Help me out here, because if it makes any sense I cannot see it. Last week I took a friend to the airport, and saw her pulled aside by three giggling — really — representatives of the “Transportation Security Administration” for secondary screening.
Meanwhile, a large and loud TSA official with his hair done up Elvis-style stood nearby shouting orders in a menacing tone at persons in line to board planes.
The whole thing was an assault on the dignity of all the airline passengers there, my friend in particular. It might seem a small price to pay if the safety of flights is at stake, but anyone with two or more brain cells to rub together can see that it isn’t.
The Transportation Security Administration — indeed, the whole Department of Homeland Security — was the government’s response to the events of September 11, 2001. Before that time, persons seeking to board airplanes had to pass through metal detectors and, if they set them off, be subject to further search. Now, in addition to that, people are selected at random for “secondary screening.” Why at random? Because selecting people who in any way resembled the September 11 terrorists or those who have attempted terrorism since then would be “profiling.”
I have spoken with acquaintances in federal law enforcement, and they confirm that there’s no evidence that security has been improved in any way through random searches of passengers. The occasional nail file is turned up — but does anyone think that a terrorist could now hijack an airplane with a nail file? Heavens, a person wielding a sword would now be beaten to a bloody pulp by other passengers before the pilot knew anything was going on.
“The idea is to appear to be doing something,” said one lawman I know. “Are they doing anything that makes flying safer? Of course not.”
The September 11 hijackers carried nothing illegal when they boarded the planes that terrible day. At the time, knives and box cutters with blades of four inches or less were allowed. Also at the time, anyone announcing that he was a hijacker was to be obeyed, so even knives and box cutters were not necessary: the pilots would have surrendered to a threat. Change those two things, say those to whom I talked, and that kind of concern is eliminated.
Instead, a vast and expensive bureaucracy was established. If it has actually accomplished anything, anything at all, it has gone unreported and unnoticed.
But the most ridiculous part of the whole waste of money is “secondary screening.” Whether the process would be useful if some criteria were applied in choosing those to be searched is not an argument I care to undertake. It is undeniable, though, that in its current form it is mere bullying.
Consider: following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, American citizens of Japanese extraction were rounded up and put in camps. This is something that revolts us today, as it should have then. So let us suppose that we had in fact been attuned to the sensitivities of Japanese Americans. Now imagine: under the reasoning that leads to random airport searches, we would have selected persons at random and put them in concentration camps!
The budget for the Transportation Security Administration is in the neighborhood of $10 billion. That’s pocket change by current Washington standards, but still. What are we getting for our money that we didn’t have before that agency existed? How is it an improvement over, say, sending word to the people who previously attended the metal detectors that now no knives were allowed? How is it an improvement over telling airline pilots that a hijacking threat was now to be met by promptly landing the plane at the nearest airport? Wouldn’t those things have been just as effective, at no additional cost?
The whole thing is unbelievably nutty. It would be hilarious if it didn’t involve the expenditure of so much money and the mistreatment of many law-abiding citizens.
Grabbing people at random for search may not violate our concerns about racial profiling or political correctness, but it violates pretty much everything else we hold dear. Would we tolerate it if the police stopped people at random on the street and subjected them to scrutiny because they might be criminals? Of course we wouldn’t. Nor could police do that: the law specifies that there must be something called “probable cause” before a person may be detained. A cop must have good reason before stopping and perhaps searching someone.
From what I’ve seen during observation of TSA activities at several airports in the years since that agency was established, the entire agency could be eliminated with no loss to anyone except the TSA employees. As my law enforcement contacts noted, the TSA’s chief purpose in “secondary screening” is to create the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing.
If there’s any reason to keep that agency around at all, I sure can’t see it.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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