TSA admits to punishing travelers

by Charlie Leocha on August 24, 2010


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been a lightning rod for abusive and intrusive security checks since 9/11 — mainly because this is the “security” organization that much of the American public sees perhaps even more than the local police. TSA, unfortunately, also resorts to prevarication in the name of security.

I woke up to a headline on Sunday morning that announced that TSA in Boston and Las Vegas was conducting full “enhanced” open-handed, police search level pat-downs of passengers.

The Boston Herald reports that Transportation Security Administration screeners at Logan International Airport are testing what one official called an “enhanced pat-down.” It lets screeners use a palms-forward, slide-down search procedure on passengers’ bodies.

It replaces the old back-of-the-hand pat-down for passengers who don’t want to go through full-body scanning machines.

Hidden from the public, this enhanced pat-down has been tested for some time now with the nationwide rollout of whole-body scanners. Christopher Elliott first reported this “enhanced” pat-down when passengers complained to the Consumer Travel Alliance.

The passenger, quoted in his column, noted, “The pat-down was completely thorough, as though I was a common criminal or a drug pusher,” she said. “The only place I was not touched was in my crotch — and isn’t that the one place they should be checking, after the underwear bomber?”

TSA officials commenting for the article, “added that checkpoint requirements for passengers departing from the United States haven’t changed since the underwear bomber incident last December.” That suggested pat-downs were still the same as they had always been.

However, when meeting with privacy officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA later that month, I was told unofficially that there were two standards of pat-downs. One for the normal situation where passengers are going through metal detectors and a different pat-down for those who refuse to go through the whole-body scanners.

With this latest announcement, TSA admits that it has been clandestinely punishing passengers for refusing to go through the invasive whole-body scans with an even more intrusive aggressive pat-down and that soon those more invasive pat-down will creep from airport to airport.

Last May, Elliott concluded his article with, “I believe the TSA when it says that it has no formal policy of punishing passengers who don’t want to go through the full-body scanners.” I’m sure he won’t be taking TSA at their word in the future. And that’s a shame when we cannot trust our own government.

In another egregious act of prevarication TSA after claiming whole-body scanners were manufactured so that it would be impossible to store images of the passengers walking through airport security, has been forced to admit that indeed the machines can be programmed to capture and store images.

TSA was forced to admit the truth after the same whole-body scanners used in courthouses have amassed “more than 35,000 whole body imaging scans taken at a federal courthouse.”

I have already commented on this issue in a column earlier this month. Once again, TSA is caught in a lie. Once again, TSA claims that security trumps the truth. Afterall, we need to keep those damned pesky terrorists at bay.

Each time, we turn around TSA and DHS are introducing a new surveillance and search technique.

Before we even come to the airport our names, birthdates, credit cards and passports are run through a terrorist checklist. (I’ll bet they are also run through some other sort of criminal database.) We have our IDs carefully checked with some sort of magical ultraviolet light. Then we are led through stanchions to be videotaped, photographed, wanded, scanned, x-rayed, patted-down, parted from our children, herded through metal detectors, tested for explosives and interrogated. Our computers, cellphones, shoes, clothing, paperwork, briefcases, purses and luggage are x-rayed and pawed through whether we carry them on or check them with the airline.

When a friendly TSA officer next commands us to bend over while the inspector puts on rubber gloves and soothingly lilts, “This won’t hurt a bit,” I’m not ready to believe him. We’re reaching that bend-over point.

One last kinda fib: TSA is not a law enforcement agency; they only want you to think they are. Though the “officers” wear pretty blue shirts, have walkie-talkies, big patches and shiny badges, they have no law enforcement authority. The documentary, Please Remove your Shoes, makes note of this. This fact hasn’t been sitting well with real law enforcement types, but TSA evidently needs to maintain this kind of deceitful appearance in an attempt to command respect.

The attire aims to convey an image of authority to passengers, who have harassed, pushed and in a few instances punched screeners. “Some of our officers aren’t respected,” TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.

Now, I sure believe that!

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  • Cindy

    Can you refuse a TSA pat down and insist that it be done by an actual law enforcement officer?

  • Michelle

    I’m convinced TSA workers “go after” the easy people. No joke, but 50% of the time I get pulled for extra screening in my ~2 flying trips/month. I’m a youngish middle ager originally from the midwest; I look like Wonder Bread. I stand in the TSA line with my shows off, jacket off, bags ready to go; and watch as the people ahead me forgot their keys in their pocket, left their jacket on; didn’t pull out the laptop, etc and finally get thru the metal detector. I go thru and am directed (not asked) to “step over here ma’am”.

    I may start being unprepared in the security line just to make it easier.

  • Janet

    I’m with you, Michelle. I think I’m part of the control group for easy too! I’m exec platinum and they seem to think that to be PC they want to pick out the most “wonder bread” women they can. And I do think they choose women specifically. Two weeks I went thru the Priority lane at O’Hare and they were using the xray scanner for ALL the Priority customers and just letting the regular lines go thru the regular metal detector. Let’s get real for a minute: how many middle aged women and very frequent travelers have been security risks?

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  • RB

    TSA is using these Whole Body Imagers to image children.

    If the parent objects the child gets felt up by a TSA employee.

    Security or Perversion?

