If Airport Strip Searches Save Lives …

There’s a lot of uproar at the moment about body scans and “patdowns” at airports recently. Some of the stories do seem outrageous, such as the woman who had to remove her prosthetic breast to show she wasn’t hiding explosives in it.

Other people seem to be over-reacting. Best comment so far: “If you think a TSA pat down is sexual assault then you don’t ever want to go on the New York subway at rush-hour.” Yes. I call them “sardine cars,” because people are packed in them like sardines. Do you shove yourself into the car and experience full-body contact with a bunch of strangers, or do you wait for the next train, in the chance that it will be less crowded? If you’ve lived in New York for a while, you learn to not be too squeamish if you want to get to work on time.

But it strikes me that (if Memeorandum is any indicator) there is more uproar about the TSA coming from the Right, not the Left. Some of it is the usual posturing (it’s “Obama’s” TSA, after all). And, let’s face it, righties are whiners. But it strikes me that these are the same people who justified waterboarding because it might “save lives.”

If you could get information that would save lives, or save a school full of children, or prevent another 9/11, wouldn’t it be wrong to not waterboard somebody? We were asked. The fact that such information is rarely reliable was never part of the scenario.

To me, it was like asking If you could stop a terrorist by leaping off an office tower and landing on him, killing both of you, wouldn’t it be wrong to not leap off the office tower? Never mind the sacrifice involved; it’s unlikely I would be able to direct my falling body with enough precision to do much good. So the answer is, um, no. Let’s go with what works, which is not waterboarding.

And let’s not even start on the wisdom of invading random foreign countries on the chance they might have weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.

The thing is, if bodily violations actually provide greater security and reduced the possibility that the plane would be hijacked or blown up by terrorists, I might go along with them. I can imagine being on a plane that is being hijacked and thinking, damn, why weren’t we all body scanned?

It’s not clear that body scans and patdowns actually make us safer, since apparently the TSA hasn’t caught any prohibited items that they probably would not have found through more conventional screening means. On the other hand, it’s possible the security theater discourages would-be terrorists from attempting anything.

What say you?

21 thoughts on “If Airport Strip Searches Save Lives …

  1. the less invasive pat downs have found what? How does one prove a negative? The next attempt to bring down a passenger plane is most likely going to be in a bag in the belly of the plane. How does the strip-search machine and/or the groping prevent that

    • the less invasive pat downs have found what?

      If you had clicked on the link, you would have read,

      From Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, for example, agents found six “artfully concealed prohibited items” and 11 firearms at checkpoints, and they arrested six passengers after investigations of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents. (Those figures are close to the weekly average.) It’s not clear, however, whether any of these incidents represent attempted acts of terrorism or whether they were honest accidents. (Whoops, forgot I had that meat cleaver on me! Or, I had no idea flares weren’t allowed!)

      The next attempt to bring down a passenger plane is most likely going to be in a bag in the belly of the plane.

      Bags have been searched and x-rayed for a few years now, in U.S. airports, anyway. The reason greater emphasis is being put on passengers and their carry-ons is that the last few incidents of terrorist attempts in commercial passenger planes have involved people attempting to ignite explosives hidden in their shoes or underwear.

  2. Irradiation or groping or no flight? What a Habson’s choice. And it’s security theater. The righties are up in arms over this, and for once I’m with them.

  3. I have a lot of objections to the new procedures, and I might have them even if they could ensure safety, because, frankly, I’m callously willing to loose a few hundred people on a plane now and again in exchange for personal freedom to fly unmolested, much in the same way that I’m callously willing to accept thousands of fatalities a year in exchange for the freedom for everyone to drive at highway speeds all over. The threat of terrorist plane bombings seems smaller to me than the cost, monetary and moral, of these procedures.

    But they can’t ensure safety, since they readily admit the technology can’t see inside body cavities, so we’re still vulnerable. And they aren’t using the scanners in Amsterdam, where the flight the underwear bomber was on left from, so we’re still vulnerable. And not all cargo is getting screened, and some of it ends up on passenger aircraft, so we’re still vulnerable.

    Personally, I have health-related concerns about the scanner technology. It’s new, and it hasn’t really been tested. They say it should be perfectly safe, but I know that medical science can change its consensus about what levels are “safe”, and they are going by what they assume the effects are, not by looking at actual long-term tests. It’s a colossal experiment with the health of Americans.

    I’ve already had a cancer that was caused by previous exposure to radiation at levels they thought were safe. Only now, decades later, when people like me have cancers and other long-term side effects, we know better. Having already had more radiation than any person should have in a lifetime, I avoid medical x-rays and CT scans if I can, and I sure as hell am refusing any scans from untested machines operated by TSA agents, who aren’t even qualified radiology technicians.

