Sunday, November 21, 2010

People With Clout, Including Wealthy Travelers, Can Avoid Airport Security


Roland and I fly a lot, and we like to feel safe. Roland, like the vast majority of Americans, seems to be pretty complacent about the latest TSA efforts to look like they're keeping the flying public safe with the full-body scanners and intrusive, aggressive full body patdowns, even though I keep telling him it's all a ruse. Last night he told me that he read somewhere that the latest in terror tactics will be for suicide bombers to fill their stomachs with plastic explosives, and we should enjoy the little inconvenience the TSA is inflicting on us now because its going to get a lot worse.

Yesterday's NY Times laid out all the complaints about the new TSA initiative, from the serious dangers of cancer and blindness to the rapaciousness of a crook like former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who got this ball bouncing on behalf of one of his firm's clients, Rapiscan Systems, which Chertoff recommended as the manufacturer for our airport safety and which has already benefited to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars.

I still recall standing on long lines and feeling Big Brother was further dehumanizing me, and I blamed it on Bush. I'm sure there were plenty of otherwise-apolitical frequent flyers who turned away from the GOP because of the increasingly authoritarian nature of airport security. I remember talking with fellow passengers about how things would start to get better under Obama. But Obama seems politically tone-deaf to what's going on at the airports. And it doesn't help that rich people and politically connected people (like John Boehner) don't have to go through what the rest of us have to.
As he left Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner headed across the Potomac River to Ronald Reagan National Airport, which was bustling with afternoon travelers. There was no waiting for Mr. Boehner, who was escorted around the identification-checking agents, the metal detectors and the body scanners, and whisked directly to the gate.

The Republican leader, who will become the second person in line to assume the presidency after the new Congress convenes in January, took great pride after the midterm elections in declaring his man-of-the-people plans to travel home as other Americans do. In a time of economic difficulty, it was a not-so-subtle dig at Ms. Pelosi, who has access to a military jet large enough to avoid refueling for her flights home to San Francisco.

If you want to pay to join a Verified Identity Pass program like Clear, you can almost be treated as well as Boehner.
Members who pay the $99.95 annual fee to join and who submit to biometric and background screening are given access to a private lane, which purports to usher them through security with more predictability, greater speed and less hassle ($28.00 of that fee goes to the TSA to cover the cost of completing a security threat assessment). “Clear has made this new life of flying commercial, which has gone down the toilet, a little more bearable,” said program member Henry Morgan, regional manager of Highline Products in Orlando.

Clear [$199/year] is one example of the Registered Traveler programs that the Transportation Security Administration has developed in conjunction with private companies in order to, as the TSA puts it, “provide expedited security screening for passengers who volunteer biometric and biographic information” and who “successfully complete a security threat assessment.” To date, Verified Identity Pass and four other companies-- Unisys, Saflink, Verant and Vigilant-- have satisfied TSA’s criteria to act as providers of Registered Traveler services. As the TSA notes, "The program is market-driven and offered by the private sector with TSA largely playing a facilitating role."

President Obama may think working out "free"-trade agreements with China and Colombia which ship more American jobs overseas is a better use of his time, but some American voters are boiling that this airport screening mess is being handled so poorly, and they're not going to blame faceless bureaucrats, or Joe Lieberman or Michael Chertoff. They're going to blame Barack Obama. It almost looks like Republican congressmen are already blaming Obama for Michael Chertoff, Bush's corrupt DHS secretary! Although I wonder what would have happened to, for example, Ron Paul (R-TX) if he had said any of this while Bush was president, not that he ever would have:
I see what has happened to the American people is that we have accepted the notion that we should be treated like cattle. We've had it... I think this whole idea of an "opt out" date is just great. We ought to opt out and make the point-- get somebody to watch it, take a camera-- it's time for the American people to stand up, shrug off the shackles of our government, of TSA at the airport.

UPDATE: Glad Obama Understands The Traveling Public's Unhappiness With All This New Invasiveness But...

Looks like not all the blame can be placed on Chertoff. Corporations really need to be taken in hand and made to serve the public interest, rather than dominate it. Rapiscan's CEO was invited along on President Obama's trip to India this month-- yes the company Chertoff lobbies for.
The CEO of one of the two companies licensed to sell full body scanners to the TSA accompanied President Barack Obama to India earlier this month, a clear sign of the deep ties between Washington politicians and the companies pushing to have body scanners installed at all US airports.

Deepak Chopra, chairman and CEO of OSI Systems and no relation to the New Age spiritualist, was one of a number of CEOs who traveled with the president on his three-day trip to India, which focused primarily on expanding business ties between the US and the emerging Asian power.

That a manufacturer of body scanners accompanied the US president on a foreign trip shows the extent of the ties between the industry and the US government. With anger growing at the intrusive news screening procedures, many observers have focused attention on Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary whose consultancy, the Chertoff Group, counts OSI as a client.

The original orders for body scanners were made in 2005, during the Bush administration when Chertoff was still head of Homeland Security. Chertoff stepped up his lobbying for body scanners late last year after the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

"Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected '[the alleged Christmas Day bomber's] explosive," Kate Hanni, founder of, told the Washington Post.

"Airport security has always been compromised by corporate interests," wrote James Ridgeway at Mother Jones. "When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same."

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At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a bad report until you make it partisan and dig at Paul, who for all his faults did criticize Bush. Yeah, Chertoff was Bushes appointee, but in a nice bipartisan maneuver, Obama has given them our stimulus money for these incredibly expensive machines which may not be safe, and allowed TSA to violate our bodies. You contribute to the partisan problem, diverting attention from where it should be focused - on class, not some fictitious right left divide. That is the supreme demagogic lie, getting the rubes to adopt the arguments of the political class. Shame on you.


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