Let's not forget our friends at TSA

Marc Abrams

My wife Jan and I live, most of the time, 600 miles apart. That means we're on airplanes. A lot. And on her last trip up here from the Bay Area, she got "the treatment" from TSA, thanks to the never-ending parnoia about terrorism that has dehumanized air transport. What follows is her account. As the bumper sticker says: if you're not angry, you're not paying attention...

I travel through airports regularly and I know the drill. I’d spent Tuesday afternoon reading about all the pissed-off travelers who’d run afoul of the TSA’s new hands-on security techniques that let them see through your clothing with full-body x-ray technology and grope you through your clothes if anything unexplained shows up on the image. I’d read the latest frequent flier advice to seek out the security lines with the old-fashioned metal detectors and avoid the newfangled porn-producing equipment. TSA was saying that if you take everything out of your pockets and behave yourself on your way through, there should be no need to check out your naked self or cop a feel.

So I was feeling confident as I arrived at Oakland International Airport early Tuesday evening and the Thanksgiving crowds hadn’t yet showed up. I looked for the line free of the blue-hued high-tech imaging panels, but noticed they were set up at every station.

I’d taken off my jacket and shoes, put them in a bin, double-checked my pockets and put my laptop in its own bin. As I walked up to the metal detector a female TSA agent asked pleasantly enough whether I’d emptied my pockets and I confirmed I had. Then she diverted me toward the blue x-ray scanners. I asked why, since I hadn’t done anything wrong and there was nothing high-risk about me. She told me again and I asked again. We went through this several times; at some point she said they were having everyone do it, which was an obvious lie. She said that if I didn’t go through the scanner I’d have to be patted down. I finally acquiesced under protest, was led into the scanner and asked to raise my hands above my head, as everyone in the security line, and all the TSA administrators clearly monitoring the new procedures, gawked at me.

After several seconds I was allowed to leave the device, and another TSA agent told me I had to go through a physical check of my chest. Increasingly angered by this further humiliation, I went through another fruitless argument with the TSA agent, asking why I needed to be patted down when there was nothing in my pockets. She said that the agent in an office who monitored the naked pictures of the passengers had alerted her that there was something in my chest area that had to be checked. Yes, obviously, I said…I was wearing a metal pendant. She confirmed that was likely what had shown up. Why do I have to go through a pat-down, then? No good answer. I asked repeatedly and with increasing pique, why didn’t the first agent just tell me to take off my jewelry, which was in clear sight, when she asked if I’d taken everything out of my pockets? Clearly I had been chosen from the throngs to help TSA practice their procedures, and it didn’t matter what I said or did.

I was putting up enough of a fuss that this agent asked for a supervisor to come over. She asked if I wanted to have my pat-down in private and I said yes. They started walking me to a private room when I stopped them and asked about my laptop, backpack and roller bag, which were sitting at the end of the conveyor. The supervisor picked up my things and they walked me into the room. I protested the whole way. “You’re making this so much more difficult than it has to be. I obviously have a necklace on. You could have told me to take it off and I wouldn’t have had to go through this.”

In the room the TSA agent quickly pressed her gloved hands against the tops of my breasts and between them. Then I was done. At that point I realized that my backpack had not been retrieved but had been sitting unattended all this time with my wallet, cell phone and other belongings in it.

I asked the supervisor for her name and who I could complain to. She gave me her first name and a blue “customer response” card to fill out.

I walked away completely angered, and for what? I travel all the time, I’m completely versed in the procedures, there was no reason to have a TSA agent in a room examine my naked image, nor for another TSA agent to touch my breasts. If the point is to make me feel safer, they’ve failed miserably. Instead they made me feel powerless, embarrassed and enraged. I walked into the airport sympathetic to TSA and the job these low-paid, poorly trained individuals have to do, and perfectly willing to make their jobs easier. I walked out a permanent, and vocal, critic of the whole damn thing.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    We can thank our friendly neighborhood terrorists who strap liquid explosives in the zone of their private parts for this mess.

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    No, we can thank Big Brother Government. Statistically, your chances of being injured in a car accident are greater. There are a list of things that are more dangerous than flying.

