Better News About TSA

By James Fallows

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.

See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/11/better-news-about-tsa/66851/

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving to all.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/11/better-news-about-tsa/66851/