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False Choices and Airport Security

First a Hand on Your Crotch, Next a Boot in Your Face

by MICHAEL SCOTT

If the American public does not stand up and oppose the TSA enforced false choice between potentially dangerous irradiating body scanners or what amounts to federally mandated sexual harassment, then the Republic is almost certainly lost.(1) In the cause of fighting the ‘war on terror,’ the evisceration of the Bill of Rights will have finally been achieved. Americans must draw the proverbial line in the sand over this issue. The body scans and the invasive pat downs violate the fourth amendment. Despite the statements issued by the TSA, American citizens do not cede their constitutional rights when they buy a plane ticket or enter an airport.

John Pistole, director of the TSA, and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, have been all over the media defending the new TSA patdowns and body scanners. Both have said that the new procedures are a must for airport security in the wake of the ‘underwear bomber’ and the recent attempted use of explosive laced ‘toner bombs.’ Both attacks were purportedly organized by the Yemeni based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

After the underwear bomber’s attempt to blow himself up on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the DHS rushed to deploy body scanners – some of which had already been purchased – at airports across the US. One of the primary advocates for the use of body scanners or the more politically correct ‘advanced imaging technology’ (AIT), is former DHS head Michael Chertoff. Secretary Chertoff’s advocacy of body scanners dates back to at least 2005. After leaving DHS, Chertoff founded the Chertoff Group, a consultancy firm whose corporate logo is an iron spiked closing portcullis.(2)

The Chertoff Group represents the primary manufacturer of body scanners, Rapiscan, which is set to make billions of dollars off the sale and maintenance of the body scanners. In the days after the attempted underwear bombing, Chertoff made the rounds on the cable news talk shows where he stressed the necessity of deploying body scanners. Of course Chertoff failed to disclose the fact that his company represented Rapiscan. Chertoff is not alone in having conflicting interests: a competing manufacturer of body scan systems, American Science and Technology, has retained the services of two former TSA administrators who are now acting as lobbyists.(3)

Thanks to the botched bombings and the efforts of Chertoff and lobbyists, the largely untested and potentially dangerous scanners are set to replace the traditional metal detectors at airports across the country. This despite the fact that a number of security experts have said that the scanners would not have stopped Umar Farouk, the underwear bomber.(4) The scanners are not able to detect substances or items hidden in human cavities: a tactic AQAP used in an attempt to assassinate Prince Nayef, the Saudi counter-terrorism head. Alternatives like the much less expensive and extensively tested use of bomb sniffing dogs were not considered despite the fact that well trained dogs are far more likely to detect a bomb hidden in a human cavity in addition to being able to detect traces of substances used in explosives on a person’s clothes or body.(5) No doubt it is much harder to make a profit off of training dogs, and the dogs would require skilled and well trained handlers.

Bomb sniffing dogs and electronic trace detection systems do not require what seems to be really desired by DHS and the TSA: submission and submissive behavior. It is not accidental that passengers are made to put their hands above their heads in what is the internationally recognized sign for ‘I surrender’ when they enter the body scanners. It is not accidental that men and women are forced to watch their partner’s, husbands, wives, and children’s bodies being forcibly prodded by employees of a government agency.

Since 9/11, we have given up many of our rights and our government has condoned practices like torture, legalized assassination, kidnapping, indefinite detention without access to council or trial – all in the name of keeping us ‘safe’ and ‘free’. We have adopted practices and behaviors that we used to abhor in other nations and regimes. These practices, as demonstrated by the TSA, have nothing to do with keeping us safe or free – quite the opposite.

If the American government were truly concerned about ‘safety’ and ‘freedom’, it would be reexamining its intelligence gathering and assessment capabilities as well as its foreign policy. The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk, should have never been allowed on the flight. His name was on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list.(6) His father, one of the wealthiest men in Nigeria, personally warned the US embassy in Lagos that his son was likely involved with terrorist groups.(7) Still Umar Farouk, who paid cash for a very expensive ticket, who flew a suspicious and circuitous route from Yemen, and who had no luggage, was allowed on the flight in Amsterdam. Our multi-billion dollar collection of intelligence services were supposedly unable or unwilling to stop Umar Farouk.

This failure is what should have been rigorously investigated. Instead, DHS and TSA used the ‘underwear bombing’ as an excuse to roll out new security procedures aimed at the American public while the CIA and the US military expanded its covert (though not so covert if you are Yemeni) war in Yemen. A strategy which is largely organized around the use of drones and cruise missiles to bomb suspected al-Qaeda targets.(8) So far more civilians, namely women and children, have been killed than al-Qaeda operatives. Every one of those women and children killed has a father, husband, or brother who will now be justifiably bent on revenge. Rather than focusing on aid, which Yemen desperately needs, we are going to give them more weapons – a 150 million dollars worth for 2010.(9) This strategy will no doubt be as much of a success as similar strategies have been in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The TSA and DHS may have done the country a favor by implementing such draconian and unconstitutional practices. They might just make us remember what the US once stood for and what a monumental accomplishment our Bill of Rights is for all of humanity. They might have reminded some of us what is worth fighting for and what it really means to be free. Freedom most certainly does not mean that when you enter an airport, that you are the prisoner of the TSA and subject to the whims of often poorly trained ‘agents’ on a power trip. Freedom does not mean being forced to stand by as your child has a stranger rub his or her hands all over him or her. Freedom does not mean that we must submit to dehumanizing searches in the name of safety. Our forefathers and all those men and women deployed around the world in the armed services did not and are not fighting for the right of a government agency to force Americans in to making a false choice between passing through a radiating naked body scan or being felt up.

MICHAEL SCOTT writes about the Middle East for a variety of publications.

Notes.

1. http://www.scribd.com/doc/35498347/UCSF-letter-to-Holdren-concerning-health-risks-of-full-body-scanner-TSA-screenings-4-6-2010

2. http://chertoffgroup.com/cgroup/

3. http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/01/airport-scanner-scam

4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/are-planned-airport-scanners-just-a-scam-1856175.html

http://www.newstatesman.com/law-and-reform/2010/01/terrorism-security-scanners

5.http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-10/after-19-billion-spent-six-years-pentagon-realizes-best-bomb-detector-dog

6. http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?ID=234 (see Kennedy statment as well as video feed)

7. http://abcnews.go.com/WN/bombers-phone-call-father/story?id=9457361

8. http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/yemen-images-missile-and-cluster-munitions-point-us-role-fatal-attack-2010-

9. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE61L4L120100222