Tagged: TSA


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Dear TSA Team:

I hope that 2013 finds you, like me, fit and optimistic and recommitted to our core mission of protecting Americans.

Our society is increasingly arrogant and uncooperative. We need to assure passenger compliance with our core message. What better way to achieve that goal than with a new TSA theme? I'm excited to announce that the new theme is Think of the Children!

Now, the TSA has long been at the forefront of serving young Americans with innovations like its "Cool Strangers With Candy" and "And Your Little Child, Too!" programs. But we haven't been focused enough on how we can serve adults by serving kids.

Americans love their children. But Americans need to recognize that their children are in grave danger. I'm not just talking about the danger of terrorists attempting to travel by plane, one of which we will, without a shadow of a doubt, catch or detect any day now. I'm talking about a far more insidious danger: terrorist recruitment.

Too often our nation's pre-kindergarteners are adrift, lacking leadership and a firm grounding in core American values like unquestioning compliance and complete absence of critical thinking skills. Their young minds are a playground for terrorist indoctrination and so-called "questioning." If the terrorists believe that we won't screen these children strictly, thoroughly, even ruthlessly, then the terrorists will redouble their recruitment efforts, sparing no expense to sway children with sweets, rhythmic songs and bright colors and/or shapes.

That's why we must redouble our efforts to search young children. It's for their own good. It makes them a less attractive target for terrorist and libertarian recruitment.

I'm pleased to report that Operation Think of the Children! is proceeding successfully. Dedicated TSA agents all across America are reaching out to protect America's children by sending them for special screening, discouraging parental interference, and separating them from potentially hazardous stuffed animals and whatnot. They're protecting children from possible bad influences.

I'm particularly glad so see that our TSA agents have absorbed their training and recognized that disabled children — too often shunned and belittled by our society — are at particular risk for terrorist recruitment and therefore should be given additional scrutiny.

Remember, if passengers are non-compliant with our efforts to secure their children, law enforcement is there to help. Don't take any back-talk! Parents may talk to you about "rights" and cite "rules" at you, but you're the one in charge. Tell them what you think the rules are, and we'll work out the nuances later.

Look, people: I know you have a tough job. I know that you're not paid as well as you should be, and that you've taken this job, stepping up to offer careful hand-screening to dozens of children a day, out of to fulfill a compelling need. Keep doing what you'll do. Meanwhile I'll keep the naysayers off your back.

Now, go screen a kid for me.

The Volokh Conspiracy Turned Into A TSA Porn Site So Gradually, I Hardly Noticed

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The one thing I take away from Stewart Baker's extremely unsettling extended sexual metaphor about opposition to the TSA is that the man is very frustrated.

Mr. Baker — a self-described "privacy skeptic and national security conservative" — is frustrated at his inability to comprehend all of that nasty opposition to the TSA. He seizes upon a belabored sexual analogy: TSA lines give us (him) performance anxiety, causing us to fumble about, alarmed at any change in routine, thwarting us from the smooth, economical physical movements that, Astaire-like, make us sexually irresistible to virginal women. No, really. No, damn it, I'm serious, go read it yourself. There. I told you.

Baker, surrounded by a tissue of lies about TSA opponents and a double handful of the balm of self-regard, flogs that metaphor raw, but is unable to conclude it satisfactorily. He dreams of a TSA that would post encouraging signs to us that we're doing fine, just fine, steadily building in tempo, moving us towards the end of the security line, until we shoot with a relieved sigh out of it all over the Sbarro Express.

Perhaps Mr. Baker is frustrated because there are no real women in this analogy. Oh, there's the fictional woman in the novel quote from the lede, and the other fictional women who would recommence jumping the bones of red-blooded American men everywhere if the TSA would put up a few signs to make us feel better about how long we lasted in line. But there are no real women in his analogy; he dismissed them with a hand-wave: "I can’t explain the women who hate TSA with a passion, though I’m not sure how many there are. Anti-TSA sites and comments have a distinct whiff of testosterone."

That would be a surprise to, say, Amy Alkon, who was threatened with a lawsuit by a TSA agent for having the temerity to complain about having fingers thrust into her during a search. It would be a surprise to women harassed over their breast milk by TSA agents too stupid or careless to know their own policies, or these women forced to remove prosthetic breasts, or this woman forced to expose her gastric tube to gawking polyster-clad subnormals, or this rape survivor cupped and groped and probed by TSA "professionals," or this woman told to remove her nipple rings, or any of these women. I'm pretty sure they aren't critics of the TSA because of some sort of surge of testosterone.

And yet I'm being unfair — to the women. Women don't just criticize the TSA because some of them are getting groped and harassed and abused. Women, as much as men, love liberty. Women, like men, love America. Women love America, and they're skeptical if the proposition that, if America is in such grave danger that we must surrender rights to save it, we should be surrendering rights to the sort of people who get recruited by ads on pizza boxes. Women — as you'll know if you're in a relationship with one — question things. Among the thing they question: why should we trust the TSA's statement that these measures are effective, or necessary? Why should we accept the logical fallacy that these measures work because there have been no more terrorist attacks on planes? How do we know this isn't merely more security theater? Why is the TSA steadily increasing its power over more and more avenues of American travel? How can we possibly yield to an agency that openly believes that it is entitled to unquestioning compliance from Americans? How is the canine obedience of government demanded by "national security conservatives" reconcilable with actual conservatism? What kind of Americans would we be if we just said "sure, Department of Homeland Security, whatever you say?"

