Tag: TSA

After bin Laden

As Chris Preble noted early Monday morning, Osama bin Laden is dead. In addition to celebrating V-OBL Day, we should take a moment to reflect on wars of the last decade and the civil liberties we have sacrificed since September 11, 2001. Malou Innocent makes the case for reconsidering our foreign policy, and Jim Harper asks if he can have his airport back. We lay out these thoughts in more detail in this Cato video, After bin Laden.

The phrase “after bin Laden” has a nice ring to it. Cato held counterterrorism conferences in 2009 and 2010, and there’s more Cato work on counterterrorism and homeland security here.

Can I Have My Airport Back Please?

Even while it was a rumor that President Obama would announce that Osama bin Laden had been killed, Americans began to digest the ramifications, asking, for example, “can I have my airport back please?”

Pleasing though it is to have in contemplation, the question is premature. Students of terrorism, such as those who attended our 2009 and 2010 counterterrorism conferences, know that the killing of bin Laden will have little direct effect on the network he spawned. Its indirect, discouraging effect on terrorism is something I mused about in an earlier post.

What about the effects on the rest of us, the people and actors in our great counterterrorism policymaking apparatus?

Osama bin Laden’s survival helped shore up the mystique of the terrorist supervillain, which has fed counterterrorism excess such as the Transportation Security Administration’s domestic airport security gauntlet. Now that bin Laden is gone, the public will be more willing to carefully balance security and privacy in our free country. By a small, but important margin, courts will be less willing to indulge extravagant government claims about threat and risk.

My friends in the national security bureaucracy may honestly perceive the contraction in their power as carelessness about a threat that they have dedicated their professional lives to combating, but the Declaration of Independence touts security only once, and freedom twice, in the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The counterterrorism debate continues.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: Congressional investigators are in Arizona to gather information on the ATF’s ill-conceived “Gunwalker” operation that supplied Mexican drug cartels with weapons. As I wrote at National Review, street agents objected from the beginning, but were told in no uncertain terms to pipe down:

Agents raised warnings to their superiors about the quantity of sales and the rising violence across the border, but were told that the operation had been approved at ATF headquarters. They were also told that if they didn’t like it, they were welcome to seek employment at the Maricopa County jail as detention officers making $30,000 a year.

I’d like to think that investigators will find that managerial incompetence was the culprit and not intentional facilitation of cross-border violence in order to hype gun control for the sake of Mexico. We’ll see.

The Bad: Philadelphia TSA screener Thomas Gordon has been arrested on child pornography charges.

The Ugly: Unions worked (for unrelated reasons) to keep said TSA screener in his job a few months before his arrest.

Thanks to AFGE’s legal assistance, a TSO at Philadelphia International Airport will remain employed at TSA after being proposed for removal. TSO Thomas Gordon had difficulty maintaining his work schedule because he had to take care of a family member…

“It means a great deal to me to know that my union — AFGE — has my back in situations like this,” Gordon said.

Now that the TSA screener workforce has voted to unionize, the only question is which union will represent them. Expect a stout union defense against any allegations of TSA excesses in patting down children or attractive women. If a union doesn’t defend the bad apples, it isn’t doing its job. Just ask the families of Sal Culosi and Erik Scott.

Wednesday Links

TSA: If You Object to Giving Up Your Rights, We Should Take a Closer Look at You

TSA screeners and behavior detection officers may give you extra attention if you complain about security protocols (video at the jump). Former FBI agent Michael German sums up my feelings pretty well:

It’s circular reasoning where, you know, I’m going to ask someone to surrender their rights; if they refuse, that’s evidence that I need to take their rights away from them. And it’s simply inappropriate.

In related news, the GAO recently told Congress that the TSA’s Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) is not scientifically grounded. The GAO testimony is available here.

More Cato work on TSA screening here, here and here.

States Resisting Federal Power

If two points are sufficient to draw a trend line, then state resistance to federal authority is growing.

I reported earlier on my recent testimony to the Florida legislature on REAL ID. The state’s legislators have taken notice of what the motor vehicle bureaucrats have been doing in collaboration with federal officials, and they’re not too happy.

Yesterday, I was pleased to testify in the Pennsylvania legislature, where legislation to push back against the Transportation Security Administration’s strip/grope policy at airports has been introduced. The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause seems to make federal law paramount, but states have many angles for challenging federal power, especially when it’s as flawed and reactive as the TSA’s airport checkpoint policies.

TSA Unionizing

Worst news I’ve heard lately, via The New York Times:

Seeking to end a debate that has brewed for nearly a decade, the director of the Transportation Security Administration announced on Friday that a union would be allowed to bargain over working conditions on behalf of the nation’s 45,000 airport security officers, although certain issues like pay will not be subject to negotiation.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has proposed an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would prohibit TSA workers from collective bargaining. Wicker’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. At the least, the decision to halt privatization of airport security should be reversed. Ideally, the TSA would be scrapped or reduced to merely inspecting the performance of airport security provided by the airports, not the government.

I doubt that allegations of TSA screener abuse are going to be dealt with better in a unionized workplace. I’m reminded of Sal Culosi’s murder. The Fairfax, Virginia SWAT officer that had a negligent discharge into Culosi’s chest at point blank range received a slap on the wrist, which was too much for the police union. And he killed a compliant suspect in an unnecessary SWAT raid. It seems a safe bet that your complaint about a pat-down gone too far will face additional resistance from TSA unions standing up for that agency’s bad apples.