Security or security theater?

by Wendy Thomson on March 30, 2012

The headline of this post comes from a Congressional grilling of the TSA held Monday, March 26th, in Washington. The hearing was led by Representative Darrell Issa, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Rep. Issa had requested Facebook comments before the hearing. He received about 350, and read some into the record. [Disclosure: my own comment was partially read into the record.]  I listened to the last half or so via webcast.

I actually had expectations of progress — only partially dashed. The problem with the hearing should have been evident when security expert Bruce Schneier was summarily dis-invited, at the request of the TSA. The only people giving live testimony were four TSA representatives (it took great restraint to use the word “representatives” instead of “shills”).

My takeaway? This was an exercise in Congressional grandstanding. There was the Representative who thought that everything would be better if the TSA were just more polite (Gerald Connolly), and if they offered to do their physical violations of passengers’ bodies in private.

There was the Representative who, as a licensed pilot, couldn’t understand why the program to train and allow pilots to carry loaded weapons was cut in half (Chip Cravaack).

There was the Representative who pointed out that TSA screeners are not trained as law enforcement officers (Marsha Blackburn).

There was the toothless comment that the scanners seemed ineffective (Jon Corbett: you made it all the way to the chambers of the House!) and were untested by independent third parties (Blake Farenthold).

This is stuff that those of you who read this blog have heard over and over. As a side note, I’m still bothered that the TSA keeps wrongly quoting the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) as having validated the backscatter machines as safe, and that nobody called them on it. I have that report: the NIST states that the machines have a radiation overshoot problem and that people should not routinely stand within the overshoot area.

Does no one testifying or asking the questions actually read these reports that are so loosely referenced?

Here’s what was missing: any discussion on the validity of “the mission” (as it was frequently referred to). The TSA defended pretty much everything with either “supporting the mission” or by apologist statements referencing that the TSA was only 10 years old, not 50, or 100, or even 200 (I kid you not.) Regarding VIPR, the TSA issued its canned response that the program presented a viable “visible deterrent.”

I thought about that last statement in the context of what I know. Many times in Iraq, police stations, police officers, and especially recruits have been targets of suicide bombers. The Hutaree, which recently had all sedition and conspiracy charges dismissed by a Federal judge, were accused of targeting the police. Even Timothy McVeigh was targeting “government authority.” DUH! For anyone of similar mindset, finding the VIPR “deterrent” present at a planned target would appear to be akin to winning the lottery.

I have a mind to call up Mr. Issa’s office and introduce myself as one of the commenters read into the record. I would like to tell him that the federal government has abjectly failed to prove that the “mission” is valid. The facts do not support it (see this and this).

Dear U.S. Representatives: TSA agents bringing me flowers and being as nice as pie will not make me magically accept being violated. Offering to violate me in private does nothing for me. “The mission” as defined is wildly excessive. It’s time to abort the public-facing part (you know: the in-your-face, we-assault-everybody, see-how-safe-we-are-keeping-you? theatrics) and revert the “mission” to those trained operatives (the ones wo aren’t two-week wonders trained only in the art of visual and manual prurience) that have over history been much more effective in protecting national interests.

Redefine your mission, ladies and gentlemen. What you have now is failure on all fronts.

(Photo: Flickr/Donkey Hotey)

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