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"We are supposed to notify a supervisor. You’re a supervisor, right?"
October 30, 2009 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Do I have the right to refuse this search?
posted by anastasiav (107 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
The server is hosed for me, apparently exercising the right to refuse my HTML queries.
posted by exogenous at 9:48 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Grrr. Slashdotted? No idea why it won't load now. The domain (hlswatch.com) won't load for me either. Can we just wait for a few minutes before we get out the torches and pitchforks......??? I swear its quality content. :-)
posted by anastasiav at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2009


This post fascinated me. The writer, despite a history as a law enforcement professional, seems like all the rest of us to have accepted the complete abrogation of the 4th amendment at our airports (and, these days, at most every public building that can afford screeners.) The 4th amendment has always required probable cause and a warrant to search, and at minimum reasonable suspicion to stop and pat down. And, of course, in exchange for this surrender of a basic right against government intrusion, it is arguable we haven't gained an iota of safety, as the writer points out.
posted by bearwife at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2009 [14 favorites]


Google cache
posted by xedrik at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Google cache
posted by permafrost at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2009


JINX
posted by permafrost at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I got in and read it. Yes, it's quality content.
posted by scrowdid at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2009


Here's a temporary mirror of the article.
posted by crysflame at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2009


This is a very well written article, if you can get in.
posted by no1hatchling at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2009


I got through to the article eventually. It's an interesting piece, but I disagree with one of the author's points, which seems to be 'if people refuse searches more often then the TSA will reorient itself toward effectiveness and not compliance.' Here's why I disagree:

After the TSA started to inspect people's shoes in the x-ray machine, you could refuse to take off your shoes. You would be subject to a pat down and wanding, and the outside of your shoes would be swabbed for explosive residue. Every time I flew I refused to take my shoes off as a matter of principle. Eventually, however, the TSA simply changed policies and demanded that everyone take their shoes off: no refusal allowed.

If people start refusing to go through body scanners or puffer machines, then the TSA will just make them mandatory. I have a hard time believing that a court or would oppose the TSA on it: agency deference, air travel is not a right, etc. Congress would never touch it for fear of being tarred as 'weak on terror' in the next election.

The author's other points, e.g. that we need rigorous data collection on TSA/traveler interactions, are well taken, though.
posted by jedicus at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


This is how you write something complaining about your treatment at the hands of the TSA. Crazy Ms. They-took-my-baby could learn a thing or two about coherent blogging.
posted by Plutor at 9:57 AM on October 30, 2009 [24 favorites]


[Switched link for a cache so it won't continue to be mostly-dead.]
posted by cortex at 9:57 AM on October 30, 2009


cortex: thank you.

Actually, for me, this was the key bit:
"Currently, there is no way to know whether a certain male screener routinely identifies predominantly women for additional screening. There is no way to identify whether a Latino screener routinely isolates African-Americans, or vice versa. To assert that the screeners are highly trained and do not engaged in this type of discrimination, whether passive or active, is unsupportable because there is no data. You simply cannot solve problems that you do not want to identify."

The authors point that if this were a routine police stop, everything would have been documented, and that it is her professional impression that the documentation being kept is sparse or all-together lacking is, I think, more damning than anything else. This is theatre, pure and simple.
posted by anastasiav at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2009 [48 favorites]


The 4th amendment has always required probable cause and a warrant to search, and at minimum reasonable suspicion to stop and pat down.

The Supreme Court has held otherwise: "Where the risk to public safety is substantial and real, blanket suspicionless searches calibrated to the risk may rank as `reasonable'--for example, searches now routine at airports and at entrances to courts and other official buildings." Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 323 (1997). That's without even getting into the various exceptions where a warrant is not necessary, such as a search incident to an arrest.
posted by jedicus at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw this by way of Bruce Schneier yesterday and was thoroughly impressed with it. To me this comes off as a less-emotional analogue to the Veterans' speeches in Maine: A traditionally conservative/law-and-order viewpoint that flies in the face of the party line on those subjects. It's important to note that this writer is an ex-LEO and therefore can -- and does -- criticize the TSA with regards both to the principles behind their procedures and their lackadaisical implementation of same.

