from another-beautiful-american-institution department
The terrorists have won. And it was no small victory. It’s the one that managed to dramatically worsen the American way of life for anyone who tries to steal. Flying is how we get around in this sprawling nation that encompasses 50 states and roughly 3,000 miles between coasts. And that’s only 48 of the 50 states. Maybe you could drive most places if the weather wasn’t a factor, but Alaska and Hawaii are pretty much inaccessible without planes.
Every day in the United States, travelers face millions of minor hassles, thousands of invasive searches, and hundreds of apparent rights violations. That’s how the TSA rolls. Launched by the second Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, the TSA is as much a part of American life as surveillance capitalism, qualified immunity, Disney-written legislation and illusions of meritocracy.
The TSA is a billion-a-year mess. Two positive changes were made as a result of the 9/11 hijackings, neither of which requires billions of dollars in federal spending. The greatest deterrents for terrorists were the placement of locked cockpit doors and the clearance of passengers to return fire. Everything else is theater.
But that is not the direction the United States has taken. Our representatives have chosen to perpetually fund this theater of security. And the performative aspects of ASD are constantly on display. The TSA routinely fails to find the contraband that matters most: explosives. But he much more regularly finds things that just don’t matter or engages in wildly illogical deployments of federal power to harass people who just want to board planes without being stripped of their possessions ( often essential). This is what billions of tax dollars allow us to buy, year after year, as Bruce Schneier caustically notes in this 2012 article:
[Then-TSA Director Kip Hawley] wants us to believe that one 400ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100ml bottles magically makes it safe. He wants us to believe that the butter knives given to first-class passengers are nonetheless too dangerous to pass through security. He wants us to trust the no-fly list: 21,000 people so dangerous they’re not allowed to fly, but so innocent they can’t be arrested. He wants us to believe that the rollout of expensive body scanners has nothing to do with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff lobbying for one of the companies making them. He wants us to believe there’s a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick), a purse with a gun embroidered on it (Norfolk, VA), a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it (London Heathrow) and a plastic lightsaber that’s actually a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth).
That’s the infuriating nature of the TSA. We’re nearly 500 words into this article and I still haven’t touched on the real subject: Darryl Campbell’s (writing for The Verge) excellent story about one of the country’s least essential agencies – one that is, in turn, frustrating, enraged, depressing and excoriating.
It opens with one hell of an anecdote, which ends with the TSA insisting on searching a corpse. Bureaucracy meets bureaucracy and it is the people funding both who are supposed to pay for this insult to the memory of the dearly departed.
The deceased had died after checking in for an international flight but before boarding. The family decided the best decision was to put her on the flight as they still had a boarding pass and they wanted to return to their home country, rather than trying to figure out the intricacies of a completely medical bureaucracy. foreign.
Rather than believe the grieving family’s claims that the person was dead – and without the required death certificate (unobtainable at the time), the TSA decided to be the TSA. There were ways to verify that claim — things that don’t require medical professionals and have been seen in TVs and movies for decades. The TSA could have checked a pulse, listened to a heartbeat, checked if the person could fog up a mirror…literally anything but what they chose to do, which was to pat down a corpse.
“We’re just following TSA protocol,” Cooper explained.
His colleagues checked the corpse according to the official pat-down process. Wearing gloves, they passed the palms of their hands over the collar, abdomen, inside of the waistband and lower legs. Then they checked “sensitive areas” of the body – breasts, inner thighs and buttocks – with “sufficient pressure to ensure detection”.
Only then was the corpse allowed to enter the secure part of the terminal.
Protocol? It’s an exit. It’s a way to pass the buck while dodging one’s obligations as a human being. A human being has the ability to use rational thinking to make judgments in unusual cases. Presented with something out of the ordinary, the TSA agents chose to rape a corpse rather than use their own discretion. That’s just a small part of the TSA’s problems: the inability or unwillingness of officers to make the kind of judgment calls their jobs should require, especially when TSA officials continue to refer people manning the checkpoints as trained professionals.
