I touched on this yesterday in a post I wrote directed at the dangers of naive political correctness, but I feel the need to delve deeper into this issue. To start with, here’s the latest video from Drinking with Bob.
Bob highlights the key points raised by those who defend these full-body scanners. With the threat of terrorism to airline travel, all measures must be taken to prevent another attack. Also, since access to airline travel is not a guaranteed right but a business transaction, those who wish to travel by plane need to undergo these screenings. Both are fair points, but both are moot.
The two most recent terrorist attacks, the failed Time Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad and the failed “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, are examples of the failure of these Transport Security Administration (TSA) security measures. As CBS’ Armen Keteyian reported in May, Shahzad, at the time a man wanted in connection to the failed bomb plot, had slipped past specially trained “behaviour detection” agents. Even with his name on a watch list, it was only right before take-off that law enforcement boarded the plane and arrested Shahzad. The same goes for Abdulmutallab, who had boarded a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan after his own father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab warned authorities of his son’s radicalism. If not for his own incompetence and the heroic actions of Jasper Schuringa, Abdulmutallab would have succeeded in killing all 290 people aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. Clearly, contrary to early claims by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the system didn’t work. It failed miserably on both occasions.
So what is the use of this enormous and intrusive security system if it can’t prevent known terrorists from getting past security and boarding planes? It is to give the impression that the TSA is doing its job. Instead of taking necessary steps to combat terrorism at airports, like the security procedures El Al Israel Airlines employs to combat terrorism, all we are seeing is token gestures from an agency which obviously doesn’t know what it is doing. Yesterday, John Pistole, Administrator of the TSA, told Congress that the pat-downs would have caught Abdulmutallab, but that is irrelevant. Only passengers who forgo the full-body scan would receive a pat-down, and those machines, as this video demonstrates, aren’t reliable for detecting bomb components. (Hat-tip to Cory Doctorow at boingboing)
Aside from the ineffectiveness of the machine, there is the issue of the revealing photos taken during the scan. While the TSA has stated that these pictures will not be stored, US Marshals at a Florida Federal courthouse, which uses the same scanning equipment, saved 35,000 scanner images. Is it any wonder why Napolitano and the TSA have a credibility problem? Former TSA security director Mo McGowan said earlier this week that the Fourth Amendment is going to have to be violated to combat terrorism directed at the airline industry, further demonstrating the lack of respect the TSA officials have for the privacy rights of passengers. (Hat-tip Hot Air’s Allahpundit)
If the federal government can’t be trusted to ensure the privacy of airline passengers, why should they be trusted to safeguard airports? This issue isn’t preventing further attacks. Americans aren’t complaining about added security measures. The problem is how effective are these measures at preventing terrorist attacks and whether or not such violations of an individuals privacy are worth it. Since the TSA to failed prevent both Shahzad and Abdulmutallab from boarding planes, it is clear that the system isn’t worth such a sacrifice.
So why is the TSA taking the necessary steps to combat terrorism? Political correctness. While Napolitano and TSA officials have stated that religion will not be an excuse for anyone to avoid either the full-body scans or pat-downs, there is more than enough reason to doubt their word. As Nicholas Ballasy of CNS News reported earlier this week, Napolitano herself refused to directly answer this question, instead saying that there will be “adjustments” and “more to come” on the issue. It does appear as if the TSA is under pressure from Muslim groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial, who has been instructing Muslim women who wear the hijab to refuse the full-body scans and to advice those administering the pat-downs that they are only allowed to search around their head and neck. Considering that it was Napolitano who refused to use the word “terrorism” during her first testimony on Capitol Hill, instead opting for the term “man-caused disasters,” it wouldn’t be surprising if those in Muslim garb are given an exemption. The irony of this outcome would be that the TSA would be treating everyone else like suspect terrorists, except those most likely to commit acts of terrorism. Many people already feel this way which is why this picture of a Muslim TSA agent giving a pat-down to an elderly Catholic nun is receiving so much attention.
It does seem as the TSA, trying to demonstrate how politically correct it is, treats airline passengers with less respect than prison officials treat convicted criminals. Even children aren’t exempted from this treatment as Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey showed in an earlier post this week about a TSA agent patting-down a 3-year-old girl. While not discriminating against one group or another is usually the best way to approach such issues, we know who we are supposed to be looking for and it isn’t Catholic nuns and young children.
Many Americans feel that these security measures have crossed the line, and I am inclined to agree with them. While those like Bob stress the importance of being vigilant, these TSA security measures are absurd. No matter what John Pistole, the Administrator of the TSA says, it is clear that these security measures aren’t working. They have already failed to prevent Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from bordering international flights and the only thing they do seem capable of doing is infuriating the majority of airline passengers who aren’t terrorists.
UPDATE: The Right Scoop has an article up on Hot Air discussing remarks airline pilot Michael Roberts made on Sean Hannity’s show. While I do believe this screening has gone too far, this discussion point about how it would be easy for a pilot to bring down an airplane is misguided. Though a slightly different scenario, FedEx Flight 705, where Auburn Calloway a disgruntled employee who attempted to hijack and crash the plane, demonstrates why some kind of screening of crew is necessary. A single pilot couldn’t crash the plane himself without some way to subdue everyone else in the cockpit. While Calloway did smuggle weapons aboard for this task, he was overpowered. Does that mean I support the TSA in checking the genitals of pilots? Of course not. As I explained in this post, these security procedures are far too intrusive and aren’t that effective. This doesn’t mean, however, that pilots, as well as other crew members, shouldn’t have to go through the same screening as passengers before boarding a plane as they could pose the same threat, if not a greater one, to the lives of all those aboard.