It's Not the TSA's Fault

Yes, it's true -- it's not the TSA's fault, all of this airport security craziness. The TSA is a government bureaucracy within a larger government bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, and both organizations have as their mission the protection of American citizens from terrorism. They are going to do whatever they believe it will take, and is legal, to keep Americans safe. That is their bureaucratic imperative. But it is the mission of the President, and of the Congress, to supervise and monitor these bureaucracies, to hold them back when their mission comes into conflict with other missions, such as the protection of the privacy of American citizens.

I believe Janet Napolitano knows this; from what I can tell, she's very good at her job. I also believe she is singularly focused on the department's mission. I'm told that the new TSA administrator, John Pistole, is a smart guy (not like the dopey fellow who ran the agency under President Bush). But he, too, has a mission, and a reputation, and his reputation will be ruined if a terrorist blows up a plane. (This is a separate issue, the pressure our juvenile, zero-defect culture places on government bureaucrats to never let anything bad happen ever.) So he will utilize whatever technology, and whatever techniques, he believes will prevent bad things from happening. Who can blame him? But who makes sure that, in pursuit of a worthy goal, he doesn't go too far?

And, oh yes, the privacy challenges posed by the TSA are most certainly not the fault of actual TSA workers, who certainly don't have the easiest jobs in the country.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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