    Oh, and by the way, even hospital grade (not government contractor grade) radiation sources go wrong, or get misused, with horrific consequences. Just because they say the machine SHOULD only give a dose the equivalent of a few minutes at altitude doesn’t mean it IS giving such a dose.

    So, it’s pat-downs for me, and for the people with insulin pumps, and other medical devices, and breast protheses, and lots of others. The training for the pat-downs seems to have been erratic and even if it were perfectly consistent, there is still some argument about whether they would have detected the underwear bomber had he been given one. We know they wouldn’t have caught the bomb-up-the-bum bomber, god forbid we get one. So, even if scanners were perfect, which they are SO not, there is still risk from all us patted-down people on the plane.

    So, all us citizens go through humiliation and violation, and all those children we’ve been teaching to object when someone touches their private parts get confused, because for some strange reason bad touch is OK at airports, and we’re risking the health of millions of travelers. For what? How many people have died from explosives smuggled on to planes on people’s persons so far? None that I know of. Perhaps alert passengers and cabin crew are a fairly effective defense, so these scanners and intrusive pat-downs add nothing.

    (Not to mention that a crowded screening area is not a good place to be confronting a guy wearing a bomb who is willing to kill himself and others to make a point. We’re not actually solving the problem of innocent dead, just changing the location of the bodies.)

    At least they finally decided that making the pilots get scanned was unnecessary. It took them long enough!

  4. There are several reasons why I’m sprayed bug crazy over this policy.
    I don’t EVER want to get on a plane again, but we have tickets to go see my sister in law in June, so I must.They way you get treated at the local court house is bad enough, EVERYBODY is a potential threat, and I’m sick of it. If the general population is so crazy as to blow up a plane, FUCK IT! I ain’t playing that game, but the problem is, the general population is just fine, a few wack jobs spoil it for everyone.
    If I’m on a plane, and someone acts remotely like they’re trying to do something malicious I’ll be on them in a heart beat, gouging out their eyes and ripping out their throat.I’m confident that the rest of the passengers will join me. I’m VERY pissed that our government will allow this type of crap.I’m a liberal, and proud to say so, but every day, the leash gets shorter; we have owners, not leaders.
    They Need to fix the problem, NOT piss on the citizens because THEY started something that they WILL NOT fix, because there is a long term agenda that eludes most of us.
    Having some jack-ass patting me down or x-raying me is something that really pisses me off; what’s next?
    Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, quit predator drone fuck-ups in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and quit sucking Israel’s you know what, and Americans will be much safer.Oh, and prosecute Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, and their neocon court jesters for what they did.

  5. I have decided never to fly ever again. If people boycotted flying, you can bet the airlines would be the first to give up these idiotic procedures. I understand that some people have jobs where they have to travel; but, why not get creative for a while and take the train. I found flying extraordinarily unpleasant before these procedures. These invasive patdowns and using a machine that may cause cancer are the epitome of assininity.

  6. I guess the best option is to opt for the patdown. It’s the only form of protest that could have a meaningful impact..slow down the system with passivity. I’m old enough and secure enough to handle the prospect of some guy checking my basket. I once got a prostate exam finger wave from a female doctor at the VA., so getting my package groped by a high school drop-out in a TSA uniform won’t shake me up.

  7. In this country we always seem to go for all, or nothing at all. As much as we scream about freedom and liberty, we really don’t believe in that.
    If it’s no-smoking areas, it has to be every single stinking place in a city, instead of having smoking, and non-smoking bars, and let people decide whcih they want to go to. That law in NY was cleverly put in for the ‘safety’ of the workers. Fine, but there are bartenders (I would be one but I can’t stand for long periods of time anymore) and wait people who would rather work in a smoking place where we could, well, SMOKE!, when things slow down.
    Why can’t we have maximum and minimum security flights? I’m not talking about NO security. But let people decide which flight they want to get on, and take the risks. The flight insurance on the lower security flights could have higher charges and lower payouts. But YOU get to chose. Do you want to get to the airport an hour before your flight, park, go through some minimum security? Or, do you want to go the “Full Israeli,” where you’d better get to the airport 4 hours before your flight, they check your car as you drive in, do racial profiling, and you go through, on some cases, more than one psychological profile as well, before you get wanded and pat in places only significant others should be allowed to go. So, which is it?
    And no, I haven’t thought out the logistic’s of this. I’m just making a point. Maybe not a good one, but then, I’m not sure of the point for doing all of this.
    We only do security for what the terrorists HAVE done. A determined terrorist will think outside the box, and try something that HASN’T been done. In other words, we irradiate and grope you for yesterdays problems, rather than thinking of tomorrow’s solutions. Like get the F**K out of the Middle East, and stop sticking our noses in everybody elses business. I think other countries must feel like we constantly grope and probe them. And Hell, we already irradiated one!

