HRS International


In the days since my piece about airport “security” in the U.S. appeared here, there has been an explosion of articles about the same topic, most of which make my rant look positively mild-mannered.

By Bruce Bawer, HRS

This issue is hot again largely because of one young California man: software engineer John Tyner, who posted a video on You Tube of his encounter with Transportation Security Agency officials at San Diego Airport last weekend. When Tyner refused to pass through one of the new, more revealing full-body scanners, which are now being used to screen passengers at airports around the country, he was obliged under the rules to submit to a full-body search, which, in accordance with new “security” directives, is now being carried out in a more invasive manner than ever. “We’re gonna be doing a groin check,” the TSA lackey explained. OK, said Tyner, but “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” At that point, the lackey summoned a supervisor, who told Tyner that if he did not submit to the body search “you don’t have to fly today.” Tyner said that he did not understand why he should have to submit to a “sexual assault” in order to board a plane. “This is not considered a sexual assault,” the supervisor blithely replied. “It would be,” said Tyner succinctly, “if you weren’t the government.” The supervisor continued to spout bureaucratese: “This is considered an administrative search and we are authorized to do it. You submitted yourself to it by coming through the checkpoint.” Tyner, who also posted an account of the experience on his blog, cancelled his flight but still faces a possible $10,000 fine for his insufficient submissiveness. His You Tube video has gone viral, with around 800,000 hits at this writing, and his four-word declaration of independence is already famous.

Don’t touch my junk. “Not quite the 18th-century elegance of ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’” observed Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer on Friday, recalling the popular Revolutionary War battle cry, “but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket. What the modern battle cry lacks in archaic charm, it makes up for in full-body syllabic punch.” Krauthammer went on:

The junk man’s revolt marks the point at which a docile public declares that it will tolerate only so much idiocy. Metal detector? Back-of-the-hand pat? Okay. We will swallow hard and pretend airline attackers are randomly distributed in the population.

But now you insist on a full-body scan, a fairly accurate representation of my naked image to be viewed by a total stranger? Or alternatively, the full-body pat-down, which, as the junk man correctly noted, would be sexual assault if performed by anyone else?

The Tyner incident only serves to remind us that on many fronts the so-called War on Terror is being fought in absurd ways, its approach determined not by realistic strategic considerations but by sheer political correctness. Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, underscored this fact when, after lustily defending the aggressive new “security” procedures at airports, she pathetically dodged a reporter’s question: would “a Muslim woman wearing the full hijab” be obliged to undergo a full-body search? “With respect to that particular issue,” Napolitano said, “there will be more to come.” What? Nine years after 9/11, American leaders are still sending soldiers to fight a war but still evading basic facts about the nature of the enemy – while continuing to pretend that manifestly harmless individuals are a potential threat.

The perverse, systematic official insistence on harassing obviously innocent people while treating legitimately suspicious individuals with kid gloves is, quite rightly, fuelling what Scott Johnson, at Powerline blog, describes as a “revolt against the TSA.” Johnson quotes an e-mail from one of his readers who shared Tyner’s rage at the inanity of the current protocols:

I have an artificial hip which sets off metal detectors every time I fly. Tonight I found out that the metal detecting wands are no more. Instead, there was an extremely personal pat down, leaving no part of my body untouched. I was appalled by the experience. The fact that I had to go through it though I’m a man in my 50’s with nothing more serious than a speeding ticket in my lifetime is pretty ridiculous. There is no reason in the world to think that I’m a threat. I believe that this approach is more of the politically correct approach that the federal government has taken since September 11, 2001. The authorities make the general public jump through all kinds of hoops that add nothing to airline safety (such as chasing people away from waiting in their cars to pick up someone outside an airport) instead of a more intelligent approach focusing on people who are likely to pose a threat.

Indeed. The growing hostility to TSA procedures has been captured in a video posted by Reason, the libertarian magazine, which proffers a few dozen alternate interpretations of the TSA acronym, among them “Taxpayer Supported Assault” and “Thoughtless Slobs Abound.” Meanwhile, blogger Ann Althouse has looked into the fascinating possibility that a personal profit motive underlies the sudden widespread use of these full-body scanners. And the editors of the New York Times have weighed in, agreeing that “downright creepy people” in TSA uniforms should not be allowed to abuse their power.

People familiar with Israeli airport security methods – which have succeeded for years in protecting that besieged country’s air traffic from terrorism – ask, quite reasonably, why the U.S. refuses to learn from its Middle Eastern ally. As Claire Berlinski writes, Israel’s airport security consists not of ham-handed groping of randomly selected passengers by aggressive idiots but of intense, purposeful, but respectful questioning by seasoned, intelligent experts of flyers who have been pulled out of the line for good reasons:

When I last flew El Al, they began with simple questions: Why are you flying to Israel? To give a lecture? Where? Who invited you? Really? Do you have a copy of the invitation? How do you know them? Really? And you don’t speak Hebrew? None? Why not? You didn’t learn any in school? Why not? It went on for quite some time. Somehow I ended up telling them where exactly I’d gone to kindergarten. That’s not one of those details that would be easy to manufacture on the spot.

The impression I had above all was that they were really paying attention to what I said. They weren’t rude. But I had no doubt they were thinking very closely about whether the details added up.

Or, as Michael Totten puts it in the New York Post:

Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Thinking! Training! Experience! What a concept – and how alien to the TSA, whose front-line troops, with the occasional exception, are uncouth creeps who seem to have been hired as part of some job program for ex-cons.

It is, then, highly gratifying to see that more than a few people – after years of yielding meekly to irrational and intrusive airport procedures performed in the name of security – are finally standing up and complaining about America’s ridiculous, irresponsible approach to these deadly important matters. A key point, made by Mary Katharine Ham in a video for the website The Daily Caller, is that this isn’t a question of left vs. right. The cause now personified by John Tyner, and grounded in a non-PC, commonsensical understanding of the nature of the war we are waging as well as a refusal to surrender the personal rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, is one that flyers of every political stripe can rally behind.