Author Topic: TSA Has Met the Enemy, and They Are Us - NY Times  (Read 806 times)

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TSA Has Met the Enemy, and They Are Us - NY Times
« on: November 21, 2010, 11:15:12 pm »
TSA operates on the belief that a key to foiling terrorists is to keep them guessing, agency watchers say. But it has never really explained that to a flying public that sees never-ending changes in policies covering carry-on liquids, shoes, and printer cartridges as maddening and pointless inconsistency.

"If you ask what its procedures are, how you screen people, it's 'I can't tell you that because if the bad guys find out they'll be able to work around the system'," said Christopher Elliott, an Orlando, Fla.-based consumer advocate specializing in travel. "That's why a lot of what they've done has not really gone over well with air travelers. They perceive it as being heavy-handed and often the screeners come across as being very authoritarian."

Over time, TSA has settled into a pattern of issuing directives with little explanation and expecting they be followed. But increasingly fed-up travelers don't understand the agency's sense of urgency and aren't buying it.

"I don't think the law enforcement approach is going to work with the American public. You've got to explain yourself and reassure people. And they're not doing it," Light said.

That goes beyond public relations, experts say. As more and more layers are added to air travel security efforts, it creates difficult and potentially unpopular choices. But the TSA has been unwilling to openly discuss how it arrives at policies or to justify the trade-offs, highlighted by its insistence over the need for the scanners.

"They're very expensive and what they (TSA officials) should be able to do is answer if it does reduce the risk, how much does it reduce the risk and is it worth it?" said John Mueller, a professor of political science at Ohio State, who has researched the way society reacts to terrorism.

The pushback against the body scanners and pat-downs shows the agency at its worst, Elliott said, issuing a policy that wasn't properly vetted or explained, while being determined to defend it.

Growing dissatisfaction with the TSA has even led some airports to consider replacing the agency with private screeners. Such a change is allowed by law, but contractor must follow all the security procedures mandated by the TSA, including body scans and pat-downs.

But frustration with the TSA was building even before the latest furor. In a December 2007 Associated Press-Ipsos poll asking Americans to rank government agencies, it was as unpopular as the Internal Revenue Service. Even so, a poll earlier this month by CBS News found 81 percent of Americans support the TSA's use of full-body scanners at airports. The poll, conducted Nov. 7-10, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Elliott said that better communication would probably win the TSA more cooperation. But the pushback suggests that a growing number of consumers, particularly frequent travelers, are questioning the premise at the heart of the agency's existence...

"I think at some point Americans said to themselves, maybe in their collective
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http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/11/21/us/AP-US-Travel-Airport-Security-Backlash.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&hp