On the TSA’s Problem

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the newly implemented “enhanced” pat-down procedures being implemented by the TSA. What an amazing disaster! There’s even a tagline, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.”

If I’ve ever seen a reputation crisis, this is it. Seemingly every day there is a new atrocity touted by the news media and bloggers showing the seeming ridiculousness of the screening procedures. From John Tyner’s threat of arrest, to a breast cancer survivor being made to remove her prosthetic, to daily complaints of inappropriate touching, to toddlers being patted down, to stories of VIPs seemingly getting special treatment, to airports opting out of using TSA screeners.

The TSA has been defending the charges left and right. The TSA’s vaunted TSA Blog has focused almost completely on the new procedures, while TSA Chief John Pistole was grilled during a Senate committee meeting on airline safety (actually on cargo screening and safety, which is ironic given that actual bombs were recently found on cargo planes) about the screening procedures.

Bruce Schneier has an amazing write up of the situation so far here.

But enough about watching the train wreck. Let’s be productive here. What should TSA do about the situation? What would you do?

Does the TSA relent and roll back the screening procedures?
My first thought is that they shouldn’t. What might happen (I think probably is a better word) is that they could say something like due to public concerns (I mean, Congress is involved now), we’re reviewing the enhanced pat-down procedures and will update them as appropriate. This is tricky because that would mean acknowledging parts of the security apparatus are optional and subject to ethical concerns. This also doesn’t address the issue of the “naked scanners.” While they’re “reviewing” the procedures, they’ve got to do a huge PR campaign.

Does the TSA plow through and continue with the bad press?
Wow, I don’t know how they can. With the holidays coming up, more and more people are going to be flying experiencing the enhanced pat-downs. And talking about how horrible it was to their families. Throughout the holidays. For six more weeks. There’s already a National Opt-Out Day scheduled! At some point, the airlines will begin quietly requesting a resolution as they are the ones that will be suffering in the long run from people refusing to fly.

Can’t stay the same, can’t do what people want. It’s an impossible situation. So, what to do?

I say return the focus to the security aspect and away from the process. Here’s my recommendation: have President Obama issue a statement that he is aware of the situation and understands why people are upset. If his family had to go through that, he’d be just as upset.

He wishes he could tell the TSA to stop, to let good people just get on their airplanes, but he can’t. These screening procedures are necessary to protect the airplanes and the people–our families–flying in them. As we’ve seen over and over, terrorists will stop at nothing to kill American citizens and this is one way we can work to stop them. When used in concert with the AIT scanning systems (note: Mr. President, don’t say nudie scanners), the TSA can better ensure that no one one the plane poses a threat, better than ever before.

That said, he (the President) is directing Secretary Napolitano to conduct an immediate review of the existing procedures and develop recommendations on how they can be improved and made less intrusive. And that he expects a report back in one week. (This is a nice time frame because it gets him past the Thanksgiving holiday and all of the associated “biggest travel day of the year” stuff.) Any and all improvements identified will be immediately instituted. And close with a nice statement about the holiday season and how we all just want to be able to see our families safe.

Then, they should take that week to round up every security expert who thinks that the enhanced pat-downs, when used in tandem with the AIT scanning (this is important because no one, yet, is calling for scraping them), makes us however much more safe. Put them on the shows. Have them recommend that TSA retrain everyone who does the groping to ensure that they are consistently and correctly doing the procedure. This should, and this is terrible outside of this PA/PR world, give enough time for the media to find a more interesting story.

UPDATE: Apparently President Obama issued a statement in between drafts of this post, and I think that boingboing.net sums it up best, when they say, “Suck it up, buttercup.