President Obama rallied to the defense of the Transportation Security Administration’s X-rated airport x-ray scanners Saturday with the insistence that the intrusive machines were needed in response to last year’s attack by failed underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. “Since the explosive device that was on Mr. Abdulmutallab was not detected by ordinary metal detectors, it has meant that TSA has tried to adapt to make sure that passengers on planes are safe,” Mr. Obama said. Unfortunately, the administration’s policies appear to be motivated more by business as usual in Washington than true security concerns.
For his extravagant trip to India earlier this month, Mr. Obama invited a number of corporate leaders, including Deepak Chopra, the chief executive of OSI Systems Inc. Through its Rapiscan Systems subsidiary, Mr. Chopra’s firm sells whole-body imaging systems to the TSA. It is also an administration ally. Mr. Chopra and his executive vice presidents, Alan I. Edrick and Ajay Mehra, each cut separate checks for the maximum legal amount to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign on Oct. 24, 2008. Given the $2.4 billion in public money the administration plans to dole out over the life of the pornographic scanner program, those donations may have been a wise investment.
This influence game is, of course, bipartisan. Three congressional Republicans took to the House floor last week to condemn President George W. Bush’s former Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, whose firm counted Rapiscan as a client. “There must be a better way to have security at airports than taking pornographic photographs of our citizens, including children, and then giving apparent kickbacks to political hacks,” said Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican.
The tough words are backed up by fact. Advanced imaging technology quite simply is not being used in response to the underwear bomber, despite presidential assertions to the contrary. In January, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked directly whether the new-age machines were being introduced because of the Christmas Day incident. “The answer is it was planned before this,” Ms. Napolitano admitted. The failed attack just happened to serve as a convenient explanation for systems the Government Accountability Office noted were being rushed into service without adequate operational testing.
There are other reasons for concern. Ms. Napolitano has stated unequivocally that TSA will protect traveler privacy and that the virtual strip searches will not be recorded for posterity. Ms. Napolitano once made a similar promise as Arizona governor. In 2008, Napolitano administration officials assured state lawmakers that proposed freeway speed cameras would only photograph lawbreakers. Only after the wildly unpopular machines doled out millions in tickets did the truth emerge that the robotic devices recorded the movements of all drivers, 24 hours a day.
The same lack of credibility now plagues the Obama administration’s insistence on predatory pat-downs and naked photography. Americans intuitively realize that feeling up grandma does nothing to decrease the statistically minimal chance that an Islamic radical will take down a flight. Nonetheless, government-sponsored molestation will continue unless Mr. Obama realizes that he loses a re-election vote with each grope.
“As you have heard the president say, the buck stops with him,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said of the controversy Monday. The dignity of travelers shouldn’t be sacrificed so Mr. Obama’s friends can make a buck.