If you’re like me, you probably find the Transportation Security Administration deeply irritating. But it’s also an institution whose time may have come. Back in the old days of ship travel, and even into the early decades of air travel, things were not as easy and seamless as they were in 2019. A cursory health examination was once a routine part of any long journey. There’s a distinct chance we may be returning to that era. I’ve certainly been somebody who has chafed at restrictions on travel in the past. Some of you might react to today’s video with indignation. It’s certainly not a very “More Freedom” thing to suggest that somewhat more strict restrictions on travel might be necessary.
But it’s not actually all that unprecedented or strange. A big part of building state capacity in the 19th century was around issues of public health. The modern state was, in part, built around sacrificing liberty in the name of sanitation and disease mitigation. The thing was government was almost too successful at this. People have forgotten how important the public health function was. I am grateful to the Prelinger archives for the clip I used in this video. If you are interested, you can check out the video description on YouTube for a link. It shows just how normal heightened public health procedures were at our ports and airports, not all that long ago…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. There are few government organizations more pointless, bloated and widely loathed than the Transportation Security Administration. This 55000 Strong 8 billion dollar federal agency is there mostly to make people feel better through meaningless security theater. But in the era of coronavirus, the TSA may get something it’s never had before, a real mission and a real reason to exist.
At the outermost points of our large harbors, the United States Quarantine Stations stand guard over the health of our country…
The TSA was formulated in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks back in 2001. Despite the fact that future 9-11s could have been averted by spending a few million on locks for airplane cockpit doors, US politicians decided to spend 8 billion dollars a year taking over airport security nation-wide. The TSA became renowned for its ridiculous requirements on things like the size of the toothpaste tube you could bring on the plane.
It also became well known for how ineffectual it was. I lived overseas for most of my 30s, and I often traveled with a book of matches, which are very forbidden under TSA regulations. Because I lived in Turkey, a country where the CIA was actively arming Jihadi terrorists, I got a lot of TSA scrutiny. In dozens of trips, and at least a half dozen heightened scrutiny bag tosses, my matches were found once.
I’m not alone in this. In 2017, Forbes reported that TSA screeners missed 70% of weapons smuggled through by government evaluators. What the TSA has provided for the past 18 years is “Security Theater” it has been a way for politicians to pretend to be doing something without actually doing anything.
Well now we are facing a threat to US national security that makes the Islamic State look like a sad joke. The extraordinary amounts of money we have been spending on counterterrorism look ridiculous compared to the very real and very recurring threat of the Coronavirus pandemic. There should be a great reorganization and reprioritizarion of US national security money in the coming years, and I know a great first place to start. The Transportation Security Administration.
In the United States it looks like we are finally just beginning to see the benefits of social distancing, as the curve begins to bend in some jurisdictions. To begin to think about restarting the economy, however, we need to set up a ton of measures, including wide scale testing and tracing. One of the most important measures will be making sure that sick people don’t get on airplanes.
China and South Korea have demonstrated how the use of mass temperature taking and other methods can be used to flag people who don’t even look like they have symptoms yet. Once US testing technology gets up to the level present in most of the world’s shithole countries, people the TSA flags could be quickly tested, and if they are positive their movements could be traced, helping us to kill this virus. For the first time in two decades of existence the Transportation Security Administration could provide a real service to this country and to the world.
Now I don’t want to undersell the difficulty of this transformation. Bureaucracies are hard to move, and there are a lot of legal and technological hurdles that need to be hurdled here. But what the TSA has is a large federal workforce, based in the right places to do something useful, that is not currently doing anything useful. What’s more, with the near complete shutdown of national and international travel, there is no reason that these changes and new procedures can’t be tested and rolled out right now.
One of the most important steps would probably be moving the TSA from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is where our most valuable tools against pandemic disease like the CDC and Dr. Fauci’s NIAID are located. Serious response to the pandemic threat will require a serious burst in funding and staffing for these medical organizations. Placing the TSA’s strategically located manpower closer to these organizations just makes sense.
Also the entire Department of Homeland Security should probably be broken up after its complete failure to ward off the largest threat to the homeland since the War of 1812, but that’s a different video. For now we have got to get to work on fixing the mess we are in, and for the first time in its existence I think the TSA could be very helpful. It’s leaders should be focused on this incredible opportunity to help.
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