Friday, November 12, 2010

The TSA Christmas Anthem

You've probably been following the news this week about the choices facing holiday travelers as they pass through security on their way to our nation's air travel options:

The number of scanners has roughly doubled since Napolitano's announcement and they are now found in 68 U.S. airports, and the Transportation Security Administration says the controversial devices have proven to be a success.

"We have received minimal complaints," a TSA spokeswoman told CNET yesterday. She said that the agency, part of DHS, keeps track of air traveler complaints and has not seen a significant rise.

A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures--a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls "enhanced pat-downs"--go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)

Unions representing U.S. Airways pilots, American Airlines pilots, and some flight attendants are advising their members to skip the full-body scans, even if it means that their genitals are touched. Air travelers are speaking out online, with a woman saying in a YouTube video her breasts were "twisted," and ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts emerging as an instant hero after he rejected both the body scanning and "enhanced pat-downs" options and was unceremoniously ejected from the security line from Memphis International Airport. [ All links in original--E.M.]
You can read more here. And here. And here. And don't miss this one:

Some travelers are also livid about how children are being screened. During a trip last Sunday by a father and son through Orlando airport in Florida, the 8-year-old boy was selected for extra screening by TSA after going through the metal detector.

The father said the officer described the procedure before conducting it. Then he patted down the boy in the open security area, using the backside of his hands to check his genital area, he said.

"I didn't think it was going to be as horrible as he was describing," said the boy's father, Bill, who works as a lobbyist in Washington and did not want his full name used.

"We spend my child's whole life telling him that only mom, dad and a doctor can touch you in your private area, and now we have to add TSA agent and that's just wrong," he told Reuters. "At some point the terrorists have won."

And then there's this, too:

PHOENIX - A Washington, D.C. resident has formed a website critical of TSA pat-down procedures, calling on people to "opt out" on one of the busiest travel days of the nation.

Brian Sodergren designed in an effort to get people to experience the new TSA pat-down procedures.

"Getting a plane ticket doesn't mean you're consenting to someone being able to look under your clothes or feel your genitals," said Sodergren during a phone interview with ABC15.

Sodergren wants passengers, pilots and flight attendants to "opt-out" of the X-ray body scanners and go through the pat down procedure. [Link in original--E.M.]

So, unless the nation wakes up and refuses to accept the "naked picture" scanners and/or a pat down that includes genital contact, flying anywhere just became permission for employees of the Transportation Security Administration either to see images of your naked body or to grope you--or, possibly, both. And if you are traveling with children--why, according to the federal government, failure to grope an eight-year-old's private areas might somehow be unsafe for the traveling public! So any objection on your part is irrational, and deserves to be derided and ignored.

With all of this in mind, I'd like to suggest an appropriate Christmas Anthem for those hapless members of the public who have to travel during this year's holiday season (to the tune of "Home for the Holidays):

Oh, I guess I'll be groped for the holidays,
'Cause you know I've got to fly a long way home,
So I'll pause at security and stand in place:
Since the TSA won't let me if I don't.

I'll walk right by the naked scanner with my hands above my head
Like the victim of a mugging or some crime,
And down the hall someone'll look right at my figure without clothes:
It's degrading and insultin'
Gee, you'd say that it's revoltin'

But I guess I'll be groped for the holidays,
'Cause no matter how far I have to roam,
If I won't let the TS Agents have their way,
For the holidays, I won't be going home.

What's that you say about the Constitution? Fourth Amendment? Well,
If you want to fly those rights don't mean a thing,
See, the terrorists might win if TSA can't cop a feel
Even Granny might be sittin'
On some C4 in her knittin',

So let's all just be groped for the holidays,
Like good mindless little sheeple-bleating drones,
We'll put up with abuse in a million ways,
For the holidays, if it means getting home.


The Sicilian said...

I have been dreading, dreading, flying back to the East Coast next week, not only because I am in terror, a terror that no combination of drugs and alcohol (I kid not) so far has been able to soothe, but also because I can't stand the airport hassles. I've been happily ignoring the headlines about the TSA's gropefest until now, but at least you provided that funny little ditty to soften the blow.

Andrea said...

I feel a little bit sick to my stomach after reading this.
This seems like an x-rated twilight zone.

Red Cardigan said...

The Sicilian, sorry you have to fly! I used to enjoy it, but haven't been on a plane in years.

