If you love the TSA, read this story

by Christopher Elliott on February 28, 2013

It happened again.

At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.

When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.

“It’s illegal to do that,” an agent says off camera, as Lucy sobs.

“I don’t wanna go to Disneyworld,” the girl cries.

After a 20-minute delay, the family was allowed to board their flight. The TSA eventually issued a tepid apology. The agency watchdog site TSA News Blog documented the controversy and added its two cents.

“The tactics here are insensitive and unkind on their face, as well as pointless,” wrote blogger Deborah Newell Tornello. “Not only is this little girl so obviously terrified to the point of crying out loud, and desperately upset that her comfort toy — her stuffed animal — is being taken away, she is distraught that her parents’ attempts to protect her are being summarily ignored.”

And that’s where it would have probably ended. Except that another site, which is probably best described as “pro” TSA, caught wind of the post and the predictable outrage being generated in the comments.

And it had a very different perspective.

“If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times,” the blogger wrote on a Boston-area sports site. “There is no bigger supporter of TSA on the planet than me. I’m team TSA loud and proud. I pretty much side with them 1,000 percent of the time in situations like these. And guess what? I’m siding with them again here.”

The Boston sports fans collided with the civil liberties activists on TSA News, creating a digital mushroom cloud. Eventually, the comment thread had to be shut down.

Where did these apologists come from?

It would be tempting to dismiss these TSA defenders as nothing more than social media plants paid by the Department of Homeland Security to rally support for a demoralized TSA. But that explanation would be too simplistic.

While there’s plenty of evidence that the American federal government is actively engaged in blogging and other forms of social media, it’s also an undeniable fact that some air travelers stand behind anything the TSA does — no matter how ill-advised or constitutionally problematic.

One of those voices belongs to travel guidebook personality Arthur Frommer, who comes to the TSA’s defense at regular intervals.

“We should be grateful to have a serious, dedicated TSA working hard to prevent terrorists from taking weapons onto a passenger airplane and seizing control of it,” he wrote on his blog recently. Frommer has also dismissed the TSA’s critics as “alarmist” and “sensation-seeking.”

Is there common ground?

Are these TSA defenders right? Are the agency’s critics just a small group of activists hell bent on letting the terrorists incinerate another plane over America’s skies?

I don’t believe so. Based on the support and readership of my TSA coverage, and the many other critical voices that cast doubt on the agency’s current procedures, I’m fairly certain that the “Team TSA” passengers are a misunderstood minority.

What’s more, I think they can be persuaded to come over to the right side — to “Team Passenger” (which, parenthetically, the TSA should be on, too). Their arguments come unraveled after just a few short minutes of dialogue.

Read the comments on the TSA News story for an example. The agency’s defenders insist that if we don’t remain vigilant, we will have another 9/11 on our hands, which is a fair point. But then they suggest that bending the Constitution and the law in order to achieve security is justified, and that the proof this questionable strategy has worked is 11 years without another terrorist bombing.

The TSA critics reply with cold logic. If you start reinterpreting the Constitution and passing laws that infringe on our basic rights as Americans, it’s a slippery slope, they say. And besides, the absence of another 9/11-style attack doesn’t necessarily mean that the present measures have been effective; it’s possible that the terrorists are just looking elsewhere to inflict damage.

The response? Personal attacks, which is what TSA apologists like to use as a weapon of last resort. They call the activists “cowards” and paint them with a broad brush of unpatriotism, or worse. That’s because they’ve effectively lost the debate.

Maybe you shouldn’t make generalizations about TSA supporters based on the rants of a Boston sports blog, but you certainly can get a feel for where they’re coming from. They just don’t understand how anyone could question an agency that’s ostensibly there for our own protection.

And yet, there’s also common ground. When we fly, both the activist and apologist are on the same plane. But one group feels that as long as the flight lands safely, every step that was taken by the TSA is justified. The other believes how we arrive safely does matter.

And patting down three-year-olds in a wheelchair is not acceptable, say critics.

It’s hard to argue against that.

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  • JoeInAtlanta

    I fall more on the TSA side of these arguments than on the critic side — and I can assure you that I have absolutely no tie to that organization, neither directly nor indirectly.

    First, I want to make the minor point that I resent your depiction of TSA critics as “Team Passenger”. EVERYBODY is on “Team Passenger”; the disagreements are simply over how the entire passenger community is best served.

