November 16 2010

The Naked Lobby

Charlotte Hays

Yes, I thought that would get your attention.

But I am actually talking about those full-body TSA scanners that have been stirring up such controversy lately.

I am not going to get into the issue of degradation or my tentative plans to get on Medifast before my next airplane trip. What I want to talk about is: Who bought these danged things? Timothy Carney has a good piece on them today in the Washington Examiner. He notes:

A program or product doesn't need to be effective, it only needs to have a good lobby. And the naked-scanner lobby is small but well-connected.

L 3 Communications got a $165 million contract for scanners a few days after the Christmas Day Bomber attempt. It is powerfully connecting, including a former senator in its lobbying shop. American Science and Engineering, another body scanner firm, is similarly well-connected.

I am not going to do a tirade against lobbyists. Companies and interest groups have every right to express themselves to elected officials. My subject is how badly government spends our money. Our elected officials don't have to buy the things lobbyists dangle before them. Somebody was asleep at the switch when these machines were bought. Didn't anybody think through the basics?

 The full-body scanners have caused an understandable uproar. Even before the devices were rolled out, they sparked predictable mischief: During training on the scanners, a group of TSA workers noted and mocked the genitalia of the guinea-pig employee sent through the scanner. The guy soon beat down one of his mockers and was arrested for assault.

After assurances by contractors and the TSA that the nude images of the scanners' subjects weren't being stored and saved, the U.S. Marshals Service admitted that it had stored thousands of such images.

Homeland Security insists that the "naked scans" are optional, but if you're randomly selected for one and you "opt out," you're subject to a very intimate frisk.

For all the turmoil they have created, the TSA naked scanners may not even be effective:

There's good reason to doubt these scanners significantly reduce the chance of a successful terrorist attack on an airplane. Deploying these naked scanners was a reaction to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas 2009, but the Government Accountability Office found, "it remains unclear whether [the scanners] would have been able to detect the weapon Mr. Abdulmutallab used."

Moving from the naked to the clothed, from the air to earth, I've been observing for years a very bad outlay of money Washington's Metro made a few years ago, machines to take your money when you board the bus. Only they won't take your money unless it is a crisp dollar. You have to beg it, and sometimes kick it. Whoever bought these machines spent a lot of taxpayer money on something that works very badly-I think that they contribute to messed-up schedules (Metro busses now travel in herds, several right together instead of on schedule).

These are two legitimate expenditures-for airport security, and for Metro bus passengers-and government can't even get it right.  

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