- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

By this time, it should be obvious to all thinking Americans that the Federal Aviation Administration is dysfunctional and a threat to our security.
The recent study in which a majority of guns and knives passed through airport security plus the unwise edict by Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta that we should not "discriminate" against Middle Eastern Muslim young men have shown the agency is not only inept but wedded to a politically correct stance that might yet result in death to many of our citizens.
This was brought home to me forcefully on my return from Florida, when five aged citizens, including a 79-year-old woman with severe osteoporosis, were pulled out of line to be searched, along with their baggage, while able-bodied 25-year-olds were let through without incident.
Now, the head of the FAA, Jane Garvey, has taken the department's stance one step further to a caricature of ignorance, even a dangerous one. Last week, in an interview with Ann McFeatters, the distinguished Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mrs. Garvey was asked her opinion of a piece of airline security hardware, the Secure 1000 body scanner, which is being tested at an airport to screen passengers. Her answer only reinforced the opinion that the FAA is a pronounced threat to our security.
The machine reportedly uses low level X-rays to "undress" passengers by projecting on a color monitor a full-body portrait, showing clearly what they are carrying or concealing below their clothes, identifying each object. The manufacturer, which presently sells other equipment to the FAA, claims the machine can spot metal, plastic, dynamite, C-4 explosives, ceramics, wood and other items a terrorist would want to hide. The FAA was sufficiently interested to order prototypes to try out the ingenious device, which would speed airline travel and weed out any potential terrorist, including people like the would-be shoe bomber.
Operators of the machine, which is so sensitive it can expose the passenger's private parts, would of course be segregated by sex. That is, a female operator would scan females, and vice versa for males making sure the monitor could not be seen by the public. This is little different than exposing oneself to a same-sex attendant in a locker room, and it also would stop the onerous practice of male inspectors feeling the body of females as they search their person, something that has greatly annoyed the flight attendants union.
But the important criterion is whether the Secure 1000 body scanner is accurate for if it is, it will revolutionize the airport screening operation, making it near-perfect.
Mrs. Garvey, when asked about the Secure 1000, allowed that it might be useful in checking baggage. But what about screening passengers who might be terrorists? Oh no. Mrs. Garvey said she was "uncomfortable" with the scanner and doubted the FAA would approve the machine for screening airport passengers. Why? Because, she responded, "It raises tremendous privacy issues."
Her response labels Mrs. Garvey as an inept administrator who uses political correctness, not safety, as her guide. To think that modesty, especially distorted modesty, should be used as a barrier to secure skies is almost impossible to imagine, even in a federal bureaucrat.
The remedy? Obviously Mrs. Garvey should be relieved of her job by President Bush, who in the final analysis must bear responsibility for those who work for him.

Martin Gross is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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