    Security at the airports is irrational and a clear violation of rights.

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      Wrong... politically the pressure for this came from last year's Christmas bomber who succeeded in burning his gonads but not bringing down the plane. Your righteousness about constitutionality won't change a thing. It's a political choice. Do people want their body searched or do they want to fly on planes with terrorists who carry bombs in their groin.

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          More, they've proven that backscatter x-rays really aren't that effective.

          For an example of effectiveness, take a look at the gold-standard of airport security: Isreal. Do they use backscatter x-rays? No. They use dogs.

          Dogs have a lot of advantages: They not only detect bombs, but can detect other contraband like drugs as well. They don't make a big bottleneck slowing everyone down and creating frustration. They raise the security profile throughout the terminal. You don't have to have naked pictures of you or your children taken. Heck, you don't even need to remove your shoes. Here is the best bit: You can take the dogs anywhere. Do a sweep through the parking lot. Take them back through the baggage area. Make a sweep through the maintenance shack.

          But this common-sense solution will never happen. Why? Because there are companies making huge profits off every one of those machines. I honestly wonder how many dogs, kenneling, handlers, and training for both, you could get for just the price of one machine. I bet it's at least a dozen...

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    Bill, last I noticed, they caught that guy without doing this, and the scanners would not have caught this guy.

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    Bill the day that TSA begins screening 100% of air cargo is the day that they can start feeling uip women and little kids.

    Tally to date = 0 air cargo checks and too many passengers hassled. The answer is easy - don't fly until they stop this madness.

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      If only it were possible. I have only flown twice since 9/11 and only for family emergencies. But too many folks have to fly frequently or regularly for business or personal reasons to be able to fight this by just saying no to flying commercially.

      We as a whole have become cowed citizens, too afraid to even complain publicly but these outrages against our privacy and our pride. And frankly I believe this is more to put money in the pockets of the corporations who manufacture the equipment than any hope of making us secure.

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    What an odd set of comments. By what basis should we determine the level of airport security procedures?

    Is it by comparing the probability of an an airline accident to a car accident, as if the TSA has equal ability to influence both events?

    Or is is the case that until the TSA tightens up EVERY potential security hole, they can't move on ANY security holes.

    Marc's wife would not have been "felt up" if she had just been willing to submit to the standard security procedures without putting up a fuss. Once you start putting up a fuss, you get extra screening.

    She claims she knows the standard procedures but left on a pendant that she should have known quite well would set off the new scanners.

    Marc's wife did not get the "full body" treatment, by her own admission.

    Perhaps she was being subjected to a random heavier screening, but that's not unusual. People are randomly selected all the time--the very randomness of the procedure is what makes it effective.

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      I wonder how making a fuss makes one a greater security risk. In fact it seems to me to be a contraindication that one is trying to sneak something on board.

      And she did, or at least from her statement appears to have submitted to the procedures. I also suspect that leaving the pendant on was purely forgetfulness.

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      Perhaps we should accept the fact that airport security is purely a placebo. If anyone really wanted to take down a fully loaded commercial airliner, they could do it with less than $10,000 and you couldn't prevent it.

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      That's right, airports are liberty-free zones. If you enter one, just imagine you are stepping into the old Soviet Union and behave accordingly and you'll have no problems.

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      Paul, it appears that she would have had the hands on treatment due to the pendant regardless. That's my read. Yours is different I guess. But that's part of what's wrong about this -- the arbitrariness.

      On the old system, if I set off a buzzer I could remove items & try again. Not clear why she couldn't have been allowed to remove the pendant and seen if the machine registered anything supposedly problematic.

  • (Show?)

    There's better an less intrusive tech using Infrared. Negligable radiation too.Demoed on CNN and FOX a couple of years ago, it has the singular disadvantage of being orders of magnitude cheaper than the current X-Ray Blaster, and the firm is not owned by Michael Chertoff.

    If we're going to ignore the El Al model, this is better tech:

    http://homelandsecuritynewswire.com/thermal-boosted-infrared-detection-scanners-address-radiation-privacy-concerns

    • (Show?)

      ding ding ding....we have a winner! The former director for security for El Al was on tv and basically said we are idiots.

