Here’s an idea: let’s abolish the TSA – updated

June 27, 2011

While founded with the best of intentions after 9-11, the Transportation Safety Administration has become a source of outrage for Americans rather than a reassuring sense of security. In the past we’ve seen children groped, a breast-cancer survivor forced to remove her prosthetic breast, and a bladder-cancer survivor left soaked in his own urine. I’m sure you can think of others.

This latest incident had got to be a finalist in the “Let’s humiliate innocent travelers” contest: forcing a 95-year old woman to remove her adult diaper before allowing her on the plane:

[Jean] Weber said the two were traveling June 18 from northwest Florida to Michigan, so her mother could move in with relatives before eventually going to an assisted living facility.

“My mother is very ill, she has a form of leukemia,” Weber said. “She had a blood transfusion the week before, just to bolster up her strength for this travel.”

While going through security, the 95-year-old was taken by a TSA officer into a glassed-in area, where a pat-down was performed, Weber said. An agent told Weber “they felt something suspicious on (her mother’s) leg and they couldn’t determine what it was” — leading them to take her into a private, closed room.

Soon after, Weber said, a TSA agent came out and told her that her mother’s Depend undergarment was “wet and it was firm, and they couldn’t check it thoroughly.” The mother and daughter left to find a bathroom, at the TSA officer’s request, to take off the adult diaper.

Weber said she burst into tears during the ordeal, forcing her own pat-down and other measures in accordance with TSA protocol. But she said her mother, a nurse for 65 years, “was very calm” despite being bothered by the fact that she had to go through the airport without underwear.

Eventually, Weber said she asked for her mother to be whisked away to the boarding gate without her, because their plane was scheduled to leave in two minutes and Weber was still going through security.

TSA defended itself against complaints by saying its agents were following proper procedure, and it’s true that explosives have been smuggled in underwear before, as Ed Morrissey points out. But it’s not just the lack of common sense in the application of those procedures, as Ed argues, but the procedures themselves.

TSA screening procedures focus on the device, the means of attack, rather than the attacker himself. The myriad ways al Qaeda has dreamed up to deliver the explosives to their targets (shampoo, shoes, ladies’ lingerie, breast and rectal implants) have lead the TSA to increasingly invasive and outrageous efforts to find the weapon. And with each new means of attack, our response is yet another regulation that annoys and humiliates.

Let’s face it: while these procedures are incredibly effective against little old ladies in wheelchairs and young children, they don’t seem to be all that good against potential terrorists on a dry run.

What would be much more sensible and less intrusive would be the dread “P-word:” profiling. By looking at patterns of behavior indicative of a potential terrorist, we would concentrate on the person, not the weapon, an approach the Israelis have shown to be very effective.

The Transportation Safety Administration is in need of serious reform if it is to be able to actually carry out its mission, which, the last time I checked, was to make air travel safe, not leave innocent people crying.

And if it can’t be reformed, then it should be abolished and replaced with something that can do the job.

UPDATE: Courtesy of International Liberty, here’s video of Senator Rand Paul, who’s rapidly becoming a favorite of mine, taking a TSA representative to task for these stupid search policies:

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Did DHS hang ABC’s Brian Ross out to dry?

September 1, 2010

Following up on this story, Annie Jacobsen wonders just what is going on with the tale of the two perhaps-terrorists arrested in Amsterdam, and why ABC’s Brian Ross was made to look like a fool:

Sometime on Monday afternoon, a “law enforcement official” (which is now how DHS asks press to refer to them) gave ABC’s Brain Ross a breaking news story with an attention-grabbing quote. The two men taken off the Chicago-to-Amsterdam United Airlines flight had been charged by Dutch police with “preparation of a terrorist attack.”

As far as the DHS national security machine is concerned, it doesn’t get any more serious than that. And that quote is certainly not something a veteran newsman like Brain Ross is going to get wrong.

FBI agents were sent to Detroit to search al Soofi’s apartment. One neighbor told reporters that the front door of an apartment al Soofi once lived in appeared to have been kicked down.

All throughout the following morning, DHS and TSA officials at headquarters refused to answer questions on the record. I spoke to three TSA agents and two DHS agents, none of whom would provide me with any on-record information other than a previously released official statement describing the investigation as “ongoing.”

Suddenly, around 11:00 a.m. PST, the Department of Homeland Security provided a New York Times reporter with utterly contradictory news.

This reporter then was interviewed on National Public Radio, providing the world with an exclusive, totally different version of events. ABC’s Brian Ross had rushed to judgment, the Times reporter said, explaining that news is a competitive business and insinuating that the desire to make money had gotten in the way of good judgment (nevermind what the unnamed DHS official originally said). According to the Times, what had happened was a just a mistake, a mix-up, a confusion of sorts. It was United Airlines who had changed the mens’ itineraries in the first place — after they missed their flight to Yemen via Washington, D.C. It was United Airlines who instead re-booked the two men to Amsterdam. It was all one big misunderstanding.

Wait a minute.

The Times reporter appears to have forgotten to ask his unnamed law enforcement official, aka DHS, the most important question of all: is that really how it works over at the Department of Homeland Security these days? They make good old-fashioned mistakes, and then hang ABC’s Brian Ross out to dry?

Jacobsen then goes on to list several reasons why DHS’ story is either implausible, or it reveals gross incompetence. To name one, are we really to believe that, if the second story is correct and United caused the mix up itself, that DHS didn’t think to contact United first to find out if there was a real problem, before issuing an intercontinental alert? It’s not as if baggage errors are something new. Does the FBI always kick down doors in lost-luggage cases? (Mind you, I’ve sometimes felt like doing that myself while stuck in a baggage-claim area…)

Regardless, a good reporter was left with substantial egg on his face by a DHS pushing two different stories, and it makes one wonder even more just what was going on with the two travelers and their suspicious luggage.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)