Groping for an answer on airport security
11/24/2010 - 12:50
James Besser

I'm a little on the ambivalent side when it comes to new TSA security procedures.

I”m not all that fussed about airport scanners; I've been through a few and it's no big deal, so I don't plan to opt out and get groped by some TSA screener who's justifiably frustrated and angry about being abused by angry travelers.

What bothers me is what this new airport security regimen may tell us about TSA leaders.

That they badly misread what seemed like the inevitable public outcry against intrusive pat downs and scanners that look under your clothes is a no brainer. Then, they failed to offer credible explanations for all this nasty intrusiveness, except to say it's necessary.

Thanks a lot, that makes me feel real good.

More worrisome is the fact they seem to be focusing most of their energies in preventing the last terrorist attacks, and that makes me wonder if they're really what they're doing to figure out how the next one will come. Last Christmas it was the underpants bomber, so they're into genital exploration; do they really think that's the way Al Qaeda is doing to do it next time? What do they think these guys are, stupid?

But it's also clear to me that some of the tidal wave of protest we're hearing is driven by talk show hosts who have portrayed the new procedures in the most lurid ways imaginable.

Tuning through the AM radio, I've heard hosts talking about “granny groping” and charging that screeners regularly do to little children “things that would land them in jail if they weren't wearing uniforms.”

I've heard hosts calling TSA screeners “perverts” and warning that many are homosexuals eager to get their kicks at airport security checkpoints. How absurd and how offensive.

It goes without saying that I've heard claims that it's all part of a socialist/communist/Obamaist plot to soften Americans up for the coming totalitarian state.

Still others proclaim that TSA screeners' latex gloves are spreading herpes and other diseases. An article in WorldNetDaily is headlined “Americans 'likely' to get cancer' from airport scanners."

A new Zogby poll suggests a sharp rise in opposition to the new procedures, with 32 percent of Americans surveyed now saying the pat downs and scans amount to “sexual assault” and 61 percent now opposing both. And I'm wondering how much of this shift is the product of wild exaggerations and outright fabrications that fill the airwaves and blogosphere.

So I have some sympathy for the TSA, and a lot for the poor shmos whose jobs depend on carrying out these policies.

But I'm having a hard time understanding how feeling around folks' underwear is a long-term fix to the problem of a growing, well-funded and increasingly creative terrorist network.

The current furor over intrusive searches raises important, complex questions about how we fight this new kind of war and about the costs - not just in dollars but in terms of our values and freedoms. Unfortunately, it's hard to have a rational debate when talk shows and blogs are deluging us with misinformation and disinformation and pushing all our emotional buttons.

It also doesn't help that the TSA and the Obama administration have handled the controversy in ways that have undercut public confidence that these guys know what they're doing. And in doing that, they have been a godsend to talk-show ranters who see sinister conspiracies in every shadow.

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