“Policymakers reacted in panic…. [This] possibility came to be seen as something that was intolerable. And from that time down to the present … there has been a theme in US national policy that posits absolute security as the minimum adequate security.”
The woman in the picture is 95 years old. She weighs about 100 pounds. She uses a wheelchair because she has difficulty standing.
According to a story in the Northwest Florida Daily News, written by Lauren Sage Reinlie, the woman was detained, searched, and asked to remove her soiled adult diaper. The TSA screener had to complete the pat down search before the woman would be permitted “to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.”
The familiar and predictable outrage the incident generated was balanced by the familiar and predictable response from TSA:
The TSA works with passengers to resolve any security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner….
During any part of the process, if there is an alarm, then we have to resolve that alarm….
[T]he procedures are the same for everyone to ensure national security.
TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability….
While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.
We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.
The woman’s daughter thought about the official response:
“[If] you’re just following rules and regulations, then the rules and regulations need to be changed…. I’m not one to make waves, but dadgummit, this is wrong. People need to know. Next time it could be you.”
I think Bacevich’s observation is important. Absolute security ought not be the minimum level of adequate security.
The woman’s observation is also important, “Dadgummit, this is wrong.”
Congress and TSA know this.
As Kelley Vlahos’ article in the June issue of Homeland Security Today summarizes, the future of airport security screening is supposed to be a shift from “no one is exempt” to an approach driven more by intelligence and risk.
Congressman Mike Rogers agrees with this vision. But — like some DHS leaders and many fliers — Rogers is impatient:
I don’t think [TSA has] to explain to people that it’s potentially dangerous to fly … with terrorists continuing to target Americans, but we have to be reasonable in our efforts. When American’s see intrusive practices that don’t seem to be intelligence-driven or smart, it drives them nuts…. I think [TSA] wants to get there, but we need to do it tomorrow and not three years from now.”
Absolute security takes a very long time to achieve. Adequate security may take even longer.