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TSA Pulls Aside Humorist Dave Barry for "Blurred Groin"

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November 18, 2010

We have been hearing (and repeating ourselves) that you have options when you go the airport. That is, if you’re pulled aside for secondary screening, you have a choice between going through the strip-search machine or being given an “enhanced pat-down.” (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time “enhanced” has been used as a euphemism for something abusive.)

But NPR reports that humorist Dave Barry had the misfortune of getting both the full-body scan and a pat-down, because the full-body scan displayed to screeners a “blurred groin.” The blurriness in his nether-regions required a secondary-secondary screening, in a separate room, wherein a screener gave Barry a pat-down.

Now, Barry took this all in stride and could tell a funny tale to NPR afterwards, but let’s give this scenario serious consideration. First, we won’t ever know why Barry’s groin was “blurred,” but we do know that intimate stuff, like penile implants, colostomy bags and adult diapers of passengers who opt for the naked machines are all visible to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners.

Blurred groin aside, even if we can get past these embarrassing bits, we’re not confident that these security measures are making us any safer. The likely effectiveness of naked machine technology in preventing attacks does not justify the level of intrusion involved. The example of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has surfaced repeatedly: despite TSA administrator John Pistole’s assertion at yesterday’s hearing to the contrary, it’s not clear the machines would have caught the explosives Abdulmutallab hid in his underwear. Government reports and many experts have found otherwise.

Even if the machines could detect the explosives, terrorists will easily evade body scanners in other ways. And as the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out — quite seriously — on The Colbert Report earlier this week:

If the terrorist plot has advanced to point where they’re in the airport and an hour away from detonating a bomb, if they defeated the FBI, the CIA, the entire military to make it to that point, you think those guys in the blue shirts, with the bins and the shoes, are really going to be able to stop this plot?

We’ve been making this point for a long time: the best chance to catch a terrorist is through old-fashioned law enforcement and intelligence work. That was only emphasized by yesterday’s release of an inspector general’s report (the latest in a long line) finding — ahem — inadequacies in the training of TSA airport screeners.

One thing’s for sure: a lot of the expense that went into purchasing these machines of questionable effectiveness could be funding the agencies charged with catching people like Abdulmutallab before they get to the airport.

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