Public Acceptance of New TSA Procedures Exaggerated

November 21st, 2010

By Dan Miller

As usual, the mainstream media asks all the wrong questions.

The public seems greatly confused by the new airport screening procedures and with good reason. However, a CBS survey was recently taken of 1,137 randomly selected people with landline or cell phones and it was concluded that:

Americans overwhelmingly approve of the use of full-body digital x-ray machines — a new technology in use at some airports in the U.S. Most, meanwhile, do not approve of racial or ethnic profiling — a practice not in place.

The sample size and selection methodology seem reasonable. However, the following questions apparently were not asked: “Have you or an immediate family member flown on a commercial airliner in the United States since November 1, 2010?” and “Do you or an immediate member of your family intend to fly on a commercial airliner in the United States in the near future? If not, have your plans been changed on account of recent changes in airport security procedures?” A breakout of the data as provided by the Yes and No respondents to these questions would have made the survey far more informative.

The report of the survey speaks of “two potentially inconvenient and invasive practices” at airports. However, the reported question asks only about the new “‘full body’ digital X-ray machines.” No question was reported about the second and certainly more invasive of the “two” techniques, presumably the “enhanced pat-downs.” If a question was asked about the latter, the results were not reported.

As to “profiling,” the question was whether it would be justified or unjustified for people of “certain racial or ethnic groups to be subject to additional security checks at airport checkpoints.” Again, questions about recent or anticipated travel by airline in the United States and cross tabulations of the responses under those categories would have made the survey report more useful. As to profiling based solely on race or ethnicity, to which the survey appears to relate, my answer would have fallen into the “not justified” category.

Had the question been about additional security checks based on perceived religion, race, ethnicity, age, and conduct which would appear to a reasonable observer trained in interpreting conduct, body language, and conversation to be “abnormal and suspicious,” my answer would have fallen into the “justified” category. Like it or not and quite independently of race and ethnicity, far more young Islamists than elderly Methodists have, during the twenty-first century, engaged in terrorist activity as encouraged by their religious leaders and teachings; those facts should be part of the mix to be considered, even though I guess it could be argued that since there have been no terrorist attacks involving airlines in recent years by elderly Methodists, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) procedures have functioned quite well.

There was another recent poll taken by Rasmussen on November 15 and 16. One of the questions asked was:

Some people say that there is a natural tension between protecting individual rights and national security. In the United States today, does our legal system worry too much about protecting individual rights, too much about protecting national security, or is the balance about right?

The results were that:

As the controversy over new airport body scanners escalates, voters feel more strongly than ever that the U.S. legal system is more protective of individual freedoms than it is of the nation’s overall security.

I would have found it impossible to provide a meaningful answer, since there is no way to know what “individual freedoms” were meant. Fourth Amendment prohibitions against highly invasive electronic and sometimes manual searches of one’s person without probable cause? “Discriminatory” enhanced security measures based on perceived religion, race, ethnicity, and suspiciously abnormal behavior as noted above or some combination of those factors? How about based on behavior comparable to that attributed to the flying imams in November of 2006?

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13 Responses to “Public Acceptance of New TSA Procedures Exaggerated”

  1. Dan Miller |

    Having just awakened to read this article at Huffington Post blasting the new TSA procedures as excessively intrusive, ineffective and stupid, I wondered whether I might still be asleep and having a very strange dream. After all, President Obama recently defended the procedures as inconvenient “for all of us” but necessary for our protection.

    When I pinched myself and decided that I was awake and not dreaming, it occurred to me that the new TSA procedures may not only be more generally recognized for what they are than I had thought, but that they just might also be a “tipping point” in the debate about an excessively intrusive government gone crazy. Huff & Puff, hardly one of the more highly regarded conservative publications, deserves a rare tip of the hat for publishing the linked article. Perhaps there really is a Santa Claus point beyond which the government can not go without generating widespread public furry. Had I planned to travel by airline to or in the United States during the coming holiday season, I would cancel. I hope that lots of people do just that.

  2. larry ennis |

    Israel continues to have positive results using “profiling” to screen prospective travelers. I’ve never subscribed to the premise that preventing a temporary ethnic/racial embarrassment is more important than preventing the permanent condition of death.
    Profiling has proven to be effective in civil law enforcement. The FBI has “honed” the practice to the Nth degree.
    Many people feel that the old adage of walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck finds a certain amount of validation in spotting possible terrorist.
    I fully understand that an argument can be made concerning rights violations. I wish we could have it both ways. However, we are finding that trying to protect the lives of air travelers and not hurt someone’s feelings is damn near impossible.

  3. Dan Miller |

    According to this article,

    TSA headquarters has told would-be airline travelers who enter an airport checkpoint process and refuse to undergo the method of inspection designated by TSA they will not be allowed to fly and can face possible charges for disrupting the airport security process. (emphasis added).

    The article also indicates that it is illegal in at least some airports to video tape the screening process. A woman in San Diego was arrested by Harbor Police, given a citation and her video camera was confiscated for doing so. She was then released. “This is the same airport that created the TSA security catch phrase ‘don’t touch my junk.'” More here

    It almost seems that the TSA and some local authorities are doing all they are able to make a highly inflammatory and contentious situation even worse.

  4. Tom Carter |

    As far as profiling is concerned, TSA does engage in behavioral profiling. That means if it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck (or terrorist), it gets their full attention regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, LBGT, or whatever other silliness we worry ourselves with these days. I don’t think any reasonable person objects to that. Problem is, if I were a terrorist mastermind, I’d send in people who have none of the characteristics of ducks (or terrorists), and they might not even know that they were carrying something nasty. That’s why there also have to be random inspections.

