Stop the TSA

There is one area (and probably many more) in which China is far saner and more reasonable than the US, and that is airport security. In fact, nearly every other country is saner. Airport security in the US is simply insane. We have crossed the brink and dived head first into insanity.

I was delighted to see the sudden flare-up of anti-TSA articles and blog posts this week, as thousands more of the infamous body scanners (and check out that link) are installed in US airports, and thousands of passengers refused to suffer the indignity and possible health repercussions of walking through them. And then there are the new, incredibly intrusive pat-downs. Don’t get me started.

In one especially shocking incident that has taken the intertubes by storm this weekend, the TSA were no better than thugs. It’s reached the point where something has to be done – like abolish the TSA.

junk-touching-tsa

Ever the voice of reason, James Fallows puts it all in perspective:

To make the point for the zillionth time — and, yes, I’d rather say this too often than not say it often enough — it is insane, destructive, and Maginot Line-like in thinking for the U.S. to pour out so many resources, intrude so deeply on liberties, and generate so much domestic and international ill-will in dealing with one area of potential threat, out of all proportion to what it does elsewhere. And, yes, I say this in awareness that the original 9/11 attacks were against airliners and that many terrorist groups seem to have a “terrorism theater” obsession with aviation. Even so, “security” measures that do not pass a common-sense logic test ultimately generate contempt for the entities carrying them out, and for their grasp of the challenge they are undertaking and the security/liberty balance that is involved.

It’s not airport security. It’s airport security theater, a show, an absurd, hideously expensive, intolerably invasive piece of theater, going through the motions for reasons that no one really understands. The airline pilots and flight attendants are up in arms, the travelers are up in arms, everyone is up in arms, yet the TSA keeps spitting out platitudes about keeping us safe through means everyone knows are unnecessary.

Fallows quotes from a friend of his who lived in Shenzhen for many years. This is delightful:

My favorite experience, though, was this: I tend to glower at the folks doing the bag searches before getting on the plane. I guess the agents sense the glowering because twice now, I’ve the Chinese security agents apologize to me for having to do this… one apologized and then whispered to me “Sorry. The Americans make us do this. It’s useless, I’m embarrassed.” On the other occasion, the agent verbally apologized and gave a quick head bow as he rezipped my bag.

On the flight where the first Chinese agent apologized to me, when we arrived in the US and deplaned, we were met by two US agents and a German shepherd which sniffed us all as we passed by. One of the agents must have been 250 pounds and towered over the deplaning passengers, most of whom were Asian. The agents had their batons out, guns visible, and tasers.

What a contrast – an apology from Chinese security agents at the start of the trip and intimidation upon arriving in the US. Welcome to the land of the free and home of the brave. That the governing classes who so piously mouth platitudes about American exceptionalism are silent in the face of these atrocities to the liberties of innocents says more about America’s decline than any of the numerous economic comparisons.

What is it about America that forces us into such extreme overkill? Why must we let Osama Bin Laden have the last laugh, showing him his evil act has left us so traumatized and frightened we have surrendered our critical faculties and become obsessed to the point of irrationality?

Possibly the craziest new TSA procedure is the one calling for intrusive pat-downs of the pilots as they walk to their planes. If the pilot is prone to terrorism, don’t these jackasses know that the pilots have in their hands the ultimate weapon – the plane. What’s the point of searching the pilots for weapons? Why do we keep adding more and more layers of nonsensical pseudo-security? For the answer, as usual, just follow the money.

Sorry if this is a bit overwrought, but as someone who travels a lot and who never ceases to be amazed at the hoax of airport security, I just had to let it out. Please do your part: Refuse to go through the body scanner. That’s the least we all can do. Fallows said in an earlier column some months ago that the only way to get the TSA to stop the nonsense is for enough people to object and to make their voices heard. I’m glad to see people are finally wising up and refusing to go along with this charade.

You have a far better chance of being killed crossing the street than you do of being killed in airline terrorism. Why on earth are we spending all these billions of dollars and putting people through such inconvenience for a threat that is so incredibly remote? Yes, we need airport security, but only within reason. We should follow China’s saner model – going through airport security there is relative bliss.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 71 Comments

it’s a jobs program, and a bureaucracy dance, and the results of no one wanting to be accountable. it will get worse, of course.

November 16, 2010 @ 7:58 am | Comment

Richard, I agree with everything you say here. Nothing embarrasses me more as an American than hearing from a foreign friend who had to endure the ridiculous ‘security’ measures at the airport.

I think the answer, though, lies simply in the incentives of the agencies involved. Whenever there’s a terrorist attack or a near miss, the agency in charge has to ‘do something’ in order to demonstrate that they’ve ‘stepped up security’. Once the ‘something’ has been added- say, making people take their shoes off- then the agent has officially performed his job function. Since the odds are that no further attacks or near misses will happen on his watch, he can effectively say that his ‘innovation’ was the reason.

Privately, you’re unlikely ever to meet anyone who sincerely believes that the TSA’s methods are actually effective. Yet we still have a public that views any attempt to hijack an airplane as completely unacceptable, and so after each and every threat there’s public demand that people ‘do something about it’ And so the cycle continues.

November 16, 2010 @ 8:04 am | Comment

True, Matt. It’s purely reactive, which means it has limitless potential to metastasize. For every new attempt, we add a new idiotic layer.

Maybe, just maybe we are seeing a turning point, where people are starting to recognize the inanity of these measures that do nothing to protect them, but that are in fact degrading, immoral (like the groping of children, much reported this week and captured on video) and absurd. November 24 should be an interesting day, as word spreads that that’s the day to refuse the body scanners. It should, of course, be every day.

November 16, 2010 @ 8:21 am | Comment

“it’s a jobs program, and a bureaucracy dance, and the results of no one wanting to be accountable. it will get worse, of course.”

Like guys who work at the Subway? Hey man the guy working the ‘shopping bags monitor’ is the master at Angry Birds, don’t hate.

November 16, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Comment

China can also gets insane when it comes to security. During the Expo in Shanghai, every bag has to go through a metal detector. And this was the subway, not even the airport. I am so glad this thing is over.

November 16, 2010 @ 9:18 am | Comment

Serve, same in Beijing with the Olympics. And the subway searches still go on in Beijing, but it’s more of a comedy than it is intrusive or offensive. It’s a silly formality that keeps people employed; the staff doesn’t even look at the screens half the time. It doesn’t compare to what we’re seeing in the US now.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:01 am | Comment

Since the choice is now between being physically sexually assaulted and having some perv stare at a negatized image of yourself in another room, I suspect 99.99% of Americans will choose the perv.
Personally, I haven’t been on US soil since 2006, mainly because of this nonsense.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:32 am | Comment

Something is better in China than USA? Impossible, totally impossible. USA is a democracy China is a dictatorship, how can it be possible, not possible. If you get touched by security guards in USA airport, at least it’s touch by a democracy, a touch by a democracy is better than a touch by a dictatorship, I’d rather be touched by a democracy than a dictatorship.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:02 am | Comment

I am still slightly traumatised by my experiences of Detroit airport, though this was years before the “War on Terror”. American airports are places I do my utmost to avoid. I have never gone to the US for a holiday based purely on my past eperiences.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:04 am | Comment

I say we the people stand up for freedom and privacy. I’m calling for a boycott of airlines until full body scanners are mothballed.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:14 am | Comment

Sorry Richard, but I disagree with you. China has less security because China is not a major target of terrorists.
And the measures in use in the US are directly designed against known threats – against methods that have been tried in the very recent past.

Did you ever consider that we have a greater chance of getting killed crossing the street than in an aviation environment precisely because the measures that are being taken are effective?

This is the inherent problem with security measures. To the extent there are no successful attacks, people begin to think that the measuers are unnecessary. But, of course, there may be simply both necessary and effective.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:26 am | Comment

The procedures we are being told are necessary are ineffective, invasive, unnecessary and haven’t made anyone safer. They have made us the laughingstock of the world, but they’ve also made us a country to avoid, as the comments above bear out.

