******************** THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO WWW.LEGALINSURRECTION.COM ********************

This blog is moving to www.legalinsurrection.com. If you have not been automatically redirected please click on the link.

NEW COMMENTS will NOT be put through and will NOT be transferred to the new website.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA: Thousands Standing Around (and then radiating you)

This weekend, I found myself in San Francisco International Airport for a long weekend in the Bay Area. After a pleasant weekend, and then a wait in an egregiously long line, I found myself in one of the famed full body scanners, the subject of much controversy this week. The scan itself was not unpleasant, but imagine my surprise to find that these images, which are supposed to never be released, have recently been leaked from a similar machine in a Florida Federal courthouse. (Of course, another savory option could be having a TSA crew member put their hands down your pants.)

This violation of my privacy also apparently comes with a nice dose of risk, "recent research indicates that about 5 percent of the population — one person in 20 — is especially sensitive to radiation. These people have gene mutations that make them less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA. Two examples are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, but scientists believe many more such defects are unknown." Apparently, though, the radiation being put out by the scanner is far less than the what passengers receive from cosmic rays at 30,000 feet. In other words, the damage is equal to about four minutes in the air, but for that 5% of the population who is particularly sensitive, why should they be subject to a greater risk?

I've always had an issue with the Theatrical Security Administration. In my opinion, if we were concerned with anything other than creating the illusion of security, we would lay-off half of the TSA agents, hire bomb and chemical-sniffing dogs to check the plane after boarding and cargo hold, and put a US Marshal on every flight – in addition to requiring full searches for airport personnel and their vehicles. As it stands now, airport personnel – restaurant workers, baggage handlers, etc – are not subject to the same security requirements as passengers, and oftentimes only have to wave their badges in order to get into the secure areas of the airport.

Beyond the TSA and it's farcical measures, the Federal bureaucracy is also a tremendously crippling expenditure towards our safety. From 2004 – 2007, the total spending of the Department of Homeland Security was about 332 billion dollars. Over the same four-year period, Federal funds did not make up more than 5% of the security spending in the City of New York, indicative of their own priorities to their taxpayers. In the past 8 years, California has received the most federal aid, with about 1.5 billion dollars – which is only 3.3% of total spending by the state.

To put it bluntly, the federal tail is wagging the state dog. The Federal level has a disproportionate about of influence over regions where it hasn’t even invested a considerable amount of money. This is even more disgraceful considering the local level is more capable of preventing a threat than the federal. (Federal agents only represent about 50,000 people, as opposed to 2.2 million who work at the local level.) A great example of the effectiveness of local authorities is the continued validation of the “Broken Window Theory” put forth by a scholar from the Manhattan Institute and implemented by Rudy Giuliani. Despite this, the DHS and the FBI have been engaging in a battle over which “owns” state security issues, when the real question should be about how to increase conversation locally to stifle these attacks in their tracks.

Furthermore, these expensive, ineffective measures are precisely what Osama bin Laden sought to gain from his crusade against the West. In 2004, he claimed that it was ‘‘easy for [them] to provoke and bait this administration.’’ Describing his desire to ‘‘bleed America to the point of bankruptcy,’’ bin Laden remarked, ‘‘All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al Qaeda,’ in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses.’" In allowing these gaps in security, the federal government is not only failing the people but it is failing to live up to its original purpose. “To provide for the common defense” is one of the main reasons that the states originally unified – and, with the rise of terrorism, competent security has become a crucial component of defense.

I suspect the ire seen this week will finally lead to the reform we need. I won't be traveling this Thanksgiving - but after seeing the plan for National Opt-Out Day, I almost wish I was.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube
Bookmark and Share


  1. Yes, I think the terrorists are winning. I'm glad you mentioned the radiation that we would be exposed to. I'm one who will opt out of it and then will have to put up with the groping. I absolutely do not believe them when they say it's safe. How can we trust anything the government says? And how would I know if I'm sensitive to it?
    Since Israel obviously knows what they're doing, why don't we just do the same thing?

  2. Radiation, molestation or deportation: No one flies for free. ~TSA Motto

  3. "Apparently, though, the radiation being put out by the scanner is far less than the what passengers receive from cosmic rays at 30,000 feet. In other words, the damage is equal to about four minutes in the air, but for that 5% of the population who is particularly sensitive, why should they be subject to a greater risk?"

    Hmmm... Since you get into numbers... Let's say, conservatively, the average air segment is maybe 60 min at 30K feet, so a radiation increase of, what, "far less than" 7% per leg? "Far less" is maybe an order of magnitude (could it be 2 orders)? So .7%? And 5% of the population is "particularly sensitive" (what does that mean, exactly?) 0.035% of the population are placed in an unspecified additional risk? An additional risk like, say, 1% of them will die before their time (I have no idea how you would falsify my guess. I'd like to see your proof that I'm wrong). So, 0.00035% of the *air traveling* public might die early (how early, one month, one year, one decade?) because of these new-fanged machines.

    "why should they be subject to a greater risk?" There is a risk-benefit trade-off in everything we do. It would be more satisfying if you articulated this. As it is, your argument is extremely shallow, I fear.

    There are arguments against the TSA's idiotic policies that are much stronger than the one you put forward.

  4. "hire bomb and chemical-sniffing dogs" - you hit the nail on the head there, Kathleen. Not just to sniff plane and cargo, either, but to sniff the passengers as they come through security. If a package of PETN was spread thin between sheets of saran wrap and wrapped around the thighs under jeans, I doubt that the people reading the XXX-ray scanners or the folks doing the groin check would even notice. That would NEVER get past a bomb-sniffing dog though, and nobody would utter a peep in protest. In fact, I doubt anyone would object with more than "woah there, frisky doggie" if the bomb sniffing dog went in for a closer check of the groin. Who hasn't had that happen anyway from a friend's dog?

    Rather than national opt-out day though, I think that there are better ways to show civil disobedience, such as someone else's idea of everyone wearing kilts and going commando, or the two ideas I've come up with:

    1. realistic to the touch artificial foot-long "junk" (probably available at any adult book store) dangling down the pant leg to inspire feelings of inferiority in any screener doing a pat-down. If enough men did this, the screener would end up thinking he's in the bottom percentile for size. Double points if a woman did this. Imagine the surprise when a female screener runs her had over wrong-gender junk that just shouldn't have been there. There being just above the knee.

    2. wearing a codpiece, preferably with a padlock. Or for those on a budget, simply an athletic cup.

  5. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." except at airports by Federal TSA agents.

    Enough said?

  6. A guy I fired (we both worked for a large federal agency) was hired by the TSA as a screener shortly after 9/11. The new hire vetting process was a joke then and probably hasn't changed much over the years.

    I bet this guy loves monitoring the imaging display in the back room at the Minneapolis Airport and making copies of the best images for his sleazy friends or slipping on a pair of rubber gloves and working the pat down position.

  7. I read somewhere a suggestion that the state of Arizona should pass a law requiring all illegal immigrants to undergo full-body scans. The federal government would then quickly move to have these machines banned.

  8. For years, I have really hated the hassle of flying. Now that my husband is fitted out with a knee replacement, he is subjected to ridiculously "thorough" searches. And the last one was before the "enhanced" regulations. Until they re-introduce some sanity into airport security, I will avoid flying except in cases of extreme emergency.