Can We Spare Denver Passengers TSA?


By now, pretty much everyone has heard about John Tyner, the Oceanside, CA man who reasserted his individual dignity by refusing to submit to either the option of groping or self-pornification in the service of what Reason‘s Matt Welch (and now, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) calls, “security theater.”  You know, the fellow that TSA has decided to make an example of for us all.

In addition to being large, impersonal, and top-heavy, what really worries critics is that the TSA has become dangerously ineffective. Its specialty is what those critics call “security theater” — that is, a show of what appear to be stringent security measures designed to make passengers feel more secure without providing real security. “That’s exactly what it is,” says Mica. “It’s a big Kabuki dance.”

It’s good to see that someone – one of the authors of the original TSA legislation, no less – is telling us that yes, indeed, all this stuff is to make us feel better, not actually to make us safer.  I’ll grant that there is something to the operational theory that ever-changing rules and oddly intrusive regulations keep the bad guys off-balance and force them to take risks that make failure and detection more likely.  Except that the underwear bombers and the ink toner bomber weren’t really stopped because the system worked, were they?

It’s not often I disagree with Dennis Prager outright, but this morning, he and guest Michael Fumento were seeking to defuse the panic over the scanners.  Now, Fumento has a creditable history of taking on irrational public fear – see last year’s swine flu plague that swept away civilization, for instance.  But in this case, they’re not taking into account that the TSA has dealt with us in bad faith over these scanners from the beginning.  We were assured, for instance, that pictures could not be stored or shared.  Which is why they’re all over the Net.

The fact is that these options are insulting, intrusive, humiliating, and demeaning, and the sort of thing that a free people should never have to put up with simply to get from point A to point B.  The argument from Big Sis that they’re absolutely necessary, that nothing else will do, that no other solution short of Amtrak or Greyhound is possible, is pretty rich coming from a Lilliputian government that routinely ties down its citizens and businesses with regulations, and then excuses the extra cost on the grounds that they can always find a work-around.

It’s time for Big Sis to find a work-around.  And not the current SPOT program.

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.

Now, Mica has written another letter to over 150 airport administrators reminding them that they can opt out of TSA, and hire private contractors for screening instead.  At one point, this seemed to be an attractive option for many airports.  In 2004, Mica tried to remind them of the option, but Peter DiFazio (D-Public Employees Unions) suspected a nefarious Bush plot to continue reducing the size of government.

Since the rules actually state that security screeners have the right to use their judgment in determining which screening methods to use, presumably passengers at private security wouldn’t feel it necessary bring a wad of one-dollar bills to get them through security.

In most places, citizens lack the means to force their local airports to do this.  The good news is that we do.  DIA is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver.  With Denver’s municipal elections coming up in May, there’s no reason we couldn’t place a ballot measure requiring DIA to transition to private, non-union, security contractors within a year.

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