Friday, December 17, 2010

The TSA Singers

Good Lord, they’re singing.

This column has been sharply critical of the TSA and its invasive screening procedures for American air passengers. Monitoring the TSA’s public responses to concerns raised by people across the country, one notices an unsettling selectiveness. In a chipper, useless hybrid of corporate communications and government-speak, the TSA responds to those matters it thinks it can manage, ignoring the major problems with its new system.

In case you’ve missed the last couple of months, the TSA has been ramping up its regime of full-body, naked scans of air travelers, complemented by intense pat-downs that amount to government-sanctioned sexual assault. Reports of abuse have been rampant, including the grotesque targeting of female travelers by male TSA officers, and questions about privacy, power, and how these procedures can possibly jibe with Americans’ Constitutional rights.

It was rightly to be hoped that as we move into the Christmas travel season, and as opposition to their vulgar policies grows, the TSA would remedy – or at least acknowledge – these glaring flaws.

Instead, we find they are singing Christmas carols. Yes, the TSA has returned to the headlines as a choir of its officers sings to travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

TSA supervisor and tenor Ernie Perez says he hopes to put a “positive face” on airport security, adding, “We’ve been taking a lot of heat for what we do.”

If I may be of some help here, Ernie, that’s because what you do is really, really wrong. This Christmastime, millions of Americans who want to be reunited with their families will be forced to run a groin-grabbing gauntlet erected by you and your colleagues. Your “positive face” doesn’t enter into it.

How many Americans have seen their holiday cheer darkened by anxiety, knowing that they, or their loved ones, will be subject to government-ordered nude photos and/or physical violation by TSA officers before their reunion can take place?

Perhaps the TSA singers hope to alleviate some of that anxiety by belting out a few holiday favorites, but here’s an even better move: Stop taking naked pictures of people and grabbing their intimate regions. It’s not much of a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but these are the times in which we live.

If, as the TSA insists, their officers are Americans like anyone else, understanding the concerns of the flying public, maybe they should stop singing and start protesting this twisted system. Why have we not seen that? Are TSA spokespeople so thoroughly committed to defending the indefensible, and are their ogling officers enjoying their new powers too much?

Perhaps, as their bizarrely cheerful public pronouncements suggest, the TSA folks actually feel they are winning this debate. But I doubt it. As employees, whether they work in communications or at airport gates, they must know that what they are doing is dead wrong, and a disgraceful violation of people’s dignity.

At least one TSA officer has had the sand to speak out and say as much. “I truly feel that it is morally and ethically wrong to do it,” an agent in Pittsburgh told CBS. “This does not make flying safer. It’s just taking away American citizens’ rights.” He noted that those who are most often singled out for extra scrutiny are seniors, lamenting, “Just the looks on their faces, some of them, the fear.”

So again, why has the TSA not made changes? Do they suppose this controversy will simply blow over? Again, I am doubtful.

An issue on which Charles Krauthammer, the ACLU, Ann Coulter, David Corn, Kathleen Parker, Jeff Jacoby and Alan Colmes all agree is one that has legs. Simply put, the TSA cannot win this fight with the American people and their Constitution.

In defense of their new rules, the TSA continues to wheel out a dopey, months-old poll, taken before Americans realized the detail of the naked scans, the vulgarity of the new pat-down procedures, or the capricious power of airport officers, showing widespread support for “full-body x-rays,” presented as a binary choice with “ethnic profiling.” But as the country’s mood shifts, and anger mounts, the TSA keeps humming along, calling us “customers” and acting as though we’re all on the same side.

The TSA is losing in the court of public opinion and, one can reasonably hope, they will lose some or all of the legal challenges being brought against them.

One of the many things we Americans do well is sue each other. It would be optimal for our national security officials to recognize the error of their ways on their own but, if a court order is what’s required to stop this madness, so be it.

But back to the TSA choir. If you want to give a gift to the American people, you can stop grabbing their groins and photographing them nude. This Christmas, TSA, just do the right thing.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.