LIBERAL COLUMN: The relationship between your BMI and national security

BY JOSH MERLO
Liberal Columnist

Airports — the source of much consternation for the seasoned traveler and the rookie aviator alike. The reason for this universal annoyance stands self-importantly in their uniforms, checking bags and waving people through metal detectors and full body scanners: members of the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA is reviled by all as a necessary evil; suffering the indignity of a full body pat-down is preferable to being disintegrated by a bomb at 35,000 feet. Having total strangers view your body all-but-naked as you stand self-consciously in an elliptical cylinder that pumps you full of radiation is preferable to a hijacker sneaking aboard your plane.

Then again, what sort of success rate does the TSA actually have with its beefed-up security protocols? Does confiscating someone’s peanut butter or toothpaste really help national security? Do invasive full body pat-downs truly make our country safer, or are they just another excuse for the TSA to humiliate those who dare not cooperate with the vaunted standard operating procedures of such a powerful federal agency?

To summarize these and other questions: is the TSA justified in imposing on so many individual freedoms?

The answer to the above should not be difficult to arrive at: no. If you cannot reach this conclusion, please conduct the following experiment. Arrange for a flight, go to the airport, and allow yourself to be processed by security. At the end of your ordeal, ask yourself this: do you feel any safer? If a sense of unease lingers in your mind – if you question whether under-qualified, vindictive, rude and otherwise unimpressive members of humanity can identify terror threats – perhaps then you can understand a position against the TSA. After all, security of any kind is always dependent on its weakest link. The TSA is undoubtedly the weakest part of a chain that includes the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and the armed forces.

Even more to the point, their methods of detection (the TSA’s, in this case) are historically ineffective. The TSA is culpable, to an extent, in most major failures of flight security. Encouragingly, however, they make sure to always adjust protocols after attempted or successful acts of terrorism. Instead of proactivity, the branch of the government associated with keeping the skies safe prefers reactivity, a perfect recipe for losing the high-stakes game of counter-terrorism.

To further illuminate the problems of the TSA, we turn to a recently-published article. Written by Jason Harrington, the article — entitled “Dear America, I Saw You Naked: And Yes, We Were Laughing. The Confessions of an ex-TSA Agent.” — details both the sheer incompetence and the abuses of power present within the TSA.

Described in the article: agents ordering pat-downs of passengers for reasons of petty dislike; the dismissal of the full-body scanner as ineffective junk by technical experts; the lack of professionalism within the TSA, up to the point of agents mocking the physique of people within the full-body scanner or using back rooms devoted to monitoring scanner results for amorous enterprises; even a list of the various slang terms agents used to indicate an attractive female. Taken in their totality, these marks against the TSA come very near to damning.

How does laughing at the amount of fat carried by an overweight individual make an aircraft safer? In what way does stealing a pilot’s fingernail clippers (out of the fear that he might hijack his own plane) make the world a safer place? Do dull members of the TSA who cannot do basic arithmetic without breaking out in a sweat belong in front of the monitors that show the contents of bags?

To conclude, national security is all well and good. At the same time, invasion of privacy is something that needs to be taken seriously. The TSA, the NSA and agencies like these should not be allowed to do what they do with impunity. Accountability must be introduced into their ranks. And, to those who decry the loss of protection that might result from the reigning-in of various federal agencies, there is but one response: does knowledge of your body-mass index really impact national security?

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