Are we overreacting to junk-touching?

Ace asks a question that needs to be asked, which is whether conservatives are overreacting to the TSA’s new search techniques (naked scans and intimate searches):

This has been bothering me. On one hand I’m inclined to just not like invasive pat-downs and naked body scans.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think we (especially as conservatives) are supposed to be security-conscious.

This sort of dispute is always implicit in this sort of issue — the civil libertarian side (supported by some conservatives and many left-wingers) and the security-conscious side (mostly conservatives take this side).

Although there may be some abuses, is it really the best policy to object to methods of bomb-detection which are nearly foolproof? I don’t think the body-imaging x-rays can fail to miss an object secreted on someone’s body, and even a barely-trained TSA agent can recognize a hidden object when he feels it.

Read the rest of Ace’s thoughts here, including his strong vote for including Israeli style security in the American armory.

I’m with Ace, in that I think it’s important that conservatives put their money where their mouth is when it comes to security.  I’m just dubious about whether turning the TSA’s job description into one that will attract every pervert and pedophile in America is the way to go.  Here are two major practical problems I see with the new screening:

1.  Human ingenuity will override the scans and pat-downs.  If terrorists run out of external places to hide explosives, they’ll use internal places.  We already know from prison stories about the wonderful hiding place anal and vaginal cavities, not to mention tummies, are to people determined to run something past security.  We can also count on all sorts of surgical implants.  Even a solid scar grope won’t reveal whether there’s something dangerous lurking behind that scar.  Further, considering the number of women with breast implants (and, or so I’ve heard, the increasing number of men with testicular, penile, or buttock implants), there’s no way to tell if the implant is saline or inert plastic or rubber, or if it’s something that goes boom.  This means that the humiliation and inconvenience of scans and pats aren’t necessarily going to stop anything.

2.  And then there’s the girl thing….  From puberty to menopause, once a month, women are dependent on pads and tampons.  The tampons, of course, fall into category 1, above, which is they’re internal, invisible, and potentially more lethal than just an absorbent piece of cotton.  The pads, which are external, carry with them the potential for huge embarrassment and endless inconvenience.  First, I doubt many women want every airport security person in the world to know that it’s “that time of the month.”  Second, short of escorting the woman to a restroom and having her prove that she really is having her period, how in the world can the TSA know whether the pad is legitimate or whether another panty-bomber in the making is standing there?  The same holds true for men (and women) with incontinence problems who are dependent on pads.  Once again, being humiliated isn’t going to make a difference for air safety.

The problem is that the public and the current security apparatus are stuck in a 1970s mentality, which assumes that the terrorist plans on walking away from the plane.  A terrorist who wants weapons that he can use against others, but not against himself, is going to be somewhat limited.  That’s why metal detectors, although a pain in the whatsit, were a reasonable and pretty effective response to the hijackings of the 1970s.  The new breed of terrorist, however, has no plans to survive.  If he has to turn his living tissue in a giant bomb, that’s fine with him.  (Showing that art often predicts nature, one of the classic Merrie Melodies cartoons has Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck competing in a theatrical competition for audience approval.  Daffy, in a desperate bid to win, swallows a huge variety of explosive liquids, followed by a single match.  As his ghost ascends to heaven, he regrets that his wonderful act is limited to only one performance.)

I have a friend who travels a great deal and is okay with the new security measures, because she is assuming that, despite their being so invasive, they’ll make a positive difference in air safety.   My problem is that I think they’re personally violative and they won’t make a difference.  That is, if I was reasonably convinced of their efficacy, I too might be willing to tolerate the new regs, because I find it unnerving enough to shoot through the sky in a tin can without having to worry further about the tin can taking a man-made dive.  But these searches are band aid measures.  Their very visibility makes certain that the bad guys will simply circumvent them, meaning that we’re all stripped of our sense of privacy, while the bad guys move forward into the future with exciting new ideas for death and destruction.

