TSA Security Checks

In discussing the recent complaints about stepped-up airport security checks, I have said on the radio that maybe there was new intelligence indicating a threat.  Evidently, that is not the case.

“It’s not just something that started a week or so ago,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, alluding to the “underwear bomber,” who tried to blow up a plane flying from Europe to Detroit last year on Christmas Day.  

That answer about the advanced imaging scanners and the airport pat-downs drew the obvious question.

“If the regulations are so important now to prevent another Abdulmutallab, why did it take nearly a year to put this system in place?” asked Ed Henry of CNN at a White House briefing.

“There are a series of procedures that have been phased in,” Gibbs replied, referencing the roll out of the imaging scanners to about 15% of US airports, which Gibbs said was “not going to happen overnight.”

Gibbs though would not go into detail, leaving the listener to assume that in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bomb plot of last year, there must have been holes in U.S. airport security with respect to an ‘underwear-type’ bomb, because the imaging machines weren’t in use, and the pat-downs weren’t as “expanded” as they have been in recent weeks.

Gibbs though did acknowledge the public furor over the checks, as he said the TSA is “desperately” trying to figure out the proper balance between security and these pat-down checks.

While Gibbs was talking about balance, the political questions involving airport checks seem to be growing in the Congress.

“After nearly 10 years since 9/11 – shouldn’t we have developed the technology by now to avoid pat-downs?” asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Twitter yesterday afternoon.

The hard truth is that lawmakers have tried to push ahead with technology, but have been frustrated both by the expense of new x-ray type machines and the TSA leadership as well.

But who is at fault doesn’t matter.  Democrats control the White House, and if things go wrong with airport screening, the blame will come their way.  That’s just the Washington, D.C. political battles work.

Last week, TSA Chief John Pistole told two different committees that TSA is testing new technology that improves on the imaging machines, which some people object to, because it basically shows what people look like without their clothes on.

Pistole said the next generation technique uses more of a stick figure, or a “blob” as he put it, and indicates a “hot spot” where something might be of interest to the screeners.

What is holding up the deployment of that technology?  A high rate of “false positives” according to Pistole, which then would mean more manual pat-downs for travelers.

And that’s not exactly the answer the Obama Administration wants to give right now.