The TSA Dumbs It Down For You

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.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Jeremy says

    If there's one nightmare I've never been able to get over, it's the vision of a world full of people who are afraid.

  2. Dallas says

    War is peace. -Orwell

    If we are in a constant state of fear over things that may happen, we will never know peace. There are so many problems in the world that to be an adult we have to learn to live with uncertainty. Living in fear, bah, I've had enough of it.

  3. Liberaltarian says

    I suppose we should be grateful that for once the TSA thugs decided to respond to criticism with speech of their own, rather than slipping on their jackboots and having the critic arrested on some trumped-up charge.

  4. adri says

    This whole thing stinks. Every time I read something like this about the TSA, all I hear is, 'That's a nice life you got there…shame if something were to happen to it.' It seems like the TSA is far more of a threat to my liberty than terrorists at this point.

  5. says

    Yeah; years of bureaucratic bumbling, tens of billions of dollars. And the TSA still hasn't reported catching a single terrorist (something no other federal agency has problems touting, like when the FBI "catches" a punk they groomed and equipped with a fake bomb).

    But that's unfair, right? Maybe the terrorists were all scared away by the hyper-competency of the screeners. Except… one might think the terrorists would be encouraged by the 70% fail rate on screening tests.

    But that's unfair, too; right? Maybe the screeners actually choke during _tests_ but perform well in the real world; it happens. Except when 44 screeners in Newark have to be canned or suspended for screwing up screening. At least some of them apparently… _tried_ screening. Unlike in Honolulu, where they didn't bother.

    But some do screen… for great stuff to steal. How many hundreds (200 hundred was the last report I recall, a while back; I suspect the number is higher now) got caught doing that? How many haven't been reported (publicly) or caught yet? Too bad none wanteed to steal those loaded handguns that have been making it through in hand-carried baggage (real world, not tests); maybe they would have found them.

    And I always wonder, every time I hear of yet another TSA employee getting busted for sex offenses, how the TSA offender rate compares to the general population.

    But at least the TSA runs all those careful background checks to make sure no criminals or illegal immigrants are getting licensed… oh. wait. Umm.

    Tell me again how effective the TSA is; I forgot.

    (And note that I haven't even addressed the questions about the various X-ray and millimeterwave scanners or nitrate detectors, or the peanut butter problem.)

  6. John David Galt says

    I'd sure like to do something about this on Election Day, but the only candidate who would stop it is Gary Johnson, and he's not going to win.

    In the mean time the US is a nation of witch hunters, or at least a tyranny governed by them.

    I want to scream at the sheep-like majority, "Turn off the TV and use the brains you were born with!"

  7. Nicholas Weaver says

    But the Theatrical Security Agency does its job well. Honestly, it does.

    I made the comment once going through security on how pointless the particular bit of security theater was (checking my hands for "explosive" residue in this case. Somehow assuming mad bombers can't, you know, wash their hands. If I knew in advance I'd get this, I would have made sure to go to the gun range before hitting the airport…).

    But someone else said that it made him feel safer. Which is right. The Theatrical Security Administration is all about making people safe, not about actually saving lives.

    If the TSA guy wanted to save lives, he'd instead pull out random people walking by and asking if they know what to do if someone is choking and, if the answer is "no", teach them the Heimlich maneuver.

  8. tsrblke says

    I just got back from a trip out to DC. Trying to get to my flight going there, the TSA stopped all the lines and proceeded to berate us because someone left liquids in their bags. For some odd reason they couldn't handle this mistake. A co-worker flying with me, said they had done the same thing about 20 minutes before (when he got through the line.) This of course caused the 5:30AM line to be strikingly long considering Lambert isn't exactly a huge airport anymore.

    I'm convinced the TSA is just a large scale version of the Standford Prison experiments. (For those uninformed:

  9. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Since very shortly after 9/11/2001 it has been clear that the next bunch of Islamic squirrel-food that tries to take over an airliner is going to get crammed into the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition. They may take down another plane-load or two (particularly with certain bone-headed bureaucratic rulings about people like the pilots carrying guns), but they won't be flying any of them into buildings. The passengers will mob them.

    I believe that the TSA was created in response to public panic rather than any actual need, that the people who created it KNEW there was little or no need, and that this explains why it is so goddamned awful. Nobody responsible has been watching it; they're busy with more important duties, like watching paint dry.

    I think also that there are people in the TSA who are at least dimly aware that their organization is about as useful as teats on a boar hog. Hence their tendency to lash out in defense of their prestige and their employment.

  10. Jess says

    next bunch of Islamic squirrel-food that tries to take over an airliner is going to get crammed into the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition.

    TSA who are at least dimly aware that their organization is about as useful as teats on a boar hog.

    That's both very funny and true.

  11. says

    Bastards got my tube of shaving gel on my flight into LAX this weekend. Funny, the same tube was fine on the trip out. Morons.