But Mr. Baker won't address those questions, perhaps because he is impotent to do so. Instead he dismisses the questioning women entirely, and the questioning and criticizing men with labels: hostile. Visceral. Spittle-flecked. Junior-high-school rebellion mode. Beta Males all! Not Alphas, like him, who woo the ladies with his principled support of being touched by strangers in public.

Mr. Baker's Fifty Shades of TSA fantasy coincides with recent pushback against criticism, both by outside surrogates and by the TSA's own Baghdad Bob, who showed up at Amy Alkon's blog to chide her for her criticisms:

Part of what makes this country great is that we can openly complain on blogs such as this one, but I think it’s only fair that the blogger in question should be fair and accurate about what they write about and also consider the privacy of the individuals involved. After all, these individuals are doing the job the way they’ve been trained to do it.

No doubt he's exactly right. That's the problem. Maybe we should yield to Mr. Baker's suggestions and train them as fluffers, too.

Hat tip: Scott and Mark for their takes and Max for the Fifty Shades line.

The TSA Dumbs It Down For You

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The TSA News — an indispensable blog if you care about the excesses of the TSA — has an infuriating story about a local newspaper opinion column by a TSA shill named Lisa Farbstein.

Farbstein was responding to a column by Diane Dimond, reprinted here at Huffington Post. Ostensibly Farbstein was correcting factual errors in Dimond's criticism of TSA procedure. But Farbstein let the mask slip a bit — she uttered as text the subtext to all of the TSA's overweening demands for unquestioning compliance:

For someone who lives just 15 miles from what used to be the World Trade Center, Rockland resident/writer Diane Dimond seems to have a short memory. In a recent column, she ranted about TSA because she doesn’t like to take off her shoes at the checkpoint and because TSA dared to open her husband’s carry-on bag to take a peak at what she admittedly defined as containing “specialized” electronic equipment.

She criticized the very security measures that were designed to keep passengers safe —to help ensure that there is not another 9/11 in her back yard – in any back yard for that matter — yet at no time did she ever contact TSA to check her facts. So permit me to do the fact-checking for your readers.

. . . .

Perhaps the next time Diane and her family fly out of a New York-area airport to a fun vacation spot, they’ll look out the car window at the New York skyline minus the Twin Towers and remember some of the true facts about TSA and why it exists.

And there it is — stripped of pretense or dissembling, the core of the TSA's argument: shut the fuck up about us or terrorists will kill your family.

Governments and government minions accrete power through fear. The TSA — like so many other agencies of post-9/11 American government — has been doing it for years; Farbstein just dumbed it down a bit more than they usually do.

We've written about the TSA's idiocies and abuses here for years, but I'll let Bill Fisher at the TSA News Blog demolish this particular instance of nonsense. In short: the proposition that the TSA is keeping us safe from terrorists is untested and unproven, and the proposition that "safety" requires us to endure the TSA's thieves and sex offenders and thugs is offensive and preposterous. Linda Farbstein is just competing with Blogger Bob for the role of the TSA's lead propagandist, a position that is to American liberty what Tokyo Rose was to American troops.

Regrettably, "accept government power or you'll die!" is usually an effective argument. That's why so many Americans meekly accept the TSA's abusive security theater. That's how American jurors can convict a woman for "disorderly conduct" for loudly demanding that TSA thugs not grope her daughter's genitals.

Don't like it? For God's sake, say something.


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From: John S. Pistole, TSA Administrator

To: TSA Employees


Happy Friday, TSA Family! Today I'm not coming at you with a bunch of boring rules, like my last memo. No, today I'm here with kudos for our Tip Top TSA Team!

Today the kudos belong to our team members at Dallas Love Field for putting a non-compliant civilian in her place:

Deaton — who has a medical condition — said Transportation Security Administration agents at Dallas Love Field crossed the line after they noticed something hanging from her stomach. She told them it was a gastric tube to flush toxins from her body.

They pulled her aside for a pat-down. Deaton said it happened behind a screen and not in a private room, and away from her luggage. Agents asked to look at the tube.

"When I pulled my shirt out and they catch a glimpse of it, they both go, 'Ugh!'" Deaton said. "I said, 'Thank you for your professionalism.'"

And they said "thanks for shutting up, beeyotch!" BOOM! Amirite?

Anyway, our team members in Dallas handled it exactly right. Here's the thing, friends: and we've been complaining for years, some of the American people have stopped offering us the unquestioning compliance we are entitled to as a result of our official rank. That's because of attitudes creeping back into the American psyche — attitudes like dignity, bodily integrity, the equality of all whether in uniform or not, and individuality. These are not post-9/11 American values. They are 9/10 values. We need to push back, and remind Americans they are a group, not individuals, and need to submit without question or complaint for the good of the whole. As generations of drill sargeants, camp counselors, and nontraditional religious group leaders know, you break down these obstructionist individual values by breaking a person down and building them up again as part of a group.