  8. There are worse things than dying, and living on your knees is one of them. A life of constant humiliation, abuse and disenfranchisement is no way to live. I don’t want to be safe–I want to be free.

    I’m not, and never have been, afraid of terrorists. However I am increasingly afraid of our own government. My sympathies lie more and more with its enemies.

    • There are worse things than dying, and living on your knees is one of them. A life of constant humiliation, abuse and disenfranchisement is no way to live.

      As a woman approaching 60, I can remember when “a life of constant humiliation, abuse and disenfranchisement” was pretty much the norm for us ladies. Racial minorities had it worse, of course. But if airport security checks amount to “a life of constant humiliation, abuse and disenfranchisement” to you, I’m assuming you’re a white guy, or under the age of thirty. I’m not saying that the patdowns and body scans are OK with me, but in the scale of crap I’ve had to put up with in my life, it rates somewhere between a 3 and a 4. And you can always not fly, I guess. People manage.

      I do think that as a nation we need to talk about this. Absolute security probably isn’t possible. So how much of a risk is acceptable? How far do we want to go to reduce risk by X percent? Or are we going to stop the security procedures we don’t like until some terrorist brings a plane down, and then start screaming about why the government didn’t do something to prevent it?

      I think c u n d gulag is on to something with the high-security and lower-security flights idea. Let airline passengers choose whether they’d rather give up some security and avoid the patdowns, or vice versa.

      I’m not, and never have been, afraid of terrorists.

      Have you ever actually been threatened by terrorists? I was in lower Manhattan on 9/11. It’s real easy to say you’re not afraid of something that’s far away and abstract — just stuff you’ve watched on television — not so easy when it’s your actual flesh on the line. I’m not saying I go around in twitching fear of terrorism, but I do have a healthy respect for security measures.

      However I am increasingly afraid of our own government. My sympathies lie more and more with its enemies.

      Dude, don’t go there. The enemies aren’t any nicer, and some of ’em are a damn sight worse.

  9. Except for Swami and Maha the comments mostly could pass for a libertarian site. There’s a basic philosophy behind regulation, whether it limits the abuses of Wall Street finance or searches of passengers. The idea is that the greater good prevails – even if it’s a minority of banks who would engage in wild speculation or a minority of passengers who would engage in terrorism, the greater good of preserving the integrity if a financial or air transit system – prevails.

    That said, I favor the idea of a single airline being allowed to offer lax security with the UNDERSTANDING and CONSENT of all passengers. If that it’s a risk you are willing to take, let the free-market determine the popularity of the idea.

  10. I’ll continue to fly…I already experience the indignation of a search when I have to remove my belt, shoes, all content from my pockets and walk through a metal detector, so being subjected to a pat down isn’t going to increase my indignation. My indignation stems from the fact that I see the whole process as security theater conducted to address an infinitesimal threat that was brought about by American foreign policy. I wonder what process China goes through with their internal air travel security? I also wonder how many countries China has military troops permanently stationed? Get the point?… Maybe there is some truth the biblical proverb…”you reap what you sow”

  11. Better yet, Doug, let’s all just fly nekid.
    Follow the money. A certain someone is getting rich with his DHS lobby.

  12. I agree with Doug, most of the comments do sound very libertarian.

    I fly a fair bit for work and, though I’ve never felt physically assaulted, I often feel fed up. But I go through the check for the greater good.

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned how “bag of hammers” stupid airport security is, be it in the US, Canada or (probably–I haven’t been there since “92) Europe. They hire poorly educated people who don’t give a flying fuck about security to perform what is supposed to be an essential function.

    You may hate the country, but Israel is the only place where they’ve understood that airport security is mostly a psychological game. The security people are well-educated and highly trained to note even the slightest hesitation or odd behaviour. The only time I flew out of Israel was in 1978. I was asked “Columbo”-style about five times, “Oh, by the way, did anyone pack your bags for you?” and other such questions. It may not be a safe place to live and you may be totally against its politics, but Israel is the only country that knows how to do airport security properly.

  13. About the reaction of the Right, Libertarians, and such…I can’t but help to think that the furious reaction from the Right is in part simply because Obama is president. If Bush was president, the Righties would just bend over and spread while chanting “support the troops.”

    But in this case, I’m going to be equally harsh on the Left (hope I don’t get kicked off, since this is my first post). Somehow, Maha, I can’t help but think that your willingness to go along with these new intrusive procedures also has something to do with the fact that Obama is president. If Bush was still president, I think this latest violation of civil liberties would make you outraged. Zapping air passengers with cancer-causing x-rays ought to offend the sensibilities of anyone who calls him/herself “liberal.” I consider myself to be pretty liberal, but I’m not going to passively go along with a policy that will increase the possibility of people getting cancer. Like some of the other posters here, I’ve already had too many x-rays in my lifetime to risk any more.

