The Terrorists Have Already Won

It is rare to find an issue that can unite libertarians, leftists, and conservatives in mutual outrage, but in the last week the U.S. Administration has succeeded in doing such a thing. Despite the brief “aww” moment of bipartisanship however, what I wish to make a few notes upon what is a morally odious practice that has received virtually no attention in the international media, yet one that has serious ramifications upon our freedoms. And one that if we are not careful, shall creep our way into Australia.

I am talking about the new security theatre regime installed by the Obama Administration at U.S. airports. As of last week, air travelers in the United States going through security screening at most modern airports have only two options: either go through a scanner that shall enable security personnel to – literally – see them naked, or be subjected to an “enhanced pat down” – one that is little different to the groping of a sexual pervert – one that, according to the Transport Security Agency guidelines, requires for the feeling up of travelers genitalia. And I am not exaggerating when I say that that is what occurs. The guidelines literally say this!

Now, as readers here will know, I have slightly more sympathy for pro-national security arguments than your average libertarian (what can I say, it’s the conservative bent in me J ) Yet this new policy strikes even me as perverse. For it will do nothing to increase security (I mean, come on, any terrorist will be able to find a way about the ban if they tried, and besides, these don’t even detect most weapons), and at the same time, it is a morally abhorrent violation of the rights of U.S. citizens. The whole charade of security theatre, and all the inefficient, costly measures that it has created that perhaps in the past I was willing to turn a blind eye to, has just gone waaaay too far. And don’t think, unless we act upon it, it can’t happen in Australia.

So. Let us get into the details. Under these new rules, travelers have a choice. They can either go through a scanner – one which numerous medical authorities have said have dangerous levels of radiation (Wired notes that “scientists have also expressed concern that radiation from the devices could have long-term health effects on travelers”.) – and one which  takes clear photos of them naked (yup, you can see just how  big their ‘junk’ is), or be subjected to a “pat down” – a euphemistic expression for a procedure in which TSA rules – and again, this isn’t hyperbole – demand agents feel the crotch of passengers (and, I ought mention, also thoroughly rub and examine  the breasts if they are female). Some commentators have gone so far to call it sexual molestation – and with some justification. Oh, and think you can opt out? Once you arrive at an airport, if you refuse the naked photography/groping – even if you choose not to board the plane – you can be fined $10,000

In anycase, if you choose the nudie-scanner approach, the images have been demonstrated to be able to be saved and leaked (just yesterday 35,000 images from a U.S. Marshall’s Office – images which were pledged to be erased after every screening –  were publicly released). Fortunately for those concerned, they were from an earlier generation of scanners, which are rather blurry. But yes, just wait till the full nudie-scanners hit the interwebs and be prepared to be a star!

So how’s this gone since introduction. Let’s see. TSA agents have already been recorded putting their hands down people’s pants, cupping and squeezing a traveler’s breasts, and traumatizing children (watch this clip of a three year old girl being accosted and judge for yourself). There are already reports that  machines are being used to ogle women (one TSA operative was caught out saying “heads up, I’ve got a cutie). And you already have  proof of TSA officials  use the body scanners to make fun of people’s genitals and who pretend to find cocaine in passengers’ luggage as a prank,, and even TSA Agents proudly boasting “I am God”. There are even reports that TSA agents are – quite literally – putting their hands down people’s pants .

Consider this story from a grope-survivor:

“I said I didn’t want them to see me naked and the agent started yelling “Opt out- we have an opt here”. Another agent took me aside and said they would have to pat me down. He told me he was going to touch my genitals and asked if I wouldn’t rather just go through the scanner, that it would be less humiliating for me. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I kept saying I don’t want any of this to happen. I was whispering please don’t do this, please, please.”

Since Celeste didn’t agree to go through the scanner, the enhanced pat down began. “He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength. He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it.””

A good friend of mine was so traumatized from her experience last week she cancelled her trip home to visit her family for Thanksgiving. Indeed, in the last week I have spoken to about 10 people who have travelled by air since this has  come in. Ever single one – whether they chose the naked scanner, or the grope – have been traumatized. And I’m not talking about crazy anarcho-capitalist libertarians only here. I’m talking about your average American, forced to be humiliated by the state.