This civilian in Dallas may call it "humiliation." But remember that the root of "humiliation" is "humility" — the very spirit with which civilians should approach you, the officials assigned to instruct them in their obligations as a member of the traveling public. The sort of tactics used by our Dallas team are exactly the sort that will break down stuck-up individuals and turn them into complaint team members. If you have any doubt, review some of the other techniques that we've used effectively:

Eat their lunch. I mean literally.

–Faced with an uppity woman? A good hard probe will put her in her place.

Take toys from the developmentally handicapped. If they don't know their place, who will?

–A A full pat-down of a child in front of a helpless parent will establish that the state is the REAL parent entitled to obedience.

–People are sensitive about bodily fluids like breast milk. Use that to break them down.

–People are also sensitive about prosthetics. The more private the replaced part, the more sensitive the civilian. Use that. It works. Trust me.

–The gal in Dallas only had a tube, which is of minimal use. Some people have bags. If you have control over their ostomy bags, you have control over them. Watch that only they get doused with bodily fluids, though. Dry cleaning isn't free!

–Not everyone is hard to break down. Some people come pre-broken-down. Watch out for people who may have been crime victims. They make useful object lessons to others.

–Similarly, if you show an elderly veteran who's boss, others will fall in line.

–Some "nontraditional" folks are particularly stubborn about recognizing our authority. Hand them pliers and tell them "lose the hardware, hippie." Puts them in their place every time.

In short: MAKE THEM RESPECT YOU. Remind them where you came from.

Some people — people who aren't quite yet "with the TSA program" — have asked me if it is right to use humiliation as a weapon to make Americans return to post-9/11 unquestioning compliance. "Aren't Americans a free people?" they ask. "Don't they deserve better?"

Look: if they were really a free people, or really deserved better, would they be letting us do this?

Anyway, kudos again to the team at Love Field. Your T-shirts are on the way. Attaboy!


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From: John S. Pistole, TSA Administrator

To: TSA Employees

RE: Policies & Procedures Update

Summer's here! More Americans are traveling, and I thought I'd just take the time to drop a note to my big, happy family of TSA line agents.

1. Hygiene Reminder: People, people, please remember to wear your gloves! It's summer, and it's hot, and you're probing the groins of a higher number of people, and lots of them are sweaty, and . . . I'm just saying. I don't want to be presiding over some sort of outbreak scenario here.

2. Working For the TSA Is a Privilege: Always remember that you have grave responsibility and power conferred upon you: the power to grope the genitals of complete strangers. Better yet, they aren't allowed to grope you in return. No backsies! Tell me, do your friends working a shift at Dairy Queen have those sorts of perks? But look: this brings up a slightly uncomfortable subject. Human sexuality is wondrous and beautiful. It's completely normal to have certain feelings and urges, even when you are working, especially when your work requires you to touch the primary and secondary sex characteristics of strangers. But the time to express those urges openly is not on the job — it's after work, or at least during an approved break.

3. Substance alert: I've been getting some questions about people carrying the ashes of loved ones here, and I understand there is some confusion about proper protocol. What it comes down to is this: I trust you, people. If your instinct is that ashes are dangerous, you just go ahead and poke around in that flier's grandma. I've got your back. Maybe the person's dead, but that doesn't eliminate all threats. Jesus Christ came back from the dead, and he was Middle Eastern, amirite? See, that's just the type of levity that will help lighten the mood when you're sorting through the remains of dead people in front of the bereaved. Logic also works: tell the passenger that you would have full authority to probe their father if he were alive, so it makes no rational sense to complain about you doing it when he's dead.

4. Hiring Alert: I'm excited to announce that we're increasing our presence at Amtrak stations. We believe that Amtrak's commitment to efficiency and safety and our commitment to customer service and good judgment make a winning combination. As a result, we're hiring again! Got a friend who has been out of a job? Have they been drifting through life aimlessly? They can find pride again searching random strangers at a train and/or bus station!

5. Regarding Pay: Look, people, I'm doing everything I can on the Hill to get your salaries bumped up. But let me remind you: self-help is OUT as an option. You'll get raises. Just keep your eye on the balls.

6. Kudos Time: I just wanted to give a shoutout to my dear friend, Blogger Bob, who writes tirelessly to promote the idea that what the TSA does is necessary and appropriate. Bob's a bit of a jokester! Just the other day he said to me, "Hey Johnny — what would happen if the American people started probing all these lists of items seized and asking hard questions — like 'how does this compare to what was seized pre-TSA?' and 'did any of these people have terrorist ties, or was there any indication that they meant to do harm?' or 'how are these seizures from bags connected to touching the genitals of grandmothers and children?'" And then I said — and I kept a straight face, people — "Yeah, what if the media started asking tough questions, too?" And then we busted up. That's just the type of team we are around here.

In Which I "Strongly Caution" The TSA To Snort My Taint, And Probably Get On The No-Fly List

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When I heard someone was suggesting that the TSA — a favorite subject here at Popehat — was hip-deep in junk science, I was not exactly surprised. After all, the TSA has a history of flirtation with junk science, which perhaps should not surprise us, given that the agency may or may not be recruiting its technological experts via pizza box advertisements.