Who did it keep safe? What improvement in “travel safety” has a pat-down of a deceased person provided? The TSA has no answer other than “follow protocol.”
And all the TSA really has is a “protocol”. New hires are on probation for two years, giving the agency plenty of time to fire anyone who breaks the bureaucratic line without fear of litigation. Micromanagement is the name of the game, with agents being watched by other agents who are all monitored by cameras, subject to secret testing and random inspections.
This might seem like a good way to ensure TSA agent compliance. And that may be the case. But compliance does not make the nation safer. And that doesn’t stop bereaved families from seeing their deceased loved ones treated as potential terrorists.
Meanwhile, the TSA does nothing to counter its negative public image. While officials complain that passengers verbally abuse officers, the agency does next to nothing to engage with the public or deter negative reactions to its checkpoints.
Beyond its anemic YouTube channel, the agency is doing little to combat the rising tide of passenger hostility. Unlike other law enforcement branches, the TSA has no television development pipeline, no community outreach programs — not even a popular hashtag like #humanizethebadge.
Despite micromanagement, individual agents still have a lot of power and autonomy. And if someone wants to get from point A to point B, they have to go through them, which some agents use to their advantage. When Katie Abdou was 14, she was called to the gate by a male TSA agent who insisted she needed a second screening. Here’s what happened next:
He did not explain why she needed to be tested a second time. Instead, he bombarded her with questions and searched her luggage.
“I know I shouldn’t have,” she said, “but I was 14 and they weren’t telling me anything, so I made a joke like, ‘You think I a bomb in my skirt?’ He didn’t find it very funny.
Instead, he did a full body pat-down on Abdou. He put his hands up and down over her body. He pulled her skirt up and between her legs.
Sometimes officers rely on protocol to explain invasive body searches. Sometimes officers ignore protocol to perform invasive searches of minors. Protocol is just a term of convenience – an excuse with a universal adapter. When protocol is not followed, it is usually in the service of a government agent, rather than that of travelers.
The TSA survives. Despite annual injections of billions of dollars, it cannot be considered flourishing. It’s terrible for the one thing it’s supposed to do. The billions in funding are not passed on to the lower ranks, who should be on the front lines of travel security for an already extremely low salary for the security industry that rarely increases significantly. There’s a reason the TSA advertises pizza boxes: they constantly need more agents but don’t want to attract anyone who might question the low salaries or the effectiveness of the security theater.
What we’ve had since 2001 is an increasingly disgruntled workforce whose whole job is to deal with other disgruntled people.
No wonder TSA employees have the lowest job satisfaction of any federal agency. He can barely recruit fast enough to deal with attrition: for every four officers he hires, he loses three. And about one in five new hires quit within their first six months on the job.
Maybe attrition will do what Congress has no interest in doing. TSA may be impossible to dissolve. But, given enough time, it may simply crumble as attrition continues to outpace hiring.
Campbell’s entire article is worth reading. It details all the ways the TSA fails to do its job, starting with its purely reactive protocols — something that’s likely indicative of its reactionary training — and working through issues that will only get worse over time. , like the fact that TSA body scanners just don’t work when they scan someone who doesn’t conform to binary gender expectations. Or the fact that the TSA continues to treat brown people with Arabic names far worse than anyone else, in accordance with another longstanding bias that dates back to its origin story from the 9/11 attacks.
20 years. $140 billion in funding. And here is what we, as American taxpayers, received:
The reality is that the TSA has played virtually no role in the biggest counterterrorism stories of the past two decades.
The TSA cannot justify its own existence. Fortunately, this is not necessary. It has enjoyed the unconditional support of legislators and sitting presidents for years. We the people may be unhappy with the goods and services we buy from the TSA, but that’s the only game in town. If we want to fly, we are at his mercy. That’s not how it should be. But it’s like that.
Filed under: theater security, tsa