“Israeli personnel do single out small numbers of passengers for extensive searches and screening, based on profiling methods that have so far been rejected in the United States, subjecting Arabs and, in some cases, other foreign nationals to an extensive screening that comes with a steep civil liberties price.”—Another look at why the Israeli security approach wouldn’t work in the U.S. without some tweaks.
“This matter deserves more than a ping-pong match. Instead, the National Academy of Sciences or another independent body ought to convene the inquiry the UCSF scientists requested.”—David Corn makes a sensible suggestion for testing the safety of backscatter scanners.
Four UC-San Francisco professors say the differences between typical medical X-ray machines and the TSA backscatter machines warrant further testing to make sure the latter are safe.
The FDA responded, but
gave the issues little more than a data-driven brush off. They cite five studies in response to the professors’ request for independent verification of the safety of these X-rays; however, three are more than a decade old, and none of them deal specifically with the low-energy X-rays the professors are concerned about. The letter also doesn’t mention the FDA’s own classification of X-rays as carcinogens in 2005.
The TSA backlash has itself inspired a backlash, in articles like these from The Daily Beast, Time, and Politico. But in trying to be all mature and non-hyperbolic, these pieces largely ignore the heart of the issue.
“The most invasive part in my opinion was not actually the groin and inner thigh search but the waist search, in which Officer Daniels ran his blue-latex-glove-clad fingers, the front of them, all around my body inside of my pants waistband.”—A calm, non-hyperbolic description of what it’s like to be pat-down.
“As it turns out, the security methods employed by Israel’s famous Shin Bet security service at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv are frequently stricter and more intrusive than the full-body scanners and pat-downs American officials put into place Nov. 1, said security analysts and the travelers who regularly show up at Ben-Gurion four hours before their flights for screening.”—The New York Times suggests that the recommendation to Israelify U.S. airport security wouldn’t be so easy to implement.
“That case was really instructive. Nobody was injured, and the plane landed safely. It was a success! And it was pre 9-11 security that made it a success. Because we screen for superficial guns and bombs, he had to resort to a syringe and 90 minutes in the bathroom with a bomb that didn’t work.”—Bruce “Security Theater” Schneier on the underwear bomber, in an interview about the TSA pat-downs and ensuing hullabaloo.
“The fundamental problem with a lot of these procedures is their lack of accountability. By publicly recording and disclosing the outcomes of the procedures TSA and their rules can be judged and held in praise or to account.”—Good ideas for making the TSA more transparent, from Sunlight Foundation’s Paul Blumenthal.
“As long as it’s just Muslims being tortured and foreigners being detained indefinitely, the price we pay to feel secure seems all too abstract. The TSA’s new passenger-screening measures just happen to fall on the political and economic elites who can make their complaints heard.”—
(His context is conservatives suddenly discovering the downsides to the security state. My context was more just average non-political people discovering same. Ultimately, it probably amounts to the same thing.)
On the one hand, he’s right that it’s sort of absurd that after acceding to “Vast wars leading to thousands of American dead and hundreds of billions of dollars of expense … [and] Various constitutional protections dispensed with,” suddenly some embarrassing pat-downs cause us all to rise up.
But on the other hand, the pat-downs and security theater are more of a burden on and affront to most people’s everyday lives than the wars and diminished constitutional protections have been.
That may reflect a fundamental problem with how wars are launched, fought and funded today, and with how easy it is for constitutional protections to be jettisoned without anyone noticing. But it doesn’t make the pat-down response irrational or unwarranted.
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have a simple tweak that “would distort the images captured on full-body scanners so they look like reflections in a fun-house mirror, but any potentially dangerous objects would be clearly revealed,” the Washington Post reports.
Apparently the researchers shared the idea with the Department of Homeland Security four years ago, to no avail.
This doesn’t exactly address ALL of the TSA scanner objections, but seems like a sensible change to make in the meantime.
“[Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce] Hoffman said the administration should move away from adding more layers of security for every passenger in response to every new plot and consider an Israeli-style approach to identify passengers who pose a particular risk, based on advance intelligence, questioning travelers and watching their behavior.”—The consensus view among people who know about this stuff makes it to the news pages of the New York Times.
“A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.”—Ugh.
“He was very specific not only about the places, but also about when he would be using the front of his hand, and when he would be using the back of his hand. (I honestly don’t think it’s any less creepy either way, but I did not say this, for fear of being viewed as an international terrorist.)”—Dave Barry gets the full junk treatment.
“Profiling — not ethnic or racial profiling, but individualized profiling, designed to suss out, through questioning, the reason a passenger is attempting to board a plane — is the only reasonable answer to the challenges posed by terrorism.”—Jeffrey Goldberg’s words of wisdom.
“Republican trust in a sprawling and invasive security apparatus was always precarious. Its collapse leaves the TSA and the Obama administration with yet another libertarian, anti-state riot on their hands.”—Dave Weigel writes about the political implications of the TSA backlash.
“There is a lot of software to control these machines, and it’s mostly new code. Which means it has bugs. Many bugs.”—A software engineer worries about the radiation dangers that bugs in the back-scatter imagers’ software could pose.
“It is the mission of the President, and of the Congress, to supervise and monitor these bureaucracies, to hold them back when their mission comes into conflict with other missions, such as the protection of the privacy of American citizens.”—Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us of the bureaucratic and personal dynamics that lead to things like the TSA security procedures.
“It is insane, destructive, and Maginot Line-like in thinking for the U.S. to pour out so many resources, intrude so deeply on liberties, and generate so much domestic and international ill-will in dealing with one area of potential threat, out of all proportion to what it does elsewhere.”—James Fallows continues to bring it.
“If you’re a male, and you want to bollix-up the nonsensical airport security-industrial complex, one way to do so would be to wear a kilt. … If you want to go the extra extra mile, I suggest commando-style kilt-wearing.”—A clever idea from Jeffrey Goldberg. Who will be the first to try this and capture it on YouTube?
James Fallows posts an email from a U.S. Army staff sergeant who is serving in Afghanistan. The soldier writes about the contrast between security procedures in Afghanistan — “At no time were we permitted or even encouraged to search children or women” — and the new ones in the U.S.