Today's TSA: Even Petty Power Corrupts. Perhaps ESPECIALLY Petty Power.

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29 Responses

  1. Amy Alkon says:

    My friend, evolutionary psychologist Catherine Salmon, just posted an interesting piece on her Psych Today blog about the possible psychological reasons behind TSA bullying:

    By the way, on a "speaking up" note, I've had my op-ed urging people to be civilly disobedient in the face of TSA rights grabs rejected by every mainstream media outlet I've sent it to. I'm trying to get it picked up by an outlet that will get it the most viewings by ordinary Americans. Still pursuing that, but kicking myself for my naivete in thinking that the NYT, LAT, would ever publish such a thing. (And I'm a newspaper columnist in a whole bunch of papers — not writing in crayon from prison, and I've had the piece vetted by three crack editor friends and my wonderful First Amendment lawyer, Marc J. Randazza, who sticks out both middle fingers while being groped, in hopes of showing those earning a living violating our rights the respect they DESERVE.)

  2. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I suspect that there is another factor at work here; the TSA goons are spectacularly irrelevant to flight safety, and the even slightly intelligent ones probably know it. While a criminal mastermind would probably have little trouble sneaking a bomb onto an airliner, the terrorist planners frankly genius level techno-geeks. The 9/11 attacks, and all the airplane targeted efforts that I've read of since, could have/have been thwarted by passenger action. The next bunch of camel pesterers that attempts to take over a plane with box cutters is going to end up stuffed in the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat use condition.

    Moreover, if you wanted to be realistic about things, you could say "OK, we're racially profiling until further notice. Sorry, we're a little tense.", and you could let reliable people (like the Pilots, and yes I know that was supposedly done, but if you look at how it was implemented …. not so much) carry guns for defense on airliners.

    The TSA people have to know that they are useless. And that HAS to be galling.

  3. EH says:

    CSP, there's already a Racist's Veto on airlines, so your profiling dream is already in effect.

  4. perlhaqr says:

    in hopes of showing those earning a living violating our rights the respect they DESERVE.

    Heh. Yeah, I saw that sign at the airport last time I flew too. I'd have liked to have shown the TSA agents the respect they deserved, but I didn't need to pee at the time.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says:


    I didn't say that racial profiling would be a Good Thing, I said it would have a desirable effect; it would actually accomplish something useful. In my opinion, in light of what I seriously think will happen to terrorists attempting to take over a flight from now on, the costs wouldn't be matched by the benefits, but it would do more to make flight safe than the petty functionaries we are currently allowing to grope the citizenry.

  6. Brian Dunbar says:

    This study could have been written explicitly about the TSA. TSA agents are poorly paid, work in nasty conditions, and have little status. Yet they have, within their petty fiefdoms, tremendous power to humiliate and demean. And God, do they ever use it.

    This kind of thing is instantly familiar to any enlisted guy: the service is chock full of little men who let a stripe go to their head.

    Are you going to stand up?

    And do what?

    The government is going to blow off letters. And social media.

    The government is not going to just disband TSA or tame their groping in any other way than perfunctory. TSA is a drug that the government likes: power and plenty of it. TSA is a symptom of a bigger problem with this government.

    I reckon it would take massive 1960s style civil rights protests to change TSA.

    Good luck finding people to donate time for that cause.

  7. Grandy says:

    Randazza really gives TSA agents both barrels when they search him before flights? That is spectacular in every respect.

  8. LabRat says:

    Actually, an issue with the SPE is that the wording used in the recruiting ad Zimbardo put out may well have attracted people specifically who WERE high on authoritarian and abusive personality traits. Seems if you specify your setting, the folks who'd kind of like to have that kind of power- or, more interestingly, think that someone having nominal power really does give them a right to abuse even if they're on the nasty end of the stick- turn out.

    That power/status study is an interesting one. It rings a bell from what I know of primates- monkeys that are low on the status ladder can be astoundingly nasty to those just a rung or two lower, just because they can. High-status apes and monkeys usually have too much invested in alliances to be pointlessly abusive.

  9. Cathy says:

    Per a TSA supervisor in BOS you are not allowed to say that what the TSA agents are doing constitutes assault. Apparently they "shouldn't have to take that."

