One of the key unconsidered questions about the naked scanners and rubbing between the legs is this: where does this go next? What would the TSA do if someone put explosive materials inside their body? Rectal exams at the airport, anyone?
We have a serious threat of terrorism against aircraft, but the threat is relatively mild compared to what might be in our future, distant or otherwise. What would the government, and the TSA, do to respond to an active, organized domestic terrorism effort? Sadly, the cat is out of the bag. Generations of the disaffected will watch the videos of aircraft hitting buildings in 2001 and learn the vast damage that can be done by a few determined people.
With the heavy hand and overreaction to the current threats, one can only imagine that it would take four or five hours to board an aircraft in the event of domestic based terrorism. Our national economic and personal lives would virtually come to a halt.
Security can be thought of as a series of rings around a potential terrorist target. The outside ring, the one the most distance from the target, is the best place, and often the most difficult, to catch a terrorist plot. Each ring moving toward the target represents an opportunity and a responsibility for a particular agency to stop and arrest the terrorist. It is those outer rings that are most important and which must be made to work better, not the final ring around the airport.
We know from the examination of 9-11, 2001, that there were many opportunities to catch those terrorists and we missed them all. By focusing our attention on the airports and the TSA, even this controversy helps to further obscure the failures of our intelligence systems. Last year's Christmas bombing attempt was a massive failure, worse than 9-11, because the systems put in place failed repeatedly.
Here's is the fundamental problem: we are a target rich nation. Any street in any city has multiple targets for terrorists. They don't need airports or aircraft. The terrorists of Yemen are aiming for explosives on aircraft because they are unable to attack elsewhere. We will not always be this lucky.
Profile me. Profile everyone who wants to be profiled and continue flying. By that I mean enter my name, my life and background into your data base and give me a clip on ID that says I am safe to fly and renew that badge every year or two. Don't make it expensive, 35 dollars should cover most of the costs. Then, hundreds of thousands of people can show up at the airports ready for minimal screening, fewer hassles and set to go.
I am not afraid of the government having me in their data base. They do already. Just bring the information together and give me a frickin' badge. Every frequent flyer should have a badge that allows them to pass quickly through security and if a would be terrorist should apply for a badge, that would be a good time, and a good way, to catch him. It would not concern me if these badges were limited to American citizens, including naturalized citizens who have lived most of their lives here.
There would have to be a rapid and well functioning appeal process for those denied a badge. Most would likely be denied by error, so the errors would have to be uncovered. It would have to be clear that you could travel without a badge and direct interviews and conversation with the traveler should precede any heavy screening. There is nothing wrong with asking someone where they are going and why they are going there to judge their reaction ahead of screening. The problem now is that TSA people are only given discretion to increase screening, and none in the other direction, letting people through. When we travel to other countries, we are subject to their local laws and potential monitoring while there, so some degree of differentiation based on national origin would not be a radical step.
Why am I, and millions of other people, less trustworthy than the people who have the unfortunate job of feeling up people at the airport? I have been cleared for many activities in my life that some of those people might not be cleared for, yet THEY are checking ME and every other good citizen? I would assert that perhaps 70% of the people going through screening would be considered more upstanding citizens than those doing the poking and prodding.
Once in line at Dulles airport, the people in front of me were with the Justice Department and carrying their i.d.s (badges) and given the same poor treatment as everyone else. Insane. These are people who enforce the laws for goodness sake. They might have been the very people who wrote the laws under which the TSA operates, but they were not being treated as trusted passengers.
Let us, the public, help you TSA. Empower citizens as the advanced eyes and ears in regard to any terrorist threat. Give citizens who are willing to spend a few hours at least minimal training. It is citizens, after all, who stopped the Christmas Day would-be-bomber and the shoe bomber. Our eyes and cell phone cameras are everywhere. You can never hire enough people to come close to being equal to what citizens can offer.
Now, of course, we don't want to create a domestic broadbased spying effort. I am just talking about a real "partnership". We can help in boarding, we can help on the aircraft and we can be generally alert. An alert, modestly trained citizen is much more likely to spot a terrorist than a bored, overworked and over-managed TSA employee trying to get through his shift.
We have a long history in the US of citizen involvement in national problems, but for citizens to be so empowered now would mean that the “professionals” who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to run these systems would have to admit they can’t do everything. (Must’n do that, of course.) Asking the public for help, in a serious, meaningful way, could be seen as an admission of failure by the TSA in our culture of know-it-all professionalism. Planes crashing into buildings represent a failure, too. Which is better?
Call on the best that is in Americans and you will find a good answer. Treat us like scum who have just been released from a long jail term and the response is what you see.
The most important measure is to make sure those outer rings against terrorism are working well. The best functioning aspect of protection from terrorism should be the outer, not the inner rings. We are lucky to have big oceans between us and a lot of the terrorism bases and our most intense efforts should be directed at detecting and tracking those who are trying to get here to stage attacks. Treating our own citizens as if everyone is a potential terrorist is stupid.
Also, be honest, Mr. President and others: we will have another terrorist attack at some time or another. We should be ready to respond as calmly and steadfastly as possible. The response in the UK after the bombing of the London Tube was amazing. Let's learn from others and come to terms with the world as it is. Grow up, in other words. Let's make detailed plans for how we react to and handle these serious problems and not always be overreacting with panic followed by draconian actions that solve nothing. In other words, lets take responsible actions of mature people who realize we live in a dangerous world and are determined to live our lives openly and peacefully.
Doug Terry 11.23.10