Saturday, November 27, 2010

Was It Worth the Hype?

When it started, we thought we could help by providing some common sense and facts. We couldn't.

After it caught on and flooded the internet, we thought our friends would at least pay more than lip service to respect and listen to us. Most did, but many didn't.

Now that the initial shock is over, a lot of people are asking, "That's it? What was that all about?" We tried to tell you. The whole TSA Pat Down Conflagration is not worth getting your panties in a bunch.

This was hardest on my lovely TSA bride. This girl is no wilting flower, and she can take a joke. Heck, if you visit her blog, you see that she can dish the satire as well as anyone.

But after the "scope or grope" jokes wore thin, and the exchanges turned mean-spirited, we both got a little angry. One alleged friend exploded his Facebook feed with every scandalous allegation of TSA wrong-doing he could find - repeatedly suggesting that the new screening procedures amounted to government mandated child molestation. When asked to tone it down and look at the facts behind the stream of half-baked conspiracy, he claimed that HE was the one being demonized! He never said that Kate was part of the problem... just anyone working for TSA who followed their new, evil procedures. How dare we question the facts HE was finding, and try to tell him to accept the skewed TSA propaganda!

The good news is that reactions to the media were not all this extreme. We live in a complex world, and people do tend to be nuanced in their behavior, even if it seems they are behaving as a herd. And I'm happy to concede that this is not a simple issue. In fact, that's my main argument in favor of taking a step back and trying a bit harder to avoid oversimplifying it.

You can't blame any one group or organization for the situation we're in - except maybe for the actual terrorists. Since they recruit from all over, you can't profile on race - and even if you did, how would you profile terrorists? Even if you were to only target Muslims, as some have been demanding, how would you identify them visually? Never mind that racial profiling simply won't make you safe.

Unfortunately, you can't just swear off flying - our so-called free market doesn't have any reasonable choices (of trains, buses, or cars) available to allow that. The trains don't go all the way, the buses are crowded with people you don't want to travel with, and the cars don't drive themselves (at least not yet).

What DO I suggest? Before you fly - before you buy your ticket - visit and look at what the actual regulations are. Look at the list of prohibited items, and DON'T BRING THEM. You don't need knives, shampoo, chainsaws, or gallon jugs of cologne in the cabin of an aircraft, so put those things in your checked bags. Trying to save money on luggage charges? Mail those things to yourself in advance, or break down and buy them at WalMart when you arrive at your destination.

These are not "intrusive government mandates" - these are common sense tips that would be true regardless of security procedure.

And what about the "naughty pictures" and the sexual harassment allegations? Those things are ALREADY against the rules. TSA officers ought to know better, and if you see any of that going on, or if it happens to you, report it.

My challenge for you: look behind the stories that you see. Follow up for yourself on the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy (John Tyner) in San Diego, and answer this question: did anyone involved, whether Tyner or the TSA, *actually* get into trouble? Was anyone convicted of a crime or served a reprimand of any kind? What about all of the child molestation allegations? Did anyone get charged with anything? If no, then is there anything happening that you should be upset about, and if yes, then isn't justice being served?

You're right to be on your toes. Stay vigilant. Watch your children closely, especially in any public place. And when there is any kind of authority figure involved, remember to be respectful, listen to and follow reasonable directions, and most importantly - STAY CALM.

Because when you let the hype send you in looking for a fight, you're more likely to cause one.

Meanwhile, how did the big travel week turn out? There was supposed to be a big "Opt Out Day" protest; my lovely bride was braced for a lot of smug jerks to come through and drop their trousers, trying to get on TV. Instead, the passengers were better prepared, more polite, and easier to deal with than usual. Many came through and thanked the TSA officers for the job they do. Some asked, "Is that the pat down I've been hearing about on TV? What's the big deal?"

For all of the muckraking, shouting, and yellow journalism, the public actually came through. And there is a lesson there, too, I think.


Suzanne said...

Well said!!!!!!! An extra big hug to Kate for everything she does, what she puts up with (you included), and for keeping us safe. =) ~ Suzy

Rob Carlson said...

Most security professionals endorse random security checks since ethnic-based profiling is filled with bias and only puts the odds in your favor until the group you are trying to detect recruits from someone outside your profile -- at which time the odds become staggeringly against detection. So when I see a picture of a 80 year old catholic nun going through a magnetometer, I don't have any problem with it, and actually feel like that might be a positive safety measure.

To the point of what people do and don't need inside an airline cabin, I disagree that the current methods are useful or even relevant. Pocketknives were fine until someone used razor blades. Shoes stayed on everybody's feet until someone tried to set theirs on fire. Nobody complained about oversized hair spray bottles until binary explosives were the threat du jour.

Responding to yesterday's threat is the hallmark of a lumbering and overly bureaucratic security apparatus, and doesn't make us any safer. If a water or shampoo bottle has _any_ chance of being half of a binary explosive, why would a screener throw it into a common trash bin in the middle of the checkpoint? A reasonable response would be to isolate and destroy it as you would any other explosive.

So why aren't we doing that? Because nobody actually believes that travelers are bringing binary explosives in their shampoo, but John Pistole needs to make sure his backside is covered for every attack mode that's ever been tried before. Since that CYA is as simple as restricting items available to travelers, they get couched as "security measures" and the traveling public are forced to cater to rules that don't actually make them safer.

Tad said...

Thank you, Suzy!

And Rob, I think most security professionals (including those at TSA who actually have a security background) would tend to agree that protecting against "yesterday's threat" is a frustrating non-starter... however, there is a lot that the general public isn't told about security procedures precisely because you don't want to put too much information in the hands of tomorrow's threat.

I think the key to this is for everyone to examine what they think is "unreasonable" about these searches, because that is the word used in the Fourth Amendment. Then figure out who decides what is and isn't "unreasonable" - and take your issues up with them.