Janet Napolitano rebuffed industry concerns at a White House meeting today, frustrating pilot & tourism representatives worried about an economic backlash and traveler revolt
Aaron Dykes & Alex Jones
November 12, 2010
In a hastily-called emergency meeting at the White House today, DHS director Janet Napolitano told representatives from the most powerful pilot’s union as well as the travel & tourism lobbies that despite the backlash of concerns about airport security, TSA’s use of invasive body scanners and humiliating patdowns, including the groping of passenger’s breasts and genitals, would continue. The frustrated executives were anything but satisfied by her statements.
Geoff Freeman, Executive Vice President for the U.S. Travel Association, walked away from the meeting stating that it was “not entirely reassuring.” With tangible irritation, he commented, “We understand the challenge DHS confronts but the question is where we draw the line.”
The ramped up security measures have set off what Freeman says are hundreds of calls from travelers threatening not to fly. A whole range of interconnected tourism industries are concerned about the detrimental effect of security on business and travel. The airlines estimate that they’ve lost $9.4 billion in revenue due to “avoided” travel. Further, a 2008 survey found that 41 million potential fliers stayed home due to concerns about a “broken” or badly impaired system.
“You can’t talk on the one hand about creating jobs in this country and getting this economy back on track and on the other hand discourage millions of Americans from flying, which is the gateway to commerce,” Freeman railed.
However, Napolitano made clear that TSA’s operations would not only continue but expand as new technology is rolled out. “Trusted Traveler” programs have been scheduled for implementation, and would utilize biometric data such as retinal scanning for identification.
Travel-related industries are particularly concerned that the onset of a ‘travel revolt’ and a flurry of news coverage about groping and molestation occurrences at check points have come right before the holidays, the heaviest travel season of the year. Citizen groups have advocated either not flying or refusing to go through the body scanners. A “National Opt Out Day” protest has been coordinated on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest single day for air travel of the entire year.
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Representatives for pilot organizations were also at the meeting with Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole.
John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, objected to the unnecessary scrutiny of airline pilots and flight attendants, who, unlike TSA’s own employees, have already undergone background checks and who have been cleared to enter the cockpit. Pilots have already been trusted to operate the most dangerous potential “weapon” aboard any aircraft– the plane itself. What contraband could they could possibly conceal on their person that would be of greater concern?
“Pilots are not the terrorist threat,” Prater commented. “Seeing scarce security resources being used on pilots makes absolutely no sense.”
Also challenging security policy, Capt. Mike Cleary, president of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, wrote a letter this week advising pilots not to subject themselves to body scanners (i.e. Advanced Imaging Technology) due to health concerns about the radiation as well as concerns about the intrusiveness and behavior of TSA agents.
In truth, the security measures have not been put in place to curb terrorism—major media outlets have reported on the fact that in TSA’s nine year history, it has failed to stop even one terrorist.
Instead, the economic and privacy costs of security are shifted directly into the private security complex. Michael Chertoff authorized contracts for the body scanners and other security technology during his reign as head of Homeland Security, only to benefit directly from multi-billion dollar contracts as an industry representative and lobbyist for the body scanners after leaving the Bush Administration.