Politics and Public Opinion

The Dept. of Homeland Security Increasingly Resembles Its Name

janet-napolitannoOne of the best things about AEI is that there’s no institutional position on anything. And so it is in this fine tradition of the organization that I say to my colleagues Marc Theissen and Danielle Pletka, I beg to differ. About the TSA, I mean. On this one, I’m foursquare with another AEI colleague, Alex Pollock.

Long before the new TSA policies were announced, it has been evident that Americans who fly are required to endure harassment because the U.S. government hasn’t the honesty to deal with threats to airplane terrorism sensibly. In conversations, I’ve suggested a thought experiment: Give people a choice between two airlines. One airline is secured by the current system. The other airline has its passengers walk down a corridor, at the end of which sit a couple of retired New York homicide dicks who occasionally point to someone and say, “You—I want to talk to you,” and pull him out of the line. Everyone else walks onto the plane. Which airline would you choose?

Now make it a little more realistic. It’s not a couple of retired homicide dicks eyeing the people walking down the corridor, but many experienced law enforcement agents with special training on terrorist profiling, backed up by the unimaginably extensive real-time, anti-terrorism databases that U.S. intelligence maintains, linked with passenger lists and the same requirements for passenger identification that exist now. That’s good enough for me. I bet a large majority of passengers would agree with me, especially if the extent of the intelligence available to screeners were known.

To take the current system, which is already awful, and add additional humiliations to Americans whose probability of being terrorists is precisely zero, is outrageous. As usual, Peggy Noonan, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer have said it better than I can.

When the Department of Homeland Security was created, the very name was unsettling. “Homeland” sounded vaguely totalitarian, a word that the Third Reich or USSR propagandists might use, not a word in the American lexicon. In the wake of 9/11, a lot of us swallowed our objections and muttered, “Well, okay, but be careful how far you take this stuff.” What’s happening at the TSA is why we were apprehensive.

Image by the Center for American Progress.

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