One of the more interesting portions of Manhattan’s geography is Union Square Park, which serves as a farmer’s market, transit hub, and rallying point for political activists of varying political stripes. One of the groups that has used Union Square to showcase its views, both today and in the past, is the Communist Party.
However, this past friday saw a protest sponsored by the New York Libertarian Party that was entitled Ban the Scan, and intended to speak out against what it perceives as misguided policies initiated by the Transportation Security Administration, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security ostensibly designed to secure American airways and air travelers from terrorist threats.
To demonstrate the weirdness of the City on certain days, one of the first groups of people I encountered was a band of Hare Krishnas. Presumably, they weren’t concerned with being screened by TSA agents, although I can’t help but think they would be some of the first ones pulled out for extra screening.
I encountered a significantly more disturbing sight as I walked towards the subway terminal where I spotted a group of posters that I assumed were related to the upcoming protest. It turns out-and an organizer of the anti-TSA rally assured me this was the case-that the group in question wasn’t associated with the rally at all, but was rather a conglomeration of Truthers, whose continued stupidity can only be properly satirized through a Cox & Forkum cartoon.
Although the fact that this group of paranoid, borderline schizophrenic gadflies has diminished in the decade since the September 11th massacres committed by Al Qaeda is heartening, it still irritates me whenever I see members crawl out from underneath their highway overpasses and caves in order to berate people who have endured more terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks than anyone else in this country.
There were more conventional political activists who showed up for the TSA rally, including several fervent Ron Paul supporters:
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the sponsors of this rally was Rep. Ron Paul’s political organization, Campaign for Liberty.
Many of the signs focused on the intrusiveness of TSA screenings, which were analogized to sexual harassment.
Other avenues of attack focused on the perceived abrogation of the right to travel by the TSA and urged airline passengers to opt out of both full body scans and pat-downs, or highlighted the alleged health dangers posed by scanners.
This was probably the least persuasive line of argument used by TSA opponents during the event. As has been pointed out by people much more well-versed in this subject than me, the levels of radiation these scanners expose you to is not nearly enough to put your health or life at risk. The first LP activist to speak made a much more persuasive case that these methods of screening passengers are not cost-effective either from an economic or national security standpoint.
In a compelling, if overlong, speech decrying our current Homeland Security initiatives, he explored how we could have a much more efficacious method of passenger screening by implementing the model used by El-Al. Israel’s national airline relies upon extensive behavioral profiling that focuses on obvious risks, and not benign grandmothers, six year-old children, or anyone else sure to provoke a TSA horror story.
My own view is that while there are undoubtedly some very capable, very hard-working TSA agents, the current system does not work for anyone. And the definitive proof that this is the case is that while you can cite Customs and Border Patrol agents, members of the Armed Forces, CIA agents, and even electronics store clerks who have broken up potential terrorist plots, the TSA has yet to thwart a significant terrorist plot on American soil. I doubt rallies like the one shown in this photo-essay will do anything to prod the federal government to adopt any sensible reforms, but the fact that some people are not satisfied with the current, ad hoc approach to combating terror in the skies is inescapable.