THE TRANSPORTATION Security Administration took another justified public-relations black eye this past weekend when it insisted that a seriously ill, wheelchair-bound 95-year-old woman remove her wet diaper before allowing her to board her flight.
The reasoning was that TSA had to examine the diaper and the screeners weren't going to examine it because it was soiled. Not having another Depends, the woman flew to her final destination -- literally, she is planning on being buried there -- with no underpants.
This followed another black eye for the agency when this spring a video went viral of Anna, a frightened 6-year-old being subjected to an intense and intimate pat-down.
The likelihood that either of these subjects of humiliating scrutiny posed a plausible security threat is risible.
Nonetheless, on Sunday the Taliban tricked an 8-year-old girl into delivering a bag to an Afghan police post. The bag contained a bomb, and as she approached the officers the bomb went off, apparently by remote control. The only casualty was the little girl.
And we've already had one near-miss with loaded underpants. In December 2009, passengers and crew aboard a Detroit-bound flight prevented a man from detonating his underwear bomb.
There is no doubt that if U.S.-hating terrorists could trick, force or brainwash a child or an elderly woman into carrying a bomb aboard one of our airliners, they would do so in a second.
That said, each time one of these embarrassing incidents happens, the TSA insists it was only following "rules and procedures." But since the TSA devises the rules and procedures, that's no explanation at all. Each time, too, the TSA says it is working to streamline and improve its screening methods. Airline passengers will have to judge for themselves how well that's working.
The problem with this security overkill against passengers, who surely to the trained eyes of screeners pose no threat, not to mention the petty annoyances of having to discard toothpaste whose tubes are an ounce too large, is that it brings the whole screening process into disrepute.
The TSA screening process is now a staple of late-night comedy. In the current political atmosphere, the screening is seen as big government throwing its weight around. And now the Texas legislature is getting into the act by attempting to regulate when TSA can do enhanced security checks. Lay off the private parts, the proposed law says.
The TSA screeners have improved greatly in their attitude and professionalism since those awful immediate post-9/11 days. And that's vital because another attempt on our airliners is inevitable, and, as the terrorists say, "We only have to get it right once; you have to get it right every time.''
That said, the TSA should put greater reliance on the common sense, professional judgment and flexibility of its screeners. The proper response to wheelchair-bound Lena Ruppert and little Anna returning from vacation with her parents was not a humiliating full-body pat-down, but a simple, "Have a nice flight."