"If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."
~ anonymous but now famous protest about a pre-flight pat down by the TSA.
Ok, I admit I'm trying to get your attention.
The incest I'm talking about is the incestuous relationship between our government policy-makers and corporations whose products offer possible "solutions" to our assorted problems. Thanks to the huge influence some of these corporations enjoy, policy alternatives do not appear to get a full airing before procurement decisions are made.
Take, for example, the Transportation Security Administration [TSA]'s use of new invasive security techniques. If your head has been under a rock, or you're still suffering from a turkey tryptophan hang-over, you might have missed the loud outcry about the use of body scanners that show operators pictures of your body through your clothes. I can't remember where I read it, but apparently the "view" is accurate enough that one airport employee apparently beat the heck out of another for making fun of the size of his member after a TSA demonstration. Oh yes, and don't forget the really personal physical "pat downs" that go with the body scan, to erase any lingering doubts.
It's the body scanner I want to focus on at the moment. Is it good policy or good lobbying that landed $338 million worth of federal contracts for Advanced Imaging Technology [AIT Corp]'s body scanner technology? Mother Jones Magazine presents a pretty thorough list of lobbyists involved, although somehow they left off Linda Daschle, wife of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and also a former FAA Administrator. Her contract for AIT Corp is said to be $100K. Look at this line-up:
"Which brings us to the money shot. The body scanner is sure to get a go-ahead because of the illustrious personages hawking them. Chief among them is former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. For days after the attack, Chertoff made the rounds on the media promoting the scanners, calling the bombing attempt "a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery"—all without disclosing his relationship to Rapiscan. According to the Washington Post:
Chertoff’s advocacy for the technology dates back to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government’s first batch of the scanners—five from California-based Rapiscan Systems.
In the summer, TSA purchased 150 machines from Rapiscan with $25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
The Washington Examiner last week ran down an entire list of all the former Washington politicians and staff members who are now part of what it calls the "full-body scanner lobby":
One manufacturer, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is American Science & Engineering, Inc. AS&E has retained the K Street firm Wexler & Walker to lobby for "federal deployment of security technology by DHS and DOD." Individual lobbyists on this account include former TSA deputy administration Tom Blank, who also worked under House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Chad Wolf—former assistant administrator for policy at TSA, and a former aide to Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., a top Senate appropriator and the ranking Republican on the transportation committee—is also lobbying on AS&E’s behalf.
Smiths Detection, another screening manufacturer, employs top transportation lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates, including Kevin Patrick Kelly, a former top staffer to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who sits on the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee. Smiths also retains former congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md."
Former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., represents L3 Systems, about which Bloomberg wrote today: "L-3 has ‘developed a more sophisticated system that could prevent smuggling of almost anything on the body,’ said Howard Rubel, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., who has a ‘hold’ rating on the stock."
Oh, and by the way, the CEO of one of the manufacturers' parent companies, Deepak Chopra - no, not that Deepak Chopra - is said to have been deeply involved in influencing President Obama's trip to India this month.
# # #
But, you might ask, don't we need these scanners, as distasteful as they may be, to deal with a serious security threat?
Yes, folks, we have a pretty serious terrorist problem. But there are other, proven security methods. Take Israel. That country's airport security is the safest in the world, and they do not use body scanners. Perhaps Israel never even considered body scanners. Their multi-party system includes heavily religious orthodox-influenced parties with a strong value around modesty. Their cultural considerations demanded a less invasive solution. In the short video that follows, Isaac Yeffet, El Al's head of security, talks about Israeli security procedures:
One of my facebook friends, Andrea Kent, made the point that Israel can do this because almost all air traffic goes in and out one (admittedly huge) airport in Tel Aviv. This might be different than running security through hundreds and hundreds of airports spread out across the United States. But then again, it might not be. We train police in every city and small town in the country. It's not impossible. I'm not even sure how the cost for hiring extra security staff compares to the cost for the body scanners, but think of how many people could be taken off the unemployment roles! I love a solution that solves multiple problems!
Look, friends, I'm not suggesting that America should necessarily do security like El Al, or that we shouldn't have purchased the scanners. I really don't know. But what I do know is this: there was no cadre of lobbyists pitching El Al-like low tech, less invasive security measures. We do not get a full and open debate when policy discussions are this imbalanced.
This is not a new problem. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Halliburton connections to the Bush White House - click here for one article, but you can google for others.
It reminds me of the White House connection with Goldman-Sachs that spans at least five presidencies, and placed Goldman-Sachs people in influential posts within Administration after Administration.
And maybe worst of all are the war profiteers who lobby heavily for the continuation of war because it profits their companies, casualties be damned! click here for a really disturbing story from Truthout.
While I'm not thrilled by the possibility of some leering - or even earnest - airport security employee looking through my skivvies, I am extremely bothered by way these decisions get made - and I hope you are too. I am tired of the American people being victimized by incestuous relationships between our policy makers and our corporate "citizens." Discussions upon which these big contract decisions are made are not fair, competitive or thorough. It's a set-up, loaded from the get-go.
Unfortunately, that's just D.C.
The problem for me is, this was supposed to be the Administration to end "business-as-usual." I hated it under the Bush administration, and I continue to hate it under the Obama administration. The only thing better now is that social networking makes it possible for these little "relationships" to be outed. Not that my little blog with its 50 or so readers on a good week can make much of a difference. But let's get verbal, friends. It's the only hope we've got.
If you care, repost this blog post. If you want to read more, here are the articles that got my ire up:
And this site has a video, but it doesn't have an "embed code," so you have to go there to watch it: http://www.buzzbox.com/top/default/preview/the-big-business-of-scanner-lobbying/?clusterId=2524576&id=15497070&topic=lobbying%3Ascanner.
I "borrowed" the picture above from Mother Jones contributor, Kevin Drum's blog, btw.