The junk science in question relates to the TSA's much-discussed full-body-scanners, which are supposed to help detect hidden weapons, with the side benefit of providing a relatively safe form of release for incipient sex offenders and short bursts of self-esteem to the pathologically socially handicapped. Blogger Jonathan Corbett, who is engaged in litigation with the TSA, claims that the expensive and intrusive scanners can be defeated by the complicated method of attaching metal objects to your side rather than your back or front. The TSA says that it can't really discuss it, but don't worry and trust them.

This post is not about whether Corbett is right about the scanners. My point is about the TSA's reaction. Today, Corbett reported that in the course of being interviewed by reporters about his claims, he learned that a TSA spokesperson “strongly cautioned” a reporter not to cover the story. He didn't identify the reporter. In the comments to his post, someone claiming to be a reporter from Smarter Travel asserted that they, too, were "strongly cautioned not to cover the story." The post asserted the TSA spokesperson in question was one Sari Koshetz.

Now, I don't find it even a little hard to believe that someone from the TSA would threaten the media, either subtly or unsubtly. This is, after all, the agency that launches criminal investigations of critics, calls reciting the Fourth Amendment "disorderly conduct," and wants to criminalize use of its logo.

But I recognized that this was merely a claim on a blog, a blog of someone in litigation with the TSA, with anonymous or semi-anonymous claims attributed to other folks. So, even though I am reliably informed that I am not a journalist, I decided it behooved me to do something journalisty. I asked myself the question emblazoned upon the entrance to the Columbia School of Journalism, the question drilled daily into the minds of journalists from the rawest local-paper-recruit to the loftiest anchor: how can I make this story more about ME?

So. I Googled Sari Koshetz, the name dropped in the blog post, and determined that she is indeed a TSA spokesperson. I guessed at her government email, Googled it to confirm it, and then drafted an email to her to seek confirmation and comment on the story.

Here's what I sent her. As you can see, my aim was to determine whether she really did "strongly caution" people against writing the story, and to determine if that was meant to be a threat, and if so what the legal basis for it was.

Dear Ms. Koshetz:

I write for a modestly-trafficked blog that frequently discusses TSA issues.

I write to request a comment on a report regarding your conduct. Specifically, two reporters have now asserted that you "strongly cautioned" them against reporting on the allegations of litigant and blogger Jonathan Corbett regarding TSA scanners.


1. Did you (or other TSA spokespersons) in fact "caution" journalists against reporting on the story?

2. Was your caution meant to convey that journalists who report on the issue could face some sort of governmental action?

3. What was the legal or factual basis of your caution?

4. Is there any other comment you would like to make?

Thank you,


I got a rather prompt response, if a brief one:

Any guidance provided is to caution reporters not to generalize that our technology doesn't work or print something without all the facts, based on an inconclusive YouTube video.

I must confess, this shocked me. I expected the TSA might ignore me. I expected the TSA might say "no, you idiot, we didn't strongly caution anyone against reporting a story, and we didn't imply a threat to anyone."

I did not expect a weak semi/non-denial that seems to corroborate that reporters were, in fact, "cautioned." In fact, an uncharitable reader might note that Ms. Koshetz didn't specifically deny making implicit threats, didn't specifically deny strongly cautioning journalists against reporting a story, and in fact only made an ambiguous statement that could be read several different ways, some of them ominous.

You know, if I were the spokesperson for a controversial and unpopular government agency frequently accused of infringing upon the civil rights of Americans, I think that I would go out of my way, when asked, to emphasize that I hadn't meant any threats against journalists and that I didn't intend anything I said to be threatening.

Unless, of course, I meant to be threatening.

As I've said recently, ambiguity in threats is the hallmark of bullshit thuggery. Until I see a clarification from the TSA, that's how I interpret this incident: as a deliberate attempt by the TSA to chill journalists from writing about whether its intrusive full-body scanners are worthless.

So. Allow me to offer my response to the TSA and its spokespersons: snort my taint, thugs.

There. Now I'll probably get on the no-fly list. Though more typical TSA behavior would be to grope my junk and then threaten to sue me if I complain.

Hat Tip: Amy Alkon. Subsequently spotted at BoingBoing.

My Theory of TSA Arrest Powers, By Mike Elk (Mr.)

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What could be worse than a self-righteous TSA agent?

Answer: A TSA agents' union advocate.

One such arrives, dripping with angry entitlement on behalf of genital-pokers and prosthesis-fondlers everywhere, via In These Times. His name is Mike Elk, and he is concerned, very concerned, on behalf of our nation's TSA agents:

“A lot of people take this job very seriously—any vagina into which I stick my fingers could be my last,” said Heydrich Thomas, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screener who works at New York City's JFK airport and is also local union leader.

OK, OK, Thomas didn't actually say that in Elk's article — even though he may as well have. Thomas said "any bag I open could be my last." That prospect deeply concerns Mike Elk (Mr.), who emphasizes that the many guns TSA agents find every week (to say nothing, one supposes, of the many they don't find) illustrates the "dangerous nature of their jobs." Oddly, Mike Elk offers no evidence whatsoever that any TSA agents have actually been injured the course of searching Americans — just as the TSA offers no evidence that its search procedures has actually halted any terrorist attacks.