  10. Laura K says:

    I find this is one of so many issues where I have strong opinions–mostly involving the TSA and their rightful place in Hell–but no solutions. Complaining letters and petitions will probably not force the government to shut down or clean up the TSA. So what can we actually do?

  11. Brandon says:

    "So what can we actually do?"

    Vote for Ron Paul?

  12. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I too fear that the is wholly uninterested in changing things, and they have the media on their side, and the media is able to track down the one or two people in an airport who think the TSA is just fine, or at least a necessary evil. So when new complaints surface, and the media does a story, they'll always have a 10 second soundbite of someone cheerleading for the TSA.

  13. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Seems even Issac Asimov knew that the TSA would someday come into existance.

  14. Erica says:

    The ultimate troll thing is to bring up the holocaust in response to any event, but it just saddens me that similar things have happened in the past – with people who have no power granted just a little tiny bit of power and using it to the extreme – and no one has learned anything from it. There's a meme with Professor Farnsworth noting that he doesn't want to live on this planet anymore and every time I read a TSA article, I want to stamp it with that meme.

    But… where can we go where this isn't happening?

  15. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Another example of a little power being used badly

  16. Scott Jacobs says:

    MRS, I hope that woman get many millions of dollars, and that security guard gets beaten savagely.

  17. Rich Rostrom says:

    Labrat: very interesting monkey study.

    It squares with an opinion that i have read elsewhere: that it is officials with just a little authority who turn into petty dictators and demand exaggerated deference.

  18. Brian Dunbar says:

    “So what can we actually do?”

    Vote for Ron Paul?

    Gary Johnson has a better chance at connecting with non-Libertarians.

    Paul is .. your crazy uncle who makes sense but .. he's crazy. And old.

    Either in a pinch. GOP has lost my vote if Petty/Romney/Cain get the nod.

  19. Laura K says:

    Brandon, the only use I have seen for Ron Paul is as a toilet brush for someone tall enough to weild him by the ankles.

  20. Steve M says:

    Don't fly.

  21. silvermine says:

    I object to the idea that I deserve to be groped because I'm not old, ill, or a cancer survivor. NO ONE should be assaulted just to fly a plane. Sorry, but this is one giant freaking violation of the 4th amendment. Look, I know that people want to use these cases to make a change, but I think it backfires. It says that in these SPECIAL cases it's wrong. But that implies that otherwise, if you're healthy, young, walking, intact, etc. it's okay to grope you. NO.

  22. Ansley says:

    EH: 'Camel pesterers'? Not necessary- not even as satire.

  23. This is what happens when you insist the government take responsibility for your safety. You want protection from terror, you invite terror from another source. We made this bed, now we are forced to lie in it.

  24. Brandon says:

    Laura K, why is that? Do you have some substantive objection to his arguments?

  25. Ted N says:

    Juan, I didn't insist on the .gov taking care of anything. If this airline existed, I'd fly with them every time.

    Remember, if you pull your gun first, you're the terrorist. If you pull second you're everybody else. And if you don't have a gun, they'll let you borrow one for the flight. Hell yeah.

  26. Gretchen says:

    Hey Ken, I used this post as a jumping-off point for one on my own blog– would appreciate any thoughts you might have.

  27. Texas Hillsurfer says:

    I'd like to comment on the other comments on racial profiling, and only that. If we rely on race to determine who may or may not be a terrorist, the terrorists will simply recruit more actors who are not of that race, as has been done in the past. In other words, regardless of how effective or ineffective the current security tactics may be, relying on race to narrow the field of candidates may not be racist, but it is dangerously stupid.

  28. C. S. P. Schofield says:


    Awww, diddums. Gods forbid we should apply nasty names to a demographic of barbarian swine who attack us. We wouldn't want them to think we're RUDE.

  29. Patrick says:

    C. S. P. Schofeld:

    "Camel Pesterers" is not too different from "Spearchuckers". If a non-entity like, say, Jim Hall referred to camel pesterers or spearchuckers around here, I'd ban him without a second thought.

    You've commented here for some time however, so I'm having a second thought. Kindly reflect on your rhetoric, and imagine how that would look to an Arabic member of our readership. We have a few.

    If you agree, after calm reflection following what I'm sure may feel like an unpleasant warning, you might want to say so.

    You're better than that.