There are two main issues surrounding the big stink over the TSA’s new policies. The first, which I addressed in my last post on the topic, is the 4th Amendment. Purchasing an airline ticket and attempting to board a flight does not constitute probable cause to justify the kinds of invasive searches these government agents are putting people through. Some pretty basic pre-screening criteria could fix that, but the government is so afraid of accusations of racial profiling that they simply refuse to take the common-sense approach, opting instead for the foolish shotgun approach, hoping that they just so happen to randomly select the terrorists for heightened screening measures.
The other issue has to do with the TSA’s modus operandi: they operate primarily as a reactionary agency, which is not an efficient way to stop terrorism.
On 9/11, Muslim extremists hijacked airplanes using box cutters. In response, the newly-formed TSA immediately banned sharp objects on airplanes.
Then, Richard Reid tried to detonate explosives he had smuggled aboard a plane in his shoes. In response, the TSA began requiring all passengers to have their shoes X-rayed.
Then, authorities were able to stop a plot to blow up airliners using liquid & gel explosives that were to be smuggled aboard planes in bottles. In response, the TSA began restricting the amounts of liquids and gels that passengers could bring onto planes (which would not stop a bombing if enough people brought their 3 oz. of explosives on board and combined them together).
Now, the TSA is responding to the Christmas Day bomber, who smuggled explosives on board a plane in his underwear. However, there have been conflicting reports about whether the full body scanners would have detected the type of explosives the bomber had in his underwear – I’ve seen reports saying that the body scanners would have stopped the attack before the terrorist boarded the plane, and I’ve seen other reports stating that the body scanners would not have detected the type of explosive he was using.
Either way, the TSA, since its inception after 9/11, has primarily adjusted its policies in response to whatever method has been used in the latest terror attack. This should work fine, as long as the terrorists try to smuggle knives, or explosive-laden shoes onto an airplane, or end up being randomly selected to have a TSA agent check out their explosive-laden jockey shorts. With this kind of reactionary strategy, all the terrorists have to do is use a tactic that they haven’t used in the past – something the TSA isn’t currently specifically screening for. For example, the full body scanners and pat-downs wouldn’t detect explosives smuggled in a body cavity – so if that tactic is used in an attack in the future, will the TSA then begin requiring random body cavity searches for airline passengers? Where does it end?
This is why the TSA’s current policy shift won’t work: not only does it violate people’s Constitutional rights, but as long as the terrorists keep innovating and coming up with new ideas, they will continue to out-think the TSA, and innocent Americans will continue to be put at risk. This is why El-Al style screening measures make so much more sense: these screening measures are proactive, not reactive.
As it is now, the TSA isn’t looking for terrorists at all, they are looking for bombs and weapons. The government’s politically-correct fear of accusations of racial profiling have forced TSA agents to look for things, not to seek out the people that would use the bombs or weapons to attack America. By removing the human element and looking only for the terrorists’ tools, the TSA remains only marginally effective, and chances are they won’t be able to prevent the next attack.