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"Don't Touch My Junk": TSA's Expiry Date Event?


Just finished celebrating a birthday. Fortunately, it was rather less depressing than last year's, though the recruiter's consoling comment that "everything happens for a reason" did end up looking damn near clairvoyant over the next 12 months - basic training has nothing on this. Still separated from my wife by circumstances and a continent, though she will be getting on an airplane at some point to be with us again. Airport idiocy, here we come.

Which neatly bridges 2 things much on my mind lately. One personal, and deliberately somewhat cryptic. The other (TSA) very public, and a source of more than considerable irritation to many of us. That irritation is boiling over into widespread anger at invasive, quasi police-state "security theater" that keeps no-one safer. As my friend Jack Wheeler puts it:

"After traveling around the world - and through airport security in 18 countries - over the past few months, then returning to the US, I can confirm that no country I know of on earth has airport security as stupid, obnoxious, and intrusive as the US. And yes, that includes North Korea."

The grains of irritation have been piling up for quite some time, and like any sand hill, you can never be sure when the system reaches its "critical state" and suddenly begins to give way. Eventually, however, it will - and when it does, things happen fast. That anger may have found its critical state flashpoints at last...

John "Don't Touch My Junk" Tyner may well be the grain that sets off the sand avalanche, via his viral YouTube audio recording. That backlash is quickly gathering steam, and a foresighted clause in the bill that created the TSA is giving it serious teeth.

So 4 cheers for Rep. John Mica [R-FL], who helped write the original TSA bill in 2001, and will soon chair the House Transportation Committee. He's now sent letters to over 150 airports, reminding about that intelligent clause that lets them opt out of having the TSA there.

Yeah, you read that right. And about f-ing time.

Orlando's Sanford International has opted out, which will be good news for Disneyworld fans, and for Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control employees. A number of other airports in Florida and Georgia are seriously considering it, and it seems likely that more will join them.

Personally, I do not see the TSA as capable of fixing itself. As the Washington Examiner points out:

"In a May 2010 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mica noted that the GAO "discovered that since the program's inception, at least 17 known terrorists ... have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports." One of those known terrorists was Faisal Shahzad, who made it past SPOT monitors onto a Dubai-bound plane at New York's JFK International Airport not long after trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Federal agents nabbed him just before departure."

That's why, if I'm Rep. Mica, my next step after airports have switched and passengers can see the difference, is to submit a house bill abolishing the TSA. It was a stupid idea then. It's still stupid. Undo the mistake, and show that government agencies can - and sometimes should - simply go away.

Politically, it also has much to recommend it. Let Senate Democrats risk putting themselves crosswise with a lot of constituents on a personal issue that really makes many angry. They thought ObamaCare was something? That was nothing. Let President Obama move to veto it, in order to keep his union funding coming. He'll lose the respect of many Americans in a way he won't recover, as the GOP reminds Americans again and again, through public and private channels, that if they hate the airport experience, they know whom to thank.

I'd support the same move if it was President McCain. Who would probably have started out clueless, then backtracked at 100 miles an hour. Obama won't backtrack.

Which makes this another good teaching moment and conversation about rights and the proper bounds of government. We'll need it, because replacing TSA employees with private ones doesn't necessarily solve our problem, unless methods also change.

We are still left with a system that does not see and advocate passengers as part of the solution - which, as Tyner points out so well, has been the common denominator of actual airborne terrorist attempts since Flight 93. We are still left with stupid security theater procedures that choose to make everyone victims, instead of targeting those with ill intent. The rise of narco-terrorism, and the potential for further escalation of Mexico's insurgency, means that profiling Muslims as the solution would create a blind spot that would make us less secure. Profile Muslims and Mexicans? Think for a second about the networks narco-terrorists can draw from, and already do. You're just asking to be blown up that way.

But states like Israel have managed to do this - partly because they're serious about security, and partly because, as anyone who knows Israelis will attest, those folks would not have stood for the TSA's brainless security theater for even one day without near-riots.

America can do this too. If it decides that it wants to. Or that it really, really doesn't want the current system. Which is a start. All it takes, sometimes, is that one last grain of sand.

Let the avalanche roll. And bury the TSA.


I've been quietly building up pressure on this one for the last week or so, so I have a shotgun blast of scattered remarks:

1) It's amazing just how quickly the IRS has been eclipsed as the most hated government agency in America.

2) Finally, an issue that unites us rather than divides us: We all hate this and think it's stupid.

