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.

NEXT: The DEA Rebuts Itself

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  1. Well, I feel safer!

  2. Because we all know how well “security through obscurity” works to prevent software piracy and network cracking. Why not apply it to homeland security?

  3. The first rule of Flight Club is …

  4. I think the more appropriate line from Fight Club would be: “The first rule of Project Mayhem is…”

  5. Wow, a political figure from my home state that I can be proud of.

  6. Everyone should just simply quit flying for a year. Things ought to change then. Maybe…Ok, I know, its the guvmint we’re talking about, my bad.

  7. Julian Gonzalez says “She’s not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else.” If this is true, then how do they know it exists, if no one, including Gonzalez, has seen it?

  8. When I was in high school, my civics teacher explained to us why Draconian Law was an advance on previous practice, despite its apparent severity:

    “Becuase it set limits on punishment, rather than allowing judges to do whatever they wanted. Most of all, because now the law was codified, meaning that everyone knew the law, knew what they were forbidden to do, and knew the consequences. No one could simply make up a law, since no one could be charged with anything that wasn’t in the code.”

    We have now officially regressed twenty-five centuries to the era of secret ordinances and surprise consequences. The law is what they say it is; your rights are whatever they choose to let you have; the consequences are whatever happens to cross their imagination.

  9. From the lead item: “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.'”

    If any policy can be labeled “un-American,” that’s gotta be it. If the terrorists hate us for our freedoms, shouldn’t they be loving us after crap like the above? Where’s the love, man? I’m not feeling it, but I am feeling the pat-down. Hey, watch where you put your hands, ya gorilla ya! Pardon me, I mean Mr. Gorilla, sir.

  10. Ignorance of the super secret, unseen, unknown law is no excuse.

  11. Sigh…it’s got to be said, even though I will be roundly shouted down for it: nobody HAS to fly. Flying on a plane that is owned & operated by a business does NOT mean that you can do whatever you please — it also means that you agree to comply with whatever rules & regulations that the airline dictates, including the ones that the business has decided are in its’ best interest via cooperating with the government. As there isn’t a huge national outcry over this practice, then it can be assumed that the vast majority of flyers are OK with the practice and have determined that complying with the occasional pat-down is merely an inconvenience, and not a full-frontal assault on every civil liberty known to man.


  12. Not cool.

    For some people, like my wife, flying is not an option; it is a job requirement (unless you know of a way to get from Boston to Chicago back to Boston within 48 hours to give a detailed report due, by law, two business days later). Simply because she agrees to submit to all this in order to do her job does not mean she actually does not feel inconvenienced by this. By your logic, yeah, she could work at Wal-Mart instead as a greeter.

    Riddle me this: a new section of the Patriot Act is passed requiring you to give the TSA screeners photos of your kids, with their names, addreses and schools; failure to do so is equivalent to forefeiture of your right to board the plane. Do you think that would be cool? Or just part of the price we pay for the new security regime?

  13. david-

    The airlines aren’t enforcing TSA policies because they want to, they’re doing it because they have to. The fact that the TSA is coercing a private business to put some restrictions in place does not mean that these restrictions are a voluntary arrangement. Don’t fall for the “you agreed to it” line that they give you.

  14. The problem with this whole situation is the difference between theory and reality. In theory, we are asked to surrender certain rights in the interest of public safety and agree to certain reasonable precautions. But in reality, the government decides what is or is not reasonable with little or no input from the people who actually have to abide by their new security guidelines. Ok, that’s bad enough. But in this case they go even further and refuse to even explain the basis for their reasoning. So, as the article states, it’s reasonable “because we said so.”

  15. Seriously, isn’t this all just what the terrorists would want? This is just shortening the life span of our status as a great nation, and OBL and friends are loving it.

  16. They could have just handed her a card with this (49 CFR 1540.107). It answered her question, just not in a useful way.

    ? 1540.107 Submission to screening and inspection.

    No individual may enter a sterile area or board an aircraft without submitting to the screening and inspection of his or her person and accessible property in accordance with the procedures being applied to control access to that area or aircraft under this subchapter

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