- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2010

The security theater once exclusive to America’s airports is now playing at a local Metro station. Washington’s Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) on Thursday announced new search policies developed in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). “It is important to know that implementation of random bag inspection is not a reaction to any specific threats toward the Metro system,” MTPD Chief Michael A. Taborn said in his announcement.

Officials demonstrated the use of a hand-held explosive trace detection unit called the Sabre 4000. Its manufacturer, Smiths Detection, won the contract to supply the devices last year. According to promotional material, the $25,000 unit is capable of detecting various common forms of explosive including PETN, nerve gas such as Sarin, and narcotics including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. That sounds promising, but as the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a July report, it doesn’t detect everything. “Details regarding the difficulty these systems face in detecting certain types of explosives were deleted because [the Department of Homeland Security] considered them to be Sensitive Security Information,” the report explained.

It’s a safe bet that radical Islamic bomb makers know exactly which materials can slip past these machines, rendering the security they provide, at best, questionable. For troops facing the evolving threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting detection right is a matter of life and death. Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, believes technology is useful, but man’s best friend is playing a more important role. “Dogs are very successful at locating most forms of explosives, and so we have increased the number of explosive-detection dogs in theater,” he said at a Dec. 6 conference.

Unlike the makers of shiny machines with big price tags, dogs generally don’t have lobbyists. Since last year, Smiths Detection has spent $3 million to retain influential firms whose successful effort convinced lawmakers to lavish public money on these products. The British firm obviously expects a handsome return on its investment.

Metro Police do plan to use canine teams as part of its search routine, which, in this first stage, is designed to be minimally intrusive. Of course, until this year, TSA was not engaged in recording nude images of passengers or groping men, women and children for no reason. Unless state or federal legislation puts an end to TSA’s agenda, it’s only a matter of time before the agency applies its full suite of molestation techniques to public transportation.

The TSA’s assault on the dignity of travelers has less to do with providing real security and more to do with playing the Washington influence game. If TSA is allowed to win, our free society will be the biggest casualty. Inch-by-inch, bureaucrats are expanding their authority to decide which Americans can and cannot travel by air, rail or bus - bringing us ever closer to the habits of Eastern European states that once only allowed movement with the permission of government and the showing of one’s papers. Soon, if the left has its way, the only place we will be able to go without showing our papers is the voting booth.