TSA Tot-Screening is a Bad Civics Lesson

Anonymous once said, "If you can't explain it to a child, you really don't understand it."

 I don't envy parents who have to explain TSA's airport screening policy to their children. "Less than 3%" of travelers are selected for pat-downs, and images of children being counted among them continue to jump from social networking sites to the news. Last month it was a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy. This week, TSA agents in Kansas City stooped so low as to search an infant's diaper. They are far from the first kids to be frisked on the way to Disneyland or grandma's, and they will be far from the last to receive an early lesson in not only airline safety but also American civics.

When the issue of screening children (whether by body scanner or pat-down) came up last fall, Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Long Island, NY, advised readers of Newsday to simply tell your child the purpose is to keep everybody on the plane safe.

Experts are quick to dispense sage advice for things like this and then leave parents to answer the sticky questions. I don't know whether Dr. Fornari has any children of his own, but as a parent I can tell you the child's immediate response will be, "Safe from what?"

"Terrorists," you might tell them. ("Underwear bomber" seems to have stuck in my kids' minds.)

"What's a terrorist look like?" they'll ask next.

Maybe if instead of frisking children TSA engaged them in a focus group and dealt with the sticky questions about measures being considered, we'd have policies that actually make sense. Then again, I'm not as politically correct as our government officials. My son was born shortly after 9/11, and I've already been asked about "those two buildings in New York." I used it as a teaching moment to explain the problem Islamic ideology is causing throughout the world, and that this is why some people get more of a going over than others before getting on a plane. I had no qualms explaining the differences between Western and Islamic concepts of civil society and that, frankly, if an underwear bomber were living in our neighborhood, it's a virtual certainty he worships in a building with a minaret instead of a steeple.

What else should I teach him, that anyone can be a terrorist?  Even a child. No, anyone could be a kidnapper, a killer, a pedophile, but the idea of turning an airplane into a weapon of mass destruction repeatedly springs only from the head of a Muslim.  It's the brainchild of a community that defends violent protest, even murder, as a sane response to offensive cartoons.  It certainly isn't on the mind of every Muslim, but it persists in the mind of Islam.  And that kind of evil will never be defeated by randomly frisking fewer than three out of every hundred travelers.

On April 13th, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R.1510, the TSA Screening of Minors Act of 2011, which would require parental consent for patting down children.  The Utah Daily Herald reported that he also recommends abandoning "security theatre" in favor of common sense approaches like bomb-sniffing dogs and behavioral screenings.  It's not hard explaining to a child that a TSA agent's fingers, no matter how nimble, are no match for a canine's nose that can screen large numbers of people quickly and discreetly.  The dog idea isn't foolproof, but neither is any other method, high or low tech, that man has devised so far.

Most kids don't have a problem with dogs.  The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also purports to favor them over groping hands and revealing scanners, which is somewhat surprising considering that Islam considers the animals "unclean" and advises Muslims to avoid contact with them.  In Britain, where Sharia advocacy has gained more ground than it has here, police only use dogs in Muslim residences and buildings in "exceptional cases" and, when they do, the animals must suffer the indignity of wearing rubber booties.  Guidance to Muslims offered by MuslimsinBritain.org further illustrates the uneasy resignation to dogs at Heathrow International Airport, contrasting acceptable use of them to sniff for explosives where there is a "real and immediate threat to public safety" with using them "opportunistically, or as a deterrent at airports."

If Hamas-linked CAIR put as much effort into defending common sense approaches to American security interests as it does pressuring our private and public executives to adopt ever more Sharia-compliant policies, I might believe a workable dog-based security model in our country would stand a chance.  However, this is the same organization that successfully lobbied our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to drop the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), claiming it "an ineffective and burdensome program that was perceived as a massive profiling campaign." NSEERS was launched right after 9/11 and required non-immigrants from Muslim countries to register on arrival at their point of entry, be interviewed, fingerprinted, photographed, report any change in address during their stay, and leave through an approved port of exit.  The primary purpose was to catch visitors who, like four of the 9/11 hijackers, overstayed their visas.  On April 28th, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano determined it was "no longer necessary to subject nationals from these countries to special registration procedures."

