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Airport Full Body Scanners Should Be Abandoned in Favor of Profiling


There was a great deal of concern that some passengers would slow down travel by refusing to go through the TSA monitored, new, see-all full body scanners at 68 airports Airport Scanneracross the country. The protest (dubbed National Opt Out Day) was fueled by an Internet-based campaign encouraging travelers to boycott the scanners and opt for pat downs, purposely bogging down the security system as a means of protest.

Luckily for the TSA, powerful winter storms barreling through much of the Northwest U.S. and moving east closed roads and delayed flights during one of the busiest travel times of the year. Opt Out Day was basically a dud. But besides a few protestors (one man was seen at the Salt Lake City airport in a Speedo-style bathing suit and others carried signs denouncing the TSA), the lines moved smoothly and travel was no more or less hectic than previous Thanksgivings.

Okay, the TSA dodged a bullet here, but the TSA has to reevaluate its security measures soon. We are the freest country in the world, but when it comes to flying, we look more like a callous police state than the land of liberty, a place where individual rights like privacy are upheld by a sacred document called the Constitution.

Over the course of the past two weeks, there has been a virtual avalanche of bad airport security stories. Toddlers were seen on YouTube being aggressively searched as they screamed, leaving parents aghast. A shirtless, autistic boy in Utah was patted-down. Groped flyers were threatened with $11,000 fines for refusing aggressive pat-downs.

In Detroit a 61-year old bladder cancer survivor was left covered in his own urine after a TSA grope session broke his urostomy bag. In Amarillo, Texas the TSA folks got a well-deserved chuckle when they exposed a young woman’s breasts in full view of the public during a pat-down. The stories go on and on. It is no wonder that flight crews, including hero pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, objected to the newly increased screening standards.

Besides a blatant disregard for privacy, I object to the TSA’s methods because I don’t believe they will make us any safer, no matter how many body scans or pat downs they use.

The TSA is reactive rather than proactive. They have struggled to stay abreast – much less ahead – of catastrophic terrorism. After 9/11, TSA banned any sort of sharp implements including nail clippers and tiny embroidery scissors. After the shoe bomber Richard Reid’s failed attempt to blow up a plane, we have devolved into inspecting footwear. After a series of other close security calls, the TSA implanted other restrictions, including banning any type of liquids, barring printer cartridges and ink, and now insisting upon scanning potential flyers. 

Case in point-- there's been growing speculation about terrorists trying to smuggle explosives by inserting them in their rectum. A Saudi suicide bomber already smuggled a bomb in his anal cavity. A terrorist, in theory could smuggle a bomb onto a plane in their anal cavity and then remove it and detonate it. Current generation scanners are likely not capable of detecting low-density explosives inside the anal cavity.

So, based on the reactive nature of the TSA, is it safe to assume that EVERYBODY boarding a plane should agree to an anal cavity search in the near future?

It is completely foolish to subject everybody to intense airport screening. The 99 percent of American airline passengers who do not raise meaningful red flags should not be subjected to such invasive inspections," says Mark Hyman in The American Spectator. Yet, thanks to political correctness and perverse rules, TSA inspectors end up "humiliating elderly widows or terrorizing toddlers."

Thankfully we can look at Israel for an answer. Let's be clear: There is no foolproof method of keeping passengers safe from terrorists. Airline security is more art than science, and no tool can safely be discarded out of hand. That noted, nobody does it better than Israel, who pretty much wrote the book on airport security -- and it doesn't subject its passengers to X-ray machines and aggressive pat-downs. But Israel -- gasp! -- profiles. Yes, they use a combination of behavioral and racial profiling to increase their efficiency so they can focus on the people who want to do harm on a plane rather than trying to calm down the four year old girl who just doesn’t want to have a grown man put his hands down her pants.

In Israel, those who fit a recognized pattern of would-be terrorists get special attention.

That makes total sense. But even a hint of profiling in America gives throws all of the usual suspects in an uproar.

Yet there's another key difference: Israel's security agents are highly trained, experienced experts -- so much so that they can be trusted to exercise common-sense-based discretion.

The only thing they do aggressively to passengers is question them -- thoroughly and completely, in ways that elicit the kind of answers that can detect a would-be terrorist, before they're even allowed to check in.

With the result that even when suicide bombers were exploding themselves in Israeli cities, "not a single one managed to get through [Tel Aviv's] airport." Clearly, Israel's experience shows that TSA Chief John Pistole is mistaken when he insists that X-rays and pat-downs are the only way to keep passengers safe. What's needed is much less political correctness -- and a lot more common sense.

Instead of wasting valuable time and resources on screening low-risk individuals, the TSA should focus on using intelligence gathering and information sharing to keep high-risk individuals away from the terminal. If TSA doesn’t want talk around Thanksgiving dinner to be about bad travel experiences, they’ll dish up some common sense and reassess their screening practices. And they only have to look at Israel for a good recipe.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com