      I wonder just how many Bush era fear mongers are profiting from "protecting us" now?

  • (Show?)

    If it's necessary and important, it needs to be done by much better educated and trained staff.

    I disagree that randomness is what makes it effective. Profiling would make it far more effective, as would, as Kurt Chapman says, screening cargo.

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      Really?

      How would you profile the Woodburn bombers or Timothy McVeigh?

    • (Show?)

      Aside from being racist, morally wrong, and almost certainly unconstitutional, profiling just lets the bad guys know who is likely to be checked, and therefore who they can safely use to smuggle something aboard a plane.

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        It's exactly that fear of being politically incorrect that makes our airport security system so stupid -- and worse. Intelligent profiling would be intelligent.

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          Has nothing to do with "politically incorrect" or not.

          Not only is racial/ethnic profiling ethically and morally wrong, but it is stupid and ineffective from a security stand-point as well.

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    I fly a lot both domestic and international and have never encountered the porn-video machines or the pat downs when overseas. Over the past decade I HAVE been interviewed by a succession of pleasant, professional screeners in England, Thailand, Japan, etc who ask me various questions, look at my face, record my answers and their observations on a PC tablet and then the next screener down the line asks the same and compares notes etc. So far nobody has had to go enhanced on my person, and everyone gets on the plane in fairly short order and good spirits. The whole hi-tech/intrusive screening thing is a scam to sell expensive hardware and keep the gentry in their place. I fly my own small plane and have debated using it for business travel but it is too small, too slow and to short-ranged to be practical beyond a few hundred miles, so I suppose it's just a matter of time before I get real chummy with the TSA's finest.

    • (Show?)

      You never have flown out of Oakland yet then.

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        Mitch, I try to avoid flying through Oakland. I had a customer there years ago but no longer. SFO or SJC if I need to visit the Bay Area.

    • (Show?)

      "The whole hi-tech/intrusive screening thing is a scam to sell expensive hardware and keep the gentry in their place."

      I suspect you're right. Billions are being made in the terrorism prevention industry. Who's making them? We need to follow the money.

      But I think you meant to say "keep the peasants in their place."

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    Yep. Flew through Oakland last month to see a concert at The Fillmore over in San Francisco, and there was no option but the back scatter screening.Yep. Flew through Oakland last month to see a concert at The Fillmore over in San Francisco, and there was no option but the back scatter screening.

    I figure it took more of a toll for the guy looking at a bad CGI version of my junk than it was for me to go through it. Airport security is all a placebo anyhow, but it is a sad commentary at how truly unserious we are as a nation that we even have to suffer such inspections because of overly hyped "security concerns" and not focusing on the real issues we need to be facing.

    If anyone really wanted to take out an airplane, it can be done without much effort and would never have to go near a TSA screening point.

    • (Show?)

      Musta been a hiccup. Or John Wayne going Yep, Yep.

      Sorry, trying to make some humor about a pretty humorless subject. Your last statement is right on. I am just so amazed, puzzled at why the citizens of the US put up with this s.

    • (Show?)

      A simple plan for you next terrorist attack: 1) Get a job at the Starbucks of McDonalds in the airport. If you can get a job as a baggage handler, janitor or maintenance tech, even better. 2) Get a buddy to throw your explosive device over the fence one day. 3) You have access to the back rooms of the airport, maintenance areas (jet fuel!), and everything beyond the gates.

      Oh, and there is nothing for the 'porn scanner' to detect. This is why I keep pounding the dog drum. Dogs can detect and stop this.

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    US airlines (though not the European) have become intolerable in their extra charges and mistreatment of "customers," even apart from the security mess. We really seriously must make arrangements to fly as little as possible,and take hope from the possibility that the next generation may have the alternative of some high speed trains.

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    Well, this is timely, as I'm flying out of Portland tomorrow. And as always, I'm flying with my dog. Which with the regular metal detectors means I take pooch out of his carrier, remove his collar and walk through the detector holding him. I'm not sure how that'll work with the new scanners...do I hold him over my head or something? Or am I automatically going to get the dreaded pat-down/feel-up? I guess I don't have to worry since I don't think Portland is using the new machines yet.

