Bob Franken

TSA: Is Jim DeMint Right in More Ways Than One?

Jim DeMint may have become one of those 50 monkeys at a typewriter who has actually come up with something. Usually, he just spews out garbled slime that serves no other purpose than to add to the highly partisan incoherence. This time, he may have landed on a valid target…Errol Southers.

As galling as it may be, perhaps he’s actually correct when he says there should be no rush, that Senators need to think a little bit longer before they decide whether to confirm Southers as the best person to head the Transportation Security Agency. Not that he had nailed the correct reasons. Senator DeMint’s motivation, after all, was blatant obstructionism of the most Republican kind. He claimed it had to do with the possibility that Southers might allow TSA employes to unionize, which, to the GOP base, is akin to Satanism.

But now, thanks to the Washington Post, we are reminded that Southers’ past provides a bona fide excuse to give DeMint’s fellow Senators pause. Southers admits that a long time ago, 20 years, in fact, that as an FBI Agent, he collected some background police data on his estranged wife’s boyfriend.

Granted two decades is way in the past. And granted, there were extenuating circumstances and granted. Southers owned up to it then and now, and took his punishment at the time. Still, this is more than a commonplace egregious offense. A law enforcement officer, sneaking unauthorized peeks into into confidential information, for any purpose other than utmost official necessity is, probably beyond, as the Catholics would put it, a Mortal Sin. This is right down there in the vicinity of Original Sin.

It is particularly distressing when we consider the particular organization he would head. TSA, as we all know, handles some of the most wide ranging vital and personal information about everyone who flies…millions of us. Unfortunately it also mishandles a lot of that confidential data, but at least that’s presumably by accident.

The last thing the force that mans (and womans) the terminal barricades needs is a suspicion its leader is capable of running roughshod through the nooks and crannies of our privacy. Could that further undermine the already tattered air security reputation?

Maybe, Errol Southers’ advocates are correct. Maybe this was an islolated “mistake”, that Southers exemplary performance since it happened is ample proof that he learned his lesson and that his record since then makes him the very best person for the job. Perhaps. But if it leaves all of us who must obey the orders and whims and pure power of his forces before we’re allowed on an airplane, we really need to be certain that our lives and reputations are in good hands, and not vulnerable to embarrassment and abuse.

So take a breath Senators. Approve him only after deciding that a good case can be made to the public that he will be a stone wall against anyone under his command who might want to pry and invade someone’s privacy. Even Jim DeMint’s.

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