No one is safer thanks to these obscene full-body scanners, or by TSA officials groping 3-year-old girls as was documented earlier today.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:29 am | Comment

I’m not bothered by the security check at U.S. airports. I fly frequently.

Whiners.

November 16, 2010 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

These are new procedures that you’ve never experienced before. Follow the links to learn more, including the uncertainties about the health effects of the new porno-scanners.

November 16, 2010 @ 12:39 pm | Comment

Richard, I agree that the latest security pat-downs go completely over the top. It just shows that the Obama administration – and, more specifically, the TSA – is tone-deaf to what the public says and feels.
But I think Fallows’ citation of China as a model is a false parallel. As JoeCitizen points out, China isn’t (yet) a target of terrorists. But give it a few more years and decades – and an imperial outreach that will surely surpass the US’ – and it will almost certainly make enough enemies around a more troubled world. As of now, China is just a free rider on the world stage: as in Afghanistan, it doesn’t spill blood while harvesting the riches. But when the American enfeeblement is complete, and when China steps in as globocop (because it needs a ‘secure’ world to grow economically and perpetuate its ‘Empire’), that’s when the backlash will start – and the airport security paranoia will creep in.
At that point, when people complain about Chinese airport security procedures on the PekingDuck blog, the Son of HongXing will helpfully (and predictably) point out that it isn’t bad as it’s made out to be because, in any case, the US did much the same thing…

November 16, 2010 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

I did, and I’m fine with it. I understand some people are not.

I don’t think America is a laughing stock of the world when it comes to this, despite the media reports that I too have read where European officials complained about America.

November 16, 2010 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Chinawatcher, I don’t think so. It’s going to be a multi-polar world. If the U.S. retreats, China will probably much prefer to ask the U.N. to stablize Afghanistan and play a big part in that mission. America’s historical animosity with Islam comes from its support of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue China has been avoiding.

There is another scenario if China becomes democratic in the future: another Japan, only ten times bigger. Japan gets all of its resources from abroad, yet it doesn’t have many enemies in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

For someone named chinawatcher, you should know that ordinary Chinese or even the elite don’t care much about things outside Asia.

November 16, 2010 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

@keisat
I don’t want to hijack the thread by discussing China’s place in the New World Order – beyond the very narrow implication for airline security (which I referred to). But I do want to respond to your points.

I don’t think the UN will achieve anything. Even if the US is enfeebled, the UN can’t stop Israel from ‘taking out’ Iran’s nukes – at an appropriate time. If China wants to protect its ‘interests’ – and it does have many interests around the world – it will have to rely on itself. Right now it’s happy to stay off the radar because, honestly, it ‘gains’ from US action in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere (guess who got the bad press for the war and who got the bulk of the contracts?). But in the absence of the US, there will only be a security vacuum – that a “multipolar”, UN-centred world cannot fill. That responsibility will be ‘thrust’ on China even if it doesn’t want it. And I’m not sure it won’t want it, seeing how it’s asserting itself in its own neighbourhood in recent months in defence of its “core national interests”.

The parallel with Japan too is flawed – for the reason that you’ve chosen the wrong moment in history. Imperial Japan did have many enemies in its neighbourhood (and at least one enemy farther afield), and paid for it by the end of World War II. That lesson is what holds Japan back from taking a bigger role on the world stage, and instead forces it to remain huddled under a US security umbrella. China is also at a vastly different stage of economic development from Japan, and given its population size, still needs enormous amounts of resources from around the world if it is to grow. (Which will perforce expand China’s global footprint.) I don’t think China will ever be like Japan – even in the unlikely event of its becoming a democracy.

Lastly, as a “Chinawatcher” I do know that ordinary Chinese don’t care much about things outside Asia. But then, ordinary Chinese don’t care much about many things that happen within China itself. But that doesn’t stop things from happening (within China and without). It’s what China’s leadership wants – not what the Chinese people want – that will determine what China does on the world stage. Just give China enough time, and it will cast a long shadow on the world stage – and probably face similar pushback to what the US faces now.

November 16, 2010 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

Long before 9/11, and for decades, England was under constant terrorist threat from the IRA (one of the reasons that to this day you still don’t find rubbish bins on the london underground). Invasive scanners and gropings weren’t required to keep train travel and other activities safe.

The best way to prevent things like this happening is proper funding of police work before the event occurs.

Look at all the recent airplane terrorist threats – postal bombings, underpants bomber, liquid bomb threat, shoe bomber, etc. None of them were stopped due to increased security measures, and yet they were all thwarted – either by detective work before hand, or by passengers on the flight who after 9/11 have a heightened awareness of safety. The number stopped by airport security – none. TSA sure have managed to confiscate huge amounts of water bottles, pocket knives and nail clippers though.

Wait until the next terrorist smuggles a bomb onto a plane in a bodily orifice. Then it’ll be cavity searches for all – hooray. Meanwhile, the terrorists will then go and find some other way of disrupting society and inspiring terror (there are any number of other targets they could go for to exact large casualties if they wanted).

November 16, 2010 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Great post, Richard. The TSA needs to be abolished because Homeland Security needs to be abolished.

I’ll take the pat down next time I go to the US.

Michael

November 16, 2010 @ 4:47 pm | Comment

The subway security in Shanghai is still up as well, though as a blonde white guy I can usually pass it by without worry (out of courtesy, though, I usually let them scan my bag as I go through, provided it’s only carrying my laptop and books). It’s annoying, but not nearly as annoying as TSA.

Last time I was in Seoul, however, I noticed that they’ve embraced similarly invasive procedures. I bought eight cans of Korean coca-cola to take back as cheap gifts to friends and family- which I bought within the secure zone of the terminal- yet they had everyone getting on the plane tear open their carry-on luggage for a comprehensive search immediately before boarding. So much for my cokes… and the inanity of bureaucracy.

November 16, 2010 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

Yet another chapter in Richard’s bromance with J.Fallows.

Richard: “There is one area (and probably many more) in which China is far saner and more reasonable than the US, and that is airport security. In fact, nearly every other country is saner.”

You might have considered the manifest insanity of the Chinese security system as a whole before you began your rant against the U.S. and TSA. Suggesting that the Chinese are “far saner and more reasonable” in this one area, doesn’t say very much when you consider the totality of the Chinese security apparatus and the fact that more is spent on domestic security forces in China than on national defense. Ever been to the train station in Beijing and watched as armed police look for potential petitioners? How about the fact that you are legally bound in China to register with your nearest police substation within 24 hours of arrival? In fact, each and every time you register at a Chinese hotel, your visa and passport information is first copied and then transmitted to the local authorities. And what about China’s law requiring that everyone carry papers? (Yes, Richard, I know – you live now in Arizona, where a similar law is making its way through the courts.) Finally, I doubt very much that an ethnic Tibetan, ethnic Uighur, or a poor Han Chinese who looks as if he’s just arrived from the countryside would agree that Chinese security is either sane or reasonable. If Chinese airport security appears saner, that’s largely because they get you coming and going – i.e., there are so many layers of Chinese security that there is simply no need for the kind of intrusiveness at Chinese airports that defines U.S. airport security. In short, U.S. airport security is intrusive, but life in America is much freer.

(By the way, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is a victim of China’s security apparatus.)

Richard: “What is it about America that forces us into such extreme overkill?”

9-11, the Shoebomber, the Christmas Day Bomber, etc. And those are just the ones we know about. In addition, there are the constant threats of similar attacks. Should we not take them seriously?

Consider: Philosopher Allain de Botton spent a week recently as writer in residence at Heathrow Airport. Like you, he was aghast at the level of security he witnessed. At one point, he questioned the necessity of searching a pregnant woman who was boarding a plane and was firmly rebuffed. It turns out that sometime during the 1980s a pregnant woman loaded down with explosives attempted to blow up a commercial flight. Thankfully, she was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, her example is a powerful lesson that pregant women, children, grandmothers, prosthetic limbs, etc. should all be checked.

