The TSA's Image Problem, Continued

CNN reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is investigating an air marshal field office in Florida, where air marshals are "alleged to have used a crew assignment board to ridicule and keep score on women, gays and minorities."

According to CNN, the board had a grid drawn on it, similar to the one used on the TV game show Jeopardy!, and included various derogatory terms for gay men, African-Americans, and lesbians.

This comes on the heels of a CBS News report about the "toxic environment" at the Federal Air Marshal Service. The report cites anonymous former employees who describe the air marshals service as "sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-disabled vet group, [and] grossly incompetent," and say the service is "dominated by an 'old boys club' of white, male supervisors—mainly ex-secret service agents who, they allege, routinely discriminate, intimidate and retaliate against employees who question their actions or authority."

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The same people making these claims suggest this environment pushes qualified air marshals out of the service, leaving the agency shorthanded and unable to perform its task. Craig Sawyer, a former air marshal, told CBS News, "There are thousands and thousands of flights that are unprotected because good agents have been chased off."

CBS News' Armen Keteyian adds "That may be why, as one internal email shows, the service recently sought help from six other federal agencies— like the Coast Guard—in order to meet a '90-day [TSA] surge initiative' to increase security on U.S. flights in response to the attempted Christmas day attack."

Mind Your Own Business?

While reading the various news stories and articles on this subject, I came across a fascinating trend: Lots of commenters saying the media shouldn't report this stuff (mostly the Jeopardy! board story), that, effectively, what happens behind closed doors is none of the public's business. Numerous commenters contend that those on the outside shouldn't judge what happens on the inside, because we can't know what it's like to bear the pressure of protecting our national security.

My sense is that there's some truth to this. Most of the officials who drew up that board, or who defend it, may not have meant any harm. And in most other contexts, one could have a debate about political correctness, and whether or not we should be so sensitive.

But these agents and their defenders don't see or comprehend the damage they're inflicting on the TSA and, to a point, on the national psyche. The TSA's image is in the tank at the moment, and it's difficult to estimate how much confidence the public has in the agency—or, more usefully, how safe the public feels.

Racism, sexism, and intolerance really have no place in our national security program, and the appearance of any form of prejudice only drags the TSA's reputation—some may even say its solvency—further into the depths. We need to trust our security personnel, both their character and judgment, and this does anything but inspire trust.

After all, there is no such thing as guaranteed security, but it doesn't take much to make people feel unsafe.

Readers, do you think the media (present company included) should lay off, or do we have both a right and a need to know what our security agencies are up to? Leave a comment below.

Read comments or add your own insight!
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