  12. Bill Fisher says

    Thank you for distilling TSA's pretext into the these concise terms.

    As you state, it TSA has relied on fear mongering and far too many supposed "Americans" have sheepishly complied.

    Our forefathers and those who gave their lives to defend the simple notion that we, and we alone, have a Divine right to control of our bodies, has somehow been squandered by a hedonistic generation all to willing to acquiesce to Governmental whims.

    Those who cower dishonor our forefathers memory and those who resist, like you, are why they fought.

  13. says

    I got harassed by airport security once in Oakland. I took a few pictures in the airport, not of any secure areas. They said I "should be old enough to remember 9/11", that if I was in university I should know better, and interrogated me about inappropriate things like "you're not one of those protesters, are you?" (probably referring to the Occupy protests at the UC Berkeley campus). I think some of these people are just on a power trip and use their authority to harass groups they don't like.

  14. Joe Pullen says

    "accept government power or you'll die!"

    Ok I choose die. Frankly it would be less painful.

  15. efemmeral says

    Say something? Where? The comments here are cute but kvetching in a blog lobby isn't my idea of effective. Do you have suggestions for actually doing something worthwhile? Shall I attempt to video, like Carlos Miller, the screening checkpoints? Shall I sew pockets into my garments, like Jon Corbett, to carry metal through the backscatter machines? I'm game but I insist on effectiveness. What stratagem qualifies?

  16. C. S. P. Schofield says


    Well, you could start by writing your assorted congresscritters. It sounds like a chiche that's unlikely to accomplish much, but it can have an effect. All these people keep large staffs dedicated to constituent service. They take it VERY seriously, and figure that for every person who contacts them on an issue, and who doesn't sound like he's receiving Radio Venus on his bridgework, there are many who are annoyed but silent. I'm told, and believe, that the most effective way to do this is to write a real letter, sent with a real stamp; not many people bother, compared to the number who email, so it magnifies the importance of what you have to say. Try not to rant; it's unlikely to impress.

    One person writing might not accomplish much. A LOT of people writing could conceivably give our representatives the leaping fantods.

    Protest marching on this kind of thing are overrated; too many people do protests as a hobby.

    I'd be surprised, frankly, if there weren't already several letter writing campaigns on this kind of thing. My Lady is currently convalescing after minor surgery, but if I get some time and energy I'll poke around and report back.

  17. wgering says

    …TSA dared to open her husband’s carry-on bag to take a peak [sic] at what she…

    Emphasis added.

    No wonder the TSA wanted to look in that bag. I would be suspicious too if I saw someone with a bag large enough to contain the top of a mountain. Aren't there regulations forbidding carry-on bags that large?

    Now if the TSA starts peeking into bags, then we have a problem.

  18. Kelly says

    It is all about the power trip for the TSA employees.

    Also, "accept government power or you'll die!" made me think of Eddie Izzard's 'Cake or Death' skit. Same concept, eh?

  19. Trevor says

    I find it ironic that the TSA has been virtually useless when it comes to ACTUALLY catching the bad guys. They can catch the incompetent ones, sure, but we seem to have missed the rest.

  20. Jess says

    @efemmeral – one way everyone should protest is by opting out of the body scanners. If enough people do this it may force their hand in getting rid of them.

  21. texrat says

    efemmeral, you're venturing into Logical Fallacy Land. Don't assume the kvetching here is the extent of any poster's involvement. You don't know what others do or don't do. This is by no means the one and only channel for feedback, and a post here doesn't indicate lack of effort on other channels.

    And beyond snide, cynical questions, do you have useful contributions of your own?

  22. efemmeral says

    @ C. S. P. Schofield: I had hoped for something exciting, more Mata Hari-like in style, but you have made a solid case for letter writing. Plus, writing demands a certain organization of thought which should, in turn, translate into better conversational skills with the most compelling ideas. Like the majority of people I can feel something is wrong, and very dark, with the TSA but I cannot define what that dark thing is on the most important levels.
    Thank you for offering to look into letter writing campaigns. I’d be happy to contribute. I might qualify as the least politically involved person on the planet and I would be hard pressed to evaluate the legitimacy or effectiveness of any group I could scrounge up. I’ve checked the box to be notified of additional comments; hopefully I won’t miss it if you post something.
    Thanks also for the phrase, “. . . who doesn't sound like he's receiving Radio Venus on his bridgework.” That tickled me all day.

    @Jess: I won’t enter a backscatter but my refusal is purely self-serving. When I learned the heads of our best university science departments were excluded from even reviewing the design, engineering, construction, and maintenance of these machines then my refusal to enter into one was a simple health decision. Not coincidentally, Michael Chertoff’s personal financial gain from installing these machines has ruined any credibility the TSA might have had regarding issues of science and health. But, as I wait for my very public TSA breast exam and watch tens of people go through the microwave, I hold little hope many will join my boycott.