  • michael

    I was the one who posted the quoted comment regarding flying out of Boston last week. Let me make it very clear that we were not given a choice regarding pat-down or X-Ray machine after the metal detector – they simply directed you one way or the other. I did not refuse the X-Ray nor did I proactively choose the pat-down – I was directed to the pat-down after passing through the metal detector. To contrast, when I flew out of Memphis earlier in the week, I passed through the metal detector, there were no alerts on it, and I continued on to gather my carry-on items, return the laptop to its bag, and then find the bench to put shoes and belt back on. I was not subjected to a pat-down at any time there, nor have I ever been.

  • dcta

    This is a little off topic but…..yesterday I came back into DCA from FLL and TSA took all my hair products – yes they were more than three ounces. But here’s what’s annoying – exactly a month ago I flew to Montego Bay from DCA (via CLT) with carry-on only – bag went through the scanner and was not stopped – had exact same ahir product in it. Came back from MBJ no problem, even with clearing Immigration and Customs and then going back through Security/scanners at CLT.

    Left DCA on Thursday – went through scanners and was stopped. A female TSA officer went through my carry-on and said, “…oh, are these hair products…? Did not take them out of the plastic bag and let me go through. At FLL, a male TSA Officer took them out of the plastic bag and confiscated them.

    There were two differences between last week and last month: the gender of the officer and the type of bag – for Jamaica I had a small roller bag and for Florida an even smaller duffel-type bag.

    I knew I was taking a chance, but why can’t we have some sort of consistency? My ‘stuff” cleared DCA twice and CLT once and then did not clear FLL!

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    Michael,
    This is the first that I have heard of TSA personnel splitting passengers between the machine and a pat-down. I have removed your quote, since I thought it referred to a pat-down after declining the whole-body scanner. However your description of the the pat-down indicates that their methods have indeed changed.
    Thanks for following up.

  • Hapgood

    I’m not surprised at this revelation. It’s obviously easier, faster, and more comfortable for the TSA screeners to put passengers through a scanner than to spend the time doing a physical pat-down. So the TSA, under pressure to keep passengers flowing efficiently through the checkpoints, has a strong incentive to “encourage” passengers to do what’s easiest and most efficient for the TSA.

    In theory at least, passengers have a choice between the scanner and a pat-down. But when confronted with a passenger who chooses the pat-down, the screener has every incentive to make that pat-down as unpleasant an experience as possible. That should modify the uncooperative passenger’s behavior so that next time they’ll make the “right” choice that’s most convenient for the TSA. It’s sometimes necessary to treat passengers like children or animals so they’ll be easier to handle.

    Screeners who do that know they aren’t going to face any consequences for this sort of “behavior modification.” They may actually believe they’ll be rewarded for it because they’re evaluated on efficiency rather than on their treatment of “enemy” passengers. Of course, the TSA will deny that any such thing happens, and insist that their operating procedures strictly prohibit retaliation. (Since the operating procedure is secret, of course we just have to trust them.) And if a passenger gets upset enough to make a public complaint that gets embarrassing media attention, the TSA will simply issue a press release praising the screeners and blaming the victim for causing the unpleasantness.

    So now that the TSA has apparently decided it’s best to let passengers know they can expect to be punished for refusing the virtual strip search, what has really changed? I don’t think the TSA cares whether we believe them or respect them. As long as they can bully us into submission, it doesn’t matter.

  • dcta

    I forgot to add – my husband has an implant – a defibrillator and so he can not/should not go through the scanners. At DCA he had the back of the hand pat down as always (he’s not refusing the scanner and he shows them his implant card and they can feel the thing in his chest – like a pace-maker) – but at Ft. Lauderdale, they put him between two free standing “walls” that we took to be a body scanner and had him position himself as we’re supposed to for that and then did a pat down – with palm – which he always seems to get at Ft. Lauderdale. Now we could have been wrong and he wasn’t in the scanner, but why the different protocol between DCA and FLL?

  • deb williams

    My 87 year old mother, who suffers mobility problems due to a stroke, traveled out of Logan sunday night ( 8/22) and was accompanied by my sister and her husband.

    She was subjected to the to the new and improved pat down ( molestation) suppossedly due to the fact that her walker, which went thru the baggage x ray machine , made a sound(?) looked funny(?) not completely sure what was the problem, but can say the same walker went thru the baggage x ray in CLE and there were no problems there.

    Now she uses an airport wheelchair to get to the gate and we knew from a previous flight last year. NOT to have her go thru in the wheelchair because they always do a pat down for that. So we have her get out of the chair – asked for a cane ( wouldn’t let her have her own cane becuase it is metal) , she was provided with a midgets cane in cleveland ( wooden, and looked like it was from the lost and found) – mom is 5’2″andthe cane was maybe 24 ” tall. she walks thru metal dectector in CLE with the TSA person extending their hands to help her maneuver because she is walking thru in stocking feet and really needs the support of shoes to walk in any case.
    In Boson, she goes thru without any cane ( they didnt have one apparently) and then gets the total pat down , feeling INSIDE her pants around the waistbband, having her LIFT UP her shirt ( this is because her walker set off “something”. Now what exactly was the point of all this. She was very upset and i asked her did she cry? And she said no but was holding it in. I told her next time to cry , no, TO SOB AND MAKE NOISE. Her response was she will NEVER FLY AGAIN. So much for her stimulating the economy with travel money !
    But the n i have witnessed TSA folks, upon being asked for their badge number, actually verbally threaten another grandma that theydidnt like her tone of voice, and that there are serious repercussions for this type of behaviour – asking for somenes badge number. Amazing country we live in.