Listen to Allain de Botton yourself here:

http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/11/airport-philosopher-botton

I don’t particularly enjoy passing through airport security. Moreover, as an Asian man who is somewhat self-conscious about the size of my manhood, I don’t particularly relish the idea of some TSA guy/gal taking a peek at my privates. (On the other hand, compared to most Americans my age, I’m slim and in great shape.) Add to that the possibility that such body scanner technologies are bad for my health and I think I’ll choose the pat-down too.

November 16, 2010 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

With many US industries in decline, Americans seem to have an inordinately respectful attitude towards the security and law enforcement industries. It’s like they’re the last things left to believe in. I used to like visiting the US, but haven’t been in a decade – it’s not the same when you have SWAT Team paramilitaries ‘guarding’ subway stations in New York, as if prepared to repel a battalion strength assault of the Taliban. Even if this level of security was needed, the way it is done is both incompetent and intimidating. Security procedures at Ben Gurion airport in Israel are much more efficient – no 30 minute waits to be patted down by a Wal-Mart operative.

November 16, 2010 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

I think the pregnant woman referred to was the one in the famous case of the Irish girl whose luggage was packed by her Palestinian boyfriend. She was caught by El Al “profilers”. Aside from intelligent profiling (which is probably impossible in the US given the extent of PC tyranny), the best alternative would seem to be to have everyone pass (individually) through a bunker-like containment device that sets off explosives. Same thing for cargo-with hand searches for someone carrying ammunition if that’s still allowed.

Aside from the profits made by Chertoff for the sale of his useless machines, the whole TSA nude body scan and sexual assault program is humiliation by the state for its own sake: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Increa
(…)
U.S. officials say they are moving to enhance screening of cargo entering the country, but shippers have long opposed stricter screening of international cargo because of costs. U.S. Representative Ed Markey was instrumental in pushing for the law that requires the government to screen 100 percent of U.S. domestic cargo on passenger planes. But the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) says only about 65 percent was being screened as of September.
(…)
And, if someone replaces the lithium battery in his laptop with a strip of semtex, the chances are virtually zero that the TSA mopes will catch it.

The harmless are allowed their internet playpens, but the US of today is fundamentally a totalitarian state. During the 50s, political philosophers often said that what fundamentally differentiated the US from totalitarian states was the strength of civil society-Burke’s “little platoons”. Today civil society is dead in the US-killed off by electronic media and the managerial state.

November 16, 2010 @ 8:55 pm | Comment

Even on transit on an US airport, just passing through the airport to a destination outside the US, I was passport controlled, finger printed and photographed…. and almost missed the connection flight.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

I good business opportunity would be to sell mouse traps at the airport, put it in your pocket, and when you are patted…. bingo.

Can put them also in the luggage and laptop bag.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

Abolish the TSA:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/15/abolish-the-tsa/print/
(…)
Finally, most screening devices are ineffective because anyone who is serious about getting contraband onto an airplane can smuggle it in a body cavity or a surgical implant. The scanners the TSA uses aren’t going to stop them.
(…)

November 16, 2010 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

Gan Lu, if the procedures really made sense I would have no problems with them. I don’t mind emptying pockets and going through security. It’s the groping of kids, the new machines that are there because of graft and that can’t spot well-hidden explosives, and the thuggish attitude of TSA as witnessed in their outrageous harassment of Mr. Tyner. The risks compared to the cost and inconvenience do not add up. It has been proven more than once that anyone determined to bring knives and box cutters and explosives onto a plane can do so fairly easily. Passenger diligence and sensible security measures are the keys to avoiding catastrophe, as we saw with both the shoe bomber and the “underwear bomber.” September 11th alerted us to the need for dramatic reform of the screening/security process, but it is no excuse for irrationality, spending to infinity, wholly unnecessary inconvenience and the treatment of pilots, flight attendants and passengers like animals. It’s not just James Fallows and I who are saying this. We are seeing a national outcry, and the pilots have been loudest in their objections. Sensible, smart, efficient security is possible. What we’re doing is pure theater, a big show.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:41 pm | Comment

icr, exactly.

November 16, 2010 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

Aside from these newfangled body scans, everything that takes place in a U.S. aiport also happens in China. I fly often in China. When passing through terminal 3 on my way to visit family in HK, for example, I’m asked for my passport (and visa) as I check-in, again when I pass through customs, one more time when I pass through security, and one last time just before I board. Four times total. In addition, as I pass through security, I must take off my shoes, belt, and jacket, remove my computer from my bag, and frequently submit to a person with a wand. (Certain individuals are subjected to more thorough searches when passing through security.) On one recent occasion several months ago, I was pulled aside as I walked down the boarding ramp to the airplane, and my carry-on was searched – just 10 meters from the plane itself. This has never happened to me in the U.S.

Honestly, I don’t feel like my rights as a traveling human being are being encroached upon in either country. And for the most part, the incovenience is about equal in both China and the U.S. Perhaps the new body scans are a step too far, but I’m not yet convinced that this is the case. TSA is a work in progress. Sure, they’re not as efficient as the could be, and I’m not terribly confident that they could identify a carry-on full of handgrenades much less a box-cutter or two. Nevertheless, consider how difficult and potentially important their job is. As Allan de Botton says in the interview I mentioned earlier (see 22), being a TSA inspector is a thankless job – the upsides are few and the downsides are huge.

Personally, I don’t give a flying f*ck if a parent is insulted at being requested to remove his/her child’s shoes. It makes complete sense to me. The same goes for prosthetics, burkas, pregnant women, wheelchairs, etc. Americans choose to fly knowing full well the hassles inherent in passing through airport security. If they don’t like it, there’s always Greyhound and Amtrak. To those who believe that airport security is one of the areas where the Chinese are “far saner and more reasonable” than the U.S., I encourage them to come live in China and see for themselves just how reasonable and sane the Chinese security apparatus actually is.

As far as the relative safety of driving and flying goes, you’re probably right. But the downside of a terrorist attack using airliners beats a pile-up on the interstate any day of the week. It’s not just about a few dead passengers.

November 16, 2010 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

Fallows’ latest column quotes an email he got from this pilot. Spot on:

Yes, the scanners raise health issues and some very important privacy issues, as do the pat-downs. But no less importantly, they are part of what has become an unsustainable security strategy: that is, treating each and ever passenger, from an infant children to uniformed crewmembers, as potential terrorists, and attempting to inspect their bodies and belongings for each and every possible weapon. This simply isn’t a realistic approach in a country where more than two million people fly daily.

The body scanners are part of an arms race. First came Richard Reid and so we all need to take our shoes off; then came the underwear bomber and so now we’re body-scanned and groped? What might be next? We cannot protect ourselves from every conceivable threat, and we need to acknowledge that while coming up with a strategy that is efficient, reasonable, and effective, and in tune with the hierarchy of threat. What we have right now is none of those things. We are literally strip-searching the entire flying public, from preschoolers to pilots, and rifling through their bags for things — knives and scissors — that are harmless in the first place. All of this while freight from overseas goes uninspected for bombs and explosives.

Digby also has an excellent post about this today. This is not just about airport security, it’s about the road to a police state. Sound hysterical? Read the Digby post. The John Tyner story she discusses is essential for understanding how irrational, ridiculous and scary our airport security theater is. As Digby concludes, “But making no sense is a feature of the police state, not a bug. Just submit to arbitrary authority and move along.”

Too bad to see this issue is being picked up by the far right, and of course they blame it all on Obama. Let’s see now, who was it who ushered in the TSA? Oh, right….

November 17, 2010 @ 2:27 am | Comment

“We are literally strip-searching the entire flying public, from preschoolers to pilots, and rifling through their bags for things — knives and scissors — that are harmless in the first place.”

Pure poppycock. TSA is certainly NOT strip-searching the entire flying public. I fly all the time, and I’ve never been strip-searched. Nor do I know anyone who has. As for rifling through our bags, I suppose it’s happened a few times to me since 9-11. I can live with the incovenience. With respect to scissors and knives, I beg to differ with the pilot. Such items are at least as dangerous as box cutters. In the end, I like the idea that there are limits to what we can take onboard an airplane. The ban on guns makes sense, right? Why not knives and scissors? I agree that determined hijackers/terrorists are unlikely to be deterred by TSA – that doesn’t mean I want TSA to stop doing what they do. Perhaps the aggrieved pilot who wrote this might like to work for TSA for a week or so at $12 an hour before going on about how put out he is at the security precautions.

