Saturday, December 25, 2010

Around Town: Leading from the rear

The White House reaction to public criticism of the new TSA crotch pat-downs, enhanced searches and back-scatter X-ray scanning equipment, as implemented by our unprofessional and poorly trained TSA staff at airports, reminded me of Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II.

Churchill remained in London during the Blitz. He was in a position to move to safer areas. He was in a position to pull rank. He refused. Every night during the bombings Churchill remained in London. As soon as the all clear sounded, he hit the streets in a very public fashion. He visited areas in London bombed out by the German Luftwaffe.He stayed in London in unpleasant and dangerous conditions. Londoners viewed Churchill as one of their own. They were inspired by him because he did not lead from the rear.

The United States Marine Corps also has a long history of leadership. Marine Corps officers are taught to put their enlisted troops first. They are instructed to refrain from using their position for safety or comfort at the expense of the troops. "Follow me!" requires the leader to charge into danger (and inconvenience) ahead of the troops.

Ever since 9/11, frequent fliers have put up with the TSA shenanigans because we want to cooperate with our government in the battle against terrorism. Sadly, airline passengers bear witness to TSA's bumbling and inconsistent application of what appear to be nonsensical airport security rules.

Worse still, the front line TSA employees are poorly trained and poorly supervised.

The "frat boy" atmosphere where male TSA agents hounded a Texas college student, publicly exposing her breasts and joking about it, was unprofessional and criminal.

We all saw the story of the TSA agent who tormented the Michigan bladder cancer patient, who ignored his explanation about his condition, and who then left the man crying and covered in urine after the assaultive pat-down ruptured the seal on the passenger's urostomy bag.

There are numerous reports from breast cancer survivors who were forced to remove their prosthetics. Horrible.

Then the report of an injured passenger, who cried in pain as the TSA agent insisted on pushing the bandages. Honestly, who does that? A sadist?

And don't get me started on the dirty plastic gloves that are not changed between searches. One female news reporter described the crotch search inside her underpants, from back to front and again from front to back. That is just plain stupid.

Common sense tells us that TSA could do better.

The day before Thanksgiving, faced with media criticism, congressional inquiries and the highly publicized airline passenger opt out movement, TSA did do better. Reportedly, many of the backscatter machines were deactivated, and the front line TSA staff cheerfully and politely greeted travellers. Thanks to the public reaction and media attention, instead of creating confrontation and misery, TSA avoided it by supervising their staff and acting appropriately.

TSA should always conduct itself appropriately because the best defense on a flight is the brave and empowered American passenger. When TSA beats down morale, it destroys the last line of defense in the war against terror.

If Winston Churchill were alive today, and if he thought this TSA stuff was that important, he'd be the first in line, along with his family, to publicly undergo the enhanced pat down and the back-scatter X-ray. He would do it to empower us, to show us that he is one of the people and to keep TSA honest. He would undergo both the back-scatter X-ray and the enhanced pat down each and every time he boarded his taxpayer-funded, private jet.

I call upon President Barack Obama his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters, and Vice President Joe Biden and his family, and all our elected officials to follow Winston Churchill's example.

Lead from the front. Do the same screening as the rest of us. Do it each time you board a flight. That's what America is all about.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La CaƱada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at

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