Of course, this has nothing to do with safety. The hours long wait at airports has already forced many to abandon air travel, and, as driving is proven to be more dangerous than flying,  by one estimate, enhanced security procedures after 9/11 led to 2,300 additional road deaths in two years..  It is simply about government exercising its power.

Now, at this point, some of you may be scratching your heads wondering “why on earth is the Obama Administration doing this”. To which I chuckle to myself and extract the following from the Washington Examiner:

“Rapiscan is one of the two companies that makes the nudie-scanners at airports for the TSA. Rapiscan CEO Deepak Chopra … recently was tapped by Obama to accompany the administration on Obama’s trip to India. Also, Chopra is an Obama donor.”

But of course, that’s not all: “Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee.” Ah of course.

So this is where have have come to. The rights of citizens being trampelled upon due to a bootleggers-Baptist alliance of national-security fearmongers, and rent-seeking corporations. This is what our fear in the ‘war of terror’ has come to.  For good reason, the headline on the conservative Drudge Report (accompanied by a photo of a Catholic nun being felt-up by a TSA agent). read: The Terrorists Have Won. Because, if we have come to the stage where to board a plane you either have to be photographed naked, or groped by government operatives – when again there is no legitimate security requirement for this whatsoever, then we have a problem.

The only question is, what now Australia? For as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, I worry if we ignore this travesty, the same thing may happen here.

(Originally posted at Thoughts on Freedom, the official blog of the Australian Libertarian Society that you all ought follow!)

4 Responses to “The Terrorists Have Already Won”

  1. Frame Stock Blog Says:

    Freedom Dc Washington…

    […] ther flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and […]…

  2. Tweets that mention The Terrorists Have Already Won « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Andrews, Peter Neiger. Peter Neiger said: We lose. #TSA #terrorism #policestate […]

  3. Nick Says:

    (excessive comment tl;dr: the whole “nude” thing needs to be a little more carefully thought out; don’t try and fuck me with science because I will fuck you back; [unreliable citations/citation needed]; I want to agree, but you can be just a little bit too keen for your own good.)

    Tim, Tim, Tim. I just want you to know that a) I agree with you, and b) it hurts to agree with you because you disguise those occasional points I find legitimate in layers of garbage. We don’t and won’t agree on much, and I really want to be able to agree with you without getting cranky.

    1) The “nudie photographs” business is super questionable. For a start, how “nudie” the photos are depends on where you get the sample images from, so that’s not terribly informative. TSA and Gizmodo, straight off your links (one of which is broken, by the way) give completely different sets of images. The Gizmodo ones don’t even look like people much less naked people. The TSA ones… they definitely are human bodies sans clothing, but images of genitals are going to be distorted by multiple clothing layers interfering with the millimetre length radio waves (the more detailed scans), if visible at all.

    Breasts will be visible, but again I’m really not sure if the implied horror that the term “naked” is being used with. Moreover, as I don’t have breasts and have not had any of the social issues that go with having breasts, I’m not sure what my reaction would be in the case that I did. I’m not sure if it is the equivalent of being seen naked, in underwear, etc.

    The backscatter imaging… well, if that’s naked, then so is taking a picture of me fully clothed and using MS paint to colour all of my clothes the colour of my skin tone and calling that “naked.”

    2) More importantly, let’s turn to the “health warnings”. Excuse me Mr Andrews, but the first health source you quoted in your link above seems to be Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, aka that totally awesome dude who ‘landed’ that plane in the Hudson. Sure, he’s awesome, but unfortunately medical degrees and researcher positions require other qualifications than rad piloting skills and a heart of gold. Exposure to more radiation over time due to flying is not logically commensurate with the increase in radiation from the scanners.

    Also, note as above that there are *two different types of scanners.* Using two different types of radiation. One is millimetre length radio waves, which lie on that murky line between radio waves and infrared radiation. You know infrared, right? That stuff *that all radiated heat is.* Like, from fire, and incandescent bulbs and stuff. Okay? Okay.

