A Possible Lesson from the TSA

The TSA has of late been on the receiving end of lots of shots.

Late-night comics make cracks about the TSA's probing of cracks, and the agency is the butt of many jokes joking about many butts.

It is, of course, easy to criticize and then move on; drive-by insults are safe.

But is it possible that the actions of TSA actually have a lesson to teach -- a lesson different from the ones about fumbling?

The road to scorn and ridicule can be paved with good intentions. It is not beyond the pale to rightfully credit TSA with trying to protect Americans from harm. In making its attempts, it may not get it right sometimes or even most of the time. Frankly, few of us do when we undertake a task reviewed by others. But it tries, as do we.

Perfection remains a difficult standard, and there is a reason why the saying "if you want something done right, do it yourself" is popular.

(In this spirit, at least one group advocates offering to do the TSA's pat-down oneself as an alternative. TSA has yet to accept and embrace this offer.)

What might TSA's actions teach us? Let's look.

  • What is TSA endeavoring to do?

TSA seeks to interdict killers and injurers before they can implement their action plan. That is the job.

Preventing terror is a derivative of the above and not a primary objective. Without an antecedent event, terror remains unborn (mental conditions excepted).

Terror is a response, and it needs not be the consistent response to a condition precedent. For example, the killing/injuring of fellow Americans may terrorize one person and provoke another to act in response. TSA cannot control someone's response to an event.

  • How is TSA intending to keep others from killing/injuring us on planes?

In the recent matter, TSA is attempting to prevent killers and injurers from boarding aircraft using methods it deems correct to screen for these persons. Such methods include body scanning and, for those refusing a scan, pat-downs. (Whether those methods are in fact correct is another debate.)

  • Whom does TSA screen in looking for killers and injurers?

TSA has screened the very young to the very old -- i.e., men, women, and children.

  • Is there reason for TSA to believe that the very young, the very old, those in between, males, and females might pose a threat of death or injury to airline passengers?

The "world's youngest terrorist" was 11.

Pregnant women, and therefore fetuses also, have been used to bring bombs aboard aircraft and to make explosives.

There is no proscription against using someone between the ages of newborn and 11 as a delivery vehicle for destructive devices.

There is no upper age limit on being a killer or injurer. Bin Laden is 53. Zawahiri is 59. Both are male.

When it comes to age and gender, being a killer or injurer on an aircraft is an equal opportunity vocation, though short-lived if successful.

  • Why does TSA bother screening civilians?

Apparently, those who would kill or injure Americans are not conventional, uniformed soldiers.

For example, an SOA, as Major Nidal Hasan proclaimed himself, neither reliably nor helpfully wears a uniform displaying his or her true allegiance. The shoe bomber, the panty bomber, the fecal "terrorists," another fecal "terrorist," -- oh yeah, another fecal "terrorist," -- and the Times Square bomber -- all wore civilian uniforms.

As did the "world's youngest terrorist."

And "Britain's youngest terrorist."

Perhaps Juan Williams should rethink what scares him. It might be better to worry about what you cannot see. In this instance, no suspicions are aroused -- i.e., when you stop being concerned, that is when they get you.

Nor are these civilians identifiable with any particular organization. Even if, for example, all the killers and injurers were members of, let's say, The Red Brigades, there is no outstanding physical characteristic to separate these civilians from others.

  • Why does TSA screen Americans?

Adam Gadahn. John Walker Lindh. Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar.

  • Hey, why are you squeezing my groin?

Undie bomber. (In this round of TSA controversy, it has not yet been reported that an examining finger has been placed in a passenger's rectum, despite the fact that an argument can be made in its favor. ["Rectum? It killed him."] TSA then becomes somewhat mistakenly "Thoroughly Search Anus.")

There is an arguable bottom line to all of this.

Those involved in killing/injuring Americans are civilians of all ages (including those in utero) and genders, who stick explosives in sunshine-free zones, who display no identifying clothing or marks, and whose membership crosses all national bounds.

They are overwhelmingly related in one way, however. The overwhelming majority of these civilian "soldiers" share a belief system.

But TSA cannot target on the basis of belief, an internal characteristic.

So unless the TSA hires "The Shadow" and gets him to train more Shadows, there is currently no way to know what lurks in the hearts of men (or women and children).

This is especially so since other approaches to screening may produce the quagmire of "profiling." (The wisdom of Willie Sutton, or whomever, notwithstanding.)

Thusly constrained, the TSA is stuck looking for what lurks on or in the bodies of men, women, and children.

Yes, it is easy to criticize TSA for taking dirty pictures of the young and old and those in between. Yes, it is easy to get angry when a stranger whom you did not meet at a bar goes reaching for and finger-dances around your genitals.

But then, you do not have to pay the price if someone gets through who might have been caught using these screening techniques. (Unless you were together on the plane with the man, woman, or child who blew you up, that is.) TSA does, as do the victims.

There is reason to feel bad for TSA. It is in a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

In response, some have accused the TSA of "refus[ing] to admit the nature of the threat."

This is wrong. And herein lies the potential lesson.

TSA has admitted the nature of the threat by its actions. Even if it did so unwittingly, TSA has clearly identified the "enemy."

This is simply civilian-on-civilian violence.

The threat is from civilian killers and injurers of all ages, nationalities, and genders (though we have yet to confirm a hermaphrodite member of this group) linked by a common belief.

This common belief interestingly appears to raise no meaningful, productive protests from alleged moderates among the believers. To the contrary, it is supported by large showings of support from "the masses" and "the street."

This is where it "grows."

These facts, also interestingly, fail to raise meaningful, productive action from the intended victims, despite the proclamation of a former president: "The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows."

TSA's possible lesson will fail to affect the learning-disabled person residing at THE 1600 who is at least selectively uneducable.

The rest of us need not be so ignorant.

Michael Applebaum is a physician and attorney practicing in Chicago. He has earned seven fitness certifications. His medical work comprises his diagnostic ultrasound practice and The Anabolic Clinic sm, which he founded. He is president of FitnessMed, Inc., a fitness consulting firm offering services to individuals and businesses.