    But the major point is infinitely more important, and I’d love to hear you or other critics address it on its face: When TSA critics start citing examples of the people that it is “not acceptable” (your words; last sentence) to search, my mind immediately goes to a different slippery slope than the Constitutional one that you expressed concern about.

    I fear that if your viewpoint were to prevail, we would end up in a situation where security decisions are based on nostalgia, empathy, and — worst of all — a greater compassion for “people who look like most of us” than for people who don’t. If I have to choose a slippery slope to stand on, I’d rather it be the one that leads to crying babies than the one that leads us to treat all brown-skinned people like criminals. It’s for that reason that I emphatically support TSA’s policy of ethnicity-blind, age-blind, gender-blind screening processes.

    Based on your description, I’m not thrilled with HOW the TSA conducted the search, but I find no fault with the fact THAT they conducted the search.

    Ask yourself this: If that child’s mother were wearing a burka, would you be equally outraged? If you answer no, then you are prejudiced — and that is what is really “not acceptable”.

  • mapsmith

    From my original reading of the story (not on here) the family was proceeding thru the metal detector. It alarmed. TSA took the Stuffed animal and had them rescan thru the Metal detector. (The animal was supposed to go thru the Xray the first time) The Metal Detector alarmed again.
    It was determined that the mother’s earrings were what was setting off the alarm. At this point the child and mother were separated so the mother could be rescreened. And the Child was left in the wheelchair. (without the stuffed animal that simply had not been returned.
    Since the metal detector alarmed. And it was determined that the Earrings were part of the problem. The next step would be a cursory examination of the wheelchair.

    Unfortunately, the stuffed animal had not yet been returned. The child had been separated from her mother. Thus the kid was upset.

    Crying Child, clueless Mom, Separated from the stuffed animal. OF COURSE THE KID WAS UPSET.

    At this point, Mom carried the kid thru the metal detector (without the stuffed animal nor the earrings. TSA performed the check on wheelchair. Family passed thru the screening and went on to their flight.

    This is another example of infrequent flyers not having a clue as to the procedures of how to quickly move through screening. Twenty minutes sounds about right as the TSA tried to identify where the alarm came from. The only problem that the TSA did that should have been rectified was to return the stuffed animal to the kid after it had gone thru the xRay.

    Everything else was standard screening procedures.

    And I hate the TSA. But they were not doing anything wrong (other than saying she could not photograph. BTW. The phone would also be setting off the alarms.

  • Linda

    And what happens when a plane is blown out of the air because TSA was not allowed to properly search a wheelchair bound child or adult?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tarpy Matthew Tarpy

    The pro-TSA comments here are thoughtful, others on other sites are not. I direct everyone the comment “stoolieljackson on February 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm” on the linked blog to see stoolieljackson imply that a 3yo could have something secreted away in a part of her anatomy. I get the guy was trying to be funny, but as the Onion found out this week, jokes like that about young girls are crude, vile, and just destroys your point.

  • Charlie

    Why don’t people get the facts straight before they report half truths. This report, for example, only tells half the story. I read the same report mapsmith did and didn’t come to the conclusion that the child was treated badly, nor do I think TSA owed them an apology (and believe me I am not a big TSA fan). Really the people that work for the “medium” need to start reporting WHOLE truths, the facts as they happen and yes, I include you, Christopher – - stop creating controversy, be reliable and report the whole truth as it happens.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001840108686 Kevin La Van

    Maybe little Lucy need to keep better company — I’ve seen that bear on wanted posters here in Chicago….the TSA keeping us safe from stuffed terrorist everywhere….I feel safer

    Kevin.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Not according to the parents, Annie Schulte and Nathan Forck. They said the entire family had cleared screening without alarming anything. Then the TSA came after them and suddenly decided they had to search the scary wheelchair.

    The TSA is a criminal, out-of-control agency that abuses people with impunity. But since so many Americans seem to want it that way, nothing will change.

  • Susan Richart

    The TSA has created wonderful targets for terrorists through all the lines of passengers waiting to be scoped or groped. Don’t you think that if there were actually those out there wanting to attack, they would have done it by now in a checkpoint line? Or better yet, coordinated attacks at several lines at several airports.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say it is not acceptable to me that *anyone* should be searched in the sexually humiliating, dehumanizing and degrading manner that TSA uses. There is a line beyond which no suspicionless search should ever go: no one should be sticking their hands down my pants or rubbing my genitals or creating and viewing nude images of my body. This is just basic human decency. My body is not a plaything for these screeners, and I am horrified at the way I’ve been treated by the TSA. What they did to me literally gave me nightmares. No one, no matter what they look like, should be treated this way outside of a prison complex.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Joe, yes, I would be equally outraged.

