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.