“The body scanners are part of an arms race.”

Good grief. The guy who wrote this is looney.

“[T]reating each and ever passenger, from an infant children to uniformed crewmembers, as potential terrorists, and attempting to inspect their bodies and belongings for each and every possible weapon.”

More nutty hyperbole. In any case, what’s the alternative? It’s easy to say that we need a sustainable and realistic approach to airport security. Well, what would that look like? Who is exempt from searches? White people? Women? Women and children? Women and children and old people? Everyone with a non-Muslim sounding name? Should all searches be completely random? People don’t like the scanners and they don’t like pat-downs. Likewise, people want to take bottles of liquid onboard airplanes, and a smallish knife or two. Where does it end? Since traveling by car is more dangerous statistically than traveling by plane, should we have the same security at airports that we have at bus stations? What’s the answer. Specifics, please.

It’s one thing to encourage TSA to perform its job more professionally and with more courtesy. It’s quite another to suggest that the Chinese are better at airport security than we are. Check out Tiananmen Square lately? Bag checks everywhere and foreigners are required to show their passports when visiting Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. And then there are the bag checks in the subways and little old ladies with red arm bands sitting everywhere you look just waiting for trouble to start. SWAT guys on street corners, PLA thugs marching up and down Chang’an Ave, and closed-cicuit cameras literally everywhere. What do you say about a place (i.e., China) that spends more on internal security than on national defense? Congratulating the Chinese security for being marginally less intrusive at airports is just ridiculous.

In fact, the Chinese deal with a level of intrusion in their daily lives that Americans can’t begin to appreciate unless they’ve lived in China. Don’t like U.S. airport security? Don’t fly. You have a choice. Personally, I’ve never thought twice about it until now. And I don’t recall ever being particularly angry or put off when I’ve had to suffer through it. In the end, it usually takes less than 5 minutes. BFD.

November 17, 2010 @ 4:00 am | Comment

@Gan Lu – I don’t subscribe to the hyperbolae about this being redolent of a police state (for that, please see Guantanamo and the extraordinary renditions/torture scandals). It is, however, a damned impertinence which, just as with the ban on sharps and liquids, does virtually nothing to make us safer.

November 17, 2010 @ 4:23 am | Comment

@Gan Lu – I guess it should also be said: you note that the treatment you receive when flying from China to the US is the same as that received when flying from the US to China. I my experience, none of these things happen on flights to and from other destinations (i.e., between the UK, Japan, HK, Poland, Switzerland, Ireland, Taiwan, France, Malaysia etc.) – the most I have ever had to submit to is removing by belt/shoes on two occasions (which, by the way, is still a damned impertinence). Removing laptops from their bags has (unfortunately, and inexplicably) become standard across the world on all flights. Therefore, I have to ask – is it not possible that what the Chinese airport security man quoted above said is true, and that such measures are only used on flights from China to the US, at the insistence of US authorities?

As a tangent – Taiwan is, or at least was when I last visited there at the end of last year, a reminder of how flying used to be. Metal cutlery is used on the planes. Taoyuan airport (I still mentally refer to it as CKS) is happily free of much of the security theatre that plagues the rest of the world. Taiwanese immigration officials are, in my experience, the most helpful and reasonable in the world. FLying there still has its relaxed atmosphere, rather than the red-tape-laden rush-fest that flying from the UK has become.

November 17, 2010 @ 4:47 am | Comment

At this point, I think we need a working definition of police state, ROL, effective separation of powers etc before proceeding in this China-US contrast.

@ Gan Lu #22. Your last paragraph???? True confessions.

November 17, 2010 @ 5:00 am | Comment

GanLu, I want to ask you to soften your tone just a bit. Okay?

“We are literally strip-searching the entire flying public, from preschoolers to pilots, and rifling through their bags for things — knives and scissors — that are harmless in the first place.”

Pure poppycock. TSA is certainly NOT strip-searching the entire flying public. I fly all the time, and I’ve never been strip-searched. Nor do I know anyone who has.

Obviously you missed the context. The pilot is saying the new backscatter scanners are the equivalent of a strip search. Every single person who now goes through airport security will have to either be “strip-searched” (which is precisely the purpose of these machines), or be invasively groped.

In addition, these new procedures are just being rolled out, so only a tiny faction of the flying public has experienced them to date. Thus we are seeing the uproar from all sides this week as the procedures go into effect. People do not like what they are going through.

I never said China’s airport security was better than ours. I said it was less insane and more reasonable. And it certainly is. And I am not saying the US is a police state or anywhere near it. The TSA, however, operates like a police state.

Firedog Lake now has an excellent post about this, and notes the US Airline Pilots Association calls the new invasive searches “sexual molestation.” Something’s way wrong. You can read the association’s full statement here. This is not me or Fallows going on a rant. This is a nationwide bombshell.

November 17, 2010 @ 5:07 am | Comment

GanLu, as an unthinking, obedient lemming you obviously are not inconvenienced. You claim that the procedures take about 5 minutes. Now, that’s hyperbole. The wait times for security are anywhere from 30 to 90 at many domestic US airports.

But, let me give you the benefit of the doubt and even retract my insulting characterization of you. Then let’s look at the completely illogical, demeaning procedures that the political hacks at the Department of Homeland “Security” have invented to placate a cowering public. TSA has not stopped one incident, but they have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity.

November 17, 2010 @ 7:09 am | Comment

Thanks, FNaS.

The TSA has done a splendid job of rounding up bottles of water, cigarette lighters, and fingernail clippers. They have never found explosives or a bomb. They have never stopped any potential attack.

We need a security system and screening process, but not the BS. The porno-scanners are worthless, as is the groping. In order to be 100 percent safe you’d need to examine every passenger’s body cavities, remove women’s sanitary napkins and check them for explosives as well as their kids’ diapers. And I’m completely serious. And even then, they can always swallow their plastic explosive device and have it blow up inside them. But the chances of such things happening are so miniscule it’s laughable, and since you know you can’t check every person inside and out you have to take a more logical and effective approach, as Israel does. The scanners are just political graft, a hoax pushed through by lobbyists, and together with the new enhanced groping techniques they serve only to browbeat and harass the public, convincing the stupider ones that they’re really keeping them safe.

November 17, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Comment

Whenever we do something, there is a benefit (hopefully), and there is a price (almost certainly). So really, it comes down to whether the potential benefits justify the perceived costs…and even then it is probably a rather subjective judgment.

Do the TSA screening procedures achieve anything in general, and do they deter terrorists in particular? As others have pointed out, they’re by their very nature reactive. Once the bad guys try something, these guys will start prohibiting it. Osama sends box cutters, now knives and scissors aren’t allowed. Some guy hides stuff in a hollow heel, and now shoes come off. Somebody tries to go all human torch, and now liquids are banned. The TSA isn’t banning anything that the bad guys haven’t already come up with and tried; but at least the bad guys will have to come up with something else…though they seem pretty gifted in that regard. In fact, once the bad guys have tried it once, and knowing that the TSA is now looking for it, they’ll be unlikely to try it again. In that way, the TSA methods are almost destined to turn up nothing. That said, can you imagine the hell to be paid if someone repeated the feat of 911 in an environment where the TSA wasn’t prohibiting box cutter/scissors/knives? To be fair, I don’t think anyone put in a position to make such determinations would have the gumption to take that chance.

Of course, with that mode of thinking (which I can understand), over time, more and more stuff gets prohibited and the screening becomes more and more intrusive and laborious (which I can also understand to become increasingly annoying). I certainly have no solutions to offer. But in evaluating the potential benefit, so long as the procedure has some rationale and some conceivable potential for benefit, I’m happy to grin and bear it.