  • Chris

    You know, I can’t help but shake my head at many of these comments. There are people out there that are willing to do ANYTHING to kill us, blow us up, maim us, etc. They want to do it in a grand scale. Not just a couple of people beheaded in the sand, but more like what they consider their “greatest success”. Now you have an Federal Agency created to try and keep us safe when flying. They try to do that through a combination of technology and procedures. The technology improves constantly. The procedures are, unfortunately, too often reactive to failed attempts rather than pro active to incoming intel. Hopefully that will change with the new Administrator. Something else you have to remember is that the people in D.C.making all of these rules have never used a hand held metal detector, They have no idea what a bomb looks like in the x-ray. They have never had to try and explain to a sobbing 4 year old that they can’t take their new sno-globe that they JUST got for Christmas at grandmas house, thru the checkpoint. Most TSA agents KNOW that the rules make no sense to you, but what can they do? They can grin and bear it, keep their jobs, and try to get you safely onto another flight they only way they are allowed to. I personally believe that modeling the new pat-down in a law enforcement style is great. It is a procedure that has been tried and true with the actual law enforcement agencies around the America for ten times the amount of time that TSA has even been in existence.

  • KF

    @ Chris – I travel regularly and unfortunately I have encountered far too many TSA agents who have let their power go to their heads. How many terrorists has the TSA actually caught? They actually let the Times Square bomber get on a plane. The shoe bomber and the underwear bomber – restrained by fellow passengers. The new pat-down is wrong for several reasons – first, actually need reasonable cause to search – simply flying isn’t a good enough reason. Second, they are totally unprofessional – TSA is not a law enforcement agency and has no authority to detain people. I can’t wait for the slew of lawsuits alleging sexual assault.

    As for the WBI – several security officials have admitted they would not have caught the underwear bomber.

  • RadioGirl

    @dcta

    The short answer to your question about inconsistencies between airports is that TSA is unable to train its screeners to do a consistent job, or to apply the rules in a consistent way. TSA even tries to turn this into a virtue of “keeping the bad guys confused” when all it really does is aggravate honest people like you and your husband, and make TSA look like idiots.

    I’m more concerned about your report that your husband was asked to stand in a body scanner after having told the screener that he had a medical implant and shouldn’t be exposed to the electromagnetic field. It’s possible that the screener didn’t believe that the scanner could be dangerous and so lied about having to do the patdown there. Or it’s possible that the screener didn’t want the other passengers to see someone “opt out” of the scanner. Even if they didn’t intend to use the scanner on your husband, there’s no guarantee that the scanner couldn’t be accidentally turned on while your husband was getting a patdown in it. This is literally a matter of life and death – in the future he should refuse to even walk through the machine, much less stand in it. If the screener argues, ask for a supervisor. If they argue, ask for the Federal Security Director (there is one at every airport) and the Ground Security Coordinator (an airline representative). If necessary, ask for a LEO. Some day, a screener is going to ignore the risk to someone with a medical implant, and someone will die. Don’t let it be your husband.

    This sort of invasive, dangerous, unnecessary idiocy has got to stop!

  • Wimpie

    In the 21st century, if you want to terrorize a society, you just have to make improbable threats, press the anxiety buttons and watch them protect themselves to death and bankruptcy.

    Shoe bombers, liquid bombers, crotch bombers?

    Your adversary will spend billions to your hundreds – The best ROI ever!

    Do it several times and the billions will amount to more than the GNP of many countries – How’s that for effective?

    Coming soon: Rectal bombers – Oh FEAR FEAR FEAR!

    Why does our government buy into this, and trample on our constitution, when what they REALLY need is good old-fashion police work to find these bad actors before they get to the Plane or Bus or Subway or Public Building. The government can’t possibly protect all targets by screening people.

    Why the PARANOID security at the airports? It hasn’t worked in the past. Nobody has ever been caught before an event, and we’ve had a few slip by. What makes people think we will be able to catch serious bad actors now? Besides, chances are bad actors will just go somewhere else, equally dramatic.

    It’s impossible to discover a one in a several billion event by screening people!

    What’s it cost for all this nonsense in REAL TERMS?

    My guess (last 9 years)

    $50+ Billion for the 55,000 gov’t workers that keep unemployment under 15%

    $200 Billion or more in lost productivity for millions of Americans.

    Billions more loss for the airlines due to more people driving, using trains and buses to avoid airports due to time loss and submitting to irrational security procedures.

    Clearly, this has had some negative impact on our worsening economy.

    This is real money even by government standards, but it has all resulted in NOTHING! Nobody has ever been caught, while some got though!

    We could colonize Mars for this kind of money, but TSA would probably put some of the Astronauts on the NFL.

    TSA Needs a complete overhaul, starting with some real prevention/risk/cost analysis. Privatization of the work force would be even better, giving the public real redress capability.

    This might get us back our constitutional rights.