What are Mike Elk's more specific concerns? Well, he's upset that some TSA "supervisors are former military members who create a hostile work environment for employees." You know, military members — bad people. Bad people who, despite potentially having some relevant experience and training in leadership and threat detection as a result of a military background, have very little regard for the feelings and dignity-rights of the sort of people who are recruited via pizza boxes into positions of authority over strangers. Mike Elk is also very concerned because TSA agents tell him that they are being brutalized by uppity Americans:

TSA employees told In These Times that on a daily basis, workers are shouted at and have obscenities hurled at them by airline passengers upset for following TSA search procedures. Several workers complained that on several occasions airline passengers had physically assaulted TSA workers, but the passengers were allowed to board flights because TSA screeners are unable to arrest passengers who assault them.

Note that Mike Elk believes that (1) TSA agents are telling the truth about being assaulted, and (2) TSA agents understand what "assault" means, not to mention (3) we should give a shit about citizens cursing at polyester-clad strangers empowered by the federal government to grope their children. Some of us are more skeptical on each of those points. After all, we know that TSA agents think that reciting the Fourth Amendment is "disorderly conduct," that objecting to a government employee sliding her fingers between your labia is "defamation" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress," that being in the same aisle as brown people is "reasonable suspicion," that a small toy hammer used as a comfort object by a severely disabled man is a "weapon," and that traveling in the United States of America is a "privilege." So you'll pardon me, Mr. Elk, if I question both TSA agents' veracity and their grasp of legal terminology like "assault."

What does Mike Elk (Mr.) want, anyway? Well, he seems to want to give TSA agents more power. Specifically, he wants the United States to confer upon TSA agents the power to arrest Americans:

TSA cannot legally arrest or detain power under powers granted to it by the federal government; in order to make arrests, TSA workers must call local police situated in the airport.

TSA workers' inability to detain or arrest people also hinders their ability to protect airlines in general. “My job is to stand in the exit doors that passengers from arriving flights are leaving. I am supposed to stop people from entering the airport through those doors, but if somebody tries to run through those doors, all I can do is yell at them to stop and call the police,” said one TSA employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.

If they only had that power, TSA agents could feel swell again. They could arrest people themselves for "assault" and "disorderly conduct" and for having sequential checks or carrying too much cash or for generally failing to respect their authority, rather than waiting for police officers trained (sort of, occasionally) in crime detection and law enforcement.

What else does Mike Elk want? Well, he wants Americans to adjust their priorities. Just as the TSA wants Americans to return to the days of unquestioning compliance, Mike Elk wants Americans to focus not so much on the fact that TSA agents are making money by subjecting them to demeaning and largely pointless searches, but on the fact that it's an unpleasant job, and agents need a better contract:

While there has been a very high degree of concern among progressives about the search policies of TSA, the often brutal working conditions of 44,000 people charged with protecting our airports have largely gone unnoticed. If those conditions had received as much media attention as the search procedures they are charged with implementing, it's possible America's newly unionized airport screeners might have had a first contract by now.

Damn those selfish Americans! Damn them for thinking that TSA agents are making money by subjecting Americans to unwarranted abuse in the name of insipid security theater! Damn them for thinking that TSA agents across America are drunk with power, largely incompetent to conduct their mostly symbolic job, and subject to very little scrutiny from a mostly canine news media! Oh, won't somebody think of the gropers?

Well, Mike Elk, I have thought about it. I've thought about the plight of people who have decided that it's okay to take a paycheck to promote the security state, advance the cause of unquestioning compliance with government demands, demean travelers without just cause, and stand in as feckless scarecrows. I've thought considerably about it. And now I invite you to examine my wellspring of sympathy, and do so methodically and carefully.

I'll tell you just where to find it. You're going to need those gloves.

h/t Balko.

[Title reference for the Python-impaired]

Good Americans Don't Criticize The TSA! Only a COMMIE Would Do That!

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Back in September, I wrote about how writer Amy Alkon was — in her view, and mine — sexually assaulted by a TSA agent and then threatened with a defamation suit for writing about the incident.

Amy wrote an opinion piece about the experience, and since September, has been trying to get it published in the American media. Now, it's a big deal for me to get published, but Amy's been published in all sorts of mainstream, widely-read publications, including as a syndicated columnist. It's no big deal for her. Yet, no matter how far and wide she shopped the column, she found that the American media — including outlets that had published her before — were not interested in her description of a TSA agent groping Amy's privates and then threatening to sue when she complained.

Amy has finally found a media outlet willing to run her story.

It's Pravda. Yes, that Pravda. You can read Amy's post about it here, and read the Pravda English language version here.

Now, choosing which stories to publish is an art, not a science. Perhaps the American media outlets didn't care for Amy's writing — even though they had published her many times before. Perhaps the story didn't grab them, perhaps they had no room that month, perhaps they were emphasizing other crucial stories like the tragic Kardashian divorce.


