The Because-We-Said-So Skies


In October, former Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage was pulled aside at the Boise airport for a frisking, because she had a one-way United Airlines ticket to Reno. She demanded to see the federal regulation requiring, as of Sept. 20, mandatory pat-downs for passengers selected for secondary screening, and was told it was none of her damned beeswax. She refused the groping, and drove the 420 miles instead. "Our borders are wide open and yet they're shaking down a 66-year-old white grandmother they greeted by name," Chenoweth-Hage told The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey. "I think it's time the American people say no to this kind of invasion. It's a question of personal privacy. There shouldn't be that kind of search without reasonable cause to believe there's a need."

The because-we-said-so explanation for airport screening is currently being challenged in the courts (start with this Brian Doherty post about John Gilmore, and move backward through the links). Popkey contributes some comical guvmint quotations to the mix:

Chenoweth didn't want to see the secret screening criteria; she just sought a look at the part of the regulation that mandates pat-downs for the chosen. Why couldn't they let her see that?

"Because we don't have to," [TSA security director Julian] Gonzales said. "That is called 'security sensitive information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else."

Jennifer Marty, a TSA spokeswoman, said release of the regulation would invite danger. "We don't want certain information in the hands of people who could do us harm."

The Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News calls this "a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance," explaining: "Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know." Secrecy News also obtained a fresh Gilmore-related report [PDF] by the Congressional Research Service, which it says

describes with welcome clarity how, by altering a few words in the Homeland Security Act, Congress "significantly broadened" the government's authority to generate "sensitive security information," including an entire system of "security directives" that are beyond public scrutiny.