    Body scanners need to go. Show this picture to all your moral friends:

    http://rupture.co.uk/Terminal%204.html

    Send you wives and daughters through. It improves the moral of TSA!

  • Ray

    Sorry, Wimpie – those images at http://rupture.co.uk/Terminal%204.html have been de-bunked as nothing more than actual standard pics of a naked person and the image was “reversed” via Photoshop or some similar program to create an x-ray-like image. As for the uproar about TSA “lieing” about the machines’ ability to store/send images, TSA said their machines would not do these things, and they told the truth. Can those machines be so programmed? Yes. TSA didn’t say the machines absolutely didn’t have that capability, only that their machines would not store/transmit images. Also, TSA’s job is NOT to catch terrorists as they process through screening, but to ensure persons going through screening do not pose a threat to aviation security. If Osama bin Laden went through screening, I’m reasonably confident he would not pose a threat. Does TSA periodically miss things? Absolutely. Rare? Yup. X-ray image interpretation is a crap-shoot dependent upon the angle the x-ray views the bag with, the interpretive ability of the x-ray operator. Take a look at your fellow travellers on your next flight. Do you SERIOUSLY thing ANYONE is looking forward to viewing their image on a backscatter machine, or to run their palms over their private areas? While it may not be fun for passengers, its no barrel of monkeys for TSA, either.

  • Chris

    @RF
    I feel the need to point out to you, though I’m sure you already know, neither the shoe bomber OR the underwear bomber boarded aircraft in the United States. The Time Square Bomber did board a plane, but that was proven to be the airlines mistake for not updating their no-fly list. The Times Square Bomber was REMOVED from the aircraft by the man who is now the head of the organization. TSAs job is not to “catch” terrorists, it is to prevent terrorists from getting on the plane, or in the even an unknown terrorist does board an aircraft, he has nothing with him that can cause harm.

    To all of the individuals who think they have a constitutionally protected right to fly…where does it say that? You are consumers of a product. If you know full well that in order to board an aircraft you will be screened and must abide by the rules and regulations being posed, you have just given consent to the screening procedure.. ANYONE has the right to refuse screening, it just means you won;t be flying. Go Greyhound.

  • longtrain

    I have a constitutionally protected right to freely assemble. The government may not lawfully make this impossible.

    The Constitution was not written and enacted to prevent me from going about my lawful business. It was written to prevent the government from intruding on my lawful business.

    Where does it say that the government has the power to rub my private parts, view my naked body, and prevent me from flying (or riding a train, or riding a bus, as the TSA has shown up at airports, train stations and bus stations … coming soon to your garage, perhaps) ?

    When you refuse abusive screening, and you don’t fly, head for the train. And when you refuse abusive screening and wholesale warrantless searches for cash, checks and bonds on the train, and you don’t ride the rails today, head for the bus. And when you arrive at the bus station, and you refuse the same abusive screening, then what? Hertz? or do you wait until they’re stationed in your garage checking to make sure you didn’t place a bomb in your car to drive to Manhattan?

  • Paul

    TSA is a completely useless organization. The TSA “Agents” are nothing more than the same morons that did airport security prior to 9/11/01, except that now they are Fascist overpaid government employees with excellent pension plans and benefits. It’s all a big smokescreen. Just another Fleecing of America.

  • Chris

    @longtrain
    How is the TSA making it impossible for you to assemble? Are they breaking up your peaceful protest? You can’t take the constitution out of context and interpret it to fit your argument.
    On the issue of consent
    “A consent search requires the individual whose person or property is being searched to freely and voluntarily waive his or her Fourth Amendment rights, granting the officer permission to perform the search.[1] The person has the right to refuse to give consent,[1] and except in limited cases may revoke consent at any point during the search”
    And guess what? Airport screening is one of those “limited cases” in which consen’t cannot be rovoked after a certain point, but why take my word for it when you can go here and read all about it!

    http://cases.justia.com/us-court-of-appeals/F2/800/899/270761/

  • dcta

    Radiogirl –

    Just want to be sure to point out that I am not certain it was a scanner at all.

    I have to say that the TSA people at DCA are ever so much more pleasant than at FLL and I can’t really figure out why, but that is the one consistency that I have noticed (we go often as my 90 year old Dad is in Boca).

  • http://www.globepharm.org Michael Anisfeld

    Had the same thing in Montreal this week. I do not want to do through the full body scanner at any airport until there has been at least one-two years of experience regarding potential radiation and/or backscatter impact on health – I do not want to be a guinea-pig.

    Took the CBSA agent ten minutes to find latex gloves (between talking to his colleagues and needing to call someone on his mobile phone), then open-hand checked almost every single part of my body which took another ten minutes. This included three times behind the ears, even though I am not sure what could be hidden there, and between the toes, When he finally cleared me he advised “Next time it would be much quicker to go through the scan”. Obviously revenge had been exacted on my refusal to go through the machine, and a lesson delivered. Although I wonder whether if everyone refused the scan, the system would totally bog down and be abandoned!

  • http://www.globepharm.org Michael Anisfeld

    Why is it that in Israel, the country renown as the most security conscious when it comes to airline safety – you can take bottles of water that you brought from home through security and onto the plane; there is no need to remove shoes when going through security; and the lines even at the busiest times are far quicker than at O’Hare?