If you're waffling on reading this to the end, don't. It's a great, polite, scathing criticism of the TSA.
posted by ChrisR at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is an interesting story by *exactly* the person you want to write/experience this.

TSA, borne out of a fear of the unknown, was given lessons in paranoia and a lot of toys. I am not a TSA hater and I travel a lot. But it appears to me that they go through the motions many a time without understanding the concepts of why they are doing tit which leads to confusion, apprehension and ultimately (in some rare cases), abuses of power. More importantly, it leads to holes of the security they are supposed to be enforcing.

It is interesting to see how the TSA is evolving (and they are evolving from their first days) but there are many lessons still to be learned and I would like to see the good guys learn them before the bad guys do.
posted by Dagobert at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great post, to divert the defense attorneys away from the hate crimes topic. Very clever!
posted by msalt at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2009


This is why I would never these days go to the United States.
Even if I wasn't already banned from crossing the border, which I am.
posted by Flashman at 10:04 AM on October 30, 2009


Good article. Speaks volumes to my ongoing concern that one of the dumbest things we do in this culture is throw massive amounts of money at a problem in order to solve it ... without first really narrowing down WHAT the problem is.

So what you've done is created a gravy train that must continue to flow or else many will go hungry (for gravy at least), hence dubious metrics that satisfy some level of bureaucratic attainment ("see, we're keeping VERY busy, we've conducted [insert large number here] x-grade clearances in the past 7 work days") without accomplishing ANYTHING tangible.
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


TSA releases video that shows she actually went through the puffer in 3...2...1....
posted by Floydd at 10:09 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


wow, that is one thoughtful and well articulated article. kudos to this woman. more people like you, please, saying things this well.
posted by shmegegge at 10:12 AM on October 30, 2009


This is theatre, pure and simple.

And profitable theatre, at that:

I have subsequently observed that [the 'puffer' devices] now sit idle at many airports where they were originally installed (Tampa International, for example). In recently renovated airports (San Jose) they have not been installed. At some other airports (like BWI), they have been replaced by the body-scanning technology.

I read somewhere that the easiest way for a contractor to make federal money in Bush's post-9/11 economy was to simply add "Fortress" to the end of the company name, then apply for some easy security contract money.

Bush threw a bunch of money at contractors to deal with terrorism. It was really corporate handouts. As one example, we have an increasingly worsening TB problem. Nearly all of the post-9/11 budgetary increase for the NIH was for this%20thread,">terrorism-related research, which could have easily fallen under the aegis of existing projects. Priorities were shifted accordingly: Funding for infectious diseases decreased over that time. Basically, real problems get ignored while a few benefactors got and continue to get rich off of the public's willingness to kowtow to the Republican fear agenda.

When TSA staff are paid a minimum-wage-level salary, are not treated like federal employees, and receive little or no consistent training, and when the multimillion-dollar equipment purchased for them doesn't work and sits unused, like the not-so-bulletproof-glass and jackets for soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the whole thing has basically been a kickback scam to benefit Bush and Cheney's private security contractor and mercenary friends from day one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Fixed link: "Most of [the CDC budget] increase from $3.1B to $5.7B came from a jump in new terrorism funding in FY2002 (about $2.4B), which is unrelated to infectious disease funding."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on October 30, 2009


I'm a little fuzzy on why she kept getting selected for secondary screening.

I had probably 40 flights in the last 12 months. Every time I was selected for secondary screening (maybe 3 times), the "selection" occurred when I printed my boarding pass and saw that long line of "SSSSSSS" along the bottom or some other weird code. Apparently, some computer program selected me. The other "selections" I witnessed seemed to occur when the TSA person examined the selectee's boarding pass -- i.e., the "SSSS" thing.

I have not observed any "spot" selection done by TSA personnel based on their own judgments. I am sure this must happen sometimes (I would hope they would spot-check a guy with a bunch of wires sticking out of his coat), but, like I said, I thought it was mainly the computer selection on the boarding pass.

So, when the author says that she thinks she was selected because she "looks compliant," that seems odd.

Also -- I'm not sure what the point of refusing the puffer machine is supposed to be. The whole point of the machine to make a secondary search less intrusive. Sure, you can argue the machine is not effective, but that's really any argument about the efficiency of the security procedure, not about your own personal privacy. (I.e., would she have been happier with a cavity search?)