    @texrat: Ouch! I wasn’t aiming for snark but now you’ve gone and exposed why I can’t be a professional writer; sometimes I get the tone wrong. I have to save my snark for loved ones; it’s they who need it the most. I was earnest when I asked for an effective way to be heard.

  23. Jess says

    @efemmeral • Oct 26, 2012 @9:12 pm

    I'm glad to see someone else who opts out 100% of the time. It does amaze me how many sheeple just go on through without even questioning the privacy, health, or even effectiveness of these machines.

    Female to female – I make it a point to wear a really big thick maxi pad every time I have to go through airport security. I don't want to experience an Amy Alkon moment with the TSA. So far it has worked.

  24. AlphaCentauri says

    Don't know how good the maxi pad would work, since they use gloves. Diapers on babies and wheelchair bound adults are a top choice for drug smugglers, so I assume the TSA workers look there for weapons, too.

    The problem is that no matter what we're willing to do to try to prevent crimes, criminals are willing to do more. I know someone who works for customs. A flight attendant alerted him that a baby on a flight from Columbia hadn't cried the entire flight. They looked and found it was a freshly killed corpse, stuffed with drugs. And the reason the flight attendant knew to report it was that it wasn't the first time it had happened.

  25. Jess says

    @AlphaCenturi – the maxi-pads work great. If someone should be so silly as to ask me to remove it I would feign indignity and say “you are also a woman – do you really expect me to do that and leak fluids all over my clothes." Let ‘em bring in the police and explain their embarrassing inability to deal with a woman’s issue – can you say Federal lawsuit for discrimination because men don’t have periods and need “pads”?

    Also I'm about 115 lbs soaking wet at 5.6" so there isn't much extra area on my body to "hide" shit. I have always wondered how much real C4 or other stable explosive it would take to bring down a plane – not just punch a hole in it – I mean really bring it down. Somehow I suspect it is far more than what I could potentially "hide" in a feminine napkin.

    Either way, I am always prepared to make the decision to not fly if someone pushes it to that point. My real question is this -is everyone else?

    On a side note, no one is going to mistake me for dead baby :-)

  26. bvierra says

    While I do agree with your argument re a woman's issue, I am willing to bet that a fairly small amount of c4 placed at the floor of the passenger cabin right next to the wing would have more than enough punch to actually get through to the jet fuel and thus would bring down the plane. The detonator would also be required and isn't something that you can easily get on either. One must remember that c4 is a secondary explosive, it is not volatile at all and neither heat nor electricity will detonate it. You can shoot the stuff and it won't explode.

    That being said, c4 has a very unique signature that can be detected very easily, even if it were hidden in the way you are describing. Any argument that they could smuggle it on this way along with the required blasting cap are pretty slim and just another way for the TSA to have more control.

  27. Kristopher says

    Angry passengers stopped one out of four terrorists attacks during 9-11.

    Every nutcase since then that has tried to do ANYTHING on an aircraft with Americans in it has been very violently beaten down.

    The TSA has prevented nothing.

  28. says

    @Kristopher: I had dreams for months about being on a terrorist-infested the flight and killing one or more of them with items found in my carry-on baggage. We're a righteously scary people sometimes.

  29. says

    Agent Smith delivers this brilliant bon mot: "Uh. On 9/10/01…there was no TSA. Just saying, Ken. It's logic."

    Logic? A logical fallacy more like. And typical of the crude propaganda we get from Agent Smith and his org.

    There has been nothing to show that the TSA is any more effective than the security screening of 9/10/01. Its the change in response once a hijacker begins in the aircraft that has been effective. We've learned that sitting passively – the official advice to us up to 9/10/01 – was an obsolete tactic.

  30. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Kristopher, & M.

    This is what I've been saying for a while; that 9/11/2001 signaled the end of terrorists taking over planes. Up until then, people believed that passively waiting for rescue was their best option. The 9/11 attacks took that thought off into the dark and killed it dead. From now on, at least until there has been a long enough gap between attacks that people have forgotten, terrorists may bring down planes, but they won't be able to control them for long; the passengers will figure their only chance is to scrag the terrorists.

    The thing is, I think that most of the people who presided over the creation of the TSA knew this. They knew the TSA would be largely useless, so the agency was set up and has been allowed to run without adult supervision. The people who are watching it closely are the ones who don't think that individual citizens can accomplish anything on their own, so the agency displays the concern for individual rights and common sense usually associated with a Public elementary school administration.

  31. efemmeral says

    If a letter writing campaign exists I sure can’t find it. I guess my contribution to the TSA Problem lies in aggressive spending through Popehat’s Amazon link. In fact, I should look for jewelry right now.

  32. C. S. P. Schofield says


    My experience with Elementary School crossing guards has been that they are almost universally more intelligent and courteous than the administration of the school they work for. Janitors, too, come to think of it.