TSA’s procedures don’t make anyone safer

by Sommer Gentry on February 28, 2012


In response to a pro-TSA editorial in the Asbury Park Press, I maintain that not only does the TSA fail in its mission of protecting passengers, but that it actually harms our security by its actions. That the TSA fails in its stated goal of keeping prohibited items off airplanes is amply demonstrated by its 70% failure rate in testing, and the continuing presence of loaded handguns and box cutters on flights.

And how does TSA make us less safe?  Let me count the ways:

The TSA creates vulnerabilities by breaching the integrity of our closed and locked luggage. Hundreds of screeners have been arrested for stealing from passengers. Screener theft betrays a serious security vulnerability, because a dishonest person with access to take things out of your bags is a dishonest person who could be bribed to put something into your bags. In fact, this has already happened with the TSA’s drug smuggling rings: how does the screener know whether it’s meth or explosives in that sealed container?

The TSA concentrates people in enormous lines right outside the checkpoint, creating a target of opportunity for a bomber who wouldn’t ever be screened. A bombing of the unsecured part of the airport happened just last year in Russia. A study by RAND corporation about security at LAX concluded that:

. . . lines at baggage check-in . . .  are an attractive target. For example, a terrorist could bring a substantial bomb concealed in luggage with little risk of arousing suspicion. Similarly, lines outside terminals (e.g., for curbside check-in) are dangerous because they make an attractive target for a vehicle bomb.

The TSA irradiates pregnant women and children with unnecessary X-rays. The Rapiscan body scanners — the ones with the flat blue walls — emit ionizing radiation, which is known to cause cancer.  It would be impossible to conduct any meaningful study of the safety of these scanners, but luckily we do not need a new study. We need only heed the National Research Council’s Committee to Assess Health Risks from Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation report:

The committee has concluded that there is no compelling evidence to indicate a dose threshold below which the risk of tumor induction is zero.

To translate that last sentence to English, ionizing radiation at any dose causes cancers, although lower doses cause fewer cancers. The TSA thinks exposing you to cancer-causing radiation makes you safer. But scientists beg to differ.

The TSA forces people with poor balance or in wheelchairs to walk without their walkers or canes, to totter through metal detectors and body scanners, so it’s just a matter of time until a passenger breaks a hip trying to comply with these bullies.

The TSA trains children to be vulnerable to sexual predators by teaching children the lesson that anyone with a badge gets to reach inside their clothing and rub them on the body parts that their bathing suits cover.

Finally, the TSA’s abusive searches of innocent people cause many of us to drive to our destinations instead of flying. Flying is by far the safest long-distance travel mode, and discouraging flying causes road deaths.

Garrick Blalock, Vrinda Kadiyali, and Daniel H. Simon have published “The Impact of Post‐9/11 Airport Security Measures on the Demand for Air Travel” in a peer-reviewed journal. They found that “a decrease of 1 million enplanements leads to an increase of 15 driving-related fatalities.”

It is not trivial to estimate exactly how many would-be flyers have been dissuaded from flying by the TSA’s searches, but a diversion of 1 million flyers would be less than two-tenths of a percent of flights. Surely with all the media attention to complaints about intrusive searches, two-tenths of a percent or more of travelers have changed their plans. I know that I have converted as much of my travel as practicable to Amtrak and long road trips.

The TSA’s security theater and sexually humiliating rituals are literally killing people on the roads.

Discouraging air travel costs lives. Lest the reader assume this is a step too far, remember that this is identical to the reasoning that the FAA used to decide whether to require parents of children under 2 years old to buy separate seats for child restraint systems. Buckling children under 2 years old on airplanes would on rare occasions prevent injuries and deaths from turbulence.

But requiring parents to buy one more seat would increase the cost of flying and push so many families onto the road that 9 children would die in car accidents for every air death prevented. That’s why the FAA allows passengers to fly without purchasing seats for children under 2. This chain of logical reasoning was good enough for the FAA, but not, apparently, for the TSA, which is impervious to facts.

We are all made much less safe by the TSA’s offensive and degrading treatment of passengers.  The TSA can no longer pretend that it cares about our safety. If the TSA cared about our safety, it would return to the walk-through metal detectors — which detect guns, knives, etc. — and non-sexualized searches that do not demean and humiliate people.

(Photo: Flickr/Lauren Coleman)

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