    And when someone bumps up against security and tries to walk away, they have to be held and checked a bit further. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that terrorists plan, prepare, and recon their targets. That includes, at the top of the list, finding out what the security is like and whether it can be defeated.

  5. Dan Miller |

    Tom, brilliant and proactive folks that Islamic terrorists are (CAIR is one of my very favorite civil rights organizations and I do so hope that I am not being politically incorrect), would someone sent on a recon mission likely have anything in his baggage or secreted in his person potentially detectable by the current TSA procedures?

    He/she could, of course have some harmless simulated explosive device in a body cavity, which I understand that even the new and improved scanning and groping TSA procedures would not detect. It would be useful to verify whether such “junk” can be detected. However, I can’t off hand think of a viable way for such a thing to be inserted there without awareness on the part of the decoy.

    As to profiling as you indicate is now being done, I’m all for it. I suspect that lots of things are going on and that they have to be kept secret for security reasons. I do wonder, however, whether the TSA agents at airports have the skills necessary to do them effectively and hope that well trained people are involved. Do you think there are enough of them to make a difference?

    One more thought: Were I a terrorist mastermind, I would give some very serious thought to doing something really nasty during the coming high travel – overwhelmed security time we may be entering. The very stupidity of initiating the new procedures shortly before Thanksgiving, and thereby likely causing sufficient scanner opt-outs to overwhelm those doing the “enhanced pat downs,” would be a great gift from Allah, may His holy name be praised. (I put that in just in case CAIR is lurking)

  6. Tom Carter |

    Dan, I take your reference to “brilliant and proactive” terrorists as being tongue-in-cheek. I would disagree with that. The typical suicide bomber, on the ground or in the air, may not be a mental giant, but the folks who send him/her out to do the deed aren’t dummies. In fact, the 9/11 terrorists who trained as pilots were all bright and accomplished people.

    Here’s an interesting article about a 14-year-old disabled girl in a wheelchair getting an enhanced pat-down. Doesn’t make me mad at TSA; they’re just doing their jobs. I wish, though, that we’d get more serious about finding and killing terrorists.

    One last thought: Have we considered the possibility that TSA is reacting to a seriously heightened threat environment that we don’t know about because of the sensitivity of the information? If we exclude the ideas that TSA=Gestapo and the government is bad, bad, bad — well, maybe there are other possibilities.

  7. Dan Miller |

    Tom, as to “just doing their jobs” remark, I am reminded of the old joke about the elderly woman undergoing her first gynecological examination. She asked the doctor, “Young man, does your mother know what you do for a living?”

    I certainly hope that if there is a seriously heightened threat the TSA is well aware of it, even down to the on the first-line-of-defense, just-doing-my-job grunt level. However, since the current procedures have been in the planning stages for several months and apparently since the underpants bomber bombed on Christmas Eve, it would be somewhat surprising had that information not leaked. Is there no Wiki-Terror site?

  8. Marilyn Pahl |

    The year 1973 I was in the middle of the Yom Kippur War. When we had the chance to leave we had to go through a body pat down (frisked)at that time Lod Airport. This was war and had to be done. There was no TSA it was IDF. They did it in a professional manner. I think that our military guys and gals who are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq should have these jobs because they know what to look for and feel they would do it professional like the IDF.I didn’t feel violated. This was all out war but were at war with these terrorists today.

  9. Dan Miller |

    Marilyn Pahl, I agree that many military folks could probably do a better job than the TSA but only if they followed different procedures than does the TSA.

    As to the pat downs at Lod Airport, I have no idea what they may have involved. Were they as invasive as those now used by the TSA, or did they more nearly resemble the pat downs we have all experienced from time to time?

  10. Tom Carter |

    Marilyn, thanks for your comment. You very effectively make the point that there are times when we have to endure inconveniences and even indignities to ensure our safety and survival. I disagree, though, that former soldiers would be the best TSA officers. Based on their training and experience, they would be less willing to take the guff that comes with the job and more invasive in their searches. The problem isn’t the TSA officers themselves; it’s the existence of the threat and the policies designed to thwart it. Maybe things will relax in the future, but I don’t think that can happen unless we deal more strongly and effectively with the threat — in places far from our airports.

  11. Marilyn Pahl |

    Dan Miller, I had a pat on top of my breasts and underneath but not in the middle. Then I had to spread legs and was patted from the ankles to the top of my upper thigh but not my crouch. So I think it was more like a American police pat down. The IDF knew what they were doing. I remember it only took seconds and I was on EL EL bound for Greece. The pilot came on the PA system (full of emotion) and announced that we had to keep the shades down in the plane. This was 10:00 p.m. Protocol had to be taken and I think by having the military with their program would end all this nonsense.Not much is being taken seriously.

  12. Marilyn Pahl |

    Tom Carter, I have high regards for EL AL airlines. More so that night. We found out in our country that we can’t relax in this country when it comes to the security of our lives. We already have had the underpants bomber, shoe bomber and the horrible day some of our proud American soldiers were assaulted, murdered at Ft. Hood Texas. The very land they grew up on and should have felt safe.

  13. Clarissa |

    “Maybe things will relax in the future, but I don’t think that can happen unless we deal more strongly and effectively with the threat — in places far from our airports.”

    -I wish more people understood this.

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