    Oh, yes, I remember, they profile people and third degree the most likely terrorist suspects rather than 80-year old grandmothers, 8 -year old kids and everybody else in-between.

  • Doober

    Deirdre Walker, a retired police chief, wrote after she was subjected to a pat down for refusing secondary screening, the puffer:

    “I believe I was subjected to a haphazard response in order to effectively punish me for refusing secondary screening and to encourage a different decision in the future…..

    “I believe what we have here is the beginning of the end of complacency. It is now apparent to me that in the haste to ensure compliance with procedures that are inconsistent if not inarticulable, TSA has hastened the likelihood of failure. If we do not insist that TSA work to create articulable policies that make sense, procedures that are explicit and consistent and training that supports both, then we are complicit in what will inevitably be an ultimate compromise of TSA.

    That compromise may come in the form of terrorist attack, or it may come in the form of a collapse of public support. Either or both are inevitable. Either or both are preventable.”

    http://www.hlswatch.com/2009/10/15/%E2%80%9Cdo-i-have-the-right-to-refuse-this-search%E2%80%9D/

    Please note that Ms. Walker did not receive the full front of hands pat down as is now being used to punish those who will not submit to the strip search. However, her assumption is still valid: TSA punishes those who will not bow to its humiliating procedure du jour.

    TSA must advise passengers that they will be touched in the crotch, male genitals will be squeezed and female breasts will be poked and prodded rather than talking about “sensitive areas” of the body.

    @deb williams – two thumbs up to your mother for choosing to never fly again!

    @Ray – that is not the picture that was photoshopped. You can find it here:

    http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/01/whats-wrong-with-this-picture.html

  • annoye

    Remember Lee Iacocca?
    Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?

  • Hapgood

    @Chris (who defends the TSA, and recommends Greyhound for those who are unwilling to submit unquestioningly to strip searches and/or groping)

    You’re quite right that it’s probably best to avoid flying. Humiliating treatment by an arrogant and INEFFECTIVE “security” agency is merely one of many reasons not to fly.

    However, many of us can’t avoid flying because we don’t have any other choice. I doubt that any company will allow an employee to spend several days on Amtrak or Greyhound for a business meeting. And most Americans have so little vacation time that there’s no time for Amtrak or Greyhound. Some of us are satisfied with staycations. But for those of us who aren’t, flying is the only way to go.

    I think that lack of realistic alternatives to flying is a major factor that allows both the TSA and the airlines to get away with treating passengers like dirt. It’s a very simple-minded answer to say that “If you don’t like being strip searched or punitively groped like a convicted felon on the way to prison, you can go Greyhound.” I’m sure that’s what every screener would love to tell every passenger who doesn’t behave properly like a docile little sheep.

  • CT

    Greyhound and Amtrak don’t cover the ANC to SEA route I must take to start virtually all my trips! And, unlike those of you in the Lower 48, I’m not paying much less to fly now (in constant value dollars) than I did back in the 70s.

    I am a scanner refusnik. If enough of us do likewise, TSA will modify *its* behavior!

  • Chris

    @Hapgood
    Interesting that you make defending TSA an accusation! lol
    What I am doing is a study in critical thinking. Arguing for the less popular side, I have been able to find multiple facts and even court cases supporting my arguments.

    Ill sum up all of my arguments so far:
    1) Airport screening is 100% constitutional as decided by the federal court system in 1986.
    2) By purchasing an airline ticket and processing through security you are consenting to screening.
    3) If you do not want to go through screening, you need to travel by other means, such as train, car, or bus. It may be a simple-minded answer in your opinion, but unfortynately for you, it is factual as well.

  • Hapgood

    @Chris, does your “study in critical thinking” include a review of the various GAO and DOT audits of TSA effectiveness? If it does, I doubt you’d be able to defend the TSA. The only possible conclusion from these few, scattered independent reviews is that the TSA wastes billions of dollars and erodes our rights and privacy, but provides no actual protection from terrorist threats. I find the GAO far more credible than the TSA, which can offer us only “that’s classified, so trust us” as reason to accept what they do to us.

    What you cite as factual is, unfortunately, mostly true. If you want to fly, you are signing up for whatever intrusive humiliating “security theater” the TSA decides to inflict. Today it’s a strip search, tomorrow it may be rubber gloves (unlubricated and not changed between passengers, to save time and money).

    The only way to avoid that is, as you say, to use alternate forms of transportation that are not (yet) “protected” by TSA screening. That’s a simple solution that indeed has much to recommend. Restricting our travel to staycations and efficient mass transit is one way to start healing our warming and poisoned planet. Unfortuantely, that’s not a practical or acceptable option for many people. (I live in Southern California, where the only usable alternative to flying is driving.)

    Yes, it’s absolutely true that flying unavoidably involves TSA hassles. But that does not mean we must accept it unquestioningly like good little sheep. It would be easier to do that if we could have confidence that the TSA provides effective security. It’s inappropriate to accept it when all the objective evidence indicates that it’s a sham that keeps the government’s posterior covered while seeking to invade our posteriors.

  • B.J.

    NO M.D. will tell a Pregnant woman it is safe for her to be scanned!
    NONE!

  • Karen C.

