This is just horrible... I'd much rather be blown up by a terrorist than be reduced to this crap. -- Commenter on TSA's official blog (blog.tsa.gov)
IT'S BEEN A JOKE around the world for years that Americans will tolerate any act of malfeasance from their leaders as long as it's not a sex scandal, an area about which we as a nation seem extraordinarily sensitive.
It's strangely appropriate, then, that a sex scandal might be the thing that brings change to our country's broken airport security system.
The news that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA, which critics now say should stand for Total Sexual Assault) will be using "enhanced" pat-down techniques -- for those who opt out of being screened by the invasive new X-ray "backscatter" machines -- has hit the public consciousness like a thunderbolt.
When a YouTube video of the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy goes viral, you know it's a water cooler story. When the sports radio dude I listen to rants about getting his junk touched at the airport, you know the story's gone Middle America.
As someone who, mostly unpopularly, railed against the loss of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11 -- warrantless wiretaps, waterboarding, indefinite detention, etc. -- I'm pleasantly surprised that Americans have finally found a bright line over which they don't want to cross.
The fact that we had to get all the way to legalized sexual assault is still a pretty sad comment, however.
The backscatter machines in and of themselves are bad enough. These X-ray-based devices -- in addition to heightening your risk of getting cancer -- literally see you naked, every contour of every part of the surface of your body.
Young, old, female, male, pubescent, prepubescent, doesn't matter. That $9 an hour TSA worker will see it all.
The brand name of the machines is "Rapiscan." I'm not making that up.
In response to the uproar over the backscatter machines, TSA came up with a typically cruel and stupid split-the-baby solution that only a bureaucrat could love: Allowing passengers to opt instead for an "enhanced pat-down" by a TSA worker.
"Pat-down" is a euphemism, since the technique involves aggressively prodding the passenger's private parts, from crotch to breasts. If you don't believe me, read some of the hundreds of first-person accounts popping up online. They are quite graphic, and they are taking place every day at airports all over the country.
I'm a grown man, so honestly it's less of an issue with me. But I can't imagine what a woman, or a child, or a previous victim of sexual assault, or a masectomy patient with reconstructive surgery would think of this humiliating and powerless experience at the hands of a total stranger, in a place where the slightest hint of protest can get you bumped off a flight or even arrested.
Parents who have tried to inculcate a "good touch, bad touch" style of education with their kids are now confronted with a painful dilemma: Telling their kids that bad touches are OK when an hourly government worker in a uniform does it.
That, or go through a machine where a stranger will be able to see every inch of your nude body while you stand still with your hands over your head -- the same pose you assume when you're mugged at gunpoint.
Or in this case, surrendering -- surrendering the last vestige of your dignity to maintain the government's politically correct policy that everyone is equally likely to be a terrorist, and everyone is equally under suspicion.
If the government was really intent about stopping terrorism, TSA would focus on scanning all cargo that goes in the airplanes, which they don't currently do.
They'd recognize that a long, backed-up line at an airport checkpoint is just as juicy a target as the airplane itself.
They'd hire qualified employees and train them well instead of considering the agency as a massive jobs program -- a jobs program which now is likely to attract some pretty weird applicants!
And they might consider a more realistic approach in determining who is more likely to be a terrorist.
For those of you -- and there are many -- who will trot out the old chestnut, "We must do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism," I have a simple, if uncomfortably graphic, response:
What if a terrorist is caught with an explosive device inside their rectum, as drug mules have done with narcotics for years? And the federal government in its continuing wisdom decides that a full rectal search by TSA will be required of every passenger?
Not just you, but your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter, your son?
Are you still going to say "whatever it takes?" As you bend over?
When "whatever it takes" involves losing your last shred of basic human dignity and violating long-held social standards of sexual propriety and modesty, can we not say the terrorists really have won?
I'd remind you that Osama Bin Laden is still running free while we discuss whether or not to legalize molestation in the name of security. I'd say the scoreboard is pretty clear on who got the better end of that particular deal, wouldn't you?
Ironically considering the bogus "controversy" over Islamic Sharia law in the U.S., this is one area where Sharia law actually knows best. Several Muslim countries have banned the use of the backscatter machines in airports on the basis that they violate Muslim standards of decency and modesty. Good for them.
Most significantly, the nation of Israel -- a perpetual terrorist target of there ever was one -- uses neither backscatter machines nor sexually invasive frisking techniques for airport security.
If we were reasonable, we'd take that as a pretty serious cue. But alas, in this country there are lucrative contracts for political cronies to be awarded, new labor unions to be created and pandered to, and as always quaint notions of constitutional freedom to be abused at whim.
During his encounter with TSA in San Diego, the "don't touch my junk" dude, John Tyner, was told by a TSA worker that "By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights."
If one of the rights we forfeit is the right to be free of sexual assault, then we may as well wave the white flag of surrender, because we have lost the war.