Duncan’s airport security rant gets noticed

Duncan’s airport security rant gets noticed

By Michael Collins

Monday, December 20, 2010

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. stirred up quite a fuss with his tirade over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation’s airports.

The Knoxville Republican has been all over the radio and TV since he went to the House floor in November and ripped the Transportation Security Administration for what he called “invasive” security procedures.

The congressman’s diatribe is also a hit on the Web. His website got nearly 1.9 million hits the day he delivered his speech. That’s more than a hundred times the traffic his site sees normally. A video of Duncan’s reprimand of the TSA has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube. Again, that’s roughly a hundred times more views than most of his videos get.

Most of the comments he has received have been from people who share his belief that the security measures are an invasion of privacy and will do little to make air travel safer.

“We’ve got to have some balance and common sense about this stuff,” Duncan said. “If we spent 100 percent of the federal budget on security, we couldn’t make the country totally, completely safe. You just can’t do it. We have plenty of security at the airports right now.”

Expect to hear a lot more about airport security in the coming months.

Congressional hearings on the scanners and the pat-downs are likely to be held in 2011. Duncan sits on two panels with jurisdiction over the TSA.

“I will continue to speak out in hearings and on the floor if they don’t back off on this some,” Duncan said. “They say they are tweaking it to some extent, but I doubt they will tweak it very much. I think they’ll probably just hope the furor dies down and we will accept it like we accept everything, no matter how expensive or wasteful it is.”

The full-body scanners and the pat-downs are symptoms of a much larger problem with the TSA, Duncan said.

When Congress federalized 16,500 private airport security screeners in the fall of 2001, lawmakers hoped the TSA would remain “a lean, flexible agency that could react quickly to changing threats,” Duncan wrote to TSA Administrator John Pistole in November.

What TSA has become, he said, is “a top-heavy bureaucracy of well over 60,000 employees, hopelessly bogged down with over 3,500 headquarters staff, the average salary of whom is $106,000.”

The agency will spend $300 million to install 1,000 scanners at airports, Duncan said, even though they are “of questionable efficacy.”

Duncan and other Congress members also have been critical because former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff represents Rapiscan Systems, the maker of the full-body scanners.nt.

“I think these scanners are far more about money than they are about any real threat,” Duncan said.

Regarding Chertoff’s relationship with Rapiscan, “that’s a strange thing in and of itself,” he added.

The full-body scanners are not used at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, but “you can rest assured they’ll have them in Knoxville if we continue the full-scale operation of these machines,” Duncan said.

The TSA will not say when the scanners will be installed at specific airports. About 415 are in use at roughly 70 airports nationwide, said Jon Allen, a spokesman for TSA’s Atlanta office.

The agency plans to have 450 scanners in place by the end of the year, and another 500 set up by the end of 2011.

Michael Collins of Washington, D.C., also writes for the News Sentinel and Scripps Howard News Service. He may be contacted at 202-408-2711 or collinsm@shns.com.
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© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group


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