Paul A. Ibbetson
Political correctness and your body: Why TSA security measures won't fly
By Paul A. Ibbetson
November 23, 2010

This just in: TSA airport security personnel have now reaffirmed, after thousands of overtly aggressive body pat-downs, that elderly grandmothers and little children are still not attempting to commit terrorist attacks by carrying explosives onto planes. The growing discontent at the government's new intrusive security measures are now being seen throughout the country. The reasons people don't like it can be broken down into three areas of discussion: efficiency, invasiveness, and the strategic end results.

No one likes to be held up at the airport; however, most flyers are willing to accept delays that can be logically explained. For example, if the landing gear is about to fall off the plane, people have no qualms and show no resistance in patiently waiting while the issue is resolved. That is, people want to be safe while flying and will readily accept being inconvenienced if a reasonable case can be made for the situation. The problem comes when there cannot be a reasonable articulation made between extreme flyer inconvenience and passenger safety. Imagine if a plane with landing gear problems required all passengers to have a forced colonoscopy. The differential between the observed airline safety issue and the requirements placed on passengers would be so great that most flyers would refuse to comply. Welcome to the modern world of TSA security measures and what have become the unfriendly skies.

Prospective passengers in many airports are now being faced with having to go through full-body scanners that render the flyer practically naked to be photographed and observed by strangers. The long-term physical effects of radiation exposure from these scanners are unknown, along with their usefulness in detecting plastics and other materials terrorists use. As of now, full-body scanners do not make a case for security that equals or surpasses their offensive nature. Without more evidence of their practicality, TSA might as well request naked photographs of all passengers at the gate and save them the time of passing through the costly and time-consuming machines. However, the full-body scanners are quickly falling behind in public distaste to the full body pat down.

By now most Americans who have not experienced their own horror story at the airport have heard the tales of those who have been poked, prodded, and even fondled while trying to get on a flight. Stories of the handicapped being forced to stand on defective limbs while security personnel inspect their leg braces or the cancer survivor made to remove her prosthetic breast for inspection brings home the egregious nature of the new protocols. With the current system that is now being put into place, TSA cannot expect future increases in efficiency to mitigate the invasive nature of the experience to any noticeable degree.

It is in the strategic nature of the enhanced security protocol at the airports, and the argument made to passengers for their compliance that TSA utterly fails to make their case. They fail not just in the possession of full-body scanners or the implementation of enhanced pat-downs, TSA fails because blanket implementation of these protocols does not give airline passengers a degree of safety equal to or surpassing the violation of human dignity that they entail. Individuals seeking alternatives, such as Republican Representative John Mica of Florida, say the answer can be found in replacing TSA agents with private security guards. Mica's reasoning for such changes is based on the idea that private industry through competition would increase quality and efficiency.

This is possible, but only if several fundamental strategies are put into place. More diligent inspection of passports and pre-travel documents along with observations of passenger activities and actions at the airport will go far toward true airline security. This goes hand in hand with observing sets of characteristics that identify what has been congruent with modern-day terrorists. At this point in time, this means placing higher scrutiny on Muslim males that are traveling from known terrorist locations over elderly American grandmothers in walkers flying to see their grandchildren for the holidays. To call this racist is to be misguided. To deplete critical security resources to invasively search people who do not fit any criteria of a terrorist simply to be politically correct is more than wasteful, it is reckless. It is reckless because it places all passengers at higher risk as security personnel decrease their attentiveness while searching individuals who are obvious non-threats.

Those that would place all airline travelers in front of the full-body scanners and rubber gloves of TSA personnel cite the case that if the current profile of the modern terrorist is actually observed instead of denied through blanket security procedures that those that wish to do Americans harm will simply use different actors to conduct terrorist activities. The current evidence does not support this line of thinking for terroristic airline incidents. If this does change and grandmothers, Girl Scouts, American vets, and even farm boys from Kansas like myself fall under the profile of terrorists who blow up planes, then adaptations can be made, and protocols altered. The new protocols would come with, most importantly, a logical argument to be made for the reasonable balance of security measures and airline safety. Right now, we are all getting the equivalent of the unwarranted colonoscopy.

© Paul A. Ibbetson


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Paul A. Ibbetson

Dr. Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor's and Master's degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books and is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association's 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 award winning, Conscience of Kansas airing across the state. Visit his website at For interviews or questions, please contact


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