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  • SGT Dave

    I read Ace all the time and while I agree there is a need for security, there is a difference between what is being done and what would comprise effective security measures.  I have no problem paying for security or going through searches – if I believe they would make a difference.
    I don’t think the security right now does – in fact it would not have stopped the underwear bomber as currently used.
    First and foremost, frequent fliers should be able to get a biometric identification to bypass a large amount of security screens.  Anyone who flies more than four round trips a quarter is not likely a security risk (and all security is simply improving the odds).  This eliminates 70% of all fliers, dropping the pool of screenees considerably. 
    Next, eliminate all airline personnel, military personnel, and law enforcement personnel from the pool.  This drops your number by another 10% – and any of the above individuals DON’T need a weapon outside their brain or their position in the aircraft to cause a disaster, so bomb screening is redundant at best and largely irrelevant.
    Finally, set the screening to true randomness; take people out of the decision loop.  I know this is counter-intuitive, but bear with me.  By adding an ID number to all the remaining bording passes and stating that “every pass ending in x will be searched” you create an unavoidable risk factor for attackers.  There is no “you’ve chosen me because I’m of (insert victim group)” avoidance for searches.  There is no oversampling of white males or young attractive females.  If you won’t profile, then take the anti-profiling mindset out too.  The addition of a 10% uncertainty factor to a problem already operating in the 15-25% best case success (and it goes up exponentially if you have 2+ attackers) makes the attackers look at different, softer targets.
    Being an intel professional, I can state with absolute confidence that I could get at least five weapons past the current “best” system – and that includes them using the x-ray screen and a pat down.  If I added the “uncomfortable” options (internal), I could bring that number up to at least nine.  I’ve gotten four past senior MPs during a training exercise (two past the strip search!) without going internal.  With access to plastique, I could manage to get enough on board with jeans, a working (albeit older model) iPod, a cell phone, a t-shirt, and a pair of Doc Martens to bring down any jet.  Heck, we just gamed a scenario at the office the other day that would let me get the stuff on the plane and get off it before takeoff – but I won’t elaborate; some things don’t need to be stated.

    I’m all for security.  What is going on at TSA, however, is not security.

    SSG Dave
    “The good guys always have to be perfect; the bad guys can get by with ‘good enough’ if it works at least once.”   

  • Bookworm

    I love it when my intuitive sense of a situation jives with someone’s actual knowledge.

  • NancyB

    Dear Bookworm,
    Isn’t it strange that millions of air travelers (including little kids) will be “scanned and patted down” and that Arizona is being prosecuted (persecuted) by the federal government for wanting to stop the flow of illegals coming into this country?
    I say PROFILE and do as the Israelis do.
    I heard today that a Florida airport is going to hire private security and do away with the TSA.
    A suggestion on Rush today:  Use dogs and retired military.
    I like that.
    Thanks for all you do.

  • SGT Dave

    The airports have an opt-out, using an approved security contractor.  Most of those contractors do use former and retired military.  I like the dogs at airports – they are fast, happy, and very very good.  I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside canine teams in the military and the dogs are more capable than the high tech measures – and they also can pick up on nervous/dangerous individuals quicker and more assuredly than machines (and in most cases, humans).  The airport opt-out is the method that is most likely to doom the TSA; by eliminating the positions, they will be forced to cut their workers.  The private firms are more responsive (because they know they live contract to contract with the airports) and will be more cognizant of passenger needs.  They are also far more likely to profile (assuredly by accident) since one bomber getting past them – even if they can prove they complied with all the regulations – is the end of their stint in the business.  Unfair, but more likely to produce results. 
    They also will have the incentive to screen employees carefully (since they are liable if they put a pedophile or sex offender on the line, unlike the TSA “oops – our bad, but you can’t sue us, we’re the government”).
    I almost went into a “Brownshirts want law-abiding citizens frightened” rant; glad I caught it.  It is quite polarizing.  My bad.  Back on subject.
    The biggest problem with trying to get the retired/former military to do the job is that so many are already working as contractors and DOD civilians, filling vital needs that a 573,000 man Army just doesn’t have the manpower to do.  (BTW, according to a historic comparison of force projection capability, logistic train, and teeth-to-tail ratio, the U.S. military should have roughly 3.2-3.7 million bodies in the ground forces – alone – to meet current mission needs.  We’re each doing the job of three or four from the pre-volunteer era, and we still need contractors and DOD civilians to survive.)

