The tragedy at LAX happened nearly three years to the day that the TSA instituted their invasive search policies, including unfiltered whole body imaging scanners and criminal style pat downs that spared no private areas from manual contact by TSA workers. Details of the motive of the assailant remain sketchy other than the fact that the lives of two young men are destroyed.
The shooter, Paul Ciancia may simply be a madman, as have been other mass murderers who have killed anyone in a particular school or theater. The difference in this instance is that he specifically targeted TSA workers, not passengers or bystanders.
Whether simply a crime of opportunity, targeting the nearest available federal workers, it may also in part have been a product of the indifference to public opinion of TSA workers by high ranking TSA officials, none more so than TSA Administrator John Pistole who has placed his workers between his policies and the traveling public. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is that these unpopular policies persist despite the fact that TSA has admitted in court documents that they aren’t necessary.
Prior to October 30, 2010, TSA searches of travelers were limited to walk through metal detectors and handheld wands used to search travelers more thoroughly. From TSA’s inception in 2002 to that late October day in 2010, there were no attacks on airlines and the public was relatively ambivalent toward agency.
The failed underwear bomber attempt in 2009 was used a justification for the wholesale use of the so called naked scanners and invasive manual searches of all passengers despite testing that indicated the bomb would not severely damage the plane. Since that time, TSA criticism has risen and remained persistent and a recent poll of frequent fliers found that of those who fly regularly over 80% felt that TSA was ineffective and disapproved of their policies.
Senator John McCain sent a letter TSA just three days before the shooting in response to complaints of continuing TSA abuse of the elderly and handicapped at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport including a strip search of an 82 year old woman. These incidents have been going on for three years and few improvements have been made despite vocal objections by the public and many members of Congress.
Notably, there has been substantial bi-partisan criticism of TSA and Administrator John Pistole for these invasive searches and TSA bullying of passengers. Congressional TSA critics include Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, Sen. Jon Tester, R-MN; Rep. Marsha Blackburn R-TN, Claire McCaskill, D-MO, Rep. John Mica R-FL, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, Rep. Justin Amash, R-MI, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, Canseco, Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, Rep. Steve King, R-IA, Rep. Mike Rogers, R.-AL, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA among others.
In addition to passenger abuse Congressional criticism also cited problems with crimes committed by TSA workers outlined in a GAO report that cited nearly 10,000 TSA workers cited for misconduct, theft and other crimes and including sex crimes, and smuggling.
Congressional frustration with John Pistole’s persistent delays on addressing the nude images of travelers and their children resulted in a Congressional edict that privacy filters be added to scanners by June 30.2013 or be scanners removed. This resulted in the removal of 250 x-ray scanners in June of this year at a cost of nearly $100 million.
Criticism of the agency has not been limited to Congress and the public and even former TSA screeners have been outraged by abusive TSA tactics including former screener Carol Price who was arrested for “groping” her former supervisor while demonstrating what had been done to her by another TSA screener!
At best, TSA has been derisively used as an example of something that is worthless or wasteful. At worst it has become a microcosm of everything wrong with government and heightened by intimate and personal violations. Excessive overreach by government is now demonstrated not only at TSA but in the scandals surrounding NSA, IRS, DoJ and other government agencies which further fuels distrust of government as a whole.
Irrespective of the emerging details, it is clear that John Pistole and TSA officials have some degree of culpability for this tragedy. They created these invasive procedures from their safe confines in Alexandria, VA and forced their screeners to implement them on an unwillingly and persistently resistant public.
Mr. Pistole must now reflect on whether these invasive practices are worth risking the lives of their employees without yielding any tangible benefit in terms of safety.