The TSA’s Longer And Stickier Fingers

Not everyone who passes through a TSA checkpoint upon entering (or, when they totally screw up, even as passengers are leaving the airport) the secure area of an airport has an unpleasant experience. And who doesn’t want them to catch a terrorist, even though they’ve never actually done so. But for those who have enjoyed the euphemistically-challenged deeply personal hard work of TSA agents to play their role in security theater protect you, they aren’t nearly as much fun as some might believe.

One aspect (of many) that has been particularly troubling is the way that the TSA has basically enabled sexual assault of travelers. If you felt that wasn’t too bad, have no fear, the TSA is apparently increasing the sexual assaulty nature of these searches:

The new physical touching—for those selected to have a pat-down—will be be what the federal agency officially describes as a more “comprehensive” physical screening, according to a Transportation Security Administration spokesman.

Denver International Airport, for example, notified employees and flight crews on Thursday that the “more rigorous” searches “will be more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.”

Got that? I love the way they dance around the fact that this is randomly allowed sexual assault on people who just want to travel somewhere. But it’s described as “physical touching” that is more “comprehensive” and “may involve an officer making more intimate contact.”

Put aside, for the moment, that TSA agents are not law enforcement officers, but rather the nice folks who you last met inquiring whether you wanted to supersize, now wearing blue shirts to create the impression of important authority. There are nearly 43,000 agents in the TSA’s employ, at a cost of $7.6 billion. By all metrics, it’s quite a show. An expensive, intrusive show, put on by poorly trained, poorly managed and, if one were to judge by their achievements, dangerously out-of-control actors.

So naturally, the way to improve matters is to direct these pizza lovers to engage in conduct that would, under most other circumstances, constitute crimes. Why isn’t it a crime? Because it’s consensual, travelers having consented to their children, their spouses, themselves, being touched on any part of their body by a TSA agent by electing to travel by airplane a privilege, not a right. Hey, you could walk across country. Is it TSA’s fault you chose to fly?

But the fact that they can doesn’t sufficiently explain what pushes the TSA to announce that they will now insert fingers in orifices that in the past required dinner and affirmative consent. Rather, they are responding to their own inadequacies.

So why are TSA agents allowed to get more gropey, just a year or so after it was discovered that some TSA agents were scheming specifically to be able to sexually assault travelers they found attractive? Well, it’s because it’s been revealed how useless TSA security theater is. Really. After yet another set of reports pointed out that all this security theater is useless, the TSA said “welp, the answer to that must be moar sexual assault!:

The change is partly a result of the agency’s study of a 2015 report that criticized aspects of TSA screening procedures. That audit, by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General, drew headlines because airport officers had failed to detect handguns and other weapons.

There will some, perhaps many, for whom this snarky explanation fails to evoke outrage, if not concern. After all, do we not want to stop the terrorists? Do we not think it’s more worthwhile to prevent another 9/11? Do we not care about the lives of the other passengers of the plane more than the unfortunate but necessary fact that some will suffer momentary indignity going through a checkpoint and the occasional private body part touched or nail clipper seized?

This is madness. The answer to the TSA’s awful and useless security theater should never be to give TSA agents more power to sexually assault travelers with “more intimate contact.” This is not about security. This is about the TSA wanting to make it look like they’re doing something, and apparently that includes groping strangers who are just trying to get somewhere. How the hell does sexually assaulting travelers make anyone any safer?

Putting aside the fact that the TSA has yet, in the entirety of its existence since its formation on November 19, 2001, stopped a terrorist. It may well be argued that its efforts have prevented potential terrorists from boarding planes. And the fact that its performance has failed test after test to challenge its efficacy, as it has caught weapons that some passengers tried to pass through checkpoints, as well as missed weapons and seized completely innocuous items that nice Americans bought and, because they may have been unfamiliar to former Dairy Queen employees, seemed remotely threatening in their fertile yet ignorant imaginations.

But we can’t have it all, can we? To train them better, to hire smarter, more astute people, to confer greater law enforcement authority upon these agents whose purpose is to safeguard our privileged air travel, would come at significant expense. And, given the experience with fully trained and authorized law enforcement officers, might well alter nothing about their skill at performing their job or restraint in sexual touching of travelers they find attractive.

Regardless of whether you’re not much of a traveler, and so you don’t really care about other people’s problems, or your fear so overwhelms your reason that you’re willing to have someone else suffer any invasiveness for your own false sense of safety, there comes a point when the question must be answered: are you good with some TSA agent’s performance, rubbing a little girl’s vagina? Or a woman’s breasts? Are some guy’s penis?

Calling it “more rigorous…intimate contact” doesn’t change where there hands go. Is this conduct, criminal under other circumstances, rendered benign when performed by a guy who reflexively mutters, “would you like fries with that”?