    @Wimpie — love your comments. I agree with all you say. I’m assuming the terrorists and Osama Bin Laden couldn’t be happier with our response to the 9/11 attacks. We are bogged down in wars with undetermined end goals (how much have those cost in both money and young lives? It breaks my heart when I see the lists of those who have died. And for what?) and our precious liberties are being taken away from us right and left.
    @Chris — you seem to have the attitude that so many other dare I say “sheep” do that I speak to while waiting in line at airports. How short our memories are — do you not remember the terrible “fear” of Communists of the ’50s and ’60s (I remember air raid drills where we would get under our desks at school — as I lived outside of Pittsburgh at the time, even in 6th grade I refused to do it because I said if they dropped an atomic bomb on the factories in Pittsburgh, I’d be dead immediately) and the horrible time of the McCarthy hearings? Look back and see how the Nazis came to power in Germany — all based on fear. Come on, doing extra searches on grandmas — and I’ve seen it over and over again where people who can hardly walk are made to get up to go through the screeners — children, “wonder bread” types, heck, they even separated me from my brain-injured son to question him, is totally not necessary. They just want the American public to feel like they are doing something and all the technology and throwing away of toothpaste, hair products, etc. somehow makes us feel secure.

  • Mike E.

    I have no respect for the TSA or any of their employees.

    I’m sure some of their employees are “nice” people. But anybody that would willing work for an agency that has so consistently lied to and abused the public for so long, must be extremely desperate for a job.

    And if there is one thing the TSA is good at, it’s creating more and more make work jobs. Of course, we have to pay for them.

  • Chris

    @hapgood
    Could you link said articles(GAO and DOT)? I would be very interested in researching those to see what conclusions can be drawn. Namely I would be interested to know how they can say the TSA is inneffective @ stopping terrorists. They must get a lot of input from said terrorists to make that conclusion. Things like when the terrorists got through etc.

    @ Karen
    Dang that constitution! See, thats why the grandmas get all of the special attention. Since TSA, like all other government agencies (hope Arizona is reading this) is not allowed to profile, all alarms have to be treated the same. If it’s a man who “looks like a terrorist”, a toddler with a matchbox car in her pocket, or a grandma with an artificial hip set off the metal detectors, they are ALL going to have to be searched. Once gramma gets a free pass cause she “obviously” isn’t a threat, everyone ELSE who gets screened can yell that they are being profiled.

  • Chuck1

    It’s all about power. Give a fool a uniform and they begin to believe they have power. As long as most people accept being pushed around they will be; unfortunately many of us don’t make a fuss because we just want to get through the line and on with our business or pleasure. And, many of us are aware that we’re dealing with bullies so why give them the opportunity.

    I’d like to know how many terrorist attempts TSA has actually caught and how it happened.

  • deb williams

    @Chris: well then lets allow the govt to profile; not to use profiling is close to the stupidest thing out there, Lets not allow the police,FBI to profile. You got a serial murderer out there – sorry , no profiling – start looking at the grandmas and 4 year olds., randomly bring in folks to question and strip search. See how ridiculous this sounds?
    So now we have the battle of profiling vs. invasion of privacy ( palm pat downs including genital areas, total x ray body scans ). Which right trumps which right?

    I also believe that every person who purchases a ticket on a US airline, should be advised in writing or verbally what exactly they will be potentially subjected to at airport screening. Woman should be advised not to wear dresses, instead pants and a top, as they may be required to be bodily searched including lifting up their shirt, if you are wearing a dress that would essentially mean totally undressing.
    Elderly folks, disabled folks, , persons with implants should be advised that they will in most cases be subject to a pat down. They should be told that during the enhanced patdown , that the officer will reach inside your pants and up under your shirt. Men should be advised to wear good fitting pants, as after taking off your belt, if your pants are too big will fall to your knees and you will be left pantless, exposed in a public area ( unless you have requested a private room to be searched). Upfront disclosure before purchasing a ticket should be mandatory – let congress make a new reg – why not , everything else is regulated and this would be seen as consumer protection.
    I doubt the airlines would much like this but consumers should know what to expect.
    In addition, make sure you request that the TSA person changes their latex gloves before doing any body search – that is a right that you have.

  • James C Cook

    TSA in Oahu went through my checked bags and either stole or made a mistake and took all the brand new tubes of suntan lotions I was taking to the mainland for presents and a gallon on Shoyu Sauce that was also a gift. They are suppose to notifie the airline who in turn notifies me the passenger if they take something out of your checked bags. This wasn’t done. I assume the TSA agent made a mistake and applied carry on rules to my checked bag. I contacted the supervisor at Oahu and only 4 TSA agents were working when I checked in for the early morning flight. She said they all said they didn’t take the items out. I asked if they would be given a lie detector test. She asked how much my stuff was worth. I said $50. She said that wasn’t enough to justify a lie detector test. So I asked how dishonest does TSA security have to be before they get fired. Admitting to a mistake is no big deal but lying about it is. I filed a claim with TSA for $50 and after months and months they came back and offered me $30 to settle saying they had devalued the amount. These were brand new products never opened. They said I could get an attorney. Yeah Right! TSA are liars , thieves and they are sanctioned by our government. More money was spent telling me they were not going to pay the full amount than would have been spent paying me the $50.
    The only bigger crooks are Congressmen and Senators who I bet never get checked by TSA.