Also -- the times I have been pulled aside for a secondary screening? It's like a 5-10 minute hassle; frustrating, but not really big deal.
posted by Mid at 10:30 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


the only workable solution, i think, would be to include a pap smear and a prostate exam prior to boarding a flight, resulting in a much healthier population of priviliged people and a boon to the rubber glove industry where the rest of us spend our days.
posted by kitchenrat at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2009


It's the voice of the TSA:

"The TSA are not COPS they do not have the authority to touch certain areas like the Police do otherwise there would be alot of people complaining that they were fondled. When you refuse to do something that you are asked to do that raises the alarm and it shows you maybe hiding something that is why there is additional screening. If you listen to the news you would know why the TSA is doing the procedures they are doing. Random screening is happing more and more so the people trying to get something by are being stopped. The shoes, look up REED. The liquid how are exploves created. When you go to board a plane do you know the person sitting next to you? or on the plane with you? They went through the same process as you so no one is different and there is nothing getting on the plane that is dangerous. If you don’t want to be screened then don’t wear baggy clothing or sweatshirts that are bulky. Instead of getting mad at the TSA’s for doing their job, try to understand what happened in the world for them to use the procedures. I like my Job and I feel like I am making a difference. Most of the TSA Personnel are prior Military not just someone from a fast food place."

The response to a post that talks about the requirement for more data including "I like my Job and I feel like I am making a difference" is exactly the problem with the TSA screeners. It's about doing the job effectively, not having the excitement of being an Supar Patriot Hero. It also has to be said that it's slightly surreal to suggest that military service and LEO work require the same skill set, and is probably an indication of the same USA #1 attitude.
posted by jaduncan at 10:39 AM on October 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


Mid: "Every time I was selected for secondary screening (maybe 3 times), the "selection" occurred when I printed my boarding pass and saw that long line of "SSSSSSS" along the bottom or some other weird code. Apparently, some computer program selected me. The other "selections" I witnessed seemed to occur when the TSA person examined the selectee's boarding pass -- i.e., the "SSSS" thing. "

how positive are you that these things are related?
posted by shmegegge at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2009


I'm entirely fed up with US security screening. It's invasive, time-consuming, stressful, expensive, and unpleasant. It's time we had a public discussion about whether all the extra crap we've put up with since 9-11-NEVAR-FORGET is really making us any safer. Particularly vis-a-vis other possible security enhancements like better training and supervision of screening staff.

I'm fortunate that my home airport (San Francisco) has a pretty good security screening crew. I shudder to think about flying again through Houston or Dallas or JFK or LAX.
posted by Nelson at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2009


For more on security theater (previously)
posted by ghharr at 10:43 AM on October 30, 2009


Yeah, Mid, she offers zero evidence for this idea that she is frequently selected, and then she jumps from this possibly made-up idea that she is frequently selected to her own judgment that it happens because she looks compliant. And then doesn't explain that logic or the context. So I have a hard time with the rest of it.

Assuming that she is pulled aside frequently, possibly there is some requirement or unwritten rule to screen x number of women of a certain age, and women of that age don't fly often, so she will most likely fit the bill on many flights. Or maybe she finds men of a certain ethnic strip sexy and keeps giving them meaningful glances (although I can't imagine TSA screeners pick up on that). Perhaps she looks like the type of person who is carrying nice toiletries that are close enough to over 3 oz that they can be confiscated and she's targeted so TSA screeners can loot her hand lotion.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:47 AM on October 30, 2009


Here's my question: How safe is it when there's a threat, you're being protected by a group of people who don't even know their immediate chain of command?
posted by yeloson at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2009 [17 favorites]


“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”

This is a question I heard many times during my law enforcement career. Often my answer was no. But occasionally it would be “yes,” followed by an admonition to have a good day.


Ms. Former Law Enforcement Officer (Ms. Fleo), you do not have the authority to decide whether someone has a right to refuse a search or not. That is a Constitutional issue and will be decided by a Judge if it is raised in court. You only have the ability to search the person or not search the person. The person's rights have almost no relation to your ability to search. It is up to you. If the DA doesn't like it, the DA might dismiss it. If the Judge doesn't like it, the Judge can suppress whatever you found. But you shouldn't be pretending to dispense legal advice. Search the person or don't.