I agree with FOARP, the 100cc limit on liquids make the least amount of sense. If 101 cc of a fluid is potentially dangerous, surely 99cc of the same fluid is materially no less dangerous. I would say that’s the one that leaves me shaking my head every time. As for sharps, as others have noted, if it seems reasonable to ban a gun, it seems just as reasonable to ban scissors/knives/box-cutters.

And now for costs. Besides time/efficiency/appearances, and obviously manpower, the usual screening methods don’t seem all that costly to me as a member of the flying public. Even the pat-down, which I’ve experienced on occasion, is no big deal, though understandably some people may feel strongly and differently. As long as the screeners aren’t committing sexual assault, of course; but then if they were, that’d be a different matter. As for screening kids, I would think a passenger is a passenger. Same goes for the elderly.

To me, the real issue of “cost” are these body-scanners. No one can be certain about the health risks over time, since they haven’t yet been studied over time. It becomes more of an issue for the frequent fliers. And these scanners are particularly troubling wrt kids, since they may be even more susceptible to long-term injury from such radiation exposure than adults. Their effectiveness also seems highly debatable. So in using my initial metric, using a technique of dubious value which potentially has deadly long-term costs is a non-starter for me…which is why I would choose the pat-down every time.

Ironically, for the TSA to maximize its effectiveness, it would have to subject us to screening techniques without even telling us. I mean, how are you supposed to catch people when you tell them what you’re looking for? But the fact that we know enough about what they’re doing to complain about it suggests to me that we’re a long ways away from the “police state” rhetoric. In fact, if we truly ever reach that state, we wouldn’t know it.

November 17, 2010 @ 11:03 am | Comment

From my experience in the US, I can remember trying to board a flight to Detroit in Hamburg a year ago. Before I could evn check in they were asking completely inane questions such as where did I stay (in a hotel) how did I get to the airport (in a car), when I queried it to the girl doing the questioning an American came over to tell me it was required for my security and I had to answer.

In addition when my wife was in the US and wanted to fly to the UK to meet up, she had a 6″ diving knife and a leatherman multi tool in her hand luggage but was never even picked up on it.

So I would tend to agree that this type of security just seems to do more harm than good.

November 17, 2010 @ 11:19 am | Comment

We have to stop referring to pat downs we’ve had in the past – that has now completely changed. It is no longer the same pat down. It is now, according to the pilots association and many, many others, “sexual molestation.” Do some googling and learn how the procedures changed literally overnight.

The “police state” reference from the blogger Digby I referred to was about the way the TSA operates without accountability and in Kafkaesque ways vis a vis the John Tyner incident. Go to this link to see where the reference was made; in this context, I fully agree with it. America, again, is not a police state, but the TSA seems to be able to act as one. And if we are complacent about it, we’re another step in that direction, a direction in which the Patriot Act and other legislation chipping away at personal freedoms post-911 have pointed us.

Israel has had no airline terrorism for a quarter century because they applied screening techniques that actually work, most notably psychological profiling. No strip-search machines, no groping grandmas and kids.

To repeat a point from my post, if you follow the money you can find out why these scanners exist and who has become rich by their installation. They are a hoax, a cash cow for lobbyists and former TSA head Chertoff, and represent just one more hare-brained post-911 technology embraced whole-heartedly by the government despite its inherent imbecility.

For an excellent and hilarious discussion of just how mornoic this is, see tonight’s clip from the Colbert Report.

November 17, 2010 @ 11:34 am | Comment

Sounds like Math’s finally gonna get some action next time he flies!

November 17, 2010 @ 12:50 pm | Comment

One of the reasons I have not been back to the US is the warm welcome you receive at immigration. If someone wants to photograph me, fingerprint me, ask questions that designed to show how important and great the USA is and how grateful I should be to be let in well no, for all that its not that great a place to visit, there plenty more locations to take my cash and where I will be treated like a normal regular chap.

November 17, 2010 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

America, you are being duped out of your civil liberties and personal dignity, not because it’s a “necessary sacrifice” or “mission creep” or “trading liberty for security” but simply because people are making money by stripping your humanity from you. And you pay for it. Not from taxes – America is so far in debt this extra spending just goes to the national credit card – but in the long term economic viability of your country and way of life. The stunning economic rise of China is very much related to the US government wasting huge sums of money on “security” and “defense” programs such as this. So next time you go through that body scanner, not only will you be letting the government view your most private places and exposing yourself to x-ray radiation, but you will also be participating in a program that adds to the national debt and the country’s dependency on foreign governments to support it. But there is an alternative: you could choose to refuse the scan and when Mr. Happy Hands comes out to ask if you want to be felt up in private tell him, “We can do that out here, but if you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested.”

November 17, 2010 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

“What do you say about a place (i.e., China) that spends more on internal security than on national defense?”

I’d say that the place has a massive oversupply of labor, and employing millions of unemployed farmboys in security (read: paying them to stand around smoking cigarettes and looking vaguely official) looks less threatening to the neighbors than drafting them all into the PLA (as a certain leader whose name starts with M and rhymes with “Dow” would have done). Every Brit and American I know who lives in Shanghai thinks that Chinese security and cops are considerably less threatening than our own country’s equivalents- precisely because nobody in China busts their rear for 2000 kuai a month.

November 17, 2010 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

Richard: “The pilot is saying the new backscatter scanners are the equivalent of a strip search. Every single person who now goes through airport security will have to either be “strip-searched” or be invasively groped.”

Again, the pilot resorts to extreme hyperbole. Given a choice (you have only two), which would you prefer: 1) being strip-searched (imagine bending over and having your ass cheeks pulled apart by a couple of latex glove-clad TSA inspectors), or 2) being scanned by the new scanners? Clearly, the new scanners, however invasive, are nothing like a real strip search. As for the pat-downs, they seem quite tame to me.

Anyone who likens passing through the new scanners to “sexual molestation” is guilty of losing their mind. Such people have obviously never been sexually molested. In the end, we have a choice not to fly. (Do victims of sexual molestation have a choice?) And if we feel we must fly, we can apparently choose to be patted-down instead of scanned. (Ever been patted-down? It’s a bit strange, I admit, but not so unpleasant that I feel the need to congratulate the Chinese on their superior approach to airport security. Indeed, the pat-downs I’ve received at Chinese airports are the ones I remember most.) Comparing current TSA security measures to sexual molestation, or suggesting that what we are witnessing in our nation’s airports is the incipient rise of a fascist police state – both arguments are nutty. You all sound like Tea Party nutjobs.

Richard: “The TSA has done a splendid job of rounding up bottles of water, cigarette lighters, and fingernail clippers. They have never found explosives or a bomb. They have never stopped any potential attack.”

You can’t possibly know that this is true. And yet you say it with such conviction.

What’s the harm in not bringing cigarette lighters onboard? How about bottles of water? I’ve been in many airports throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and not one allows bottles of liquid or cigarette lighters onboard aircraft. (In August, just before boarding a domestic flight from Shanghai to Beijing, I was forced to throw out 20 or so mini-bar type bottles of liquor that I’d packed in my carry-on. Each bottle contained less than 100 ml, but liquor was not allowed in the passenger cabin.)

Richard: “Israel has had no airline terrorism for a quarter century because they applied screening techniques that actually work, most notably psychological profiling. No strip-search machines, no groping grandmas and kids.”

I was in Israel two years ago, and the security presence at the airport there was enormous. And are you really suggesting that psychological profiling is what you’d prefer? Good grief, Richard. Imagine the mess that would cause. Just imagine. And one last time – there is no such thing as a “strip-search machine.” Go invent one.

Formerly Not: “GanLu, as an unthinking, obedient lemming you obviously are not inconvenienced. You claim that the procedures take about 5 minutes. Now, that’s hyperbole. The wait times for security are anywhere from 30 to 90 at many domestic US airports.”

You sound like my wife. As I wrote before, I fly all the time and the security precautions don’t really bother me. Looking back, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve spend more than 20 minutes passing through airport security. (I do admit to spending longer than that when waiting to check-in, however.) The airports I fly in and out of most are Boston, SFO, LAX, Chicago, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing – I’ve never spent anything like an hour (much less 90 minutes) waiting to get through security. Not once in the 9 years since 9-11.

