Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page has a pair of commentaries taking nearly opposite positions on the recent controversy over TSA’s screening procedures and practices. Gabriel Schoenfeld defends TSA’s invasive pat-downs as necessary to prevent terror attacks using non-metallic weapons such as C-4 and PETN. Peggy Noonan says TSA has gone too far.
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Controversy about the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening technologies and procedures continues to intensify. The White House is reacting defensively. The chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is defending the new procedures. Opponents of advanced imaging technology have attempted to organize a nationwide “Opt-Out” yesterday, the busiest airline travel day of the year.
John Tyner, heretofore an anonymous blogger, is now a public celebrity. According to Tyner, TSA forced him to submit to an invasive pat-down, which led to his now famous imprecation. Apparently, millions have seen the video he recorded of the encounter; his description of it and his several follow-up blog posts reveal much more about inherent flaws in TSA’s airport security regime.
The Transportation Security Administration acknowledges that its screening procedures have become much more invasive. TSA administrator John Pistole defends them as necessary to provide the best possible security for air travelers. However, he does not provide a reasoned basis for this conclusion — for example, what incremental security benefits new procedures provide compared with the incremental costs in lost privacy. Pistole’s argument reduces to the notion that any increase in inspection intensity is justified if Pistole decides that it is.
Both the new security procedures and Pistole’s unwillingness to provide a reasoned basis for them have provoked widespread opprobrium. Is there a constructive path forward, or has TSA lost its way?
Estimating the quantity of something that does not want to be estimated could be the most difficult quantitative task around. For this reason, estimates of the unlawful alien population are prone to both error and bias.
After Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration issued a directive requiring airlines to immediately make major changes in their operations.
Travel bloggers Christopher Elliott and Steve Frischling published the directive. On December 29, both were served with subpoenas demanding the surrender by December 31 of all private records that might reveal the identity of the source. Frischling surrendered his computer to federal agents on December 30. Predictably, they destroyed it rather than return it. Elliott contested the subpoena and TSA withdrew them on December 31.
Whether TSA’s actions were legal (or should have been illegal) is an interesting question. What is more immediately interesting is that the directive itself implies a higher concern about the appearance of safety than safety itself. Nothing in the directive would have prevented Abdulmutallab from bombing Flight 253 or prevent a similarly equipped terrorist from blowing up an airliner tomorrow.