On June 18, officers of the Transportation Security Administration forced a wheelchair-bound, 95-year-old leukemia patient to remove her adult diaper, lest it contain a bomb. As always when the TSA commits some new atrocity — like last April’s “freedom fondle” of a 6-year-old girl — a designated bureaucratic spokes-unit affirmed that the officers acted “according to proper procedure.”
As a colleague observed, it’s bizarre to think we’re supposed to find it comforting “that everything is being done by the book — even if the ‘book’ is horrifying.” Wouldn’t you rather hear that such actions were the work of overzealous line officers, instead of policies vetted and approved at the highest levels of the federal government?
Worse still, in a classic case of “mission creep,” TSA is taking its show on the road and the rails.
Earlier this year, Amtrak passengers in Savannah, Ga., stepped off into a TSA checkpoint. Though the travelers had already disembarked the train, agents made women lift their shirts to check for bra explosives. Two weeks ago, armed TSA and Homeland Security agents hit a bus depot in Des Moines, Iowa, to question passengers and demand their papers.
These raids are the work of TSA’s “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response” (VIPR or “Viper”) teams — an acronym at once senseless and menacing, much like the agency itself.
On June 14, TSA head John Pistole informed Congress that VIPR teams had carried out “over 3,700 operations in mass transit and passenger railroad venues” over the last year — and the agency wanted funding for more.
Meanwhile, no thanks to the TSA, al-Qaida looks increasingly harried, desperate and weak.
Earlier this month, Adam Gadahn — “Azzam the American” by his rap-handle — put out a video urging American Muslims, “Do not rely on others, take the task upon yourself.” He noted that “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms, what are you waiting for?”
Gadahn’s call is best seen as a mark of how far al-Qaida has fallen — and how they’re anything but an “existential threat” to America. On 9/11, they left a smoking hole in the Manhattan skyline. Now, for their followup, 10 years later, they hope some kid will take the initiative and shoot up a shopping mall.
Even supposing that what’s left of al-Qaida is clever and resourceful enough to recruit kindergarteners and elderly leukemia patients, it’s not at all clear that tactic would be successful. Risk analysts Mark Stewart and John Mueller report that when the Christmas crotch-bomber’s “effort was duplicated on a decommissioned plane in a test set up by the BBC, the blast did not breach the fuselage, leading air accident investigator Captain J. Joseph to conclude, ‘I am very confident that the flight crew could have taken this aeroplane without any incident at all and got it to the ground safely.’”
A free people ought to be brave enough not to quake before the imaginary threat of a Depends Bomber. No society can be made perfectly safe, and, in the pursuit of safety, certain policies ought to be considered beyond the pale.
We can debate whether waterboarding falls into that category, but ritual humiliation of innocent citizens surely qualifies. TSA’s abuses are making our choice ever clearer: Assume some risk … or assume the position.
Examiner Columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”