As for me being an unthinking lemming – Of course, I believe that nice, well-educated, law-abiding, terrorist-hating people like me should all be allowed to pass through security without being forced to remove our shoes and laptops, or submit to embarrassing body scans and pat-downs, etc. Tell me – How does TSA determine who to check and who not to check? Should TSA ignore the example of the shoe bomber and not ask us to remove our shoes? How about liquids? Should we all be allowed to carry whatever we like onboard an airplane? What about diving knives? Should we simply take the word of every prosthetic wearing amputee that his fake leg contains no explosives? Should there be any limits at all?

You all bitch and moan about TSA but offer no alternatives. Again, it’s one thing to feel incovenienced by all the security measures or to recommend that TSA does its job better. It’s quite another to recommend abolishing TSA altogether.

Everyone seems to agree that committed terrorists won’t be deterred by TSA security procedures. That may be true. But does that mean that we should abolish TSA and make it easier for them? It doesn’t make sense. People whine about having to remove their shoes and coats in U.S. airports. Is doing so really such an incovenience? Big babies, every last one of you.

November 17, 2010 @ 6:41 pm | Comment

FOARP: “I guess it should also be said: you note that the treatment you receive when flying from China to the US is the same as that received when flying from the US to China.”

In fact, I receive such treatment when flying from Beijing to HK. Re-read my comment(30) where I write that the treatment I receive in Chinese airports is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as the treatment I receive in a U.S. aiport.

November 17, 2010 @ 7:03 pm | Comment

@Richard –

“The TSA has done a splendid job of rounding up bottles of water, cigarette lighters, and fingernail clippers. They have never found explosives or a bomb. They have never stopped any potential attack.

(my emphasis)

For me, this is the most important point. None of the numerous attempts to attack air transport whilst in the air that have taken place since the 11th of September, 2001, have been foiled by airport security measures. All of them (repeat: all of them) were foiled either by intelligence agencies, or, in the case of “The Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid, by his fellow passengers. Note that in every case where intelligence agencies failed to prevent explosives reaching the aircraft (i.e., the shoe bomb and the recent printer bomb) airport security also failed. This seems pretty conclusive.

@Gan Lu – Logically speaking, the money wasted on airport security would be much better spent giving intelligence and police services the tools they need to prevent attacks, and on maintaining an alert status amongst airline passengers and staff.

Ask yourself this: if you and 18 of your friends decided to re-enact the hijacking of the 11th of September, and if intelligence services did not pick up on your plan (let us imagine that you co-ordinated your activities on a well-known terrorist website called The Baghdad Duck), would airport security stand any realistic chance of foiling your evil plan?

The answer is no. Any person of reasonable intelligence (a class which, thankfully, excludes the majority of suicidal terrorists) who has stood in queue waiting to pass through airport security has probably thought of a way in which they might have smuggled a blade, a bomb (which need not actually contain explosives to be used in a hijack), or some other form of weapon through airport security which would have had a strong likelihood of success. The only thing which would stand a good chance of stopping you are your fellow passengers and the flight crew, who will know what people in 2001 didn’t: that the hijackers mean to use the plane as a weapon, and that their lives depend on preventing you from gaining control of the plane.

I believe you are someone of good intelligence and probably have a reasonable level of technical knowledge, so I’m asking you: do you believe that airport security ever could stop you carrying out a terrorist attack on a plane if you were so inclined?

November 17, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

America, you are being duped out of your civil liberties and personal dignity, not because it’s a “necessary sacrifice” or “mission creep” or “trading liberty for security” but simply because people are making money by stripping your humanity from you. And you pay for it. Not from taxes – America is so far in debt this extra spending just goes to the national credit card – but in the long term economic viability of your country and way of life. The stunning economic rise of China is very much related to the US government wasting huge sums of money on “security” and “defense” programs such as this. So next time you go through that body scanner, not only will you be letting the government view your most private places and exposing yourself to x-ray radiation, but you will also be participating in a program that adds to the national debt and the country’s dependency on foreign governments to support it. But there is an alternative: you could choose to refuse the scan and when Mr. Happy Hands comes out to ask if you want to be felt up in private tell him, “We can do that out here, but if you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested.”

November 17, 2010 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

Richard: “The TSA has done a splendid job of rounding up bottles of water, cigarette lighters, and fingernail clippers. They have never found explosives or a bomb. They have never stopped any potential attack.”

You simply can’t prove your assertion, Richard. And as far as the bottles of liquid and cigarette lighters go, no airport in the world that I’ve been to allows such things onboard commercial flights. In any case, it sounds like a good idea to me to ban such items. The fact that Richard Reid was not found out is of no consequence.

Richard: “Israel has had no airline terrorism for a quarter century because they applied screening techniques that actually work, most notably psychological profiling.”

As I wrote in my deleted comment, you can’t seriously be suggesting that psychological profiling is what we need to be doing in the U.S. I’m aghast. I can’t even begin to imagine the can of worms that would result. As I also wrote, I’ve been to Israel, and airport security there is far more noticeable than it is in the U.S.

Formerly-Not: “GanLu, as an unthinking, obedient lemming you obviously are not inconvenienced. You claim that the procedures take about 5 minutes. Now, that’s hyperbole. The wait times for security are anywhere from 30 to 90 at many domestic US airports.”

1. Your powers of perception are impressive. Who needs body scanners when we’ve got you. Indeed, I’m naked before you.

2. Since 9-11, I’ve never waited as long as 30 minutes to pass through security – not at Logan, SFO, LAX, O’Hare, Hong Kong, Beijing, or Shanghai. Not even once. (I’m not counting the time I’ve spent waiting to check-in.)

FOARP: “I believe you are someone of good intelligence and probably have a reasonable level of technical knowledge, so I’m asking you: do you believe that airport security ever could stop you carrying out a terrorist attack on a plane if you were so inclined?”

Bless you, FOARP. I’m all weepy. After FNS’s comment, I was feeling so bad about myself.

My guess is that “aiport security” in the U.S. goes far beyond TSA and the airports themselves to include the CIA, NSA, FBI, local law enforcement, and other airport staff. I believe that TSA is, in large part, designed to deter all but the most dedicated would-be terrorists. Guys like those responsible for 9-11 will likely find other ways to cause problems in the U.S. And perhaps they’ll choose to avoid airports altogether, the way terrorists did in Madrid, London and Bali. Even so, I believe that TSA is useful. You assume that because TSA is unlikely to catch the Mohammad Atta’s of the world that it is of no use. I rather think that deterring minor league thugs from acting out at 35,000 feet is a really good idea. Who knows how many losers with delusions of grandeur were deterred by the mere presence of TSA. Airport security should be improved, but that process takes time and proceeds via much trial and error. If you’re serious about eliminating TSA, what do you propose should replace it. Be specific.

As I’ve said before, I’d probably choose the pat-down over the new scanner. That said, I’m not terribly put-off by airport security in the U.S. or anywhere else. At most, it rates as a mild incovenience that I never think about until I’m minutes away from passing through it.

Finally, attempts to demonize TSA by equating the new scanners and pat-down procedures with sexual molestation, strip-searches, and police state tactics are ignorant. Ask any victim of sexual abuse if what s/he experienced was anything like being patted-down at an airport and I’m sure the answer will be a big, fat “No”. The same goes for strip-searches. I, for one, would much rather pass through the new scanner than drop trou and spread my ass cheeks for a TSA inspector.

November 17, 2010 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

Thanks FOARP, we see eye to eye on this. It is a fact that the TSA has never stopped an attack – it was on the news last night and the head of the TSA acknowledged it. But of course, he added, we need them and their extreme procedures “just in case.”

Gan Lu, you’re on probation for a while. Disagree all you want, but your strident, personal tone won’t fly. It started with your first comment opening with, “Yet another chapter in Richard’s bromance with J.Fallows,” followed by some very personal nastiness (the comment that didn’t get published), that I would expect from Hong Xing, and I’m not tolerating it. You shout as though I am the only one equating the machines with a type of strip search. Totally false. I respect that you like the US airport screening system and have no problem with its groping, invasive procedures. You can say it in a polite way.