But, as I argued a year ago, though the media has reported on passenger accounts of TSA abuse, when it comes to editorial comment, the media has generally acted as the TSA's dutiful fluffers, compliantly parroting the line that good citizens must endure this for their safety.

Call me a cynic. But I think that might have had something to do with it.

Now, did Pravda publish Amy's story because it still delights in illuminating America's shame? Perhaps. But Russians also know bureaucratic thuggery when they see it.

You can find all of our TSA coverage here.

Critical Thinking Is Unpatriotic

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Do you question whether America ought to be engaged in an open-ended and expensive War on Drugs? Do you question it even a little bit, by (for instance) doubting that the federal government ought to be spending billions to interdict marijuana and meddle with medical issues?

If so, then I hate to break it to you, but you aren't much of a patriot. Patriots support, uncritically, the Great War on Drugs.

I know this because our government tells me so.

Our government made this point in the course of justifying its termination of Border Patrol agent Bryan Gonzalez. Gonzalez was stationed in New Mexico. He made a comment critical of the War on Drugs, suggesting that legalizing marijuana might reduce cross-border violence, and mentioned LEAP, an organization of current and former law enforcement agents who question our nation's drug policy. This got him shit-canned.

Now, as an employer myself, I'm somewhat sympathetic to the notion that you can't let an employee run out and trumpet ideas completely in conflict with your organization's policies. I wouldn't tolerate an employee going on TV to say that criminal defense lawyers are all lying cheats trying to trick juries, for instance, because that would degrade my ability to represent clients.

So, did Bryan Gonzalez go on TV? Did he write a letter to the editor? Did he join a public movement contradicting the Border Patrol's policy?

No. He had a conversation with another agent.

Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors ending the war on drugs.

That was impermissible. It was, in the view of our government, unpatriotic.

Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps.”

See, Bryan Gonzalez did what Good Americans aren't supposed to do: he subjected a core government policy to critical thinking. He questioned whether the War on Drugs makes social, economic, and moral sense. But patriotism, as defined by modern law enforcement — as defined by the sort of people who seek power in government — isn't about exercising faculties like critical thinking or independent moral judgment. It's about saluting, in the way we salute flags and fallen soldiers and parades, core ideas that have been transformed from policy arguments into quasi-religious dogma. The War on Drugs is merely one of many — along with "War on Terror" and "Government Regulators Know What They Are Doing" and "The Political Process In America Works." Few of us salute them all, but most of us salute at least a few.

The government — people who have guns and badges, and people who derive power from controlling those with guns and badges — depends on our uncritical acceptance of these propositions. That's why they had to fire Bryan Gonzalez and impugn not just his obedience but his devotion to America — because devotion to America, in the minds of politicians, means devotion to them. The government could have offered a point-by-point refutation of Bryan Gonzalez' spur-of-the-moment comments, but that would be missing the point. The War on Drugs is not a Socratic dialogue; the War on Drugs is a harried dialogue with your five-year-old: because I said so, that's why. The War on Drugs is an enterprise based largely on emotion, which is exactly why the government responded to Bryan Gonzalez with an emotional attack — you're no patriot if you talk that way. Sound familiar? It ought to — elements of the Right use it to quell discussions of the War on Terror, and elements of the Left use it to quell discussions of taxes and regulation.

The government must resort to emotion because of the probable consequences of a fact-based dialogue about many of the issues facing America. We live in a country where, for a decade, government agents have been unable to distinguish ideas about things from the things themselves: where security agents get ridiculed for confusing a picture of an imaginary killer robot on a t-shirt with a real weapon, shrug, and five years later still blithely detain people for pictures of guns as if pictures of things were the things themselves. At least the TSA is consistent, and hews to a constant theme: a picture of a thing might not be the thing itself — just as a tattoo saying "atom bomb" may not be a bomb — but words and pictures of things can generate emotions, and the government would like us to be motivated by our emotions. Just as we could question the War on Drugs, we could ask questions like "has the TSA really stopped any terrorism? At what cost? Would other measures be more effective? Why can't agents be taught to tell the difference between a thing and a picture of a thing?"

But that would be unpatriotic to ask.

Reciting Constitutional Rights To The TSA Is Disorderly Conduct

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What would happen if, while submitting to a TSA search of some sort, you started reading from the owner's manual?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If you think "bad things would happen — perhaps very bad," then it appears you may be right. Via Amy Alkon, I encountered this diary at DailyKos about what happened to one woman — who says she is retired from the Air Force — when she decided to recite the Fourth Amendment during her search as a form of protest:

I'm speaking loud and clear so those around me can hear. Before I get to "unreasonable search" a man in an ill-fitting suit and a tie marches up to me. He tells me I was disrupting his operation. I have no idea what his position is. He stands in front of the metal detector–the first place they usually screen me. He tells me I am holding up the line. I drop my voice and tell him to go ahead and screen me. I'll take the pat down. But that's not what he wants. He wants me to shut up. I continue reading the Fourth Amendment.

