Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2010 / 12 Kislev, 5771

Woe be unto those who assert their constitutional rights

By Jack Kelly

> | Arrogant. Incompetent. Ineffective. Deceitful. Bullying. And very, very expensive. TSA epitomizes the federal government under Barack Obama.

TSA is the acronym for the Transportation Security Administration. But for those air travelers who it forces to make an ugly choice, TSA also has come to stand for Touch Sensitive Areas.

Most air travelers go through metal detectors before they're allowed into the boarding area. But some are selected at random for more rigorous scrutiny. This consists either of going through a full body scanner or, if the passenger declines that, of a rigorous pat down that in some cases has included touching a woman's breasts and a man's genitalia.

Two objections have been raised to the body scanners. The first is that they show you as if you were naked, which, understandably, makes many people uncomfortable.

The scanners emit low levels of radiation. (Less than a 50th the amount from a typical chest X-ray, said a physics professor at Arizona State University.) For the 93 percent of us who fly only occasionally, this is no big deal. But if you are a frequent flier, there could be a health risk.

The most frequent fliers are aircrew. Subjecting them to repeated body scans or pat downs illustrates the idiocy of the TSA's approach to air safety.

If a terrorist places a bomb on an airplane, that's very bad for all who are on the airplane. But we learned on 9/11 that what's really bad is when the airplane is turned into a flying bomb. The risk we face from pilots is not that they'll sneak a nail clipper aboard, but that they'll fly their plane into a skyscraper. Pilots and aircrew should have rigorous background checks. But once they have passed them, they should not be harrassed.

The reasons why people object to intrusive body searches are obvious, especially when a three year old girl is subjected to them.

Because those chosen to undergo these procedures are selected not because they are thought to pose a threat, but because they are 12th or 14th in line, the body scans and invasive pat-downs do next to nothing to enhance security.

And because the victims are chosen at random, the scans and pat downs may violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.

But woe be unto those who assert their constitutional rights. When John Tyner was selected for special screening at the San Diego airport, he declined both the scanner and the pat down, and recorded the encounter on his cell phone.

Mr. Tyner was told that if he did not submit to one or the other, he would not be permitted to board his flight. TSA agents escorted him from the airport.

The next day TSA's chief of security in San Diego, Michael Aguilar, said Mr. Tyner was being investigated for having left the security area without a security screening. He could be subject to a fine of $11,000.

Mr. Tyner's story went viral on the Web, thanks to his cell phone recording. TSA chief John Pistole was asked about it by CNN Nov. 15:

"The bottom line is, if somebody doesn't go through proper security screening, they're not going to go on the flight," Mr. Pistole said.

Fair enough. But Mr. Tyner wasn't trying to go on the flight when he left the airport. Mr. Aguilar's "investigation" smacks of persecution.

Mr. Pistole and his boss, Homeland Security chief Janet "Big Sis" Napolitano, say the case of Umar Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber," illustrates the need for the body scanners and invasive searches.

What the Adulmutallab case really illustrates is that TSA should be looking for terrorists, not harrassing Americans who clearly aren't. U.S. intelligence received multiple warnings of Mr. Abdulmutallab's radicalism (including one from his father!), but still permitted him to board a U.S.-bound flight in the Netherlands.

Looking for terrorists is what the Israelis do, and it works rather better than what TSA does. It was vigilant passengers who stopped Mr. Abdulmuttalab and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, not TSA.

If Mr. Abdulmuttalab had had to go through a full body scanner, would it have made a difference? The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, doesn't think so.

"It remains unclear whether (the scanners) would have been able to detect the weapon Mr. Abdumutallab used," the GAO said in a report.