  • JoeInAtlanta

    I’m sorry to hear that the search you went through affected you so negatively. For what it’s worth, I’ve never experienced anything like the situation you describe.

    I do not understand security issues enough to know whether our current search procedures are appropriate or not, and I’m happy to leave it to others to debate that point. All that’s important to me is that that whatever measures we settle on are applied equally — as exemptions for age or condition create opportunities for security risks as well as civil rights abuse.

    Since you emphasized the word “anyone”, I infer that you’re agreeing with the point that’s important to me. And I hope you know that I’m not disagreeing with the point that’s important to you.

  • JoeInAtlanta

    Thank you for feeling that way and thank you for stating it.

  • http://twitter.com/litbrit Deborah N. Tornello

    I, too, would be equally outraged if the mother was wearing a burqa. I’m outraged at all their abuses, regardless of the age, ethnicity, gender, or faith of the victims. It needs to be said, again and again, until a large enough number of Americans demand that the abuse stops: the TSA’s searches and seizures are unconstitutional; the agency itself is rife with criminals.

    Here is just one example of my disgust toward TSA’s abuse of people of Middle Eastern descent: I wrote to JetBlue to express my outrage when a young couple (the mom wearing a hijab) and their 18-month-old baby daughter were ordered off a JetBlue flight in Ft. Lauderdale, in front of a cabin full of people and despite having done absolutely nothing to warrant such abuse, because the airline suddenly claimed the little girl was on a No-Fly list. My letter is here: http://tsanewsblog.com/2979/news/letter-to-jetblue-about-baby-terrorist-suspect/

    My followup post about it is here: http://tsanewsblog.com/2942/news/baby-ordered-off-plane-jetblues-or-tsas-fault/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Thank you for the kind response, Joe. I hope we’ll fight together for a security process that doesn’t disgrace our country and its ideals. It’ll be a long fight.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Charlie, perhaps you missed “the whole truth”: the Forck family was stopped after they had all successfully cleared security without alarming anything. Only then did the TSA come after them. In other words, they were harassed.

    And as has been documented in thousands of other cases, the TSA agents prevented Lucy’s parents from touching her. From touching their own child. Again, this is standard TSA operating procedure. It’s unconscionable. Yet it continues.

  • mapsmith

    Actually Lisa, the family was stopped as they were going thru security not after. Since they had not cleared security, the mother started filming specifically because they were selected for additional security because

    a) they set off the alarms at the metal detector.
    b) the child (and the family) had not sent the stuffed animal thru the xRay.

    TSA did what they were supposed to. A self-important mother decided that they were doing things wrong and started filming.

    Look at the video again.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Not according to the statements by the parents — lawyer Nathan Forck and his wife Annie Schulte.

  • Susan Richart

    Please link us to the report that you read.

  • bodega3

    I heard the TSA agent say they were going to take a pad and wipe it over the chair. I didn’t hear them say the child was going to be patted down. Was the child padded down?
    The last TSA agent speaking heard speaking with the mother didn’t seem to be offensive and was very good with talking to the mother and I thought the mother handled herself well.
    The child wanted her toy. On our last trip with a 2 year old, she laid down on the floor, screaming/crying when TSA took her stroller through the metal dedector before allowing the family to go through. She’d do this at home, too, when she is tired and you take something she wants away. I really don’t see anything alarming in this video.

  • Susan Richart

    How do you know this for certain?

  • Susan Richart

    The TSA admitted it did things wrong in this case. That in and of itself, is mind-boggling. It didn’t blame the parents, it accepted the blame.

    I, for one, wonder why the teddy bear was taken from the child after the family had passed through security.

    It makes me believe that the TSA neglected to screen either the teddy bear or the wheelchair at the checkpoint.

    It would be nice to see the checkpoint video, but, of course, we never will.

    Would you post a link to the report that you read?

  • Daisiemae

    I know exactly what you mean. These exploding wheelchair children are a dangerous menace.

