EDITORIAL: The price of dignity

Airport screening needs a congressional screening

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Frequent fliers can now pay $85 to avoid the indignity of a grope at the airport. (There’s still no charge for a grope if that’s what you want.) The Transportation Security Administration announced that it is expanding the “Pre-check” program to enable passengers who pay their money and submit fingerprints to get expedited screening and bypass the most onerous part of flying the indifferent skies.

“You’ll keep your shoes on,” TSA Administrator John S. Pistole explains. “You’ll keep your belt on, keep a light jacket on, keep your laptop and your water in your carry-on bag.” Dignity comes at a price.

This program particularly interests Congress. Every time Mr. Pistole goes to a committee hearing, he’s asked why it’s taking so long to put Pre-check in place. Congress has a personal interest because members travel between Washington and their districts every week, and they don’t like the groping any more than anyone else does.

If the wardrobe removal, scanning and groping were truly “essential” security measures, it wouldn’t make sense or good practice to dispense with them simply because a passenger is approved by the Pre-check program and buys his ticket using the special Pre-check number. Otherwise, Islamist jihadists would quickly figure out that if they have a clean record they, too, dispense with the grope.

More and more people will be exempt from the most controversial screening procedures, which is a tacit admission that the X-rated x-ray scanners at airports don’t, or haven’t, thwarted actual plots. The Transportation Security Administration chief said as much when he talked about the new program at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday. Mr. Pistole described the “new-and-improved” underwear bomb of al Qaeda terrorists that wouldn’t have been discovered by the X-rated scanners. “That’s what terrorists want to do,” Mr. Pistole said. “They want us to spend billions and billions of dollars, 12 years, and we still can’t stop them.”

Low-tech, human intelligence work by the spy agencies foiled the improvised underpants plot, but all the shaking down of women and children over 12 years hasn’t thwarted a single terrorist. The sole accomplishment to date of the Transportation Security Administration’s 46,000 employees has been to prevent millions of shampoo bottles, nail clippers and sippy cups from making their way onto an airplane.

The Washington Times

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