    When it comes to economics, the Libertarians are, for the most part, idiots. Eliminating the minimum wage, giving tax breaks to the rich to “stimulate” the economy (will they buy more yachts?), letting the “free market” solve the global warming problem, etc – voodoo economics, all of it. But in the case of x-raying or groping air passengers in public, for once the Libertarians are right. Again, if Bush’s thugs were doing this, I suspect that the Libertarians would have nothing to say about it.

    If I had to fly in the USA (fortunately I don’t, I’ve moved abroad), I’d opt for the public strip search. I don’t have any see-through underwear, but maybe I’d buy some just for the occasion. This is certainly a great time to be an exhibitionist. Ditto for sex perverts, who must be applying en masse for jobs at the TSA.

    Let’s face it, the terrorists have won, haven’t they?

    • Somehow, Maha, I can’t help but think that your willingness to go along with these new intrusive procedures also has something to do with the fact that Obama is president.

      It has a lot more to do with the fact that I’m an eyewitness to the collapse of the World Trade Center, and it’s too easy for me to imagine what I would feel if I, or someone I love, were on a plane that is hijacked. This is not an unimaginable abstraction to me.

      That said, I’m not saying I support the TSA actions, either. I’m not sure what to think about them, actually.

  14. OK – think it differently. Your wife or husband or child or parent is dead with all on board. In the investigation, they identify the bomber easily. He COULD have been identified – with minimal screening – he wasn’t smart or stable or well-trained. He was however a willing tool – and now a loved one is dead when they might be alive (along with 250 others) because the indignity of a search offended you.

    Well done.

  15. Doug, I’m not against the stricter security measures. I just have decided not to fly unless it’s absulutely necessary. And, no longer being in management in the workforce, I don’t think I’ll need to make that choice for awhile.
    But like Canadian Reader says, if it’s SOOOOOO important, why do they hire numbskulls, who aren’t even smart enough to be Corrections Officers, let alone FBI or the police? If this is all so critical, why not make this a good job, with great pay and benfits. I’m sure the Israeli agents are well taken care of.
    One last point about Israeli security. If you think about it, people coming to airports there are almost sure to be traveling internatioanlly. Those travelling in the US, are predominantly going intra-nationally? They take their security seriously because those leaving Israel are getting on planes from other nations, as wall as El Al, so in some respects, terrorists emanating from Israel make the whole country look bad. Most of our air travellers are business people or family members going to a city in another state, or one that’s within theirs, but a good distance away. I don’t know that many people take fights within Israel, it’s such a small country. In other words, they take their security seriously because in affects their nations international reputation. That’s why the scope of their security is so much more thorough than ours. Maybe that has nothing to do with it, I’m just throwing that out there for conversation.

  16. Back in the early days(2002) when military troops were still patrolling the airports with their m-16’s to show that we were on top of the terror threat I was flying to San Antonio, Texas and had a lay over in Dallas Ft.Worth. I was sitting at the departure gate and decided to have a cigarette because time allowed. Smoking is prohibited in the terminal so I had to go outside the terminal and outside the security area to have my cigarette. While I was outside I purchased a 16 0z cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup with a lid on it to take with me aboard the aircraft. As I came back through security I set the cup down on a counter nearby and proceeded to go through the security measures again. After I was cleared I walked over and picked my closed coffee cup and boarded the aircraft. I realized immediately that I had inadvertently breached the security measures…For all that it mattered it could have been 16 ounces of plastic explosives in that cup and the security people let it go right past them without ever checking to see what substance was in the coffee container.

  17. CUND Gulag & Swami – I am in complete agreement that we have holes in security big enough to throw Rush Limbaugh through. I won’t elaborate on what I think they are. I agree TSA employees are not up to par. I don’t like strangers pawing through my carry-on stuff. I could care less what someone thinks about my anatomy as I pass through a scanner.

    There are some really sick people out there who really think it’s cool to kill strangers who had NOTHING to do with the stuff they are psychotic about. We need to keep up SOME defense – however flawed – and try to improve it in advance of a bombing. Relaxing security because we haven’t recently had to bury a few hundred civilians is foolishness. I don’t want to think that W was right by keeping the fear racheted up to the max.

  18. CAndide,
    Yeah, they won a long time ago.
    But just like Rome 1,600 years ago, we don’t know we’re a dead empire. Hopefully, the “Barbarians” will be kept from our gates. But why would they bother to come? Our own barbarians are doing a fine the job for them…

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