    Why I just read in the news about the marauding gang of exploding wheelchair children that took out half of Newark airport yesterday. This on the heels of the exploding wheelchair children who struck at LAX and Miami last week. What is the world coming to?

    These exploding wheelchair children are the minions of Satan. They are the agents of Armageddon. Mark my words! If we don’t take out these exploding wheelchair children, there won’t be a plane left in the sky!

  • mapsmith

    http://www.gadling.com/2013/02/25/airport-security-questioned-by-parents-skydivers/
    Then I went to the YouTube and the descriptions there. The comments added to the video are interesting. But there you will also see that the family had not cleared security.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    mapsmith, so the parents were lying?

  • Susan Richart

    Wowser, I don’t know how you got all the information you claim from that thread and the video. Further, if they had not cleared security, why was the sister allowed to be touching Lucy and why was someone else, perhaps Mom, allowed to give her kisses. That’s a huge TSA “no no.”

    The bear should have gone through the x-ray at this point but it seems they took it away again.

    I still am of the opinion that TSA forgot to screen the bear and the chair and were just trying to cover their own butts.

  • mapsmith

    I don’t think the parents were lying (in their opinion) I think that they were and are grossly unaware of the actual procedures that the screening the TSA does. They do not realize that the Screening area extends up to the Gate at the airport. They do not realize that Large Metal Earrings will set off the Metal Detector. They do not realize that even stuffed animals must go thru the xRay machine. They did not seem to understand what they were supposed to do when boarding the airplane.

    And they did not ASK for assistance from the TSA, by simply saying, “we do not understand what the procedures are and we have a child in a Wheelchair. What are the procedures that we will undergo.”

    I am not a fan of the TSA and miss the days when I could walk to the gate without removing my shoes and belt. But in this case I feel that the Family was simply uninformed as to the procedures. Where was the Travel Agent that booked the trip?. Did the Travel Agent provide information to the family? Why not? They were obviously unfamiliar with the procedures and probably had not flown in the past 10 or so years.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    mapsmith, oh bullsh*t. The father is a lawyer. He knows his rights. The family travels often. They’re well familiar with the TSA’s so-called procedures.

    But keep giving up your rights and defending those who take them. Then one day when you wake up to find all of them gone, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

    Edited to add: And I’m going to end this here, because you sound suspiciously like bodega3, who has several sock puppet identities. And if you don’t know what that means, you don’t belong on the web.

  • Susan Richart

    If you had listened to the video, you would have heard the mother saying they had traveled before and had never had to go through such a “procedure.”

  • Daisiemae

    Interesting that you bring up the multiple identities. I have picked up on that before and questioned whether someone was really bodega3 in disguise. The entity to which I addressed that question did not answer.

  • bodega3

    Sad that you get nasty and make attacks to people who don’t agree with you.

  • bodega3

    If you addressed something to me, I have been without internet.

  • Drontil

    Had the family not already been through the checkpoint, you can be certain that Blogger Bob would have made that point loud and clear. He never did. That’s all I need to know to confirm that the family had in fact gone through screening.

  • Drontil

    And you don’t?

  • bodega3

    No I didn’t but I will start if you want. Lisa can’t take anyone not agreeing with her and she can’t discuss, only yell. I get that she had a negative experience and it has turned her into someone on a mission. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with swearing at another poster who she doesn’t agree with or call others names who haven’t had the experience she has. I hope she is in therapy as she seems to really need it.

  • James Penrose

    Yet the TSA is not “self important” for making up laws? (*Illegal” to video them doing stupid things in stupid ways”)?
    Doesn’t that worry you when there is clear evidence their “officers” are making up laws and or rules as they go? These are supposed to be highly trained security officers but they so very often come across as village idiots who have never seen electricity or anything more complicated than a wax tablet and stylus (If that, you should see how some of them react to a braille stylus and pad…think of the scene in 2001 when the apes start going crazy, jumping around and screaming for a rough idea.). Takes about two seconds and a couple of squeezes to tell you there’s only stuffing inside a stuffed bear, something any experienced Customs officer could do.

    TSA is staffed by bozos with an overinflated idea of the value of their work and the actual threat levels they are protecting us from.

  • James Penrose

    As has happened so frequently in the past prior to TSA riding to the rescue? They protect aircraft from armed Ninja Baboons too but I’m not sitting up late worrying about that either.

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