Even a child can see that a "one-size-fits-all" policy, which demands a few citizens from every ethnic and religious group sacrifice some civil liberty just to avoid the sin of profiling, has yet to catch a single actual terrorist before he managed to successfully board a plane.  Anti-profiling might be a suitable discussion for social studies class, but in practice all it does is waste resources and unduly burden every group in society, when only one displays time and again propensity for the behavior of public concern.  Putting the onus on the group responsible for our airline security problem in the first place might put long overdue pressure on CAIR to defend exactly how casting all of us as suspected martyrs to Allah makes everyone safer.

In the wake of the latest criticism, TSA continues to defend the agency's tot-screening policy while "actively assessing less invasive screening methods for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers."  Meanwhile, reports come in that some kids are traumatized by its current methods.  Dr. Fornari advises in these cases to simply explain to them that it's just as "OK" for the uniformed federal official to be touching him or her around the private areas as it is for their pediatrician.

It's obvious from images tweeted and posted on YouTube that many of us don't think it's good safety policy, for children or adults, to give government officials the same right to "touch your junk" as licensed healthcare providers.  As Selena Drexel, whose daughter was in the video taken at Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, explained to Good Morning America last month, "We struggle to teach our kids to protect themselves, to say ‘no, it's not ok to touch me in this way in this area.'  Yet here we are saying it's ok for these people."  The mother of the Oregon boy searched at Portland International expressed similar concern when interviewed the same week by her local TV news -- and she's worked in airport security!

Yet, for every parent who speaks out there are many who don't. Which makes me wonder exactly how many American parents are fine conditioning their children to believe that anyone can be a terrorist, or that surrendering some of your liberty and personal privacy to avoid being labeled "intolerant" by lobbyists for the group directly responsible for your loss is good civics.  As TSA's Blogger Bob reminds us, "terrorists are willing to manipulate societal norms to evade detection."  In other words kids, today's civics lesson is get used to it; government searches are perfectly normal.
Anonymous once said, "If you can't explain it to a child, you really don't understand it."

 I don't envy parents who have to explain TSA's airport screening policy to their children. "Less than 3%" of travelers are selected for pat-downs, and images of children being counted among them continue to jump from social networking sites to the news. Last month it was a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy. This week, TSA agents in Kansas City stooped so low as to search an infant's diaper. They are far from the first kids to be frisked on the way to Disneyland or grandma's, and they will be far from the last to receive an early lesson in not only airline safety but also American civics.

When the issue of screening children (whether by body scanner or pat-down) came up last fall, Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Long Island, NY, advised readers of Newsday to simply tell your child the purpose is to keep everybody on the plane safe.

Experts are quick to dispense sage advice for things like this and then leave parents to answer the sticky questions. I don't know whether Dr. Fornari has any children of his own, but as a parent I can tell you the child's immediate response will be, "Safe from what?"

"Terrorists," you might tell them. ("Underwear bomber" seems to have stuck in my kids' minds.)

"What's a terrorist look like?" they'll ask next.

Maybe if instead of frisking children TSA engaged them in a focus group and dealt with the sticky questions about measures being considered, we'd have policies that actually make sense. Then again, I'm not as politically correct as our government officials. My son was born shortly after 9/11, and I've already been asked about "those two buildings in New York." I used it as a teaching moment to explain the problem Islamic ideology is causing throughout the world, and that this is why some people get more of a going over than others before getting on a plane. I had no qualms explaining the differences between Western and Islamic concepts of civil society and that, frankly, if an underwear bomber were living in our neighborhood, it's a virtual certainty he worships in a building with a minaret instead of a steeple.

What else should I teach him, that anyone can be a terrorist?  Even a child. No, anyone could be a kidnapper, a killer, a pedophile, but the idea of turning an airplane into a weapon of mass destruction repeatedly springs only from the head of a Muslim.  It's the brainchild of a community that defends violent protest, even murder, as a sane response to offensive cartoons.  It certainly isn't on the mind of every Muslim, but it persists in the mind of Islam.  And that kind of evil will never be defeated by randomly frisking fewer than three out of every hundred travelers.