17 thoughts on “The TSA’s Longer And Stickier Fingers

  1. albeed

    What’s not to like? I don’t see the downside.

    If it wasn’t for the TSA, my sex-life would be zero. Now, maybe I’ll at least get my money’s worth.

    1. Billy Bob

      You are a sick dude. We may be reporting you to the authorities in due time if you should keep up this bifurcated, truncated, dis-associated, mindless way of thinking.
      P.S., You only get what you pay for. So what did you get for your money? An uninvited tweak or a twinkie? This is v. sick. I’m ashamed to be an Amerikan at the moment. Oh, hi St. Patty’s Day Parade. We luv your parades, especially those who march lockstep in pressed uniforms! If you can play the bagpipes, all the better.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Pro tip: get a few of the the 2 oz travel size of KY to put in you quart-sized ziploc bag. They’ll make you throw the bigger ones away right before you need them.

  3. Austin Texas piñata

    I imagine that former TSA agent Yusuf Abdi Ali (alias Colonel Tukeh of Somalian army and aleged war criminal) is very saddened that he’s not able to enjoy enforcing the new rules. Maybe he could reapply, after all he did pass his security threat assessment by the TSA..

  4. Liam McDonald

    This problem will continue until the matter of Airport security is passed directly to the airports (privatized). This would save over $7 billion in costs and leave airports liable to lawsuits should you get fingered. And the US would certainly be able to catch the same number of terrorists as currently apprehended by the TSA.

    I live in Singapore and fly 2 or 3 times per month. I show up 1 hour prior to departure and still have time for the lounge. And strangely they have never taken a nude picture of me or penetrated me in any way. Even if I ask nicely.

    And we even caught some terrorists! [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    In your face USA!
    Sing-a-pore! Sing-a-pore!

    1. Wild Bill

      Are you a hansome lad from the Highlands? If so, that might explain the preferential treatment you receive from the largely Caucasian, male and white-faced federales. Those guys are not innerested in your beehives, your bundle or your behind. Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror?!?
      You did not say where you flew to? You did not say what you were wearing? Those might make a difference, laddy boy. A difference with a distinction in these matters. We’ve been getting bad reports from Sing-Sing-a-Poor. Is it not a police state where you get executed for pot? Auld lang sine, mate.

      And then there’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest; that’s a movie to watch. As relevant today as when it was filmed.

  5. David K. M. Klaus

    I was on a commuter train to the airport in St. Louis not long after the TSA was established, back when the uniform was white shirts with red trimming including “TSA” in block letters on the back of the collar.

    There were three uniformed agents on the train presumably on their way to work.

    One was *literally* (and I’m using the word correctly) bouncing in his seat, saying how thrilled he was that he was going to be able to search people’s underwear in their bags.

    (It was clear to me from the total context of his conversation with the other agents that this was not satire on his part, but a real statement of thrill. And while I’m not a professional, I know enough from experience with people who have been professionally diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum that he exhibited other behavior consistent with an autism spectrum disorder.)

    The attitude expressed by the other agents on the train was one which I would describe as “amused tolerance.”

    Are employment and training standards better today than then? From reports, I suspect not, but don’t know.

    TWA-employed screeners prior to the TSA were not better. I saw personally a screener threaten the parents of a three-year-old wearing just a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops with the arrest of the *child* because he wouldn’t cooperate with being wanded, requiring a strange adult to be waving a big, scary metal object in the child’s face, after getting off the plane.

    (At Lambert Airport in St. Louis at the time, August 2002, arriving international travelers after undergoing x-ray and baggage inspection from customs had to undergo a *second* x-ray and inspection because the physical layout required arriving passengers after customs to enter the same concourse as departing passengers, a layout which I doubt was a problem in earlier times, so this second, separate screening was required to enter the concourse, I was told — a second screening in the room immediately adjacent to the first, walking directly from one screening room into the other. This was idiocy as the inspections of the baggage were identical, and this was only for people arriving directly from the plane, not mixed with unscreened departing passengers at all at that point. I don’t know if this is still the same or not. I would hope the hell it isn’t.

    This was on a hot day in August and the child was from a family who had just arrived on a on a five-hour flight from Acapulco coming home from vacation. This kid couldn’t have been hiding a metallic-looking chewing gum wrapper, much less anything made of enough metal to be a threat, but he was subjected to this abuse nonetheless.

    Privately employed screeners as such are not a solution, although I remember that one of the arguments for requiring federally-employed screeners prior to the creation of the TSA was that there would be better screener training…!

    [Corrected version of the post.]

  6. LTMG

    Very off topic: Simple Justice is now viewable in China. During my previous visits to China since August 2011, I was never able to read this fine blog.

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