Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 22, 2010

The Pat Down …

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 22, 2010

In case you missed it, here is a link to Saturday Night Live’s skit on TSA’s enhanced security procedures.

The skit made light of what has spread quickly over the last week — protests from travelers, the White House, the left, and the right over the increased use of Advanced Imaging Technologies (AIT) and “pat-downs” for those who refuse to go through the full-body scanners or trigger the metal detectors.   The use of these procedures and the ensuing uproar have left TSA and its new Administrator John Pistole in a difficult position.  Yesterday Pistole seemed to back away from assertions he had made earlier in the day on television programs that TSA would not change its policies by issuing a statement that the agency would work to make screenings “as minimally invasive as possible.”

In many ways, TSA could not win in this situation.  On one hand, if it did not change “something” to make security stronger this holiday season and another “underwear bomber” appeared, then the agency would have been made into a political piñata.  On the other hand, its roll out of procedures that can be deemed invasive and burdensome and that make normal Joes and Jills who are flying feel like the bad guys hasn’t gained the agency any fans.

The truth of the matter is that as we get further away from 9/11 without a successful attack happening, TSA’s job becomes harder.  (Indeed, the same can be said of DHS as a whole).  Americans feel more secure and less worried that something is going to happen, especially when they are trying to survive economic hardships that face them day to day.  As a result, TSA must be more transparent on its security efforts and use a common sense litmus to what it employs.  Few, I would venture, would argue that we do not want TSA to protect us and that the agency must be capable of stopping the next terrorist who targets an airplane.  What should the agency do?

First, it should continue its efforts to develop more intelligent screening and security measures.  After a recent flight, it dawned on me that the agency’s efforts often only see what “good” travelers want them to see.  It is incumbent on the traveler, for example, to remove his liquids, his computer, and take off his jackets and shoes before going through security.   Sometimes people forget to remove their liquids and nothing happens.  Most of us know of some travelers who routinely ignore the liquids out mandate and still have not been stopped.  Other times, some of the practices leave us scratching our heads.  For example, I recently traveled with a three month old whose booties had to be removed because they counted as shoes.  As someone who has worked on homeland security issues, I know why many of these practices exist but I still wonder how we can make things better so that the things we are protecting (the traveling public) are not left feeling as if they are the threat or worse, more threatened.  Investment in new technologies that can scan our bags for liquids or allow us to leave our shoes on would go a along way. Of course, the implementation of emerging technologies and measures such as profiling will not likely be without criticism.  The deployment of AIT machines have demonstrated that.

Second, TSA should embrace programs such as  domestic registered traveler programs that have a security component and allow those travelers who are a minimal security risk to pay a fee, submit to a  background check, and go through an enhanced security checkpoint experience.

Third, TSA should heed the recommendations of the Inspector General last week in its report, Transportation Security Administration’s Management of Its Screening Workforce Training Program Can Be Improved, and ensure that screeners receive thorough and consistent training.  A number of the “horror stories” reported about TSA’s screening procedures over the past several days do not stem from the new procedures per se but from mistakes made by TSA officers.  For example, Administrator Pistole told “Good Morning America” this morning that at least one screening went too far when an officer reached insider’s a traveler’s underwear.  Stories of forced removals of prosthetics and breakage of urostomy bags also demonstrate the need for good training.

Fourth, Congress needs to help TSA out by partnering with the agency and not playing out its efforts via the news cycle and blogs.  TSA has nearly an impossible task and it could use some constructive help in coming up with long-term solutions and not being forced into reactionary positions.

Last, the American people can help TSA out by being patient yet diligent.  TSA is tasked with assuring that we mitigate as many risks as possible to ensure that we avoid another 9/11.  Sometimes it might not be able to share threat information with the public because it is protecting its information sharing mechanisms or needs to continue its investigation.  While we should hold a common sense test to the agency, we should give it some leeway to do its job.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 22, 2010 @ 11:19 am

Great post! Thanks Jessica!

Comment by tom swift

November 22, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

TSA could improve their hiring system. A member of our family recently applied to TSA – 6 months after the initial application the local TSA airport office finally called to schedule an “airport assessment”.