The story culminates in the writer being arrested (however the TSA would characterize it, it was clearly an arrest) for disorderly conduct, cuffed, and confined in a cell. Eventually she is patted down, and the TSA succeeds in intimidating her into being silent during the procedure, citing a truly offensively preposterous rationale:

I agree to be searched and tell them I will read the Constitution in a normal voice while they do it. This is not good enough for Guy with a Tie. He says if I read the statement, I can't pay attention to what the frisking officer tells me. You know, how she is going to put her hands here and there and use the back of her hand to check my "sensitive areas". They tell me I need to listen to this, I kid you not, for my own safety. I say I will only read while she is not speaking. That won't do either, because I won't be concentrating on her instructions. Seriously, this was their rational explanation to me for continuing to violate my First and Fourth Amendment rights. I have to get home so I finally acquiesce.

Having forced the writer's compliance in a show of subservience to petty authority, the TSA cuts her loose after some confusing jibber-jabber about "taking a misdemeanor" and being contacted by federal agents.

Now, I couldn't confirm the diarist's story from another source. But it's entirely in keeping with the TSA's view of questioning of their authority, dissent in general, and dissent premised on the Fourth Amendment in particular, so I find it entirely credible.

It's interesting that the story is posted at DailyKos — a rather left-leaning site — and picked up by Amy — someone not likely to be described as left-leaning. It demonstrates that resistance to the TSA's unreasonable searches — and resistance to the government's expectation that we tolerate them without question — ought to be an issue that transcends left and right. Unfortunately, stories like these generate dismissive rhetoric equally from left and right: "flying is a privilege, not a right" "the government has the right to border and airport searches" "you are just making a scene for attention" "just shut up and let us get through security."

The mainstream of both political parties are mostly useless on this topic. Vigorous support for the Fourth Amendment and the principles underlying it has been marginalized for forty years. As I said before in discussing Amy Alkon's own case, we ought to make violating our rights an unpleasant and humiliating experience for the people who take money to do it. I applaud people brave enough to do so, in hopes that it will bring more public attention to the subject.

Defense Attorneys' Children Thank You For Their Private School Education.

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Millage. Millage. Dude.

I know it's been 17 years since I've been to Boston. But Boston is the biggest college town in the country. It's simply infested with college students. I can't think that its basic nature has changed much in 17 years.

You allegedly came up with a cunning plan to import marijuana into Boston. Now, I have no problem with that in principle. The War on Drugs is a ruinous and expensive failure. Half of America favors legalization. I have no moral or ethical or sociopolitical quarrel with your enterprise.

But . . . dude. Your plan was to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to buy marijuana, drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then bribe a TSA agent to help you smuggle the marijuana — over multiple plane flights — via American Airlines to Boston?


Let me just mention a few things:

1. If you're in Los Angeles, you don't have to drive to San Francisco to buy marijuana.

2. Your plan involves trusting in the competence and reliability of a crooked TSA agent? Really?

3. Your business plan is to use post-9/11 commercial aviation to import marijuana in your luggage across the entire country into the nation's biggest college town? You know the nation's biggest college town already has some marijuana, right?

Honestly, sometimes the cops must feel like they're clubbing baby seals.

We Are The TSA, And We Approve This Message

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It's an exciting time at YOUR Transportation Security Administration! At the start of America's second decade of Total War Against Terror, the TSA is once again at the tip of the spear of the fight to keep you safe. While other agencies plod along using old-fashioned methods and targets, the TSA recognizes that the key to security is innovation and flexibility. We have therefore been at the forefront of identifying new frontiers of threats arising from suspicious "medical devices" and the personal orifices of anti-state agitators. As a result of our vigilance and innovation, our Ministry of Communications reports that we are more popular and talked-about than ever.

But with that popularity comes a grave dilemma. As "the kids" would say, some people out there want to "take some of our mojo without asking." We understand — who wouldn't want to be associated with the brave men and women who, day after day, touch the bodies of unwilling strangers? But please be aware: the TSA's logos and other branding efforts are the sole property of the United States government. Even in these tough economic times, we've turned down numerous requests from businesses that would like to use the TSA logo to market to our employees and to an adoring public, from many hobbyist photography web sites to various collector's clubs.

Misusing the TSA's logo and branding is not just a civil violation, it's a betrayal of America and (like other trademark and copyright violations) subject of interest to the Department of Homeland Security.

That's why we are grateful to hear that Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL-HERO) has introduced a bill making it a federal crime to misappropriate the TSA's branding:

Whoever, except with the written permission of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Security (or the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service for issues involving the Federal Air Marshal Service), knowingly uses the words ‘Transportation Security Administration’, ‘United States Transportation Security Administration’, ‘Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘United States Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘Federal Air Marshals’, the initials ‘T.S.A.’, ‘F.A.M.S.’, ‘F.A.M.’, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, or the likeness of a Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service badge, logo, or insignia on any item of apparel, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or with any play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a matter that is reasonably calculated to convey the impression that the wearer of the item of apparel is acting pursuant to the legal authority of the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service, or to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or such play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service;’ [shall be guilty of a crime punishable with up to one year in federal prison]

Now, don't panic, citizens! I know that some of you are worried about your "TSA: TOTALLY SUPER AWESOME!" fan t-shirts. No worries! The TSA knows that friendly and supportive fan-club materials don't fall under the statute, because they don't try to usurp the TSA's authority.

