TSA Watch: After Osama’s death, are screeners spreading confusion and fear?

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of “TSA Watch,” a new weekly column about the federal agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems. Why? Because no one else is.

The TSA’s response to Osama Bin Laden’s death last week couldn’t have been less clear — or more self-serving.

Here’s an event that many believed would directly affect the way people travel. They felt a prudent move would be to tighten security at airports, train stations and other public areas, for fear of a retaliatory attack by Al Qaeda.

Instead, the agency charged with protecting the nation’s transportation systems said nothing for several days, allowing us to speculate about our upcoming trips. Would we all be patted down at the airport? Stopped at a checkpoint on the bridge? Strip-searched before we boarded the subway?

Then TSA released a statement more than four days after the event that essentially said nothing:

I can reassure you that we’re constantly looking at current intelligence to evaluate and adapt our procedures to keep the flying public safe.

Passengers may continue to notice a variety of security measures at U.S. airports to include the use of physical bag checks, random gate screening, explosives detection technology, canine teams and behavior detection officers.

We ask that you remain vigilant when you travel and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.

It gets worse. The next day, the TSA issued another a press release. Good idea, right? Maybe it could further clarify the post-Osama security precautions. But no. Instead, it published a silly statement extolling its shoe-removal requirement.

Unbelievable.

So the bad guys are threatening holy jihad against America, and TSA is high-fiving itself over a knife found in a passenger’s shoes in San Juan? I don’t have to tell you there’s something wrong, very wrong, with this picture.

In fairness to TSA, the Department of Homeland Security did issue a statement on Monday about its security posture after Osama’s death. But it was even more vague than TSA’s, saying only that the United States remained “at a heightened state of vigilance” but that it wouldn’t take any additional steps.

Let’s pull back a little and get some perspective on this. Just a few days before TSA’s non-response to Osama’s death, it did another questionable thing. It had children manning its screening areas.

I’m not making this up. Here’s a firsthand report. A passenger reported having his ID checked by an eight-year-old boy (part of “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day”) in State College, Pa. The post caused a little dustup in the frequent flier community, which questioned why children would be allowed to perform vital security functions.

In an unusual move, the TSA’s notorious “Blogger Bob” responded in the comments of his last post to critics. “While what you read about or witnessed may seem odd, the children were not making any security decisions,” he wrote.

As if that didn’t confuse passengers enough — and I’ve gotta tell you, if I’d had a six-year-old-girl ask me if I wanted to be scanned or patted down, I might have been thrown for a loop — there was this. Earlier in the week, the TSA released a few details of its plan to selectively screen passengers to a reporter who had been more cooperative with the agency than yours truly. (No, they don’t let me talk with Administrator John Pistole, even when I’m on assignment for one of my big-name, A-list media outlets. They know better.)

The plan was as troubling as it was vague. TSA apparently wants to exempt certain elite-level frequent fliers from screening, but not always. They don’t want to be too predictable, says Pistole.

Personally, I don’t believe any of it. If TSA is making a statement to the press the very next day on the virtues of having us take our shoes off at the airport, then it’s either lying to us or to the reporter. Care to guess who’s being duped?

So why would the TSA want to spread fear and confusion after Osama’s demise? Easy. The more fearful we are, the more compliant we become. We won’t question the scanners, the pat-downs, the shoe removal, the random gate checks. We won’t mind being stopped on the Metro and interrogated or pulled over at a checkpoint on the road and searched.

Why? Because we are afraid the terrorists will get us, and we incorrectly believe the only thing standing between us and them are an army of underpaid, poorly-trained screeners with no law enforcement ability whatsoever.

The Department of Homeland Security seems to be positioning Bin Laden’s death as an excuse to bulk up its security apparatus. But while ramping up the fear and confusion certainly serves the system, does it also serve the taxpayers that fund it?

If anything, maybe this is a good time to consider dismantling the reactionary, incompetent and unconstitutional security machine that was created after 9/11.

(Photo: gTa rded/Flickr Creative Commons)

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.