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Published: Saturday, 12/24/2011

Editorial

Secure in silliness

Americans are taking to the skies in huge numbers this holiday season -- but not before they clear checkpoints manned by Transportation Security Administration officials, one of the inconvenient but necessary consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In the vast majority of cases, the TSA will conduct screenings with courtesy and professionalism. Inevitably, though, some people will feel rudely or inappropriately treated, and their complaints should be taken seriously. Yet nobody should forget who the real enemy is -- al-Qaeda and its offshoots, not the TSA.

But TSA-bashing seems all the rage at the moment. Congress, which has more important things to do, has joined the chorus. Consider the proposed Stop TSA's Reach-In Policy (STRIP) Act, which not only is silly but also may win the prize for most contrived name.

The bill would prohibit TSA employees from using the title "Officer" or from wearing uniforms and carrying metal badges that resemble those of federal law enforcement officers. It may be ridiculous, but it has 29 cosponsors.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) offers this justification for legislation that is not really about strip searches: "It is outrageous that in a post-9/11 world, the American people should have to live in fear of those whose job it is to keep us safe. Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip-searches 85-year-old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3-year-olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando. Enough is enough. The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops."

In reality, this bill is an insult to reason. TSA employees would have to exercise their authority while wearing civilian clothes. How about shorts, Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops, and a plastic badge?

There is much that the TSA can sensibly do to keep people moving through the lines without strip-searching grandmothers -- a rare event in any case. The agency is testing a limited passenger pre-screening initiative at four airports.

But giving a blanket free pass for grandmothers and others has its own dangers. Terrorists are not stupid and can be expected to recruit those whom the TSA dare not inspect, lest members of Congress make a fuss.



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