The TSA is aware that certain "citizens" — who value their "First Amendment rights" over the safety and security of the people of this great nation, including grandmothers, nuns, and children — sometimes employ shirts, buttons, and other materials unfairly criticizing the TSA from an extremist perspective. The TSA is aware of the protections presently extended in some circumstances by some interpretations of the Constitution. Anyone wearing a shirt with a TSA logo that is critical of the TSA can rest assured that TSA agents are well-trained to distinguish between things and parodies or pictures of things, as are our partners in the transportation industry. Such critics will be inconvenienced and intruded upon only temporarily at worst. Moreover, dissents can rest assured that the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA remain as tolerant as they have ever been.

So, thanks to Rep. Rogers! See you at the security lines, citizens. And remember the TSA motto: CITIZEN, OBEY.

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

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Fear not, America: in a world where so many wish you ill, the Transportation Security Administration is still vigilant against your greatest foe: Americans who have survived cancer.

Via Letters to my Country and Amy Alkon (who, you might recall, had her own recent run-in with the TSA), I encountered this rage-inducing story by Lori Dorn:

Yesterday I went through the imaging scanner at JFK Terminal 4 for my Virgin America flight to San Francisco. Evidently they found something, because after the scan, I was asked to step aside to have my breast area examined. I explained to the agent that I was a breast cancer patient and had a bilateral mastectomy in April and had tissue expanders put in to make way for reconstruction at a later date.

I told her that I was not comfortable with having my breasts touched and that I had a card in my wallet that explains the type of expanders, serial numbers and my doctor’s information (pictured) and asked to retrieve it. This request was denied. Instead, she called over a female supervisor who told me the exam had to take place. I was again told that I could not retrieve the card and needed to submit to a physical exam in order to be cleared. She then said, “And if we don’t clear you, you don’t fly” loud enough for other passengers to hear. And they did. And they stared at the bald woman being yelled at by a TSA Supervisor.

I'm sure the TSA will explain why it was necessary to grope a cancer patient in public, just as soon as their official blogger finishes bragging about how the TSA's explosive detection technology helps them interdict smuggled fish.

This is, by far, not the first time we've heard that the TSA acts in an inhuman fashion to people with illnesses and disabilities. We've seen wanton treatment of people with urostomy and colostomy bags, the sick torment of the mentally disabled, and the demands that cancer survivors remove prosthetic breasts. Throughout, for the most part, the media remains the TSA's compliant fluffers. So, though what happened to Lori Dorn is sick and infuriating, it is not new.

One of the questions I've been asking here is why do we let this happen? But there's another apt question: these TSA agents are human beings, of a sort, so why do they act this way? Is there something about recruiting on pizza boxes that attracts a statistically unlikely cluster of sociopaths?

I think the answer is an old one and a simple one, congruent with one of the main themes seen on this blog: power corrupts. If you confer upon a man or woman the power to inflict tyrannies and indignities upon his or her fellow citizens, he or she will slowly grow to hate those fellow citizens, feel justified in mistreating them, and increasingly inflict the indignities with aggression and contempt.

Stanford University has offered two very apt studies, one old and one new. First, there's Philip Zimbardo's chilling and classic prison experiment, which illustrated how ordinary college students — people who on a more typical day would be thinking about weed and sex and avoiding work, people who were probably more countercultural than authoritarian — were transformed by being given even temporary power over others as mock prison guards. And now, more recently, a joint study by Stanford, USC, and Northwestern shows how petty power corrupts:

In a new study, researchers at USC, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the Kellogg School of Management have found that individuals in roles that possess power but lack status have a tendency to engage in activities that demean others. According to the study, "The Destructive Nature of Power Without Status," the combination of some authority and little perceived status can be a toxic combination.

The research, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, is "based on the notions that (a) low status is threatening and aversive, and (b) power frees people to act on their internal states and feelings."

(Thanks to Greg Lukianoff for the pointer to that study.)

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.

The fact that this is a recognized psychological phenomenon explains, but does not excuse, any more than it excuses police abuse and bureaucratic indifference. Nor does it excuse the leaders of the TSA and the Department of Homeland security, who have decreed a feckless facade of security theater that is calculated to lead to this result, all in the name of promoting unquestioning compliance.

What are you going to do? Are you going to retell these stories on social media and forums and blogs? Are you going to make it clear, when asked, that you don't accept the security state's excuses at face value? Are you going to write your representatives?

Are you going to stand up? Or is it really no big deal that a petty authority groped and humiliated a cancer survivor in public, purportedly for your safety?

This Is What "If You See Something, Say Something" Mentality Leads To

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This — a perfectly innocent woman being hauled off a flight, handcuffed, jailed, strip-searched, and grilled for hours — because some fucking ninny on the plane thought she and the two dark-skinned people sitting next to her were "suspicious", and because "better safe than sorry" has become a higher value to law enforcement than probable cause or reasonable suspicion or due process or common freaking sense, and because we're too cowed as a people to say anything about it.

Reporting on the issue is meek.

"Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously," Berchtold said. "The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not."

From what I can piece together, this woman got treated like that because she was seated in the same row as two Indian men who wen to the bathroom in succession and took longer than some passenger deemed necessary.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.