GLEN COVE, NY — Recently, in the space of one week,
the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did the following:
• fired four agents for taking bribes to allow suitcases filled
with drugs to be brought on planes.
• put an employee to work without a prior background check
(as is often the case), only to later discover that she had previously
been fired as an airport screener.
• patted down a Congressman so hard it hurt him.
• pulled a seven-year-old girl off the boarding line to re-check
her crutches and leg braces, causing her and her family to miss their
Shortly after this eventful week, the TSA caused another family to
miss a flight because a computer error had listed their 18-month-old
baby as a terrorist. Wikipedia has posted several pages of complaints
about similar conduct over the last several years at wikipedia.org.
A Cornell University study found that airport screening has increased
the number of automobile accident deaths by causing people to travel
more by car and less by plane [Blalock, Garrick; Vrinda Kadiyali, Daniel
H. Simon (February 10, 2005). ["The Impact of 9/11 on Road Fatalities:
The Other Lives Lost to Terrorism". SSRN Electronic
Journal. Other studies cited in Wikipedia agree.
The TSA, which employees 45,000 agents, is riddled with inefficiency.
The TSA has a warehouse full of equipment it does not use, such as
screening devices that became obsolete before they were deployed. Waiting
for a recent flight, I observed three agents who came to the gate about
an hour before boarding. As we finally boarded, they did a “random” check
of some of the men’s briefcases. In contrast, San Francisco is
the largest airport that does its own screening and that does not use
the TSA. It operates much more inexpensively than the government agency
and with fewer delays.
The screening now done by TSA was previously handled by a mixture
of private and local government employees, including sheriffs’ deputies
and police officers. Local airports have a far greater incentive to
screen passengers efficiently than do employees of a massive bureaucracy.
Requests by local airports to return to the old system are routinely
rejected by the TSA, with no reason given.
The TSA is known for absurdities. We can take three ounces of toothpaste
on board in a three-ounce tube, but we cannot take two ounces on board
in a five-ounce tube. The TSA seems to have a peculiar obsession with
shoes, liquids, and gels, because these have been used in attempts.
Fixing the TSA around the edges or privatizing airport screening might
each help, but these are not real solutions. The solution is to rethink
the whole screening process, which was originally designed to keep
pistols off planes. This was an absurd idea. The Israelis, who run
the safest airline in the world, are much more likely to keep bad people
off their planes than pistols. We, in contrast, think that it is a
denial of the equal protection of the law if we screen suspects more
carefully than grandmothers, Congressmen, and two-year-olds. We send
our National Guard troops into railroad stations with loaded pistols
to prevent terrorism, but we will not allow them to carry pistols on
Pistols in the hands of soldiers, Congressmen, or plain upstanding
citizens make planes safer, not more dangerous. The 9/11 attack would
not have succeeded if a few pistols had been on board. Moreover, there
is no truth to the myth that pistols pose a serious threat of loss
of cabin pressure.
The screening has added liquids, gels, and explosive shoes to the
list with pistols. As long as we allow people whose religion tells
them to kill Christians on our planes, they will think of new and innovative
ways to hijack or blow up the planes. A few pistols in the right hands
cannot eliminate this threat entirely, but they would help. Screening
passengers for bad people rather than too much toothpaste is an essential
first step. Prescreening passengers to bypass security should be easy,
free of charge, and without fear of discrimination against suspect
The loss of liberty and dignity at the airport does nothing to make
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2012
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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