    The other one is backscattered x-ray radiation, which is low energy x-ray radiation. It gets stopped on contact with skin (which is why the images are not “naked” to me in the relevant sense, because the stopping on contact with skin means that there is little to no spatial resolution, and thus no details). Now, Wired did say that scientists are worried. But considering the utility costs of inserting a hyperlink, and the lack of said hyperlink, I am skeptical about their information. Considering some of the rants you’ve gone on about the merits of adequate evidencing in policy debates (remember that whole climate change thing?), I’d expect a little better from you. Moreover, backscattered x-rays are super low energy, which they need to be in order to achieve sufficiently low penetration for the scanner to function. There is carbon in your body which packs a bigger punch than that. While the claim “might cause cell breakdown” is true, it is true only in the most trivial of senses. I’d be surprised if you’d be able to quantify it in a meaningful way in a risk analysis. Finally, (though you are opportunistically skeptical at the best of times, so this won’t hold much truck with you) the dosimetry information on xrays (i.e., what they do to people) is so immense that while it is in principle possible that the manufacturers are creating death traps, the level of negligence we are talking about it comically large. Should we check the machines? Hell yes. Is there a robust health related reason to adopt a precautionary approach (an approach, I might say, I find it surprising libertarians like yourself would ever countenance)? Not that I see, and certainly not that you’ve given.

    3) “Nothing to increase security” Really? Really? That’s the best you’ve got? That Cato article by Harper (who seems like a rad author by the way, and whose stuff I will be digging into more) doesn’t say that. It says that the benefits it might provide are far outweighed by the costs on a superficial analysis. Of course, there are limits to that analysis—Harper mentions the problems associated with risk transfer, is light on his treatment of the health risks (much as you are), and again is light on the “not all weapons” (which I’ll get to in a second.). It is interesting that he presses home the costs of invasions of privacy in a non-numerical form, once again causing my utter confusion that libertarians today spend so much time on utilitarian calculus. I mean, really kids, stick to what you are good at.

    So in the end, he’s raised some great talking points, and has given some insights. But his conversation of the actual risk analysis is predictably superficial, because actual risk analysis is *bloody hard work.* Certainly not a blog-length activity. Yet you’ve turned “oh hey, there are a bunch of complicated issues here” into “DOES NOT WORK GIANT CONSPIRACY.” Which is pretty predictable for you I guess, but I keep on hoping for more.

    4) Finally, let’s talk about the “doesn’t detect most weapons.” The article you cite, Andrews, actually says “will not detect *all* weapons.” You ever notice how one little word changes the implicature of a sentence? I suspect the answer is either a) you didn’t notice that little gaffe, b) you did and are an opportunistic little ragamuffin, using the well-established elite liberal bias of NPR to your own ends, or c) just didn’t really care. The *only* thing they said it doesn’t detect is cavity-inserted items. But that seems trivial if you think about it. Nothing in an airport except a metal-detector (f you are lucky and the object in question is metal) and a CAVITY SEARCH will pick out that bad boy anyway. Also, the entire point of the machines is that they are stopped on surface level contact so they can detect surface items, automagically precluding said cavities.

    All that said, I think it is a super problematic invasion of healthy rights to bodily integrity and privacy. I’m not sure we’d agree with the reasons why that is, but I’m pretty sure we can get on board the same bandwagon somewhere along the line. I’m also really unimpressed with the whole “TSA are hiring loads of assclowns into what might be the positions in the country which most readily combine ubiquity and the potential for the abuse of power.” They are super good reasons to condemn this move. Until a proper risk analysis is done and released by TSA, until they get their act together on decent hiring and accountability practices, and until they manage to navigate the issues regarding privacy, the scheme is bunk.

    I just think you could probably alienate less people by sticking to what you are good at, rather than shooting your mouth off with things that only have to be clicked on to be questioned. Moreover, stop distracting me from my thesis, fellowship applicaitons and writing journal articles just because you had the nerve to be wrong on the internet

  4. Nick Says:

    Oh, and I realised that NPR also mentioned thin explosives as another problematic detection. One more reason why TSA should be keelhauled for apparently not doing a thorough risk analysis and testing on the device. My bad.

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