TSA screenings do not benefit security

By Tibor Machan: CNJ columnist

Maybe I am seeing things, but my impression from going through hundreds of airports since Sept. 11, 2001, is that too many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are plainly gung-ho.

Yes, they perform their jobs eagerly, often seeming to relish that bit of power it gives them to order people around.

I am not one of the most cooperative folks at these security checks, mainly because I believe most of it fits the expression, “Closing the barn doors after the horses have fled.” All this might have made sense before 9/11, but afterward it doesn’t, as far as I can understand it.

The inconsistency with which these security checks are carried out suggests to me that these folks are rather lost about what they should do in the first place. Take sneakers, for example. In one airport they must come off, in another they may stay on. And when you point this out to TSA screeners, you risk getting barred from the airport because many act as though they are God’s little helpers. If you say anything, you are definitely a bad guy who is just about to undermine world peace and goodwill to all.

Not all the screeners are the same, of course. Some have good days and will show it. But too many seem to have this attitude that questioning anything about what they do amounts to enthusiastically serving Osama bin Laden, which is just bunk. After all, the bulk of us haven’t done a thing wrong, didn’t act suspiciously, are indeed not guilty of anything that jeopardizes national security, yet we are treated by the TSA personnel as if we had been tried and convicted of treason. Why? Because the federal government is trying to show that it’s doing something, anything, to cope with terrorism.

No, I haven’t come up with some great alternative. But must I do so in order to notice there’s something amiss with the way the matter is dealt with? Here a coat must come off, there it doesn’t matter; here you should remove your glasses, there it’s unnecessary. Here the wristwatch needs to be put into that little tray, there it can stay on your wrist. And it goes on like that, from one airport to the next. And if you assume you have a clue what the next one will demand of you, you are in for a surprise.

Several times, after I’ve made polite mention of the inconsistency of their procedures, a gruff TSA official has told me to “shut up.” Other times I have been told that if I say another word, I will be arrested. And I do not mean a word like, “I am about to carry some bombs on this plane,” but, rather, “Why is there no consistency in how this procedure is being administered?”

But then I am not really surprised. I recall when I was a cop in the U.S. Air Force and manned the main gate at Andrews AFB night after night. I, too, had (though resisted) the temptation to lord over some poor bloke who came on base at 3 a.m. I recall wanting to stop the car, look into it, check for IDs, etc., all out of sheer boredom, certainly not necessity, and just a little sense of superiority. Even at the gate of some hospital or similar facility, the guards routinely exhibit this tendency to indulge their tiny power, never mind that there’s no reason for it.

But then it is not for nothing that we recall Lord Acton’s saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Here, then, is the full context of this wonderful bit of understanding:

“Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end … liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition … The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern … Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at
Machan@chapman.edu