    SSG Dave
    “Is there a reason, or is it merely full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

  • Doug

    If the scanners really worked – if you couldn’t bypass them by the methods mentioned above, or by simply putting the bomb in the cargo as was recently done with UPS and FedEx planes – I think we could be having a debate about security versus privacy and comfort.  But since this is basically yet another “feel good” measure that makes things look like the TSA is busy but doesn’t improve matters I think it’s totally appropriate to say hold on, you’ve pushed too far in this direction, let’s take a step back and really consider if this is helping matters any.
    As an aside, my mother had a big stretch of her colon removed (cancer) and not to get into too much detail but they re-routed things and her waste comes out of a little port in her side and into a colostomy bag.  I wonder what the heck the TSA’s going to do with her?  I’m sure it looks suspicious, and even though it’s legit and if they really wanted they could test the bag contents what if she had a container of PETN where her colon used to be?  What a mess…

  • wrwoodman

    The current “security” practices of the TSA make me want to never fly. I don’t give up my 4th amendment rights just because I bought an airline ticket. I’m not real keen on the idea of some person other than my wife or Dr. touching my junk. We do need airport security but I believe the Israelis have shown us the model to use that works. So here are some suggestions for anyone that wants to listen.
    There are many people that are not a risk because they are frequent flyers or employed by the airline. These people should be given a background check if they are in sensitive areas. A check-in clerk would not need as rigorous a check as say the mechanic who is there at the plane. Passengers that are frequent flyers could get a background check as well. Every person who undergoes this check gets a special card and PIN. To proceed through the gate they need the card, the PIN, and a finger print reading or some other biometric identifier. No metal detector, no search, just swipe the card, enter data and go. Having been through a background check to get a security clearance some years ago I can tell you that they will know all about you.
    For those that don’t have the pre-board clearance implement an Israeli style profiling system. It is very effective so why not use it?
    Ok, I’ve rambled enough.

  • Larry Sheldon

    First, please do not tell me “rest here” pointing to ace’cesspit–he blocked me from it in connection with blocking nme from several worthwhile blogs.
    Second–he misses the point (according to your quotations) by a wider margin than what one would think possible.
    The point is, the hazardous radiation exposure[1], sexual assault, child and other pornography DOES NO GOOD.
    There is not, to the best of my knowledge (anybody correct me on this, I’ve got a bunch of places to go correct!) there has not been a single case of airport inspection stopping a major attack.
    No attack aircraft was keep from its target by government action (there is however a nice moslem monument for the field where the patriots re-took control and kept it from its target) on 9/11/2001.  But they take the box-cutters away from every stocker that tries to fly.  Or at least they think the do.
    No government agency did squat to disable the moron with the bomb in his shoe.  But we all have to take off our shoes now (do they miss any of those?).
    No government agency did squat to disable the moron with the bomb in his panties, which I guess brings us to today’s discussion.  (My God, what will happen after a moron blows a plane up with a tampon?)
    How about we just identify the morons who have taken an oath to kill us all and keep them off of airplanes and out of the Army?
    I would be 100% in favor of that and all of the porn, groping and stripping between consent adults.  Emphasis consenting adults.  Two words–both required.  I think it should not be at government expense or on government property, but I’ll be flexible about that.

  • Ymarsakar

    As far as it goes, Sheldon is correct. And it was so even before the days of 9/11.
    If a person is caught with a bomb in the detector, he’d just detonate it. But if he wasn’t a fanatic, he wouldn’t be bringing bombs to an airport anyways without at least taking over the port in the first place.

  • Ymarsakar

    “Heck, we just gamed a scenario at the office the other day that would let me get the stuff on the plane and get off it before takeoff – but I won’t elaborate; some things don’t need to be stated.”
    I know a private contractor that can train civilians with no previous H2H training to be able to render a threat non-functional within 5-30 seconds, using a two day course. If 50% of an airplane’s passengers had such resources available, it would literally be impossible for someone to hijack the plane or get out a bomb and start the trigger process in open view of others.
    The problem is logistics. Can’t train that many people in any short amount of time. But you could get enough to form a deterrent. Richard the shoe bomber and what not and Flight 93, all were done by amateurs. Without specific training to take down threats in a CQB situation like a cockpit or plane aisle using H2H only. They would be orders of magnitude higher in effectiveness with good training in their toolbox.
    But that’s my preferred route to security. Doing it from the bottom up, not the top down, for such a complex system as air travel.