November 18, 2010 @ 12:47 am | Comment

Gan Lu may want to check this link: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/chase-e1.1.1.html It’s obvious he has no idea what’s really going on.

November 18, 2010 @ 3:52 am | Comment

@SKC: “No one can be certain about the health risks over time, since they haven’t yet been studied over time.”

That is correct. According to this letter by biochemists, dermatologists and cancer specialists at the U of California SF:

****QUOTE****
“The majority of their energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue. Thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high.

The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X- rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose.

In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.”

http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf
****END QUOTE****

The letter further states that adults over age 65, children, those with breast cancer risk, immunocompromised persons (AIDS and cancer patients) are at greatest risk.

The effects on pregnant women and fetuses are not yet determined.

There is risk of sperm mutagenesis due to proximity of testicles to the skin.

So for a traveler, the choice seems to be this:

I, my spouse, my daughter and/or son, and all generations thereafter, could face unknown health and genetic damage by going through a scanning machine that exposes our private parts to be viewed by strangers (with risk too of recorded images that are further distributed).

Or our private parts could be touched, felt, felt up, handled, groped, fondled, inspected, stroked, pressed, massaged, molested, caressed or assaulted – lawfully or unlawfully (different words might apply depending upon the intentions, sexual proclivities and choices of the particular individual agent who we encounter by chance on the security line) – with uncertain expectation of redress and what appears to be an additional risk of civil or criminal penalty or personal consequences (like the pilot who might get fired) for protesting or trying to document the interaction by recording the interaction on my mobile.

Some choice.

November 18, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Comment

John Pistole is a fool and not your friend. Scanners & Pat Downs are not about security, it’s about CONTROL. Do you want unnecessary gamma radiation force upon you and your loved ones? Do you want virtual strip searches performed on you and your family in AMERICA. Do you accept GROPING by government employees and strangers?! Of Course not, so STOP the TSA NOW!! Stop idiotic government intrusion NOW! Do NOT put up with this garbage and stand up for your simple PERSONAL FREEDOMS. I suggest that we Pat Down and Scan John Pistole over & over again and see how he likes it………..within the public eye. Then we do the same thing to his wife and family and all of his relatives. This is what he is doing to YOU. Personally, I’m not allowing any scans and I will resist all Pat Downs. They (TSA) are the enemy of the American public, the TSA is ANTI-AMERICAN. NO SCAN day Wednesday, November 24, 2010…..nation wide. They are the irresponsible ones, not us!
Sue the TSA and its employees in court. Weaken the TSA and destroy it or change it into something that is appropriate. Kick BIG BROTHER out! Go after John Pistole politically. Resist the TSA until we have eliminated them. They must stop kidding Americans because they are not even relevant. Scan luggage, not people. Americans are not items, we are not things, we are free thinking human beings. Think of ways to enhance security within the cohorts that you travel with on each flight. Who on our MILLIONS & MILLIONS of flights have been affected by punk terrorists? And STOP calling them “terrorists”……they are criminals. The term is a “scare” tactic by so called government authority. Authority is afraid of people taking power away from them. Remember the TSA are the real criminals (not you) because they are violating your most fundamental and basic rights of human DIGNITY. We passengers should be screening them!!

With Reason & Anger,

Robert A. Shumway, MD, FACS
La Jolla, CA

November 18, 2010 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

I hate this topic.

Richard: “I respect that you like the US airport screening system and have no problem with its groping, invasive procedures.”

I never said that I “liked” aiport security in the U.S. I also admitted that current procedures are unlikely to catch committed terrorists. What I did say was that U.S. airport security hasn’t been a greater nuisance to me than airport security elsewhere. I’ve never waited very long to pass through, and I don’t find the procedures themselves particularly invasive. Calls to dismantle TSA seem to me to be egregiously wrong-headed. More professionalism and efficiency is in order, not John Pistole’s head on a stake.

Richard: “You shout as though I am the only one equating the machines with a type of strip search.”

1) When did I ever “shout”?

2) It doesn’t really matter that you’re not the first to equate the new scanners with strip searches. All that matters is that you (and others here) endorse the view. In point of fact, strip searches and sexual molestation have very little in common with either the new scanners or the new pat-down procedures. Needless to say, anyone who’s actually been strip searched or sexually molested could tell you that the comparison is false. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Demonizing TSA is hardly the proper approach to improving airport security. Moreover, unlike victims of sexual molestation (and strip searches), most of us who travel through U.S. airports will have a choice between passing through the new scanners, being patted-down, or passing through the same old metal detectors we’ve always used. I’m unimpressed. This sky-is-falling outcry is looney.

My initial objection was with your suggestion that airport security in the P.R.C. is “far saner and more reasonable than the US.” It certainly is not. Even without the new scanner technologies in place, Chinese airport security must be seen as part of a much larger security apparatus that is far more invasive than anything Americans must face in the U.S. And procedurally speaking, it takes just a long to pass through Chinese airport security as it does anywhere else I’ve traveled. Six of one, a half dozen of the other. Criticize TSA and the new procedures all you want, but do so without promoting Chinese airport security as a model of sanity. However embarrassing or invasive the new scanners may be (I admitted earlier to not particularly liking the idea of them being used on me), once we leave the airport we’re as free as we’ve ever been. Contrary to some of the loonier arguments being made, installation of the new scanners is not the first step on the road to the apocalypse.

What will you say a year or two from now when the new scanners show up in Chinese airports and you have no choice but to pass through them? Something to look forward to.

Richard: “Disagree all you want, but your strident, personal tone won’t fly. It started with your first comment opening with, ‘Yet another chapter in Richard’s bromance with J.Fallows,’ followed by some very personal nastiness…”

I beg to differ: there was no personal nastiness directed at you or anyone else in my earlier comment. Now that Putz is gone, I feel no need to vent my spleen. In any case, I’m sure I never sunk so low as to call you an “unthinking, obedient lemming.” As far as your bromance with Fallows goes, I’ve commented on it before. Besides, it’s not as if you make an effort to hide your abundance of affection for the guy.

Richard: “Gan Lu, you’re on probation for a while.”

How long is a while?

November 19, 2010 @ 3:57 am | Comment

It’s lifted – all I ask is that you be polite and a little less caustic/personal. Thanks..

About the TSA, we can agree to disagree. I think we’ve argued it to death, and I hate the topic as much as you do.

Bottom line: I have a low threshold for what I perceive to be useless procedures that give extraordinary powers to those administering them, at the expense of the dignity of those paying their salaries. The presupposition that each of us is a potential terrorist, including kids and grandmas and elderly nuns, seems to me an ineffective and wasteful methodology. I am delighted to see both the caustic left and the rigid right go ballistic on this issue. It’s an atrocity, and as much as this topic might be a bore, I can promise you we haven’t heard the last of it yet. This battle’s just getting started.

November 19, 2010 @ 4:33 am | Comment

Even in airports with scanners the TSA is also conducting involuntary “random” “enhanced” pat downs, meaning that you may have no choice as to whether or not you are sexually molested by the government. Keep in mind the enhanced procedures do involve touching the tops and bottoms of the breast (for women) and the groin and genitalia for both sexes with fingers and the palms of the hand. And these are applied to minors too.

Now keep in mind that the overall lifetime chance of being killed by terrorism (including large-scale incidents like 9/11) is about 1/80,000. By contrast in the US your lifetime chance of getting killed in a car accident = 1/100, falling to death=1/246, being shot to death=1/325, electrocution=1/5000, drowning=1/9000. Perhaps most outrageous is that estimates of the prevalence in the general population of people with a predisposition to pedophilia (not necessarily arrested or convicted) in the USA is roughly between 1%-5%. Taking the lower number, that means 1/100 members of the general population have these tendencies. If you have interacted with the TSA, you know they certainly draw from the “general population”. So roughly speaking a child’s lifetime chance of being killed by terrorism is 1/80,000. Their chance of being viewed or touched by a TSA agent who is sexually aroused by children is 1/100 ON A GIVEN DAY OF FLYING.

