After a crescendo of criticism over new, more aggressive pat-downs at airport security stations for travelers, Janet Napolitano penned an essay for USA Today defending her new policies and pleading for patience. The Homeland Security Secretary insists that the pat-downs are not new and are necessary for travelers who refuse to use the metal detectors or the new and controversial scanners, which she insists are perfectly safe and secure:
And we ask the American people to play an important part of our layered defense. We ask for cooperation, patience and a commitment to vigilance in the face of a determined enemy.
As part of our layered approach, we have expedited the deployment of new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units to help detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats on passengers. These machines are now in use at airports nationwide, and the vast majority of travelers say they prefer this technology to alternative screening measures.
AIT machines are safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy. They have been independently evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have all affirmed their safety. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during AIT screenings have illustrated their security value time and again.
Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.
If an anomaly is detected during screening with AIT, if an alarm occurs after a passenger goes through a walk-through metal detector, or if a passenger opts out of either of these screening methods, we use pat-downs to help detect hidden and dangerous items like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.
The question remains as to whether that last claim is actually valid. If the patdowns only take place after an alarm, then Napolitano’s argument rests on the notion that the PETN underwear of the EunuchBomber would have triggered either a scanner or metal detector. According to at least one media source, it wouldn’t have triggered either one:
Better screening could potentially identify more conventional explosive devices, including random searches. It is here that we should focus our efforts, not on ratcheting up the disproportionate restrictions on air passengers. But given that PETN, the substance used in this device, cannot be picked up by scanners or by dogs, governments have to invest in developing technology that can do so.
Besides, in that instance, TSA didn’t control access to the aircraft. The terrorist boarded with his explosive underwear in Amsterdam. The real failure was letting him on the plane in the first place, since American intelligence knew he was a potential threat, but failed to communicate it properly. All the pat-downs in the country wouldn’t have prevented that attack, and unless the US takes over aviation security in every airport with flights to our country, they won’t close that loop with their new scanners and patdowns.
Napolitano concludes with this argument:
Our security depends on us being more determined and more creative to adapt to evolving threats. It relies upon a multi-layered approach that leverages the strengths of our international partners, the latest intelligence, and the patience and vigilance of the American traveling public.
If we want a truly multilayered approach, why not follow the Israeli model, the most successful in the world at preventing terrorism in the air? Train TSA personnel to become expert at interacting with passengers, finding clues to potential threats, and save the patdowns and scanners for those people who might actually present a threat rather than elect on the random-selection process. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that an enemy like al-Qaeda can take a shotgun approach to such a security scheme and have a high probability of getting at least a few people past the barricades and onto the planes. That would have the virtue of dealing directly with the issue rather than hiding behind politically-correct nostrums and muggings of three-year-olds.