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  • Lynn

    @James, while I too have experienced not only things missing from my bag, but extra things in my bag when I get home, unfortunately I can not be certain its was TSA, not baggage handlers under contract for the airline. I’m pretty sure the items being added to my bag came from TSA putting items back in the wrong suitcase, but the missing items could go either way because regardless if you use TSA approved locks or not, the bag seldom arrives locked. And of course you can’t hand carry the liquid….

  • Mary

    I am always subjected to a pat-down because I have two titanium knees. This last trip to Fort Lauderdale, my husband, 65, was taken to the full body scan machine. I was not offered a choice, and got the “enhanced” pat-down. And yes, I did feel like a criminal! By the way, I am 68.

  • Ivan

    This is no just happening at Boston and Las Vegas.
    Last week I refused to go through a scanner and was not patted down but was subjected to an open, flat palm rub down. The TSA agent also pulled out my pants and looked into my underwear. When I tried to complain to a supervisor, the supervisor told me that if I wanted to file a complaint, I had to “figure it out for myself.” He also yelled at me. “You are an asshole” when I walked away. I immediately looked at the TSA website and it told me to contact the “Airport Consumer Officer.” Neither the gate agents or the airport operator had ever heard of such a person. I’ve sent complaints to the TSA and have only received boilerplate responses. The letters to the Senator and Representative go out tomorrow.

  • KennyG

    @Michael Anisfeld – The reason that in Israel security works as you described is because the political leaders there are concerned with the safety and the well being of its citizens and visitors, and the politicians here in this country are more concerned with being politically correct and not offending anyone. I don’t seem to ever recall an El AL jet being hijacked, or bombed even with all of the terrorists in that part of the world. Makes you understand why politicians in this country are lower on the approval scale than almost any other group of people.

  • mary gallagher

    I was beyond patted down by a bunch of security dykes in the Bahamas and held in interrogation for an hour or so. Like a B grade porno movie and all supposedly because of TSA rules. At 5 feet under 120 lbs and about the same age as dirt there was absolutely no reason for this and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever return to this rude destination whose economy will go in the toilet without American tourist dollars.

  • Shephard

    @chris… admit it… TSA is security theatre, the thefts from checked baggage aren’t being stopped, people are feeling more and more put upon

    And as for having other ways to get from A to B, have you ever tried to get from the US to Ireland by Greyhound?

  • Carrie Charney

    I wonder if TSA would grant a request to be searched in full view of the public. I want the herd to see what TSA does to you, no matter where and how they poke and prod. They are making asses of themselves. They are not humiliating me, who has no choice but to submit if I want to visit my grandchildren.

  • Robin

    I am a top tier frequent flier and am through airports every few days. The full-body scanners make me very uncomfortable. At DCA I once opted out and that sent them into a complete confusion about what to do (including a mini-conference with 4 agents about what the procedures should be) and resulted in some aggressive language about me refusing and being difficult. Since then I have managed to avoid those scanners by jumping from line to line. Now I am just not sure which is worse – having a naked picture of me displayed for a TSA person or being fondled and groped.

    I just went searching on the TSA web site for the rights of passengers as they relate to pat-down screenings. The only list that appeared was specifically directed at passengers with special needs. I’ve asked for the rights of passengers without special needs. If anyone else knows where they are, I would love to have the link posted.

    What I found most interesting about my nearly one-hour search on tsa.gov is that when I typed in “pat-down” in the search box, the search results said,

    “Did you mean: put-down?”

    Is that an electronic Freudian slip or what?

  • Larry The Platinum Flyer

    Wow, I am pretty amazed at the hostility some people seem to have bottled up. Where to begin, while I am far from a fan of the entire TSA operation, I am also not a fan of the alterntive.

    First, MOST TSA employees are good and decent people trying to do their job. Contrary to one poster, they are anything but overpaid! Second, there are some bad apples. They are the ones that give us the stories to tell. Most likely, they have let the power go to their heads. A few examples: When they were doing additional gate checks at JFK, the agent who tossed some tea bags from my carryon onto the floor and demanded I then put them back into my bag for use later! The agent at ONT who likes to read the names off of the tickets when someone goes through the portal and when mangling a name takes great offense and demands secondary screening for being “uncooperative”. Or how about the person who goes through a bag that has gone through more x-rays than I care to count and asks the person after they find nothing what I could have done different to not have taken his time and get a mouthy irrate reply in return (This is that one time I asked to speak to a supervisor, when the supervisor came over and asked how he could help, the rough agent immediately jumped in with comments–to which the supervisor said, I can handle this, have a good flight as he asked the agent to accompany him to the office. One last one, the agent at O’Hare that was arguing with the couple ahead of me, especially the female. When I got on the other side it was clear she was upset, I said something to an agent who indicated the person was not a TSA employee and they also had concerns about him and how he treated women. Next trip through O’Hare, I found out he was no longer an employee.

    What can make the experience more pleasant? If I need a pat down, I laugh it off and state I need a “good massage” or say something similar. I thank the TSA personnel, including when leaving the security area. Does not help me, but it might help the next passenger.

