Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The TSA and airline (in)security

I've resisted the urge to comment on the latest stupidities being perpetrated by the Transportation Security Administration . . . but their conduct has become so egregious, and their arrogance so vast and overwhelming, that I can't keep silent any longer. It's long gone time that these bureaucratic Evil Overlords were given their come-uppance.

Their latest search tactics - full-body scans using X-rays and microwave radar at potentially dangerous cumulative radiation levels, coupled with invasive searches of the genital area for those who refuse such screening - are a farce. They would not have stopped a single one of the 9/11/2001 hijackers, and they would not have detected the so-called 'shoe bomber'. They can and will do nothing whatsoever to improve our security in flight. They're nothing more than a public relations exercise, designed to both give the impression that the TSA is doing something worthwhile, and to intimidate travelers into 'respecting the authority' of these pathetic, ignorant, self-serving goons.

I speak as one trained by the Department of Justice in one area of law enforcement, including pat-downs and search techniques (yes, including the genital area). It's the same body-search training received by TSA operatives and all Federal law enforcement personnel. I know whereof I speak . . . and I can assure you, the sort of threat that faces our airliners will not be detected by such searches. They are meaningless, pointless and useless. What's even worse is that they violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The TSA is trying to maintain that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply, because travelers automatically waive their rights under this Amendment when they buy an air ticket. That's nonsense, of course. The purchase of a ticket may imply consent to a reasonable search . . . but having a total stranger inspect my genitals is anything but reasonable! There are limits to reasonableness, and I think any 'reasonable' person will agree that the TSA has just overstepped those boundaries.

The head of the TSA is trying to put the best possible face upon his agency's latest moves.

"There is an ever-evolving nature of the terrorist threat," Pistole told a Senate committee holding a hearing on the safety of cargo.

Pistole said the government is not always ahead of the terroists and that his agency seeks "the proper mix" between passengers' rights and protecting airplanes.

"We want to be sensitive to people's sensitivity to privacy and their being while ensuring that everybody is secure on every flight," he said.

Pistole told fliers that he is concerned about their safety and privacy and asked them to "work together" with his agency.

The only people who undergo the more-intense patdowns are those who refuse to go through full-body scanners or those who somehow trip other dectors.

"It's a very small percentage of all passengers," Pistole said, adding that "our patdown approach is very similar to what is being used in Europe."

There's more at the link.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pistole is lying in his teeth - and anyone who's traveled extensively knows he's lying. His agency's patdown approach is not, repeat, not 'very similar to what is being used in Europe'. I've been patted down there, and I'm here to tell you, European security personnel are far more professional and polite, and far more discreet, in their probing, patting and poking! In particular, they don't treat your private parts as if they were public portals!

Furthermore, I've grown accustomed to having TSA personnel lie to me every single time I use a US airport. I travel with a cane, the result of partial disability. I've had different procedures applied to that cane in almost every airport. Some let me walk through the metal detector with it; some don't. Some X-ray it along with my carry-on baggage; some don't. Some swab it to check for explosives; some don't. Yet, at every airport, if I query something that's required, their common answer is that "this is TSA policy, and it's the same at every airport". I know damn well it's not the same - I routinely use other airports, and I know they're lying to me! There are at least minor, and sometimes major, differences in TSA's practices between any two airports in my experience. Any experienced traveler knows that. TSA staff must surely know that I know that . . . yet they continue to lie. Why? What possible grounds can they have to continue to say what they and I both know to be false? My opinion of their (and their agency's) overall honesty, probity and trustworthiness sinks lower every time they lie - I submit, with good reason. After all, would you trust an inveterate liar?

What's even worse is that the TSA's measures are so appallingly ineffective. I personally know travelers who have (inadvertently and without any criminal intention) carried through security knives, ammunition, teargas canisters, and in one case a holstered handgun complete with two magazines of ammunition. None were detected by X-ray scans of carry-on baggage or searches. All were only discovered by their owners only after they had boarded the plane, or arrived at their destination. Such things happen often enough - on a daily basis, I'm convinced - that I have no faith whatsoever in the TSA's 'security theater' to stop a determined, armed individual from getting his weapons through their checks and onto an aircraft.

In short, the TSA is an expensive, unconstitutional and infuriating joke. It's time the American people realize that the joke is on us . . . and take steps to end it.

If we want real airline security, I submit there's no better example than Israel. El Al is probably the most desirable terrorist target in the aviation world - yet, for several decades, they've flown peacefully to and fro, with minimal problems from terrorism. There's a good reason for that. The Toronto Star reports:

While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

"It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He's worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport."

That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

. . .

(The article goes on to summarize the several layers of security that protect Israeli flights.)

. . .

Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive, so un-Israelified?

Working hard to dampen his outrage, Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves.

"We have a saying in Hebrew that it's much easier to look for a lost key under the light, than to look for the key where you actually lost it, because it's dark over there. That's exactly how (North American airport security officials) act," Sela said. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept."

