Why the TSA Searches Grandmothers and Toddlers

For every blowhard trying to get Congress to undo airport security, there is a silent majority of passengers like me who want everyone to be screened.

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Hardly a day goes by that the press and blogs don't blaze with fresh fury over the latest Transportation Security Administration outrage, usually the "manhandling" of, take your pick:

  • A grandmother
  • A toddler
  • An elderly war hero or retired politician.
  • In one high-profile case a while back, Jesse Ventura filed a lawsuit against the TSA for "unwarranted and unreasonable intrusions." After a judge threw out his lawsuit, the former Minnesota governor sarcastically opined he might run for president of "the Fascist States of America."

    [See a collection of political cartoons on airport security.]

    "I will not, in a free country, be treated like a criminal," Ventura said. (Note: You have to respect the chutzpah of a TSA employee who would dare to 'manhandle' Jesse Ventura.)

    Or consider the 85-year-old grandmother taken into a private room for a strip search, who later sarcastically said to a journalist, "I walk with a walker—I really look like a terrorist."

    And then there is the viral video of the pat down of a toddler in a wheelchair. This two-year-old video has attracted more than 1.6 million views.

    Is the TSA crazy? Does it really think that toddlers, grandmothers, and garrulous celebrities could be secret al Qaeda operatives? Are we so saturated by political correctness that we have to systematically pat down patently innocent people just to make everyone feel equally miserable?

    There is, it turns out, a simple explanation for the TSA's seemingly over-aggressive actions: Anne-Marie Murphy.

    [Vote: Did Rand Paul Overreact to TSA’s Request for a Pat Down?]

    The fifth child of a small town Irish family, Anne-Marie Murphy was attractive but shy. By her 30s, she was working as a maid in a posh London hotel. That's when she met a dashing, 32-year-old Jordanian man, Nezar Hindawi.

    After a long and difficult relationship, Anne-Marie became pregnant. Hindawi offered to marry her in Israel.

    Playing the role of a solicitous fiancé, Hindawi bought Anne-Marie a new valise. He booked her flight on El Al to meet him in Israel. He asked her to carry a calculator for him. But Hindawi couldn't fly with Anne-Marie. He had to, he explained, take another flight.

    So on a busy Passover weekend, Anne-Marie went to Heathrow where her bag cleared the X-ray machine. She was not nervous because she had no idea that she had been set up by Hindawi.

    It was only because of El Al's tight procedures and an alert security officer that they dug a little deeper to find the block of Semtex plastic explosives inside the valise and the timer hidden in the calculator planted by Hindawi. Thanks to this last minute of sleuthing, some 375 passengers were saved from being blown to bits in midair. (Hindawi, who was found to be working with Syrian operatives, was caught and sentenced to 45 years in prison.)

    [See a slide show of 6 vulnerable terrorist targets.]

    That incident occurred in 1986. But imagine it today—if a mobile device could capture and post on YouTube the outrage of a pregnant Irish woman suffering the indignity of interrogation and close inspection.

    No doubt, this story is now central to airline security policy around the world. It explains why TSA pats down toddlers in wheelchairs. After all, what better place to hide plastic explosives? If you doubt this, read about al Qaeda's truly sick use of innocents in its bombing campaign during the American occupation of Iraq.

    Ice cream parlors filled with families were a particular favorite.

    And just like Anne-Marie Murphy, a sweet Irish girl from the countryside, anyone can be duped by a false friend, or might be carrying something they do not know they have. Even grandmothers and war heroes. Even Jesse Ventura.

    Similar thoughts were certainly on my mind when I flew with my wife and children out of Bristol, England, in 2006. Before we could board our flight, a Scotland Yard inspector gave us the third degree about whether or not someone might have had temporary access to our bags, and if we could identify all the liquids we were carrying. It wasn't until we arrived stateside that we learned that a plot to detonate explosive liquids on transatlantic flights had been foiled.

    [See photos of the 10th anniversary of 9/11]

    So let me tell you, Jesse Ventura, how I feel about having strangers grope my crotch. I say it's fine if it will lessen the chance that my wife, my children, and I will be blown into the ether at 35,000 feet.

    And TSA, take note. For every blowhard trying to get Congress to undo airport security, there is a silent majority of passengers like me who want everyone to be screened.

    One more thing, TSA. I will say here what I say every time I go through airport security.

    Thank you.

    As far as I have seen, you've been nothing but professional. So thank you for helping to keep us safe and keep up the good work.

    • See a collection of political cartoons on airport security.
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