What You Need to Know About TSA Airport Screening

In recent weeks, I have gone from despair to optimism as I’ve watched growing outrage from a public that had seemed willing to accept the new TSA scanners and “enhanced pat-downs.”

Initially, the media played their typical role—providing supportive coverage for government programs that cripple our civil and economic liberties. They filmed smiling passengers reciting inanities such as, “Whatever they need to do to ensure our security, I’m fine with.” The media told us how TSA agents were “trained professionals,” and they trotted out “experts” to tell us that the radiation beamed at us from the new scanners was completely safe and of no concern.

Despite the propaganda, the American people are awakening; growing numbers are outraged. Here is what you need to know:

TSA agents are NOT professionals. The term professional “commonly describes highly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.” In contrast, TSA agents are minimally trained and have little autonomy to react appropriately to different circumstances. As one observer put it, “If you express any sort of concern [to a TSA agent], or do not IMMEDIATELY comply, it throws them off; and they are either flabbergasted and confused, or angry and combative.”

I worked at a postal sorting facility at JFK airport when I was 16. My observations are that TSA agents are very much like postal employees. They have little autonomy, they do not think for themselves, and they operate in a strict command and control hierarchy. TSA agents are not professionals, and they are not qualified to handle your genitals or those of your children.

The new scanners are NOT safe. Concerned scientists, including members of the National Academy of Sciences and nationally known cancer and imaging experts, have been speaking out and warning of the dangers of the new x-ray scanners. In a letter to Pres. Obama’s science adviser, scientists from the University of California have warned specifically of dangers from these new scanners to those who are  who are over 65, women who are prone to breast cancer, HIV and cancer patients, children and adolescents, and pregnant women. They have warned that the new machines may cause sperm mutagenesis. In addition, they have raised concerns about the impact on the cornea and thymus. In other words, these scanners are a source of health concerns for everyone.

The well-connected benefit, while your health is harmed. The new scanners are being promoted by well-connected lobbyists. This whole fiasco is a textbook example of why politicians will spend millions of dollars to be elected to jobs for which their pay is nominally a fraction of their campaign budget. They expect to, and often do, make their fortune through “public service.” A recent column by Timothy Carney detailed just a few of those who will make money off the scanners:

If you’ve seen one of these scanners at an airport, there’s a good chance it was made by L-3 Communications, a major contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company’s behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D’Amato to the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park’s L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse.

The scanner contract, issued four days after the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year, is worth $165 million to L-3.

Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price’s appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted “Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems.”

An early TSA contractor for full-body scanners was the American Science and Engineering company. AS&E’s lobbying team is impressive, including Tom Blank, a former deputy administrator for the TSA. Fellow AS&E lobbyist Chad Wolf was an assistant administrator at TSA and an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Transportation and Defense subcommittees of Appropriations. Finally, Democratic former Rep. Bud Cramer is also an AS&E lobbyist — he sat on the Defense and Transportation subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

Do you remember Michael Chertoff? He was Secretary of Homeland Security under President Bush. According to the Boston Globe: “Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports. What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines.”

The new security measures do NOT make us safer from terrorism. Writing in the Chicago Tribune Steven Chapman observes:

The federal Government Accountability Office has said it “remains unclear” if the scanners would have detected the explosives carried by the would-be Christmas Day bomber.

They would also be useless against a terrorist who inserts a bomb in his rectum — like the al-Qaida operative who blew himself up last year in an attempt to kill a Saudi prince. Full-body scanning will sorely chafe many innocent travelers, while creating only a minor inconvenience to bloodthirsty fanatics.

Vahid Motevalli, the co-founder of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University and now a professor at Purdue University, has said, “Most of these security features are for public consumption.  In many cases, if you don’t catch these issues well in advance of the airport, it’s too late.”

According to the Vancouver Sun:

A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install “useless” imaging machines at airports across the country.

“I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747,” Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

“That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport,” Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority and a 30-year veteran in airport security and defense technology, helped design the security at Ben Gurion.