    What can TSA do? My biggest gripe–the lack of uniformity (which seems to be a major concern of others on this list of comments). The whole purpose of a Federal TSA was to have consistent rules from airport to airport. For example: Why is a small plastic bag acceptable at one airport, but not the next? Why is a 2.5 ounce deodorant okay in the bag at one airport, but not the next? Why does TSA at LAX require tourists to give away containers of peanut butter (guess who probably took the containers home end of shift) in carry on whereas another airport doesn’t? Bottom line, give most passangers the rules and we will follow them!

    Speaking of rules–two changes that are needed and might placate many passengers: 1.) Get rid of the no shoes rule or at least modify it. 2.) Have within security reasonably priced vending machines for water, sodas, iced tea, etc. That would be a reasonable trade off for those who arrive at the airport early and can not take over 3 ounces through. Seems somewhere between one and two dollars a bottle or can would still give airports a profit while not giving passengers the feeling of having their “captivity” taken advantage of.

    Again, to the great majority of TSA employees who do their job day in and day out, sometimes receiving much abuse, sometimes explaining the same rule (take your coats off before going through the portal) to 100s of people a day, with professionalism–we salute you. To those who do not meet those standards–here’s to hoping you find a new job soon!

  • Hapgood

    Larry, you’re quite right. As far as I can tell, the majority of Transportation Security Officers are professional and courteous about implementing the rules AS THEY UNDERSTAND THEM. The “bad apples” are most likely a small majority, but there seem to be enough of them to tarnish the reputation of the entire agency. I’ve encountered two of them myself. The second experience converted me from being willing to accept the TSA (albeit reluctantly) into being convinced that the TSA is a rogue bureaucracy that wastes billions of dollars pretending to provide security (a conclusion bolstered by reading a series of damning GAO reports).

    Even though the “bad apples” are most likely a small majority of TSOs, the TSA’s leadership doesn’t seem interested in doing anything stop them from continuing to rot the barrel. Even if they don’t care about the damage those incompetent bullies are doing to the agency’s reputation (and they clearly don’t care), you’d think they would be concerned about the needless difficulties adverse public perception creates for screening. It’s surely easier and more effective to screen willingly cooperative people who have respect and confidence in the TSA than to screen those who despise the agency and treat even the conscientious TSOs with contempt.

    But that doesn’t seem to matter. The TSA seems to regard itself as infallible and empowered to do whatever it wants however it wants. So they don’t care what we think of them. I sometimes think the TSA’s leadership is very proud of how many people revile them and their agency. They seem to believe that hassle is synonymous with effective security, so the complaints and criticism are proof that the TSA is effective.

    The inconsistency that has become synonymous with the TSA creates a major credibility problem. It’s plainly visible (like the barrels into which TSOs toss “hazardous” oversized bottles of liquids) and impossible to ignore. It can only indicate large-scale incompetence within the layers of bureaucracy. The TSA is either incapable of devising consistent rules that apply to all airports or incapable of consistently training TSOs about the rules. Or those TSOs are incapable of consistently understanding and following their training. Or any combination. So even the conscientious majority of TSOs too often “interpret” the rules with maddening inconsistency, despite their good faith. The TSA’s only official reaction to this complaint is to re-brand the inconsistency as “unpredictability,” and declare it a “security strategy” for keeping terrorists off balance– if passengers had rules to follow, the enemy could follow them too, so keeping everyone in the dark keeps us safe!

    There is much to complain and dislike about the TSA. But the biggest complaint is that the TSA ignores all of it, even the official “complaints” from the GAO. They’ve made themselves impervious to criticism. It might indeed be a good idea to express appreciation for the “massage,” for dumping your belongings onto a filthy table, or for confiscating an item that had gone through hundreds of previous screenings without incident. That at least denies the bullies the pleasure of seeing you get upset.

  • douglas

    Michele, I KNOW they target the easy one. Before I retired from the government, I traveled weekly to teach IRS employees. every time I identified myself and position I was searched. when I got wise and didn’t identify myself, I never got searched. I saw infirm old folks get searched thoroughly and Arabs with multiple layers of clothing waved on through without a question. They have to meet their quota and choose the path of least resistance – unless you irritate them. They are glorified rent-a-cops, nothing more.

  • jayne52

    I went through FLL on Sunday. I waited in line in front of my husband, and put my items on the belt. as they dissappeared, I was called over to stand in the body scanner, the next line over. I objected, because I could no longer see my bags,or my purse, and my husband was made to wait a minute as the bags ahead of mine had something they wanted to rescan. The TSA agent ignored my pleas about my purse. So my bags were totally out of my view, with 3 other lines of people picking up items an walking out. I could have easily been a victim if someone was watching and took advantage of my situation. After the body scanner, they did a pat down.
    I agree with the remarks above. I am an easy target. I am milk toast white, 5′ tall , I weigh 90 pounds and I’m middle age. I fly out of NAS often, and I’m always the one they search. My husband and I have started laughing about it. A few weeks ago, our friend from Pakistan was ahead of us. He is dark skinned, bearded, wearing a t-shirt and had a heavy backpack. They picked me to search.

  • Justin

    As someone who has worked for an airline for 14 years now, the TSA searches are intrusive and do nothing more than provide a false sense of security to the traveling public.

    As someone who used to jump on a flight at the drop of a hat, I too have cut down my travels to business travel and the occasional vacation trip. I don’t want to be bothered with the airport hassels anymore.

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