TSA admits to punishing travelers


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been a lightning rod for abusive and intrusive security checks since 9/11 — mainly because this is the “security” organization that much of the American public sees perhaps even more than the local police. TSA, unfortunately, also resorts to prevarication in the name of security.

I woke up to a headline on Sunday morning that announced that TSA in Boston and Las Vegas was conducting full “enhanced” open-handed, police search level pat-downs of passengers.

The Boston Herald reports that Transportation Security Administration screeners at Logan International Airport are testing what one official called an “enhanced pat-down.” It lets screeners use a palms-forward, slide-down search procedure on passengers’ bodies.

It replaces the old back-of-the-hand pat-down for passengers who don’t want to go through full-body scanning machines.

Hidden from the public, this enhanced pat-down has been tested for some time now with the nationwide rollout of whole-body scanners. Christopher Elliott first reported this “enhanced” pat-down when passengers complained to the Consumer Travel Alliance.

The passenger, quoted in his column, noted, “The pat-down was completely thorough, as though I was a common criminal or a drug pusher,” she said. “The only place I was not touched was in my crotch — and isn’t that the one place they should be checking, after the underwear bomber?”

TSA officials commenting for the article, “added that checkpoint requirements for passengers departing from the United States haven’t changed since the underwear bomber incident last December.” That suggested pat-downs were still the same as they had always been.

However, when meeting with privacy officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA later that month, I was told unofficially that there were two standards of pat-downs. One for the normal situation where passengers are going through metal detectors and a different pat-down for those who refuse to go through the whole-body scanners.

With this latest announcement, TSA admits that it has been clandestinely punishing passengers for refusing to go through the invasive whole-body scans with an even more intrusive aggressive pat-down and that soon those more invasive pat-down will creep from airport to airport.

Last May, Elliott concluded his article with, “I believe the TSA when it says that it has no formal policy of punishing passengers who don’t want to go through the full-body scanners.” I’m sure he won’t be taking TSA at their word in the future. And that’s a shame when we cannot trust our own government.

In another egregious act of prevarication TSA after claiming whole-body scanners were manufactured so that it would be impossible to store images of the passengers walking through airport security, has been forced to admit that indeed the machines can be programmed to capture and store images.

TSA was forced to admit the truth after the same whole-body scanners used in courthouses have amassed “more than 35,000 whole body imaging scans taken at a federal courthouse.”

I have already commented on this issue in a column earlier this month. Once again, TSA is caught in a lie. Once again, TSA claims that security trumps the truth. Afterall, we need to keep those damned pesky terrorists at bay.

Each time, we turn around TSA and DHS are introducing a new surveillance and search technique.

Before we even come to the airport our names, birthdates, credit cards and passports are run through a terrorist checklist. (I’ll bet they are also run through some other sort of criminal database.) We have our IDs carefully checked with some sort of magical ultraviolet light. Then we are led through stanchions to be videotaped, photographed, wanded, scanned, x-rayed, patted-down, parted from our children, herded through metal detectors, tested for explosives and interrogated. Our computers, cellphones, shoes, clothing, paperwork, briefcases, purses and luggage are x-rayed and pawed through whether we carry them on or check them with the airline.

When a friendly TSA officer next commands us to bend over while the inspector puts on rubber gloves and soothingly lilts, “This won’t hurt a bit,” I’m not ready to believe him. We’re reaching that bend-over point.

One last kinda fib: TSA is not a law enforcement agency; they only want you to think they are. Though the “officers” wear pretty blue shirts, have walkie-talkies, big patches and shiny badges, they have no law enforcement authority. The documentary, Please Remove your Shoes, makes note of this. This fact hasn’t been sitting well with real law enforcement types, but TSA evidently needs to maintain this kind of deceitful appearance in an attempt to command respect.

The attire aims to convey an image of authority to passengers, who have harassed, pushed and in a few instances punched screeners. “Some of our officers aren’t respected,” TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.

Now, I sure believe that!