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EDITORIAL: T&A at the TSA

Government screening gets a little too personal

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2010

There is no bigger threat to America's aviation industry than the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In less than a decade, the bureaucratic agency has heightened the hassle involved in taking to the skies. One can only imagine how much longer it will be before the majority of Americans decide they'd be better off hitting the highways.

Consider TSA's recent $440 million stimulus-funded rush to deploy so-called advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners at airports throughout the country. These X-rated x-ray machines enable TSA employees to peer beneath the clothing of passengers - including women and children - ostensibly looking for bombs. Those refusing this indignity will be subjected to the humiliation of a public groping session at the hands of a government employee. The overreach may well prove to be the agency's undoing.

Airline pilots and flight attendants, who pass through this screening on a daily basis, are beginning to push back. "There's a level of anger out there right now amongst the pilots in response to this that I haven't seen since I've been doing this job," American Airlines pilot Sam Mayer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, told The Washington Times. "This is the straw that broke the camel's back. We've taken a lot, and this seems to be the one that's pushed some guys over the edge."

Note to TSA: If a pilot wants to take down an airplane, he doesn't need a bomb. He can just push forward on the controls. Yet TSA tells us that whole-body imaging is essential in the wake of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed underwear bombing attempt in December 2009. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in March that it was "unclear" whether the new machines would have thwarted Mr. Abdulmutallab. Three months before the Christmas Day incident, a GAO report chided TSA for rushing the devices into service without sufficient operational testing. TSA's pattern clearly has been to act first and ask questions later.

If haste has a price, it will be paid by the flying public. By 2014, passengers likely will have no choice but to be subjected to the backscatter X-rays and millimeter-wave radiation from the 1,800 pornographic machines set for deployment. While TSA maintains that scanning passengers 625 million times a year is safe and their privacy is protected, it is revealing that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has not publicly subjected herself to the examination foisted on everyone else.

In 1927, a patent was granted for an X-ray machine that gave shoe salesmen a look at the feet of customers for fitting purposes. The device's novelty led to its widespread use by retailers nationwide. It wasn't until 1949 that the New England Journal of Medicine raised the alarm about radiation exposure, and the machines were banned within a few years.

While some might feel such risk is acceptable, the TSA's track record is far from stellar. The federal screening bureaucracy costs 10 times more and employs nearly triple the personnel used when airlines were responsible for securing flights. GAO studies suggest we are hardly 10 times more secure. In July 2007, GAO investigators successfully smuggled various concealed explosive devices through TSA security checkpoints. Instead of being caught with the contraband, the covert agents were only questioned about bringing an unlabeled bottle of shampoo onto the airplane.

Bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all approaches to security invite disaster. The $2.4 billion in taxpayer funds the agency plans to waste on whole-body scanners will do nothing to make America more secure. The new Congress needs to take note and rein in this rogue agency.

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