On April 13th, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R.1510, the TSA Screening of Minors Act of 2011, which would require parental consent for patting down children.  The Utah Daily Herald reported that he also recommends abandoning "security theatre" in favor of common sense approaches like bomb-sniffing dogs and behavioral screenings.  It's not hard explaining to a child that a TSA agent's fingers, no matter how nimble, are no match for a canine's nose that can screen large numbers of people quickly and discreetly.  The dog idea isn't foolproof, but neither is any other method, high or low tech, that man has devised so far.

Most kids don't have a problem with dogs.  The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also purports to favor them over groping hands and revealing scanners, which is somewhat surprising considering that Islam considers the animals "unclean" and advises Muslims to avoid contact with them.  In Britain, where Sharia advocacy has gained more ground than it has here, police only use dogs in Muslim residences and buildings in "exceptional cases" and, when they do, the animals must suffer the indignity of wearing rubber booties.  Guidance to Muslims offered by MuslimsinBritain.org further illustrates the uneasy resignation to dogs at Heathrow International Airport, contrasting acceptable use of them to sniff for explosives where there is a "real and immediate threat to public safety" with using them "opportunistically, or as a deterrent at airports."

If Hamas-linked CAIR put as much effort into defending common sense approaches to American security interests as it does pressuring our private and public executives to adopt ever more Sharia-compliant policies, I might believe a workable dog-based security model in our country would stand a chance.  However, this is the same organization that successfully lobbied our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to drop the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), claiming it "an ineffective and burdensome program that was perceived as a massive profiling campaign." NSEERS was launched right after 9/11 and required non-immigrants from Muslim countries to register on arrival at their point of entry, be interviewed, fingerprinted, photographed, report any change in address during their stay, and leave through an approved port of exit.  The primary purpose was to catch visitors who, like four of the 9/11 hijackers, overstayed their visas.  On April 28th, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano determined it was "no longer necessary to subject nationals from these countries to special registration procedures."

Even a child can see that a "one-size-fits-all" policy, which demands a few citizens from every ethnic and religious group sacrifice some civil liberty just to avoid the sin of profiling, has yet to catch a single actual terrorist before he managed to successfully board a plane.  Anti-profiling might be a suitable discussion for social studies class, but in practice all it does is waste resources and unduly burden every group in society, when only one displays time and again propensity for the behavior of public concern.  Putting the onus on the group responsible for our airline security problem in the first place might put long overdue pressure on CAIR to defend exactly how casting all of us as suspected martyrs to Allah makes everyone safer.

In the wake of the latest criticism, TSA continues to defend the agency's tot-screening policy while "actively assessing less invasive screening methods for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers."  Meanwhile, reports come in that some kids are traumatized by its current methods.  Dr. Fornari advises in these cases to simply explain to them that it's just as "OK" for the uniformed federal official to be touching him or her around the private areas as it is for their pediatrician.

It's obvious from images tweeted and posted on YouTube that many of us don't think it's good safety policy, for children or adults, to give government officials the same right to "touch your junk" as licensed healthcare providers.  As Selena Drexel, whose daughter was in the video taken at Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, explained to Good Morning America last month, "We struggle to teach our kids to protect themselves, to say ‘no, it's not ok to touch me in this way in this area.'  Yet here we are saying it's ok for these people."  The mother of the Oregon boy searched at Portland International expressed similar concern when interviewed the same week by her local TV news -- and she's worked in airport security!

Yet, for every parent who speaks out there are many who don't. Which makes me wonder exactly how many American parents are fine conditioning their children to believe that anyone can be a terrorist, or that surrendering some of your liberty and personal privacy to avoid being labeled "intolerant" by lobbyists for the group directly responsible for your loss is good civics.  As TSA's Blogger Bob reminds us, "terrorists are willing to manipulate societal norms to evade detection."  In other words kids, today's civics lesson is get used to it; government searches are perfectly normal.