Terrorism of any type is just not a very common event and yet the US spends massive amounts of money (that it doesn’t have!), and has systematically curtailed the civil rights of its own citizens and people around the world. And before you say “maybe the rate of terrorism is so low because of these efforts” keep in mind that there are few confirmed cases where terrorism was averted because of such measures. Usually it is failure on the part of the terrorists, or the heroics of civilians that avert a disaster. But that all really misses the big point, and this is the slight of hand that the US government counts on: terrorism in the first place is blowback (the unintended byproduct) from the US government’s foreign policy (I suggest reading Chalmers Johnson on this). Meaning the same government that is trying to “protect” you from it actually created the circumstances that have resulted in it. At least it used to be the “unintended byproduct” but now with the amount of profiteering on terrorism by the defense and security industries it is hard to believe that there aren’t at least some elements in the US government and arms industry who prefer that the threat of terrorism continues. In this case in particular, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland security until 2009 and a major proponent of body scanners since taking office in 2005, admitted that one of the Chertoff Group’s (his security company’s) clients is Rapiscan Systems who makes body scanners. So there is a direct profit motive for the government to introduce these systems.

Finally there is the health aspect: The scans do expose you to x-ray radiation and although the dose is relatively low, it is much higher than what you are exposed to in the natural environment over the same period of time. The science is still not fully understood on this, but there is indication that these machines are more dangerous than the manufacturers or the FDA claim (keep in mind the FDA is already in the pocket of big industry.) Even if we take a very conservative estimate that these machines expose you to the amount of radiation that you are exposed in the natural environment over an hour (as has been claimed) we can come up with the following calculation to put things in perspective:

There are about 800 million air passengers per year in the US. That would be 800 million body scans per year. Radiation exposure/scan = equivalent of that from 1 hr of life, so that’s 800 million hours. Average human life = 700,000 hours. So 800,000,000 hrs radiation = 1000+ lifetimes. Meaning that in a year these machines have given the population more than a 1000 lifetimes of extra radiation exposure. The lifetime death rate from skin cancer = 1/50 (the lifetime risk of dying from any sort of cancer is 1/7!). Thus making some reasonable statistical approximations, in 1000 human lives, 20 people will die from skin cancer. Therefor these machines cause on average 20 cancer deaths a year. (Yes there are some assumptions and approximations here but it is still a meaningful way to analyze the issue.) Keep in mind that the MARGINAL reduction in deaths by terrorism due to this technology would have to be substantially higher than the number of induced cancer deaths in order to justify its existence, given its other costs.

November 19, 2010 @ 8:18 am | Comment

Oh, this whole thing…have I complained about my experiences at SFO recently? The one place I’ve been subjected to “enhanced searches,” and those were infuriating enough before these new rules. The TSA, I met one really nice fellow the second time this happened to me but otherwise, I was so furious I was pretty sure a Taser was coming up. Standing in a freakin’ plastic box, nearly missing my flight (that was rebooked and left me no time to get to the airport early), no one coming to do the freakin’ search, I am standing in this box, and then when the “female officer” finally shows up, she is this hard-assed beyotch who made me feel like a criminal — “Stand with your feet on the footprints. Face that way. Raise your arms.”

You know what you need to do to get the extra attention at SFO? Wear baggy pants. Particularly those with cargo pants. The nice TSA officer explained it to me the second time it happened to me. Cause, you know, no one wants to wear loose, comfortable clothing when they are going to be flying for a long period of time.

Gah.

And now this. It just gets more and more asinine.

November 19, 2010 @ 4:18 pm | Comment

There’s a certain section of the US that seems to almost luxuriate in the belief that the country is ‘under constant threat of attack’ by radical islamist forces. The ‘total war’mentality they want to encourage is that the whole country is now a new ‘front line’ against radical islam. All these airport security checks are just a spin off from that.

November 19, 2010 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

For the First time in my Life, I am not a proud American. The Fact that there is any American in my Freedom Loving Country, that would support this gross inustice on our Fourth Amendments rights is astonishing. If we dont’ quickly overturn this, I will never fly again, and I will leave this country, which was one for the free, but would be no longer.

November 19, 2010 @ 11:13 pm | Comment

NYC fights back against scanners.

November 20, 2010 @ 7:25 am | Comment

@MichaelIP –

“There’s a certain section of the US that seems to almost luxuriate in the belief that the country is ‘under constant threat of attack’ by radical Islamist forces. The ‘total war’ mentality they want to encourage is that the whole country is now a new ‘front line’ against radical Islam. All these airport security checks are just a spin off from that.”

“Do you want total war?”

November 20, 2010 @ 11:30 am | Comment

@MichaelP (#59) / @FOARP (#62)

“There is every reason to believe we will succeed in revolutionizing the Middle East, for we have always excelled at destroying tyrannies…. We wage total war, because we fight in the name of an idea — freedom — and ideas either triumph or fail.”

- Michael Ledeen, writing in a 2003 essay for the American Enterprise Institute.

Sourcewatch

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Michael_Ledeen#.22Total_War.22_Advocate

“Most Americans have never heard of Michael Ledeen, but if the United States ends up in an extended shooting war throughout the Middle East, it will be largely due to his inspiration.”

“The man behind ‘total war’ in the Mideast” (May 14, 2003)
http://articles.sfgate.com/2003-05-14/opinion/17491295_1_regime-change-american-enterprise-institute-ledeen-iraq-iran

November 20, 2010 @ 10:14 pm | Comment

TSA = comic genius:

http://www.redstate.com/erick/2010/11/18/another-tsa-outrage/

:)

November 21, 2010 @ 2:36 am | Comment

A Republican congressman in Florida, John Mica, is calling for a ban of the TSA.

here

Should we cheer? Well, before doing that, read more closely….

“The push is being led by a powerful Florida congressman who’s a longtime critic of the Transportation Security Administration and counts among his campaign contributors some of the companies who might take the TSA’s place….

Mica is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Once the new Congress convenes in January, the lawmaker is expected lead the committee.

Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica’s call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports.”

Oh.

So instead of being felt up by a government employee, I can be felt up by a private contractor instead. It might even be an ex-TSA employee, except now he’s got a lower salary and less health benefits. Very reassuring when he’s breathing on me while running his hands over my intimates.

I feel much better now.

As Richard rightly put it, just follow the money:

TSA spent over $100 m on advanced technologies in 2007-8.

U.S. airports security screening markets revenues estimated at $5.42 bn by 2012.

And Asia is just around the corner.

Slide 11: the biggest market driver is “terrorist threats”.

November 21, 2010 @ 7:32 pm | Comment

Nothing in modern history has generated such an insane spending spree like 911. A big fat wet dream for contractors of all kinds.

November 22, 2010 @ 1:55 am | Comment

And actually isn’t the TSA a semi-private organization? Because I remember there was a horrible fight about them being a Federal agency (with Federal benefits, and, you know, training and stuff).

But hey, here’s the upside:

Lonely this holiday season? Try your local airport!

November 22, 2010 @ 5:01 am | Comment

This is not a pleasent topic but must be discussed and be on every citizen’s mind, It is not TSA but Homeland security concent and depertmane has to be abolished. we lost the war to terorists the day we created HLS. Sorry.
We need to take the war to the source of all this. The Islam.
What better way than to park our troops in Mecca, Medina with Scanners and full body search of all Hajj pilgrims before the enter their beloved city?
This will get the message to all of Islam that we are bringing their war home to them.
As much as I love all religions and people, something irrational has to happen before we briing world peace.
Good luck to all with partial solutions.

November 23, 2010 @ 9:45 am | Comment

Moron.

November 23, 2010 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Good grief. I think something irrational is in our midst.

November 23, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

One of Palin’s deranged relatives. Probably been chained up in the chook pen away from nosey reporters until this jailbreak.

November 24, 2010 @ 6:14 am | Comment

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