Needless to say the family member already got hired elsewhere in law enforcement (lucky in this economy!) and had gone through the initial application, written test, an interview in front of a panel of 6 managers, background check(s), and a psych exam.

I understand TSA has a high turnover rate, is always accepting applications, and needs more bodies. Doesn’t look like the organization even tries for qualified individuals…

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 22, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

I am pleased that you led with the link to the SNL skit. I for one missed it (on way past my bedtime). I think you agree that social criticism of this sort helps not only entertains us, but informs us as well by offering provocative insights.

The reference to the skit reinforces nicely the final point in your post: Let’s leave the social commentary, satire and sarcasm to those who specialize in it. Politicians, policymakers and Joe Public would do well to concentrate on working together to craft security policies and practices in which we can all (or at least a sizable portion of us) take comfort.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

November 23, 2010 @ 1:49 am

I did not see the link in your posting. When I tried to find it via Google, it has been removed.

Also, I object to the language used in two of the comments. I suggest you edit or eliminate the foul language.

Comment by TSA; American Values and Global Security

November 23, 2010 @ 6:40 am

9/11 was indeed no surprise to many. The towers were attacked before, we had the intelligence and even the person responsible in the scope and we failed.

It is certainly troublesome here on Main Street USA to continue to see the blatant failure as Republicans and Democrats in every way more and more intrusive as special interest groups, and personal agenda, etc. have not only caused gridlocked in the beltway, but we as Americans have been irresponsible in upholding our Bill of Rights and Constitution and for many, lost the inherent passion of the American Patriot and truly feeling the history of what is truly America and what being an American means and the vigilance required….

When referncing TSA policy and our Rights and what is right for America, merely look at Barry’s wife, she takes the kid to Spain meeting who we have no idea, but surely not taking her daughter to Lexington and Concord or to the Grand Canyon to learn of American heritage…far less costly with her galpals and far less in security costs and only to hear from you Mr. President and the First Lady about American Histiry and slavery…a story we are for the most part quite knowledgeable and hopefully America has understood the need that all people are indeed created equal….and we have laws and local law enforcement and of course another elitist, Oprah herself to assure those who cannot catch the scope of such understanding are dealt with accordingly. Fortunately mankind has evolved for the most part and we have other issues at hand.

Unfortunately, my flag flies upside down these days on the front porch. What about yours? A flag of distress!

As a matter of fact, I have asked fellow Americans to turn their flags on the porch upside down depicting the distress, the peril we face from within more likely than from out there where we like the Russians have failed and unlike the Russians, understand the necessity to pack up, bolster our borders and carry a big stick! At the G-20, the disrespect towards our government’s leadership is apparent even to the left of center press who fire an NPR host for a comment felt by all of us who travel extensively. Oops, that’s right, Saturday Night Live depicts “political correctness” where its audience could not answer simple questions about their own country’s history…

9/11 showed how unprepared we are and with the present TSA administration from top down, with some luck and fortunately some professionally dedicated DHS, NSA, law enforcement and others trained and committed in professional and personal diligence to security and safeguarding the most charitable people in the world, willing to send their sons (troops) in WWI, WWII, Korea and in harm’s way to distant shore,
to protect our love for freedom, to stand and say, “I am an American” to stand tall for our beloved Republic, airline tragedy towards innocents have thus far been averted.

I have flown around the world as a frequent traveler and have passed through many terminals and groping by an hourly TSA employee is not what affords me a confident feeling when stepping aboard my mext global flight to address global “water” issues for the less fortunate where in this 21st century, some 1 billion of the world’s population have little or no access to a clean glass of water.

Unlike most proud Americans who love and respect the freedoms we have been so Blessed with by those forefathers who were decisive and fled the King and his taxes and fees only to see Barry Obama and his posse of Goldman Sachs fellas intent on a new world order, redistribution of wealth, the “change” another of Barry’s elitist friends in Massachusetts talks about as he leads Taxachusetts as the bluest state in the union….

….I concur we need “change” yet not taking our last piece of change out of pocket and making intentional decision to assure that our national debt be studied in exponential terms, a national debt very much in the direction of our ever expanding universes and galaxies….