3) This is the kind of stupid that happens when you don't bother to perform basic cost-benefit analyses. Related to which, can we throw rotten fruit at Pistole every time he says these things are absolutely necessary, without showing us a copy of the analysis? This is not the sort of thing that requires secret classification, either.

4) While I'm glad that airports are opting out of this lunacy, I'll be surprised if the TSA doesn't somehow try to force them not to.

5) I'm also disappointed that this is an airport decision, rather than an airline decision. It's not the airport assets that are (per historical patterns) under attack, it's the airlines' assets. Maybe that's not a feasible way to run the opt-out at some airports, though.

Not only that, but the airports aren't going to see as much competitive pressure as the airlines. Not many cities have competition between airports, but many airports see competition between airlines.

6) I know I'll be resisting business travel as much as humanly possible, now. We have tele-conference and video-conference equipment. Maybe it's time to start using it.

Lets back up a minute and examine our reality:

Here is what is required to take down a domestic flight:

- access to an explosive small but powerful enough to do the job
- expertise to assemble same, or access to that expertise
- ability to get on a flight
- base competence to pull it off without screwing it up
- willingness to die doing it
- a minimal amount of luck

Basically what the shoe and underwear bomber had in mind should have worked had they met the competence requirement, and would still work with the minor modification of smuggling the explosive internally.

The interesting fact here for our purposes is that there is exactly ONE requirement that the TSA has any control over- who gets on a flight. All the kabuki in security is a total waste of time, and indeed has never caught or stopped a single would be terrorist. For the reason listed above, its unlikely it has even deterred an attempt.

Given all that, we had better draw some conclusions about just why we haven't seen any planes blown up. I can't prove it, by by inference it would appear that there just aren't a any competent people trying that are actually able to get on a US flight.

And the conclusion I would draw from this is that (like Israel in fact) we don't have much of an internal 'sleep cell' problem. We have an external 'raised in an anti-american Madrasah' problem in places like Yemen and Pakistan that accounts for by far the biggest threat.

If that is the case (and I believe is, take the logic as you like), our only realistic line of defense (given the above) is to keep those people off our jets, and guess what- that means profiling. Do we have to profile all Muslims? Certainly not. But do we need to profile everyone who's spent time in Pakistan or Yemen? For gods sake of course. I suspect the American people would be shocked if they considered that we don't. Just as it was shocking that UPS has been flying in packages from Yemen like they were coming from London.

That means we need cooperation from our allies in developing excellent profiles and histories of everybody flying into this country and where exactly they have spent their time. People that raise red flags in this way need to be given the Israeli type interviews.

This is our best defense, and note it would have red flagged both the underwear an shoe bomber.

My personal favorite TSA face-palm moment was brought about by a snippet from the bottom of this article via MSNBC

At the very end they let slip this little gem

Still, Lipp said the TSA knows there’s a problem. “This came up during a recent meeting of the agency’s disability advisory board and I expect to see a procedure coming in place shortly that will directly address the pat-down procedures for people with disabilities.”

Yep, they don't have a procedure for pat-downs of people with medical disabilities, and apparently despite similar stories going back months, only now does it seem they begin to grasp that they might just need one.

Is it really too much to ask of our government betters to put at least a little planning into things? I'm not asking them to be chess grandmasters, always thinking dozens of moves ahead, but it would be nice if they could manage 1 or 2.

Once again we stare in disbelief at this administration that looks like it's being advised by Laurel and Hardy.

Actually, MB, I think it's just that the attacks currently in vogue are a little harder to pull off than people expect. Remember, the Islamic style (for the moment) is to pull off truly gargantuan attacks that do huge property damage as well as killing people.

If all they wanted was death, they'd bring suitcase bombs in and detonate them in the closely packed security checkpoint lines. But that's not what they want. Their style is as much theater as our security is. (And I wish that were an attempt to be funny. It's not.)

Getting something small enough and energetic enough but with enough mass to catastrophically rupture an airframe and bring it down, without looking like a big metallic hand grenade without tripping any FBI tripwires is... well, it's not easy. Not impossible, but not easy.

(Aside from all the physics, chemistry and engineering concerns, I think what most people tend to ignore is that doing dry runs on these sorts of things tends to attract attention. But without a dry run or practice attempt, your odds go way down.)

There's some debate over whether the underpants bomb would have brought the aircraft down, too-- reports I've read indicated that obviously people would have died and the airframe would have been damaged, but probably not a full out breach and crash.

I'm not sure how this affects your argument, but take it for what it's worth.

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