Andrea, it's hard to believe that our government is treating citizens this way--in the name of safety. Isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Erin: I am not a big fan of flying, but, let's face it: if you want to go to Europe for a week's vacation, there is really no alternative to flying. In the past year-and-a-half I have flown twice roundtrip on Swiss Int'l from Boston to Zurich. Last year (Sept 2009) I was pulled aside for extra screening in Zurich. No big deal.

Here's the thing: My safety and the safety of my fellow passengers is of the utmost importance to me! I don't mind or complain about having to take off my shoes. And I have no objection whatsoever to the full body scan either; in fact, I think it's a good idea!

Hey, suppose you belong to a gym; aren't people going to see you disrobing in the locker room? Taking a shower? What's the big deal?

Many years ago (mid-seventies) I was in line to board an Aer Lingus flight from London to Dublin. Was pulled aside for additional screening (probably because I had a beard, must have thought I was an IRA terrorist!!!)


Red Cardigan said...

Bern, if safety's the most important thing and if it's no big deal to have an unknown TSA agent either a) see you naked or b) touch your private areas, then why don't we all just agree to fly drugged and naked? We could be injected with potent drugs at the airport, have our clothing and shoes removed, be strapped into our seats on the plane, and arrive at our destinations unconscious, nude, and...completely safe.

At some point, concerns about safety are trumped by concerns about privacy and human dignity. I think we've reached that point. Others might think we haven't reached that point until we're flying tagged, drugged, and naked, like cattle. But the "too far" point is there somewhere, don't you think?

Rebecca in CA said...

I just recently read "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom and was struck by how the Gestapo guards would often put the prisoners through humiliating rituals which didn't really serve a purpose--having them all strip down and be examined by guards of the opposite sex periodically and so on. They were made to go through dehumanizing procedures randomly. There is a natural tendency to cover oneself in the presence of the opposite sex and this natural sense should be carefully guarded. I think I might be bothered by all of this in any case, but the fact that there isn't even an effort being made to have women and men separated during these procedures is pretty alarming, and even more alarming is that there is not a tremendous public outcry.

L. said...

My husband travels frequently, and our oldest son is at boarding school in a foreign country. Fears of terrorism are nver far from my mind.

I do not care about some stupid screener. I do not care about screeners touching my breasts and genitals in public. I do not even give it a thought -- I have nothing to hide.

If this is the price of safer air travel, then I am perfectly willing to pay it.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Erin, I completely agree with you, but I have a shade of sympathy for the people who plan these screening processes. We are a fickle people -- sorry if that sounds Biblical, I'm not a prophet and I'm speaking for nobody but myself. The next time someone succeeds in blowing up a plane, there will be wild outcries against anyone who happens to be in office, demanding to know why it wasn't prevented. Many of those who will be screaming will be people who threw a fit about being screened the last time they flew.

After all, the last unsuccessful near attempt was by a young man who had the explosives in his underwear -- ergo, everyone's genital must be search for plastic explosives. We all know that children are used for such purposes precisely because they are commonly presumed to be innocent.

Either there is a point where our dignity is more important than making sure TSA finds every last bit of concealed plastic explosives, or, there is a point where we surrender our dignity entirely because we don't want to take a chance on being the one in a million blown up in mid-air.

Neither choice is particularly palatable. However, I keep in mind that those near-misses that WERE stopped were NOT stopped in passenger screening, and NO screening process will EVER catch every possibility. Focus on better intelligence, and targeted use of intrusive screening techniques when there is reason for it, makes more sense.

If the time and money put into all this feeling up every passenger had been put into connecting the dots from Nigeria to Yemen, the underwear bomber would never have gotten on a plane in the first place.

Still, we all know what some talk show host will say about Janet Napolitano next time a terror attack is successful. Maybe she'd rather be known for the number of intrusive screening techniques she authorized. Its a no-win situation for those holding real responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I am quite overweight, so the agent would have to do quite a bit of consensual 'patting down' to detect anything out of the ordinary.

On the other hand, my son and I traveled to Europe two years ago, and as he was quite bald (his choice) and 'foreign-looking' we were stopped at each airport and selected for extra questioning, but never 'patted' down.

What was most dismaying was the disappearance of tiny 1.5 inch Swiss Army penknives often kept on a keyring. Mine had a small blade (I use for cleaning under my fingernails and opening letters), toothpick, tweezers, nail file with screwdriver at the end.

My son had received a red one prior to the trip to keep handy, and I was taking one to a relative in Russia as a small gift, along with a self-crank radio--quite safely stored in my son's checked luggage.

Detroit got the first one and Frederic Chopin in Warsaw got the second.

