TSA or Secret Service: Which is worse?

A reader noted after reading my "I was wrong about the TSA" post that my conclusions were quite different from those I made in a post I did in 2010 after getting grilled by a couple U.S. Secret Service officers. Some clarity is called for here.

Yesterday I wrote about how I felt ashamed for sticking up for the TSA in a post last fall, in light of mounting evidence that the agency is bloated and abusive. In my 2010 post about the Secret Service grilling, I offered a somewhat sympathetic view. The officers were on edge because the president was leaving on Marine One and, right before that, the New Orleans Saints football team were at the White House to get their photo op with Obama after winning the Super Bowl. All in all, a chaotic morning.

The reader made the following observation in a series of Twitter messages (I'm keeping him anonymous since these were direct messages):

"Juxtaposing two posts you mentioned today w/ intrusive government orgs, TSA vs. Secret Service. Very different conclusions drawn."

True, I said, though my views about the Secret Service had hardened in the months following my street-corner detainment. I showed him the post I wrote a year later on what I should have said and done during that encounter. Or, more accurately, what I would have said if I had the guts.

He wrote back:

"First post was probably correct. Giving them a hard time wouldn't change anything, just make them react negatively. They did what anyone in the security industry does, evaluated a potential threat for risk then documented it for later reference/analysis."

My friend is correct here. The Secret Service officers were acting on their training. In their minds, I was suspicious because I was unshaven, dressed in black T-shirt and pants and I had been lingering around the White House taking a lot of pictures while waiting for Marine One to take off so I could take pictures of that. I was being a typical tourist, but to them I was doing things they've always been ordered to watch for.

In many cases, the TSA does the same thing. They do what they were trained to do and follow the rules (so they say, anyway). But here's the difference:

The U.S. Secret Service -- the ones in suits and on bicycles -- aren't going to stop little children and frisk them. They're not going to take away someone's cupcake because it "might be sprinkled with an explosive." From my years of covering security, my observation is that the Secret Service operates with more common sense. Granted, we don't know about what the Secret Service does behind the scenes. But we have all the evidence we need to see that the TSA is out of control.

Also worth noting is that the TSA's rules of engagement are laced with stupidity and need updating. Until that happens, go ahead and blame Obama. He promised more transparency and hasn't delivered. This is but one example of that.

My conclusion is the same as it was yesterday: The more we Americans cower in fear over every perceived threat, the more power we will give the government to "keep us safe."

The more we do that, the more freedom the government will take away from us.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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