  • Ymarsakar

    You know what the best part of this is?
    Congress, who made such laws, aren’t forced to actually be screened like that.
    Funny how that works.

  • Libby

    Bookworm, once again you’re right on target.
    Like wrwoodman I have no intention of giving up my 4th amendment rights – especially to some random TSA agent – in order to catch a flight. Is there any other non-medical emergency scenario in which a person may touch you without probable cause? The fact that Napolitano feels is well within her agency’s purview is disturbing.
    They need to start profiling and start using dogs.

  • Spartacus

    You can laminate all of the documents in your home and office.  You can have your computers, televisions, and other sensitive equipment mounted on floating platforms.  You can have multiple sump pumps installed in your basement.  You can have hundreds of miles of buried cables of all sorts in your community exhumed and put up on poles.  You can trade in your Buick for an LAV if you’ve been blessed with the financial means to do so, or a 12′ aluminum skiff if not.

    Or, alternatively, you can just ask that little Dutch boy over there to stick his finger in that hole where the water is coming in, and keep everything else the way it is now.

    It’s not always entirely that simple, of course, but problems are usually best solved at the source.  In this case, treating all people not found to have a knife, firearm, or explosive device secreted on their person while passing through an expected and well-known security checkpoint as being completely equal in all ways is very much the equivalent of not sticking a finger in the dyke for fear of offending the “No dams!” wing of the environmental community.  Ahmed al Jihadi, if he can’t get a bomb through the checkpoint by putting it into a dark, secret place (and he probably can), will put it into his checked baggage disguised as something else.  If that doesn’t work, his cousin is working on getting some shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles smuggled in through either Canada or Mexico, since that’s already been semi-successful.  Failing that, another cousin has identified a bunch of above-ground, kazillion-gallon gasoline storage tanks that he thinks would fare poorly against a .50 cal rifle and some road flares.  Another associate is working on organizing a national “Non-Commute Month,” with 31 two-man sniper teams in 31 American cities who will stake out grassy knolls overlooking 31 stretches of highway and fire from one each morning rush hour for a month.

    Security starts with secure borders and vigorous internal immigration enforcement: not only is it harder for the wrong people and equipment to get in, and stay in, but law enforcement then has an ever-dwindling number of bad actors upon which to focus their scattered attention.  Airline security starts with knowing generally who each passenger is, not just what a possibly-effective-possibly-not screening happened to find.

  • Spartacus

    “If a person is caught with a bomb in the detector, he’d just detonate it.” — Ymarsakar
    And the really interesting question is, what effect would that one incident have on the psychology of TSA screeners from that point forward?

  • Indigo Red

    I don’t think we have overreacted at all. Israel does very well with muti-level security screening without porn scanning and groping.

    More importantly to the subject at hand, Ace contends, “…I can’t help but think we (especially as conservatives) are supposed to be security-conscious.” Liberals are concerned, too. As are hard core Progressives. The web site OEN is progressive, tough, and liberal. Kevin Gosztola wrote the article, We Do Not Consent to Warrantless “Porno-Scanning” in Airports, saying, “We can objectively address what is transforming airport security and vehemently oppose it without letting the stigma of terrorism get in the way of common sense.
    When you are creating a system of security that may ultimately employ body scanning technology that would require a society to rewrite its child porn laws, I think it’s time to consider whether one is willing to trade certain freedoms and liberties for a tiny amount of safety or not.

    The First Victory Against The Police State May Come Against The TSA.