Amazingly, most cargo coming into the country from overseas flights are not screened.  USA Today reported this month that “Only about 20% of the 9 billion pounds of air cargo that comes to the United States from overseas each year is physically checked for bombs.”

Of course, the large and immobile crowds queued up for TSA security scans are themselves a security risk. They represent the kind of soft target that many security experts have been concerned terrorists may choose to strike.

The new measures do NOT reflect a conspiracy. Lew Rockwell has written that the real reasons for the new TSA measures are “to control, humiliate, intimidate, and condition us to abject obedience.” Lew may be correct in describing the motivation of some, but the real reasons for the new measures are much more mundane and can be summed up by a line from a famous children’s book: “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.”

Allow me to translate that universal message for you. If you give anyone a monopoly they are going to ask you for more and more and give you less and less. Claire Wolfe would get an A+ from me for her analysis:

Economists will explain that the TSA is a monopoly, and monopolies always raise the price and lower the quality of goods and services. Raising the price means slower scans and longer lines. But it also means that the TSA will have a perfect excuse to demand larger budgets and more workers to deal with the intolerable lines they create once the porno scanners are in widespread use. It’s a perfectly understandable, rational decision for a tax-feeding bureaucracy immune to competition.

The TSA is just a mouse. Yes, right now they have a very large megaphone backed by the government’s power of coercion. They are ready to do violence against you if you disobey their unconstitutional and repulsive orders. Yet, the good news is that the American people are collectively far more powerful. A recent news story illustrates why:

We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travelers vowing to stop flying,” said Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, which set up the meeting with the Obama administration officials.

“You can’t talk on the one hand about creating jobs in this country and getting this economy back on track and on the other hand discourage millions of Americans from flying, which is the gateway to commerce,” he said.

Of course, a larger issue is at work here—this is much more that a reaction against harm done to the travel industry. Americans are beginning to realize just how many of their freedoms have been eroded. Here is what I recommend:

  1. Stay informed. If you do share your views, via this essay or in other ways, respect others who disagree. No one will change their mind in an argument.
  2. If you are considering canceling or postponing a vacation or other trip, send an e-mail or letter to the airline that you would’ve used and to the resort or hotel that you would’ve stayed in. Let them know that the TSA is hurting their bottom line. Personally, I can’t imagine traveling with my children under current circumstances.
  3. If you must travel, you have no leverage at the security line. Respect the TSA agent and get through the line with minimal disruption. Personally, I will be opting out of the new scanners. I dread the thought of being molested, but I prefer that to harming my health in the x-ray scanner.
  4. Allow this issue to renew your respect for the principles that govern a free society. If you are not doing so already, on a regular basis, make a point to study books and articles that enhance your understanding of the essential role you play in maintaining a free society.

3 Responses to What You Need to Know About TSA Airport Screening

  1. cmaukonen says:

    I think I will stick with trains or driving. Flying now is definitely for the birds.

  2. Mike L says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better. As a frequent traveler, I have seen firsthand the professionalism, or lack thereof of the TSA screeners. At BWI, I was screamed at by an TSA employee for not standing before the line (my foot was halfway across it). During a Dallas trip, I saw a woman cry after being subject to search and seizure. Too often I have seen babies and the elderly forced to take their shoes and most of their clothing off before going through the X-ray machine. My rule of thumb is that if my destination is less than 6 hours by car, I drive. With this new scanner that robs people of their self-respect, I’ve now bumped that up to 9 hours.

    As for the Department of Homeland Security, it may be the biggest boondoggle in Washington history. Living in the DC area for the last 10 years, I have seen numerous companies profit immensely by offering ‘security’ services. Firms whose core business had nothing to do with security a decade ago now make it their preeminent line of service. Based on my observations, the Department of Homeland Security is essentially a cabinet level department consisting of almost exclusively of contractors.

    Ben Franklin once said “Those who give up their liberty for security neither deserve neither.” I often wonder what he, Jefferson, Madison and the rest of those great men would think of the current state of our Country.

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