Feature:Opinion

Napolitano is getting it wrong on TSA

Photo of Rory Cooper
Rory Cooper
Comm. Director, The Heritage Foundation

For two years now, President Barack Obama’s administration has been on a concentrated mission to expand the size and scope of the federal government. Of course, this passionate mission is derailed when the inefficiencies of certain government services are highlighted in the American conscience. And every time the general public decries a specific example of government ineffectiveness, the Obama team’s reaction is incredulous shock. How could anyone not blindly trust the federal bureaucracy?

Once again this is the case as a tidal wave of criticism befalls the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Over the course of the past two weeks, there has been an avalanche of bad airport security stories.

Toddlers were seen on YouTube being aggressively searched as they screamed, leaving parents aghast. Groped flyers were threatened with $11,000 fines for refusing aggressive pat-downs. Flight crews, including hero pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, objected to the newly increased screening standards.

Amid these stories, passengers began creating drama of their own, by either opting out of security measures or planning a mass protest around Thanksgiving.

So with a national rebellion against the men and women who are the last line of defense inside our airports being staged, what is the Obama team’s reaction? Get over it. Trust us. Cooperate.

In typical style, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her colleagues are treating this story as a media-hyped bunch of nothing. But in fact, it’s been a story long in the making as the government downplayed threats, yet increased screening measures and did nothing to negate a growing impression that the airport security line is a bureaucratic nightmare akin to the dreaded U.S. Post Office.

Secretary Napolitano’s publicly casual approach to the war on terror has unfortunately led Americans to see TSA officers –many of whom decided to enlist after 9/11 for similar reasons as our fighting soldiers — as postal bureaucrats. When Napolitano and President Obama stopped using the term Global War on Terror, they intentionally lowered the perceived severity of the threat and thereby the perceived consequence of airport security.

When Napolitano dismissed the Times Square bomber as a “one off,” implying it could be domestic rather than what it was — a coordinated jihadist plot — she contributed to Americans’ suspicion of who exactly DHS is monitoring.

When Napolitano said the “system worked” after the Christmas Day attack, she contributed to the lack of trust in the “system” that is causing the present anxiety. In her USA Today editorial last week, she actually used this incident as an example of why the system works saying: “we use pat-downs to help detect hidden and dangerous items like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.” She failed to mention that the plot failed due to luck, not pat-downs.

Secretary Napolitano has often and publicly reinforced a misunderstanding of the threat and what level of vigilance is necessary, and then acts with shock and dismay when travelers aren’t trusting of why they need their crotch examined.

TSA officers are left negotiating a perilous public relations disaster with each and every screening. And legislators are rightly left debating the existing options to privatize certain screening services.

  • Supernatural Witness

    Scanning and touching is a violation of more than the fourth amendment, it violates the first as well. It is a violation of conscience, decency, and sanctity in many minds. A nun has set herself apart as sexually pure and untouched. How dare they. A virgin daughter should be untouched before marriage. A wife and husband have sworn to be untouched by anyone but each other. These searches are desecrations of the sacred. I am still waiting for Janet and Barak to lead by example by subjecting their own daughters to this molestation.

  • Buckoux

    When Obama appointed Napolitano to head Homeland Security, it didn’t “take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. Or not.

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  • missywise

    Rory – thank you for a great op-ed piece. It states exactly how I feel about this whole debacle. The more I am scolded for not shutting up and getting in line – the more I want to get out of line and throw rotten tomatoes at Janet Napolitano and TSA administrator, John Pistole until the floors run red. I thought the shoes were ridiculous, the laptops out of cases a waste of time, and the limited amount of liquids pastes and powders (innocuous contraband) over the top. But the virtual strip searches and the law enforcement pat downs are a violation of the 4th amendment. They do not have probable cause to do perform these kind of searches. I am tired of it. Time for the Israeli approach…it seems to work:-)

    If you fly through Denver – go to the far right hand security lanes. There is only one scanner and it is on the left side. I think if we avoid the line altogether – that too will send a message. Pssst – pass it on to the passengers in front, behind and beside you.