Is TSA too invasive? Mica says yes … and no


6:23 PM EST, November 22, 2010

John Mica is the anti- TSA rock star nowadays, making the TV rounds with his blistering criticism of the agency and its aggressive security measures.

But the Winter Park Republican found himself in the midst of an interesting exchange on CNN over the weekend, when Anderson Cooper noted that Mica — who was calling the body scans too "invasive" — seemed to have said precisely the opposite several years back.

So I decided to look it up — and talk with the congressman myself. Here's what I found:

Last week, in a critical letter, Mica wrote the following about the TSA's screening approach: "This very invasive process should not be used for primary or random screening of passengers and should not be used on children."

OK, got it — too invasive.

Yet, in a CNN appearance in 2002, guest anchor Kate Snow suggested the process was too invasive — and Mica disagreed. Here's part of the exchange:

Snow: "But, Congressman, I've looked at the pictures. This is pretty invasive, if you will. This really shows the outlines of the human body. You don't think that's too much?"

Mica: "I don't. Not in an era of Richard Reids, when they can be detained, they can fit a profile, they can walk through existing equipment and not be detected. We have a new era of terrorism. There's an indication too that people may be concealing an explosives within their bodies. And we've seen in the Middle East the kind of terror that that exposes us to. And I think we're going to need this equipment. I'm doing everything I can to get it on-line."

So I asked Mica: What's the deal?

He responded that he was "still a strong advocate of using technology" — but that his major beef was with the way the program has been initiated. "The roll-out has not been properly handled."

I wasn't sure that really addressed the crux of the seemingly contrasting viewpoints. So Mica elaborated that, back in 2002, he didn't believe the images would actually be as detailed as they now appear — or that these measures would be used as prevalently; rather he expected them to be used after a flag was raised for a particular traveler.

So what's the bottom line? Mica said he still wants to learn more and hopes congressional briefings, some of which took place Monday, will help smooth things out.

That seems appropriate. Bone-headed agents involved in outrageous incidents should be removed from the job. And children's rights, in particular, seem to deserve more careful consideration.

But this country's tendency to react to so many things at warp speed — going from completely uninterested to calling for mass terminations and agency overhauls in less than 60 seconds — doesn't serve us well.

Mica, in particular, is trying to walk a fine line — having blistered the TSA and the Obama administration for being too lax on security measures in the past (last year, he criticized TSA for what he called "poor detection performance"), but now also criticizing them for being too aggressive.

I know Mica knows transportation as well as any member of Congress.

But I also know mixing politics with security and terrorist threats is a tricky proposition … especially if something goes wrong down the road.

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