
The TSA experiment has shown it cannot provide any better security than was provided before, but will introduce a greater level of intimidation and tyranny. America’s flying public loses nothing by putting the airlines back in charge of protecting themselves and their passengers, and gains back the right to travel without being violated physically.
Above all else, we must use common sense. There is no reason to force a half-asleep octogenarian out of his or her wheelchair and into the waiting hands of a TSA agent. Grandpa Joe is not the problem. Grandpa Joe is not the type who straps explosives to himself and then runs into an Iraqi police station to detonate. The problem is fairly specific, and until we have the testicular fortitude to actually confront reality (are you listening, Eric Holder?), a scorched-Earth approach to security will be problematic for everyone.
And, by the way, over the next day or two, I sincerely hope that Janet Napolitano loudly backtracks on her vacillations with regard to whether Muslim women are permitted to opt out of both the backscatter-type machines AND the pat-down. If a Muslim woman concealed from head to toe in religious garb is permitted to board an airplane unchecked, then we might as well jut do away with the security system in its entirety. It’s not a Muslim thing; it’s a reality thing.
This holiday season, as you and your families travel across the country, ask yourself and ask them: how much is too much?