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OPINION

Just what are we getting for the $7 billion spent on the TSA?

When it comes to herding us onto planes, the Transportation Security Administration treats everyone as a potential terrorist.

But Jeffrey Tyrone Savage? Who in 2005 shot a man and dumped his body on an interstate off-ramp?

He gets a card from the TSA that gives him access to secure military bases. No problem at all.

Now, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo is dead. The events surrounding the killing of this 24-year-old sailor late Monday aboard the destroyer Mahan are a horror.

Had security procedures worked as they should, Mayo — who died protecting another sailor — might still be alive.

The Navy is conducting two investigations into how Savage, a violent felon, got onto Norfolk Naval Station. According to reports, the truck driver boarded the Mahan and took a gun off a sailor standing guard. Mayo came to her rescue and was shot.

Savage also was killed.

An outraged U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has fired off letters to the Navy and Homeland Security demanding answers about how this happened.

In the meantime, the public has a right to ask what exactly it's getting for the roughly $7 billion spent each year on the TSA. After all, the agency issued the TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) card that gave Savage initial access to a secure military base.

But buy an airline ticket, and you're forced to shuffle shoeless through a security checkpoint where you may be subjected to any manner of indignities at the hands of latex-gloved TSA agents. Like the passengers they search, some agents are exceedingly polite. Others are bullies.

Agents force feeble people out of their wheelchairs — I've seen that with my own eyes — drive travelers through body scanners and perform invasive pat-downs on others.

Like sheep, the traveling public has accepted these measures with little more than minor grumbling. After all, the TSA is just trying to keep us safe, right?

Yet this week, we learned that while air passengers are subject to intense scrutiny, that agency merrily approves criminals for TWIC cards, the critical first step in gaining unescorted access to secure military bases.

Frankly, those of us who live in close proximity to the country's largest naval installation are as concerned about base security as we are about commercial air travel. After 9/11, we were assured that tight measures were in place.

So when news of last week's shooting broke, some of us wondered how an intruder was able to sneak onto the base.

Turns out, Savage passed the TSA's background check and may have been waved in after showing his TWIC card.

The Pilot reports that some criminal offenses do not appear to be an impediment to TWIC approval.

Yep, in the peculiar world of the TSA, where every baby stroller is a potential weapon and every family headed to Disney World might be a tribe of terrorists, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter — and possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute — appears to be just fine for civilians seeking base clearance.

Look, felons have a right to earn a living. And it's one thing if McDonald's, Home Depot or Starbucks wants to hire convicts who are trying to go straight. But national security should never be sacrificed in the squishy pursuit of second chances.

It's not just the TSA at fault here, of course. It seems that gate guards or others should have stopped Savage when he drove his Freightliner cab where it didn't belong Monday night.

We don't yet know all the details of what went down.

But we do know that Americans are spending billions of dollars a year on an agency that eyes innocent air travelers with undisguised suspicion while allowing convicted killers access to military bases.

Unacceptable.
 

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