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December 22, 2007

TSA: I Will Have His Protection

Michelle Malkin is steamed about a report from ABC News which provided an "exclusive look inside the Transportation Security Operations Center." Says Malkin:

What exactly did TSA hope to accomplish by allowing ABC News to tour this no-longer-secret “Secret Security Center” other than puffing itself up?

How does this promote and protect our safety?

She's forgetting that the TSA has two different missions. The first is, when it is financially and practically possible, to make transportation systems and hubs, including airports, highways, railroads, and ports, more secure. The second, unofficial mission is to make travelers feel more secure.

Letting ABC News into the TSA command center fits squarely within the second mission. How many of us already expected such a place to exist? I sure did. Are we less safe because we know with certainty that it exists? Of course not.

It's not so much "Treating Secrets Arbitrarily" as Malkin alleges, but "Trying Some Alternatives."

Related: The TSA ranks only second (to FEMA) among least-liked federal agencies, managing to tie the IRS at the bottom. This isn't unexpected, of course. Transportation security is one of those things that, like going to the dentist, of necessity introduces discomfort into our lives.

"I am so frustrated with TSA that I am ready to stop flying," one traveler wrote in a Sept. 7 complaint filed with the agency. "I'm sure this doesn't matter to you because my tax dollars are already paying you."

The AP poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday, found that the more people travel, the less they like TSA.

On the other hand, the poll also found that 53 percent of air travelers think TSA does a "very" or "somewhat" good job.

I travel pretty frequently, flying around the country to see friends and family whenever I have even a few days off. That means that I always travel at the worst times: holidays and school breaks. And I have to say, I wish that travelers like the person quoted above would just stay home. Whining and complaining about security procedures doesn't do much to solve problems, but it does a lot to fray the nerves of other travelers.

I've tucked a little travel-related complaining of my own into the extended entry.


I just flew out of LAX on Wednesday, where one TSA worker told me it would be the worst day of the Christmas season. There were two lines to get through security and into the concourse. One stretched the length of the terminal, inside in front of the ticket counters and their own over-long lines. The other, which I usually use because it runs faster, is upstairs above the ticketing area, but the line runs outside of the terminal across a covered bridge.

It was gray, cold, and raining that day, with the kind of drizzle that doesn't so much fall as drift back and forth down to earth and into things like covered bridges where it soaks waiting travelers. So I waited patiently in the rain, unhurried and unworried because I always get to the airport early and I'm not made of sugar.

Along comes a couple, mid-sixties I would say, to stand behind me in line. They were on their way to Tokyo and this was absolutely, positively the worst experience at the airport they'd ever had in their lives. I know, because they gabbered about it without end for all of the thirty minutes we stood in line.

First the problem was the line itself. Y'see, it was too long and they were afraid they'd miss their flight. After ten or so minutes I turned and told them that if their flight was really leaving that soon, they could ask the helpful TSA rep to let them through at the front of the line. "Well," they said, "our flight's still an hour from leaving."

Then it was the fact that it was raining. The husband, a stereotypically stooped, shriveled, and brow-beaten fellow had left his coat in his checked bags. So I said, why don't you wait in the line downstairs in the terminal? "Oh, but we'd have to move," she said. "I don't want to."

Okay, I thought. That's about enough of that. So I put in my earbuds and cranked up the iPod. Just about then she started touching my bag. She was so concerned about her place in line that she had to stand right up against my back, lest some spoiler swoop in and take her spot, I guess. And that made her occasionally push her bag into mine.

Now, when I'm standing in line and someone touches my bag, I think they're trying to steal something from me. So I turned slightly to make the chances of contact less likely, thinking that this was a simple problem with a simple solution. She turned with me.

And so, my last act before passing through security was to turn and tell her to BACK. OFF. At least it took her mind off the rain.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:53 PM

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