….I looked at the full moon tonight and thought I saw the Chinese flag flying, not American, for it is China who pledges not only to estabish a colony, but better understands the opportunities ruling the skies and the universe and beyond promise to their salvation. Like squirrals, look at the hoarding of precious metals and stockpiling of food, understanding the need for cybersecurity and so on ans so forth…we are failing our own populace as we keep an eye on Saturday Night Live rather than holding our TSA and our public schools accountable, demanding that our local communities place the local dollar by dollar budget on cable for all of us to see…so we, too can graduate like the Chinese and my esteemed global business colleagues in India, sons and daughters with science and engineering degrees, not law degrees! in Boston, the saying is when one needs an attorney, open a window and seven out of ten walking by will provide their law degree if asked.

Let us become a 21st century people – let the Isralis and other “experts” address how TSA should confront each of us and determine the risk or not when we choose to fly and present ourselves and boarding ticket.

If you were to ask me when I have felt safe in flight, it would be with El Al. No other. I don’t mind their questioning me and the sophistication of their knowledge of each travelling ticket holder. Groping, only when necessary and only when TSA does its job prior.

The “Brutes of Tehran” as I refer to them, mass cold blooded murderers who even chose to spill rich Persian blood on the streets of Tehran, blood of a wonderful young woman inherent with the genetics of her wonderful forefathers who offered in contribution so much to the world like those who preceeded me as fellow Hellenes and like so many others who cherish those who have come before us and we must be subjected to such peril…

….it is time to rise up and truly “change” our world and tell the terrorists that they will be subjected to far more than groping….it is time for the bullies and narrow minded and “Smug smiled Pelosi” to understand that it is not only your way, but Our way, the way of Anerica, strong ans yet, compassionate, committed to safeguarding ourselvs and our laws and assuring those that seek our demise that we are prepared to wage real War, if necessary.

To the “The TSA Pat Down..” philosophy, as a frequent flyer and on someone’s WH list given the scrutiny of my last TSA adventure, there is no question that it is the Israelis who should be hired as consultants to TSA here and globally for they have been surrounded by the Arab League in the past, truly do not have time to watch Saturday Night Live or care to for in the past forty years since surrounded by the same uncivilized “dysfunctionals” seeking sword and the demise of the Jew so hated….EL Al and Israel have had to deal 25×7 with reality, not the land of Oz!

Oh, by the way, have you Madame Secretary or you Barry’s wife and daughter on their way to Spain to see who?/instead of studying and visiting Lexington and Concord, ya know American history which you seem to have such disgust for other than reminding us all of the slavery issues, even maybe a visit to the Grand Canyon with the kids and you Madame DHS/TSA Secretary or you Grandma Pelosi and your Grandchildren subjected to groping, I bet not, but watching a Father’s face the other day as his teen daughter was groped, give us all a break and take some courses by the Israeli authorities and take your ever widening government intervention in our lives and stuff it as the elitists you are with my asking, “Why not invite the extremist Muslim clerics and those you ran to see with olive branch in hand as you hurried to Cairo to reach out to the same Muslims who will unsettle the Middle East shortly for a – beer – at the White House were you have removed the bust of Winston Churchill and replaced with Martin Luther King when we all appreciate what Dr. King gave us and many of us marched with him, but as we turn the pages to 2011 and the economy and lack of jobs evident, it is not a – beer – nor Dr. King we need, but rather, another Winston Churchill with vision and inherent strength to stand against the uncivilized ways of the “fundamentalist” and extremist Muslim who has used the Koran and its teaching of Loving, not harming another, showing compassion and understanding, the abhorrent use of the Loving teachings of the Koran to fill the coffers of a few Arab Muslims who must unfortunately be subjected to profiling, woman and child like We who must be groped!

As an proud American with business reach globally to make every effort to afford dignity to those less firtunate, to work together to bring a clean glass of “water” to Arab, Indian, American, Haitian, African, fellow Hellene, no matter who, it is tme that We together clasp our hands and for the Muslim and Christian, we do not need a return to the Crusades or the use of sword, senseless killings of innocents and judgement of another which only our Creator has such Right to judge, no matter where, let no one refer to the Bible or the Koran so insensitively, besmirching intent and on one another.