And rather than fear, he suggests that outrage would be a far more powerful spur to provoking that change.

"Do you know why Israelis are so calm? We have brutal terror attacks on our civilians and still, life in Israel is pretty good. The reason is that people trust their defence forces, their police, their response teams and the security agencies. They know they're doing a good job. You can't say the same thing about Americans and Canadians. They don't trust anybody," Sela said. "But they say, 'So far, so good'. Then if something happens, all hell breaks loose and you've spent eight hours in an airport. Which is ridiculous. Not justifiable.

"But, what can you do? Americans and Canadians are nice people and they will do anything because they were told to do so and because they don't know any different."

Again, there's more at the link, including an explanation of the various 'layers' of security protecting flights in Israel. It's informative and interesting reading.

One can only hope that the growing public outrage over the TSA's latest stupidity will produce action from Congress and the Senate to reassert control over and impose common sense upon this bunch of clowns.



John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Every single time we submit to this, our declared enemies win: about 1.5 million times per day.

They don't have to blow things up-that just adds some dramatic effect and leads to yet another unthinking round of security measures.

Their real real victory lies in the strangulation of our travel and commerce.

For them, a risk-free victory, paid for by the victims-in dollars, and in our society's internal civility.

Old NFO said...

Peter, concur on your thoughts... I just put up a post about my experience and my wish that we could be using the El Al procedures. BTDT, and didn't get groped to get on the airplane.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Old NFO and John Peddie completely.

And there's one more thing I'd like to add concerning why our bureaucrats are so ". . . are very well enclosed in their own concept." They fear competence as much as they fear anything else, for that is the one thing of which they are incapable of comprehending. They are ensconced in their safe little world constructed and walled in with rules and regulations, where they direct the workings of the rest of the world -- without the slightest idea of how anything actually works.


Charlie McDanger said...

Thanks for adding your weight to this. When I'm an old man, I will look back on this--one way or the other--as the moment when we saw whether Americans had the balls to stand up to tyranny.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the airlines are already starting to get cancellations of purchased tickets by people who are going to drive/walk/go Greyhound/ charter a plane/ ride a mule rather than go through the TSA farce.

SiGraybeard said...

"The TSA is trying to maintain that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply, because travelers automatically waive their rights under this Amendment when they buy an air ticket. " They might have an argument if you had to sign a waiver of your 4th amendment rights when you bought a ticket, but I sure didn't see anything like that a few weeks ago, last time I had to fly.

Any lawyers want to take that case on for publicity?

Anonymous said...

People need to activly resist and if that means using violence in defense of your freedoms then so be it....it is our right and duty to resist tyranny by protecting and defending ourselves, our loved ones, our freedoms, and anyone else we see being victimized or attacked by anyone (criminals, regular citizens police, members of military, elected officials) by any means and if that means we must kill a cop, tsa, official or any other govt employee then so be it....if people would stand up for them selves in this way. Then i think "authorities" (in their mind they are authorities but in reality they are simply public servants... in a free country i dont beleive any one has authority over another adult...)will think twice before they act rashly and harm someone...

Bob@thenest said...

In the last few weeks I've cancelled air tickets for Baltimore and Hartford, didn't book the ones I intended to buy for New Orleans, and have decided San Jose (cross country as its best from Orlando!) is out. Several nights in hotels also went out the window. I am simply not going to play their game.

Dirk said...

Until recently, I was flying back and forth from Atlanta to Dallas every other week. There *are* differences in the security procedures at the two airports - even in the procedures at different gates at the same airport.

For example...In Atlanta, they tell you to put your shoes in a bin. In Dallas, they want the shoes directly on the conveyor belt. At one security gate in Atlanta, I can walk through wearing my belt, with no alarm sounding. At another, the alarm sounds. And it's the same exact belt. I asked them about this - they say they "mix things up" so they're not predictable. Sounds like a load of crap to me.

And, on my last flight, about 6 weeks ago, I was wearing baggy cargo shorts. The only thing in my pockets was maybe a little lint. I went through the porno-scanner - and they patted me down afterwards anyway!!! And they didn't even give me any warning. It was "Sir, we're" going to pat you down." It was, at least, just a mild pat-down, but I was still greatly offended they didn't get my consent, or give me any real warning.

WTF is the purpose of the damned machine if they have to pat you down ANYWAY??? Oh, and they made you take *everything* out of every pocket, no matter what it was, and no belts, no nothing. I thought one of the reasons for the machine was to be less of a hassle - other than the nude images they're generating.

Dirk said...

In my previous comment, blogger ate some stuff I typed. In the third paragraph, it should have been something like "Sir, we're" (pat, pat, pat) "going to pat you down."

Chip said...

The main reason we will never Israelify is because the Israelis profile, which somehow in this country has become a four letter word. The IDF is so good at it that they can spot suicide bombers in a crowd of people before they can detonate. Our government uses the broad sword of discipline, one person is bad so all must suffer. Idiots!