Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic has figured out who's to blame for the Detroit air bombing. You might be surprised to hear this, but it turns out that the bombing was all the fault of , yes, …. George W. Bush!
Goldberg’s tired variation on this wheezing theme starts with a true observation: whole-body imaging machines would have made it much harder for a terrorist to hide explosives on his body to get through screening. But they’re only being used for secondary screening right now; we haven’t bought enough machines to screen everyone. Says Goldberg:
That's right, the Bush Administration managed to equip 40 screening lanes -- 40, across the 50 states -- with body-imaging machines. In other words, there are better scapegoats out there than Janet Napolitano.
Goldberg’s not completely wrong. There are better scapegoats than Janet Napolitano. (In fact, she deserves credit for something that often goes overlooked.
Not unless the image to the left is part of some heretofore-unknown Bush Administration propaganda effort.
In fact, it's part of a relentless and successful campaign waged by privacy groups against wide deployment of these machines. The ACLU, with its usual understatement, declared that they were a “virtual strip search.” A couple of dozen groups signed a letter this year demanding that their use be suspended.
As a result of the campaign, just this June, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to prohibit TSA from using the machines for primary screening.
So, as Jeffrey Goldberg says, there should be a scapegoat for TSA's failure to roll out whole body imaging more quickly. A couple of dozen scapegoats, actually.
In fact, if you wanted an example of why it’s almost impossible to implement new security measures until after a disaster, this is a classic.
We all saw that terrorists would be able to beat the system by hiding explosives on their person. So did al Qaeda. We obviously needed a new approach. But over the past five or six years, the privacy groups have basically opposed all new security measures. And they’ve managed to bring Congress along, often by mobilizing a left-right civil liberties coalition.
Doing anything new in government is damn hard. Doing something new with that kind of opposition is nearly impossible.
At least until there’s a disaster.