    Frankly, I'd love not to fly but if I want to visit my elderly parents, I've little choice as I can't afford the time off to drive cross-country. So, I'll fly and go through whatever rigamarole TSA wants to get me on the plane.

    But I have to wonder....we have these new machines/patdowns because someone tried to ignite their underwear. What happens when a bomber sticks the explosive inside their body? Will we be subjected to internal physical exams as well? Where does this end?

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    I have heard that not only the flying public but the flight crews them selves must go thru the "treatment". Seems kind of silly to check pilots for forbidden carry-ons, when they will be directing the aircraft in whatever way they desire. If ya get my drift. Once again, I say it's all a big scam to give the illusion of security while reaping millions for the new aviation security industry.

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      Bingo.

      Everyone should really step back and take in this spot-on point that Glenn just which highlights kabuki theater which is airport screening security. They are screening flight crews. They are using these very expensive high-tech gadgets they purchased from aviation security industry to screen the people actually fly the airplanes, for weapons. Ponder a moment on just how absurd this has become.

      I would also add this data point in as well, many officials, including Senators and members of Congress can and do get through without screening. No junk groping or ogling for those writing the laws I guess.

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    Libertarian solution. At least at the larger airports, just have regular and enhanced screening flights. The customer can chose which one to go on. Not sure what would be more expensive, since I assume you may have to pay the crew more to fly the unscreened flights. But you'd save money on expensive scanners.

    • (Show?)

      Better solution. Stop the kabuki theater of airport screening all together.

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        I have an interesting time with flights. My wife is a Polish national. Which is still on the 'communist watch list' despite being democratic for almost thirty years now. So we get put in the 'enhanced line' all the time. (Ever wonder why they have a guy out front who looks at your pass, then tells you what line to go to? This is why.) To make matters worse, my father (in his sixties) has a plastic leg brace which always sets off the 'puffer' machine. We have missed flights due to the TSA delays that one or both bring. (sit in the little room to the side, waiting for our patdowns.) Point is, if our profiling includes nations that have been on 'our side' for thirty years, and medical equipment sets off the scanners, then it makes you wonder how effective it is on picking up actual threats?

  • (Show?)

    A legal solution.... let everyone who wants to avoid the TSA enhanced screening for body bombs sign a disclaimer that they or their survivors will not sue the govt. or the airline in case of terrorist attack on the plane.

    And separate flights for those who want the enhanced screening. This is the world we live in, folks.

    • (Show?)

      No, it is the world the paranoid have created for the rest of us.

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        I'm not confident enough to claim that it is a world just for the paranoid. But I am confident enough to claim, as I first said, that if it is necessary and important, then it should be done properly. This would entail profiling, cargo screening, infrared scanners, and a high-level TSA staff, all of which are entirely lacking in this abominable and ludicrous xraying and groping of random (including children, old, sick) US citizens and the airline flight staff that transports them.

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          And as I pointed out, that you can do all of what you claim, and crossing numerous ethical and moral lines, and will not be a single bit safer because if someone wants to blow up a fully loaded airliner they can do it with very little effort.

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            The current procedures are crossing all kinds of ethical and moral lines and to little effect beyond insult. You & I seem to have different views on what kinds of insults are intolerable or not.

            And Timothy McVeigh would not have been profiled as a white male, by the way; he would have profiled as a radical anti-government activist.

            That's the only point you seem to focus on beyond discarding airport security screenings in toto.

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    I've still never understood how my fingernail clippers can be used as a weapon. If I toss them at someone really hard I suppose they could hurt, but they have cans of soda on the plane and those little tabs can be quite sharp. Also a very resourceful person could strangle you with the seat belt, suffocate you with those little pillows...Preparation H is also dangerous in the wrong hands.

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      FYI, a full can of soda in a sock can be used to bludgeon a person to death.

      So we must ban all cans of soda a remove all socks.

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        Mitchell, sheez, don't give them any ideas fer cryin' out loud.

        It is the way they're heading though. Wanna fly? Better be prepared to be a nudist. Now that I think of it, the scanners make nudists of us all now.

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