January 24, 2012
Yesterday, Kentucky senator Rand Paul was detained by the TSA in Nashville after refusing to be fondled by the airport agents.
Paul has been a vocal enemy of the TSA, blasting the agency last year after agents conducted an invasive search of a 6-year old girl despite her parents’ objections. TSA Director John Pistole suggested that, because a young child in Afghanistan is capable of detonating a roadside bomb, all children should be considered potential threats.
Paul raised the issue again yesterday in an opinion piece. As usual, the Obama administration closed ranks around the TSA yesterday, defending the agency and insisting that “we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe.” Such as treating 6-year old girls like criminal terrorists.
Air travel is never going to be safe. We’re talking about a 500,000 pound flying building crammed with hundreds of strangers criss-crossing the skies nearly 100,000 times in a single day. There’s a lot of room for things to go wrong.
Criminalizing travel, which is the effective net result of the current passenger screening process, has minimal impact on weeding out the boogeyman. There are so many holes in the TSA procedures– medication, baby formula, pilot exceptions. Not to mention a whole world of softer targets. Who needs airplanes when you have shopping malls?
One of the first things I learned in the intelligence business years ago is that smart enemies will always adapt their tactics. It’s not rocket science; Sun-Tzu wrote the same 2,500 years ago– focusing on a single approach (like airport security) is useless.
Thing is, TSA airport security has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with making sure that every human being who transits within or through a US commercial airport knows exactly who is in charge. We call it the Tip of the Spear.
The idea is to desensitize people to government intrusion, generally with something shocking (like treating a 6-year old girl as a criminal terrorist). That’s the tip of the spear. As the spear drives further and further into its target, subsequent intrusions seem less and less acute.
Psychologist Robert Cialdini, whose writings on influence and persuasion have been read by millions across the world in dozens of languages, discusses three key principles which apply to this ‘Tip of the Spear’ approach.
The first is called social proof. It’s easy to understand– like lemmings, sheep, or milk cows, people standing in the security line watching everyone else get patted down and go through body scanners, will most likely comply with the social norm. Monkey see, monkey do.
The second is the principle of authority. Also easy to understand– people will obey authority figures even if it requires taking objectionable action. Uniforms establish an authority image, as do the training programs that teach intimidation tactics to government agents– voice projection, direct eye contact, use of professional vocabulary, etc.
The third is a bit more complex; Cialdini calls it the principle of commitment and consistency. Simply put, if people commit to an idea in word or deed, their future actions will be consistent with this idea because it becomes part of their own self-image.
In this context, people who submit to government intrusion the first time (e.g. watch their children receive pat-downs at TSA checkpoints) are more likely to continue acceding to further government intrusions down the road. It’s a bit of a boiling frog approach.
When you step back and look at the big picture, ‘security’ is an utter farce. The moral argument for such measures is rooted in a silly myth that men in caves wish to do us harm. The legal argument is questionable at best. Many folks forget that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”
Does anyone truly consider it reasonable to subject passengers to demeaning, invasive searches? Or to douse travelers in radiation from machines that cost over $100,000? Or to waste billions of dollars and man-hours each year on security procedures that are routinely proven to be ineffective?
If the answer is yes, then you obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with your neighbors, hence you’re probably living in the wrong country.
If the answer is no, then it should be obvious that your government has hijacked liberty… in which case you’re probably living in the wrong country.