Via Mediaite, I’ll leave you to supply your own hacky joke about what Bill’s view of “enhanced patdowns” might be. Two interesting elements here, though. First, notwithstanding her leeriness about junk-touching, Hillary ends up defending the policy anyway. She’s in no position to do otherwise given that Napolitano and The One himself support it, but watching one Democratic all-star after another come out publicly in favor of strip-or-grope really brings home what a politicized farce most national security issues are. Had this happened while Bush was in office, their brows would all be exquisitely furrowed while prominent Republicans would be much more equivocal; needless to say, this exchange last night between Huckabee and Whoopi Goldberg would have been very different on both sides. No policy issue is immune from politics, but this one should be a bit more immune, no?
Second, to Hillary’s credit, she does allude to changing the procedures to limit the number of passengers subjected to the touching o’ the junk. We’ve heard that idea floated once before this week in Robert Poole’s piece for Reason calling for a “Trusted Traveler” program, and now here’s former State Department counterterror advisor Thomas McNamara proposing the same thing in today’s LA Times. If you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, it’s a big help if you can reduce the haystack:
The first is to recognize that the vast majority of passengers are not terrorists. We need to deal with as many of the non-terrorists as possible before they arrive at airport checkpoints. A national, voluntary “trusted passenger” program would do that by advance background checks and biometric identity documents, which could be reviewed, renewed or revoked at any time. Privacy and civil liberties could be protected by strong privacy legislation and oversight by an independent board. Costs could be shared by passengers, airports, airlines and governments.
Although there are a couple of local, commercial programs already in place, they include only a tiny number of passengers. In a truly national program, “trusted” passengers at all airports could move through simplified, expedited check-ins with only occasional random searches.
If, eventually, half of each day’s passengers were to qualify as trusted on domestic flights and a third on international flights, that would be a huge reduction in the size of the haystack. Frequent flyers and airline crews, for example, collectively go through the security routine hundreds of millions of times each year. To what purpose? Imagine what taking even them out of the stack would mean in terms of saving time, money and human resources that could then be focused on the “non-trusted” travelers.
TSA’s director insists that they’re not changing the policy, but if the drip-drip-drip of cell-phone videos of humiliating patdowns being linked by Drudge doesn’t change his mind, it’s likely to change his boss’s. (Videos like this one suggesting a wait-line apocalypse coming on Wednesday will help too.) And if Obama and Napolitano don’t come up with something before year’s end, I’m sure the new Republican House will be happy to hold hearings on this a few months from now to nudge them along. Imagine the scene of angry parents testifying before Congress about their toddlers being strip-searched. Good politics in that case actually could lead to better policy.
Exit question: Er, why are jihadis bothering with airlines anyway when they’d have a better shot at getting past security on Amtrak? Frankly, they’re a lot better at blowing up trains than they are airplanes.
Update: That was fast. This morning, TSA chief John Pistole said he sympathized with passengers’ discomfort but that the procedures won’t be changing. A few hours and presumably a few tense phone calls from his superiors later, we get this:
Heeding a sudden furor, John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said in a Sunday afternoon statement to POLITICO that airport screening procedures “will be adapted as conditions warrant,” in an effort to make them “as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve.”…
“We welcome feedback and comments on the screening procedures from the traveling public, and we will work to make them as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve. We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security.
“In all such security programs, especially those that are applied nationwide, there is a continual process of refinement and adjustment to ensure that best practices are applied and that feedback and comment from the traveling public is taken into account. This has always been viewed as an evolving program that will be adapted as conditions warrant, and we greatly appreciate the cooperation and understanding of the American people.
I wonder who ordered him to have a change of heart. Napolitano or Obama?