Thursday, August 18, 2011

The TSA circus: ridiculous, wasteful, degrading and dangerous

I recently had to drive to my local airport to pick up my son who was returning from a trip to Argentina and this provided me with the interesting "opportunity" to try out for myself the "enhanced pat-down" TSA experience. I want to share this experience with you.

Luckily, on that day my wife had come with me, so I could leave with her the two "prohibited items" I always carry with me (my RSK-mk1 knife and a kubotan-keyholder). I knew I was "clean" and I was therefore quite delighted when I was routed to the line hurded to towards the "porno-scanners". Once I got to the machine, I declared, politely, that I declined to be scanned and that I would opt for the "enhanced pat-down". The TSA agent politely replied "sure" turned around and yelled "male assistance please!". Then, the circus began.

I was told to stand at one specific stop and not to move. During about 4-5 minutes, nobody was paying attention to me and I began wondering how I could be forgotten standing there smack in the middle of the TSA searching area. Eventually, a huge dude, (6'4-6'5 for about no less than 300-320 lbs) showed up, looking extremely annoyed.

Have you ever met the kind of irritating character who deliberately whispers in order to make you tense? They mumble under their breath just to make you strain with the effort of hearing what they are saying. I told him "excuse me, I cannot hear you". He then looked even more pissed, like he had been personally offended by both my presence and my request that he speak up.

Uncle Sam has clearly made some effort at giving his TSA thugs a superficial veneer of civilization. My own TSA agent, let's call him Bubba, was saying so many "sir this, sir that, please sir" and, his favorite, "do you understand this sir?" that it was sometimes hard to understand him. The numerous "sirs" did not prevent the guy from looking really offended, disgusted and extremely annoyed. Judging by the pace of his speech, he was also rather dumb (I know, that criteria is subjective, but that was my feeling anyway). Sure enough, he promptly proceeded to show me how stupid he really was.

Bubba first told me to show him where my carry-on luggage was. I pointed him to the conveyor belt taking luggage out from the TSA X-ray machines. He looked at me in dumb stupor and said "which ones, sir?" I made two steps towards my luggage when he emphatically said "do not get close, sir, show me from here, sir!". Clearly he was afraid that I might pull out some dangerous weapon which the TSA X-ray machine might have missed.

He carefully took my carry-on and placed it in a separate spot. Then, he proceeded with the "enhanced" pat-down.

What surprised me first, was that the entire procedure is done right there, on the spot, in the middle of all the passengers trying to get through security. When I asked whether the pat-down would be made here, Bubba gave me a stern look and said "we can go to a private place, if you want". Will you be surprised if I tell you I declined?

The first obvious "enhancement" (as compared to a normal pat-down) is the never stopping voice of the TSA agent droning on about what he will do next: "now I will touch your knee, sir, do you understand?", "now I will touch your scalp, sir, do you understand?". etc. I found the "sirs" ok, but the numerous "do you understand?", which were delivered with a almost threatening voice, somehow made me feel guilty, or stupid, or both.  I wondered what would happen to me if I did not "understand"...

I guess being told to stand with both of my hands wide apart, like for a crucifixion, did not add to my feeling of comfort.

Being in Florida, I was wearing shorts and when Bubba decided to check them out, I was left standing, arms still wide apart, with the back of my shorts hanging down at about midpoint over my buttocks ("ghetto style"). Apparently Buddy did not notice, or care, that his thorough examination of my shorts had left them hanging down and dangerously close from falling off altogether. I carefully asked Bubba if I could pull them back on. He very reluctantly agreed.

Bubba then proceeded to slowly and carefully check my shirt. The weird thing is that he was patting me down my ribs and back through the shirt and that clearly was not easy for him. I ask him whether he wanted me to remove my short. He gave it some thought, and then replied "would that make you comfortable, sir?". I decided to drop the topic.

Finally, we arrived a the inevitable key moment of this new "enhanced" pat-down: Bubba would pat my genitals!

Well, it was a rather disappointing thing. First, the TSA does not refer to genitals by name. They are call "sensitive areas". Fair enough. My buttock, by the way, are also considered "sensitive" (?). I have to admit that Bubba barely touched my "sensitive" parts, and that the touching was peppered with even bigger amounts of "sirs" and, of course, "do you understands". Let me state this for the record here - the "sensitive areas" pat-down was really no big deal. Useless, for sure, symbolic, perhaps, but it was not some cavity-search or some pornographic massage. It was short (1-2 seconds max) and down with the back of Bubba's gloved hands. No big deal, really.

Finally, Bubba rubbed my hands with some scotch tape, mumbling something undetermined under his breath about "hands". I guess he was looking for traces of explosives. Then he came back with a totally disgusted look and said "you may go", and turned away.

The fact that the "porno" part was anti-climactic (wink) really does not mean that this entire procedure is benign or acceptable. In fact, is a gross violation of a person's dignity, but not because of any inappropriate fondling. The real effect of that kind of search is a multi-level assault on your mind:

a) you are treated like a potential criminal, as if you had given clear indications of hostile intent.
b) you are treated like a slave or a robot, being told exactly how to move, where to stand, what to do.
c) you are treated like a moron who cannot understand even the most basic instructions.
d) you are asked to passively accept even the most obviously idiotic order or procedure (like not touching your own carry-on luggage even though it just passed through the X-ray machine)

That is what all this TSA non-sense is really all about: compliance, submission, surrender. It's a mind-f**k.

This is also why the folks the TSA hires a huge numbers of dumb and poorly paid TSA agents - because anybody with just an ounce of critical thinking will immediately see how stupid this entire circus is. One such cretin even told me in Washington, DC that she has seen "many children terrorists" (in her nightmares, no doubt). The paranoia of these folks is clearly at near-hysterical levels.

One less than amusing thing is that the TSA also presents the perfect target. Rest assured that sooner or later some wannabe terrorist dimwit a la Richard Reid will realize that he can kill much more people at a TSA checkpoint than Anders Breivik recently killed in Norway, and with much less preparation, skills or effort.  After all, anybody can bring a backpack and a duffel-bag full of explosives along with a strap-on explosive belt and get right in the middle of a long lines travelers and TSA agents before blowing himself/herself up.  Just visualize of what, say, 50kg of C4 would do inside a major airport's crowded TSA checkpoint!

Not only would such an attack kill *a lot* of people, but it would create even further panic.  Have you ever seen footage of Israeli soldiers pointing their assault-rifles as some Palestinian whom they order to disrobe at a distance because they fear that he/she might be wearing an explosive belt?  Well, that is the logical and inevitable next step of a situation in which checkpoints are being blown-up.

So no only is this entire TSA circus ridiculous, wasteful and deeply degrading, it is also extremely dangerous as it provides the *perfect* target.  The scary thing is that nobody seems to care any more.

The Saker