I wondered whether physicians that did emergency tracheotomies got to keep their penknives (per a Reader's Digest article years ago). I know an OB/GYN that keeps a penknife on his keychain as well.

I also wondered if there was an international black market for those items confiscated from travelers. I asked for mine to be set aside (it was a gift from my husband), but the agent in Detroit said that was not allowed, and I had no time to argue.

One of the oncologists was returning from a visit to her mother in Italy. They had served a birthday cake on the way to the airport and wrapped the frosting encrusted knife and placed in a granddaughter's backpack that was okayed through the airport. I wondered if there was no market for a regular bread knife.

I felt somewhat slighted about my keyring. I also had a small folding pair of scissors with blades of a very acute angle, so maybe I should've counted my lucky stars that it was taken as well.

But, I didn't really feel so much more secure knowing that none of the other passengers had any Swiss Army 1.5 inch penknives in their possession.

Kate said...

It is amazing to me that people will subject themselves without complaint to the groping and radiating of their bodies and those of their children. Someone said that the TSA security procedures are theater. They are correct.

L. said...

Kate, depending on the danger, I would subject myself and my young children to body cavity searches, rather than lose them in a fiery act of terrorism. It seems like no choice to me, if the danger were real. Hopefully, though, it would never come to that.

Equus nom Veritas said...

Somehow, what comes to mind after reading the part of the full pat-down of an 8-year-old is "If only TSA members could get married! If only Women could work for TSA." I think I'll risk the terrorists, thank you very much.

c matt said...

I wonder if you could demand the pat-down be done by someone of the opposite sex? At least for male passengers, perhaps that would make the TSA feel the same level of discomfort.

c matt said...

The other thing I am contemplating is doing a pole-dance through the body scanner, and demanding loose change afterwards.

Anonymous said...

"Would you let me pat your private area for a million dollars?"


"Would you let me pat it for the convenience and safety of flying on an airplane?"

"No! What kind of woman do you think I am?!"

"Ma'am we've already established what kind of woman you are. Now we are just haggling over price."

Red Cardigan said...

Romishgraffiti, I think that works better the other way around. That is, women who will let their private areas be patted for the alleged safety of air travel would be outraged if anyone suggested they'd do so for money.

Anonymous said...

I'm not much for conspiracy theories, but staying up too late drinking too much coffee it would be easy to become uneasy over things like the Chertoff connection to the scanners. And if they were really about enhanced security, rather than what appears to be compliance training by many accounts, it seems like there would be a financial incentive to opt for one option or another - as in pay $10 extra to go through the scanner, it's faster and easier, or pay an extra $25 for pat down because it's a dignity issue that we not grope you in public.

I don't know the actual stats, but is it reasonable to assume that any of us is more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than to be involved in a terrorist incident on an airplane? I appreciate the heightened awareness, and certainly security should be a priority, but as a commenter above me pointed out, none of the recently thwarted attempts have been detected by passenger screening. It's theater, and a colossal waste of resources, if not something more sinister - or just stupider.

gradchica said...

Since I'll be a young mom struggling through the airport on her own with a one-year-old and a stroller, I'm sure I'll be on the "extra security" list. Let's just say I hope the agent gets a grope full of dirty diaper if they try to molest my son.

Abigail said...

As the wife of a dear, wonderful, TSA officer, I must say that too many people forget that it's not a comfortable or welcome change for TSA either. They don't have a lot of choice after the underwear bomber and, as some of the comments have pointed out, it's a preventative measure, not something they're glad they have to do. We're both glad that TSA's policies still prevent opposite gender pat downs, but honestly, what choice does TSA have? There's no nice, simple answer that will make everyone happy, comfortable, AND safe.

Anonymous said...

No disrespect, but as Clint Eastwood said in some movie I can't recall: "Saying it's your job doesn't make it right."

Abigail said...

I would just like to know what many people think TSA SHOULD be doing in an IDEAL world. It's really not such a simple question to answer.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

My faith in humanity and hope for the future is restored! I am in agreement with Cottage Child! (That's not sarcasm, I am always happy to find common ground).

Abigail, I think anyone of common sense and good will would agree that your husband, and TSA front line employees generally, are not at fault here. The entire policy and conceptualization of what security is effective and where security ranks in our values as a nation need a paradigm shift.

I don't want to say "He's just following orders," but he's not in charge of setting policy.

Anonymous said...

Here's the TSA Christmas Anthem: I'll be groped for Christmas You should really check it out!