This weekend, I found myself in San Francisco International Airport for a long weekend in the Bay Area. After a pleasant weekend, and then a wait in an egregiously long line, I found myself in one of the famed full body scanners, the subject of much controversy this week. The scan itself was not unpleasant, but imagine my surprise to find that these images, which are supposed to never be released, have recently been leaked from a similar machine in a Florida Federal courthouse. (Of course, another savory option could be having a TSA crew member put their hands down your pants.)

This violation of my privacy also apparently comes with a nice dose of risk, “recent research indicates that about 5 percent of the population — one person in 20 — is especially sensitive to radiation. These people have gene mutations that make them less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA. Two examples are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, but scientists believe many more such defects are unknown.” Apparently, though, the radiation being put out by the scanner is far less than the what passengers receive from cosmic rays at 30,000 feet. In other words, the damage is equal to about four minutes in the air, but for that 5% of the population who is particularly sensitive, why should they be subject to a greater risk?


I’ve always had an issue with the Theatrical Security Administration. In my opinion, if we were concerned with anything other than creating the illusion of security, we would lay-off half of the TSA agents, hire bomb and chemical-sniffing dogs to check the plane after boarding and cargo hold, and put a US Marshal on every flight – in addition to requiring full searches for airport personnel and their vehicles. As it stands now, airport personnel – restaurant workers, baggage handlers, etc – are not subject to the same security requirements as passengers, and oftentimes only have to wave their badges in order to get into the secure areas of the airport.

Beyond the TSA and it’s farcical measures, the Federal bureaucracy is also a tremendously crippling expenditure towards our safety. From 2004 – 2007, the total spending of the Department of Homeland Security was about 332 billion dollars. Over the same four-year period, Federal funds did not make up more than 5% of the security spending in the City of New York, indicative of their own priorities to their taxpayers. In the past 8 years, California has received the most federal aid, with about 1.5 billion dollars – which is only 3.3% of total spending by the state.

To put it bluntly, the federal tail is wagging the state dog. The Federal level has a disproportionate about of influence over regions where it hasn’t even invested a considerable amount of money. This is even more disgraceful considering the local level is more capable of preventing a threat than the federal. (Federal agents only represent about 50,000 people, as opposed to 2.2 million who work at the local level.) A great example of the effectiveness of local authorities is the continued validation of the “Broken Window Theory” put forth by a scholar from the Manhattan Institute and implemented by Rudy Giuliani. Despite this, the DHS and the FBI have been engaging in a battle over which “owns” state security issues, when the real question should be about how to increase conversation locally to stifle these attacks in their tracks.

Furthermore, these expensive, ineffective measures are precisely what Osama bin Laden sought to gain from his crusade against the West. In 2004, he claimed that it was ‘‘easy for [them] to provoke and bait this administration.’’ Describing his desire to ‘‘bleed America to the point of bankruptcy,’’ bin Laden remarked, ‘‘All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al Qaeda,’ in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses.’In allowing these gaps in security, the federal government is not only failing the people but it is failing to live up to its original purpose. “To provide for the common defense” is one of the main reasons that the states originally unified – and, with the rise of terrorism, competent security has become a crucial component of defense.

I suspect the ire seen this week will finally lead to the reform we need. I won’t be traveling this Thanksgiving – but after seeing the plan for National Opt-Out Day, I almost wish I was.

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