Stop freaking out about terrorism was the message from the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), but TSA must not have gotten that memo or heard the news. The TSA is certainly not keeping a low profile with "sexual predator" recommendations to teach children that TSA pat downs are a "game." That sort of advice spawns TSA image spoofs and parody videos by the dozens. The more public outcry news that TSA makes while claiming it is to stop terrorism, the more terrorists still feel "ten feet tall" and like they won a victory. Michael E. Leiter, Director of NCTC, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "to hammer the counterterrorism drum over and over," risks "glorif[ying] al-Qaeda, who are simply a bunch of murderous thugs."
Although Leiter was not directly speaking about TSA, it is the TSA that seems unwilling to even attempt staying out of the limelight. National Opt Out Day was a win, not the Pistole spin. We Won't Fly said the TSA blinked and shut down most full body scanners during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, selected fewer people for secondary screening, and used the less invasive pat down. If security went back to normal, metal detectors and non-sexual assaulting pat downs, then everyone won -- the TSA and travelers.
But now the naked body scanners are back on and the groping pat downs are the security procedure for people who opt-out of the machines. By shutting off most of the full body scanners on the busiest travel day of the year, it seems as if the TSA indicated that they are not essential or overly effective for airport security. The TSA has spent billions on body scanners, and now DHS secretary Janet Napolitano said they are coming to trains stations, subways platforms and marinas.
In fact, VIPER (Visible Intermodal Protection and Response) has arrived at the bus station. Gary Milano, TSA Federal Security Director at Tampa International Airport, told reporters that the purpose of the new measure is "to sort of invent the wheel in advance, in case . . . there ever is specific intelligence requiring us to be here. This way, us and our partners are ready to move in at a moment's notice."
How can that be interpreted as the government has stopped freaking out about terrorism? The head counterterrorism official said, "Sometimes we ought to just talk about this a lot less. We shouldn't always be vocal, in my view, and visible about all the things we are doing in our society about counterterrorism."
Leiter stated, (4:39 in video), "We have to illustrate ultimately the futility of terrorism through quiet, confident resilience. We help define the success of an attack by our reaction to that attack. And one of the ways that we illustrate to terrorists that their methods are fruitless and that their goals will not be achieved by terrorism is to respond with resilience. To respond with resilience that we will move on, we will address the causes of the attack, we will hold those accountable, we will be ready to respond to those attacks, but ultimately we as a nation - as I think we have proved ourselves time and time again - will be resilient."
If the U.S. government overreacts with a knee-jerk reaction, such as hemorrhaging billions on ineffective body scanners for security theater, and pushes the reasons as the looming threat of a terrorist attack, then moves on to grope the genitals of law abiding citizens, the news is not going to quiet down. The ACLU received over the over 1,000 complaints in November about invasive airport screening procedures.
The ACLU stated, "Some complainants reported that they had not filed a complaint with the TSA because they were afraid of being put on a watch list or otherwise retaliated against by the government."
Although John Pistole, head of the TSA, blamed a "media frenzy" on travelers' anxiety about pat downs and full-body scanners, he added, "I think we are at the most thorough that we will probably be in terms of our physical screening." But what now that NYDailyNews reports al-Qaeda is hoping to surgically implant bombs for a new kind of terrorism? Will body cavity searches begin as a counterterrorism tool? That almost makes fingerprinting and iris scans for biometric surveillance sound good. DHS recently spent $20 million to create biometric technology. Since bomb sniffing dogs are the most reliable and proven way to find bombs that are being smuggled, I wonder how many sniffer dogs could be purchased for $20 million?
Stop talking about terrorists and counterterrorism tactics? That's difficult and unlikely at the rate our civil liberties and privacy are eroding. After the TSA confiscated an armed soldier's nail clippers, because the clippers could be used as a weapon, one of the soldiers who has been fighting to keep America safe and free, fighting to stop terrorists, asked what has happened to the USA while they were away.
I like Lieter's idea to stop talking about terrorists, to stop empowering them, but in order for that to happen, perhaps there should be some interaction between Pistole and Leiter about how to lie low and stem the flow of bad TSA news. The news might turn into a trickle if only some government agencies would stop treating law abiding Americans as if they were the criminals and terrorists.
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