    John Tyner: American Hero

  • Ymarsakar

    “I don’t think the body-imaging x-rays can fail to miss an object secreted on someone’s body, and even a barely-trained TSA agent can recognize a hidden object when he feels it.”
    The primary reason why civil libertarians object to wire tapping and other effective security solutions such as assassinating AQ leaders and arming Sunni tribe members against AQ, is that they don’t know a damn thing about how to improve security or bypass security. They Don’t Know a Damn Thing. To repeat something important.
    As Book clearly and so eloquently said, if she thought it was effective, then the risk-reward judgment is entirely different than if she thought, and she does, that such things are ineffective. So people that don’t know a damn thing about security and simply believe Whatever They Are Told by the Powers That Be (PTB), don’t have a leg to stand on. It doesn’t matter what they want. They ain’t going to get it. It’s not that they can’t have their cake and eat it too, liberty plus security. It’s that they have no cake in the first place. The cake is a lie. An illusion. Maburashi.
    If you want personal experience with people smuggling in weapons, look to learn from SF, sneaky SEALs, or Dave over here for the goods. Don’t count on the blind being led by the more blind (MSM), on what real security is.
    There are so many misconceptions on the matter of simple self defense and H2H training that it boggles the mind. To see such things taken to a complex macroscopic system like air travel is more than an inconvenience. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. This isn’t going to kill a few people like incorrect self defense training does. It’s going to lead to a mass casualty event.
    If you want a summation of the difference between the Left, libertarians, and the Right, on security, here it is.
    The Left prays on the altar of centralized authority. Whenever there is a problem, they look to totalitarian leadership models to fix it. Hope and change. The New Messiah.
    Libertarians believe that centralized security doesn’t work. They also don’t know jack about security so they don’t have a better alternative to offer. They just say no, they want to choose. But they got no viable choices to choose from cause they haven’t worked on it enough.
    Right believes mostly in distributed security schemes such as Flight 93’s counterattack against the hijackers. The civilian emergency response to 9/11 which can be read here.  These are not centralized, top down, stuff. It is grassroots self-regenerating, like the Tea Party. That is what the Right believes in and uses. That is what they think is a better fit than centralized security. They don’t simply say no to security. They provide a better option.

  • Ymarsakar

    what effect would that one incident have on the psychology of TSA screeners from that point forward?
    Fearful and insecure individuals turn to cruelty and anger against the weak and innocent as a way to reassure themselves that they are safe and secure.

  • suek

    >>A suggestion on Rush today:  Use dogs and retired military.>>
    Someone else has offered another option: trained pigs.  They’re equally proficient in the scent department (there’s a reason they use them for finding truffles!) and also very trainable.
    The only drawback is their eventual size…
    Well…and maybe the slick floors in airports.  The expression “like a pig on ice” didn’t come from nowhere!

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  • excathedra

    Suek’s suggestion about pigs…sniffing Muslims in line :)
    For starters, Profile and randomize, a la Sgt Dave.

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  • Ymarsakar

    I just thought of something. And I realized something too.
    The reason why they use to justify these searches is that I need a dangerous object or bomb to kill people and take over a plane and hijack it and make it crash into the White House and kill Obama and Axelrod and Emmanuel and maybe Soros too. That’s obviously a serious threat that the Obamacans are trying to avert, no matter what it costs the rest of you in privacy and delayed schedules.
    While I understand other people’s aversion to such things (junk touching), I didn’t feel an automatic revulsion. I wondered why, even to this moment.
    And I think I finally came up with an answer. It’s because I know that even if I’m naked and the TSA guy is grabbing my junk, I can kill him simply with my barehands without any real effort should I shift my mode of consciousness into survival alone. Perhaps that makes me far more comfortable with searchers being so close to me. Perhaps. I don’t feel the “naked helplessness” that others, like children or women, would feel in similar situations.
    They don’t even have guns. I can slaughter half their contingent, assuming I can catch them, using H2H alone. Maybe need to dodge some dogs and tazers though.
    Guess that does give me a different perspective on things. Strangely enough. I probably won’t like to be publicly humiliated with such searches, obviously. But the safety issue on my part isn’t being triggered. That just leaves full body scan radiation and crazyness.
    It’s very difficult for me to try to think of myself as a victim, given the various training I have used over the years to think of myself solely as the predator/attacker. I find it makes me less sensitive to the plight of others in similar situations. I have to “rethink” things a couple of times to get the right feeling.

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    An almost shoe bomber, an almost underwear bomber and  almost cartridge cargo bombs – all ‘incoming’ threats.
    36 states with 400 scanners thoroughly checking ‘outgoing’ passengers. What safety procedures are in place outside of the US? Does anyone know (other than the obvious..El Al).