Better News About TSA

1) Congratulations to TSA officials on the (reported) common-sense decision to exempt uniformed airline pilots from full-body scans or enhanced pat-downs, as long as they have two forms of identification, have names on crew checklists, and so on. As noted earlier, once they get in the cockpit, the pilots not only have the plane at their disposal but also have an axe sitting right next to them, so a crusade against fingernail clippers does not make sense.

To answer a question many readers have asked: How can the TSA be sure, sure, sure these are real pilots? The best answer would be "biometric" measures of kinds pilots' organizations have been asking for -- eye scans, and so on. In the meantime, the answer is: the same way the TSA can be sure, sure, sure that people wearing its blue-shirt uniforms are actual agents, since they are waved right through the check points when they show ID cards.

Next up: flight attendants. There is not the same face-value ridiculousness in strip-searching them, compared with pilots, since unlike the pilots they won't literally be sitting at the controls once they get on the plane. But they're also vetted, trusted, and known; they play an important part in flight safety; and you can't help but notice that most pilots are men and most flight attendants are women. Like pilots -- and like TSA agents themselves -- if they have proper identification, they should be spared the new intrusive checks and scans.

2) This is in keeping with the encouraging-at-the-time comments that TSA's head, John Pistole, gave only one month ago. Those were the days! He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

>>"I see my job and really TSA's job as one of really managing risk. So my goal is to ensure that we provide the best possible security for the traveling public but doing it in a way that provides greater scrutiny to those that need greater scrutiny, and so we don't use a cookie cutter approach for everybody. Right now we use somewhat of a blunt instrument to screen virtually everybody the same way. And my goal is to use intelligence in a more informed fashion so we can apply greater scrutiny to those who need it and keep up with throughput in that fashion. 

Now, if only someone in a position of influence at TSA could be exposed to such views. Or, on the brighter side, maybe with the pilots we have seen the beginning of such a change.

3) Keeping things positive, Words For The Holidays, from Mr. Pistole himself.

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving to all.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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