Michelle Dunaj, the terminally ill passenger who claims TSA agents in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport botched her pat-down, drew a visceral reaction from travelers with the humiliating details of her screening.
Readers were outraged that agents at Sea-Tac, an airport where TSA employees have a reputation for being difficult, would subject a dying passenger to such indignities. (And if you don’t believe me, read these comments from the wire story that ran on the Huffington Post.)
But largely missing from the discussion is this question: Do these pat-downs accomplish anything?
Absolutely not, says Robert Yamin. And he ought to know. He’s a retired Baltimore cop, an expert witness, and he knows how to frisk a suspect.
The pat-downs done by TSA agents, says Yamin, are fake.
“To really search you must basically but gently grab the testicles and feel if there is something hidden there,” he said after reading last week’s column about the passenger who says an agent whacked him in the groin after he asked to opt out of a screening. “I have been through TSA security about 40 times since 9/11. I have only been properly searched once.”
Yamin says the bad guys — at least the smart ones — would exploit this vulnerability if they wanted to commit an act of airborne terrorism. Specifically, they would carry a gun or knife strapped to their upper thigh or under their testicles. Then they would opt out of the full body scanner and allow the poorly-trained TSA agents to give them a pass.
“An agent would never notice or feel [the hidden weapons],” he says.
The TSA says its pat-downs are an effective part of its vaunted 20 layers of security, and when asked to prove it, the agency points to its week in review page on its blog, in which it shows off all of the contraband it confiscated from passengers.
But critics say the same results could be achieved by setting up random checkpoints anywhere in America with the rent-a-cops the TSA agents replaced after 9/11. They say a more effective measure would be the number of terrorists caught after being frisked.
That number is still zero.
I’m a skeptic. I’ve experienced several “enhanced” pat-downs, most recently yesterday in Washington. It was thorough but I probably could have hidden a six-shooter in my shorts and the agent wouldn’t have found it. He didn’t want to make contact with my testicles — euphemistically referred to as “resistance” in TSA lingo — any more than I did.
Maybe the Dunaj story provoked the right discussion at the wrong time. Yes, we should be talking about how we treat a terminally ill passenger who poses no threat to anyone, particularly at a time when the TSA’s own leadership is distancing itself from a one-size-fits all-screening.
But this is no time to be falling down a rabbit hole, even one this important. Rather, since we are just days from a presidential election, we should be discussing the bigger issue: Why are American citizens who have done nothing wrong being frisked like prisoners in the first place?