Rather, let us work in this 21st century to rid the world of those whether in Korea where China must face reality and deal with North Korea and rid those whose intent in dastardly deed towards other. Let us retore confidence and trust in one another and the Blessings given each of us by the Lord.

Christopher Tingus
Po Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan

November 23, 2010 @ 10:38 am

If you look at the original posting, the link is to NBC’s website, which has the official link.

Comment by Maya Libretti

November 23, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

Jessica, you say: “Congress needs to help TSA out…” I think a point that gets forgotten is that both the Congress and the TSA are the public’s employees, meaning *we* are the bosses.

The TSA’s recent choices, to violate the basic civil rights of passengers, without following a standard of human ethics, including informed consent, is unconscionable. They didn’t tell us that procedures would be changing, they didn’t ask for input or ideas, and now they tell us that there are *no* options other than radiation or man-handling/molestation, when any thinking person knows that’s not true.

The most basic civil human right is respect for the sovereignty and integrity of the body. When someone is imprisoned, the first thing that is taken away is their experience of touch as a regenerative human action that bonds people together (hugs, a consoling hand on shoulder, a kiss, sharing sex, etc.) Instead, control of their body is taken away and they are forced to move, act, and behave according to the commands of their jailers.

But passengers are not criminals, and the only other time control over our body is taken away is in a medical setting. But the medical community has had, for millennia, codes of ethics and standards for how to treat a person whose body is in their hands. The first medical ethic is respect for a patient’s self-determination. The second is respect for their dignity. The third is respect for their basic human right to freedom of movement (should they be able to move).

I have scoured the TSA.gov website to determine what “professional training” the screeners actually receive. Since passengers are *not* criminals, my view is that training in how to handle or pat down suspects and criminals is not sufficient. The traveling public are regular people, with all different bodies and conditions. The training should include anatomy and physiology, and basic medical ethics as they relate to touch. In addition, I think it would be reasonable for a passenger to be able to request a medically-trained watcher or supervisor, someone who is at least an RN, trained in the *care* of people whose bodily control is temporarily diminished.

But there’s nobody listening at the TSA. Frankly, as their employer, I want to fire them and hire somebody new, somebody who knows what they are doing and also somebody who doesn’t treat the population like criminals.

But to your point, that the Congress should “help” them, I disagree. Congress is our omsbudsman. They need to evaluate whether or not an agency is serving the public or causing undue distress — and hold a standard, which the agency either meets or doesn’t. No “helping” is needed. The TSA has already shown its hand. Pistole says there are no options other than those that *he* dictates. He has lied about the “professional training”. And he has failed miserably at the basic human concept of informed consent, devising the procedures in secrecy and then launching them on the public without recourse. As such, a reasonable conclusion is that the TSA is an authoritarian, fascist agency that thinks dehumanizing the people is fine and dandy.

The TSA has created an aggressive, conflictual environment rather than a cooperative one. And they are hated so much now that if the Congress decided to “help” them, it would be like the Congress taking their side against the people. The Congress would then be considered even more corrupt than they already are.

If the TSA wants to keep the job, I think the Congress needs to hold their feet to the fire, not baby them. Trust has been broken, and trust is always very difficult to repair. The question for Congress should be NOT how can they baby and help the TSA, but how can they restore trust with *us*. And in that process, the TSA may just have to face the consequences.

Comment by Maya Libretti

November 23, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

I should add that the Israeli’s procedures, while stringent, are at least human. They consider the data and reality of each individual, as an individual. The grandmother with a bad hip and nailclippers in her luggage, for example, isn’t likely to be groped because they engage her, learn about her, and can tell that she is not a terrorist. In other words, they screen for real suspects, and they do it in a human way, not a machine way.

I think we have come to rely on The Machine so much now that we’ve forgotten how to be human. As such, we are sunk in a mire of dehumanization, which is almost sure to cause agitation and unrest — because on thing humans don’t like is being dehumanized.

So bring on the human Israeli methods. They would be a welcome improvement over the unhuman and incompetent agency we have at the moment.

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December 7, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

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