Here is the problem with the system: If the search is unconstitutional, then the fruit of the search will be suppressed, and the defendant's case will likely dismissed. The officer will not be penalized in any way for the unconstitutional search. If the search is constitutional, then the evidence will be admitted and the defendant will likely be convicted. There is no incentive whatsoever for an officer not to search. The only penalty the officer faces is that she might lose her conviction if the search is ruled unconstitutional. So she is free to try again with the next person. Meanwhile, the person gets arrested, hires a lawyer, etc. even if the case is dismissed.

Do you have a right to refuse this search? Sure, you can refuse any search you want. But that doesn't mean the officer can't search you.
posted by flarbuse at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


It was my understanding that police officers (and presumably, I guess, TSA uh... people) don't have to tell you the truth when you ask, "Is it my right to X?"
posted by cmoj at 10:54 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


...the "selection" occurred when I printed my boarding pass and saw that long line of "SSSSSSS"...

how positive are you that these things are related?


I have read this elsewhere, and it is also my experience that they are. On a few occasions when I had to fly without an ID, the boarding passes got the SSSSSSSelectee on them and I was 'subject to additional screening'.

Oh, the article? It's well written, and ranks up there with the recent nonsense with the White House calling Fox News biased. It's nice to hear responsible people finally saying the patently obvious out loud, it makes me feel less insane.
posted by Bokononist at 10:55 AM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


The Supreme Court has held otherwise: "Where the risk to public safety is substantial and real, blanket suspicionless searches calibrated to the risk may rank as `reasonable'--for example, searches now routine at airports and at entrances to courts and other official buildings." Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 323 (1997). That's without even getting into the various exceptions where a warrant is not necessary, such as a search incident to an arrest.

Thanks for the citation. Yes, it is true that there are exceptions to the 4th amendment warrant requirement. I will quibble a little by pointing out that Chandler v. Miller is about whether a public official candidate has to take a drug test, not the full scale TSA type search under discussion here, and also that elsewhere in the opinion the court is a lot more measured in its language about how broad a suspicionless search may be.

But here is my big question: are we convinced that "the risk to public safety is substantial and real"still and if so, do we really think TSA procedures are "calibrated to the risk"? The intrusions every citizen who goes anywhere public faces daily are really major, and I question whether we are not simply sacrificing one of our most valuable constitutional rights without any kind of a fight or searching inquiry.
posted by bearwife at 10:58 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don’t want to be screened then don’t wear baggy clothing or sweatshirts that are bulky.

The "she was asking for it" line of reasoning applied to airport security. Heartwarming.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:59 AM on October 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


Bokononist: "I have read this elsewhere, and it is also my experience that they are. On a few occasions when I had to fly without an ID, the boarding passes got the SSSSSSSelectee on them and I was 'subject to additional screening'."

I fly often enough that I'm totally intrigued by this. I fly about a dozen times a year, and 85% of the time, I don't get stopped despite having a pretty packed and bulky carry on of dense camera gear. My boss, who flies with me, almost always does, for his smaller bag that is likewise densely packed with complicated (thought smaller) camera gear. usually right after I go through. Now I need to check our boarding passes. It would be weird since our passes are printed from a self-checkin kiosk.
posted by shmegegge at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2009


I agree, by the way, that a lot of our security procedures seem ineffective and wasteful. But the secondary screening process seems to me possibly not wasteful -- i.e., the chance of getting singled out for an extra search would seem to me to have some good security/deterrence effect. Of course the trick is how you do the selection, but I don't take the author to be making any sound criticism of that process, just that she's annoyed because she's been singled out a few times.

The whole liquids thing seems really stupid, and I wish they would stop changing the shoe procedure and stop yelling at people following last month's shoe procedure (i.e., don't put shoes in the grey tubs!). Also, on Air Canada, you are not allowed non-ear-bud headphones for "security reasons."
posted by Mid at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2009


If you don’t want to be screened then don’t wear baggy clothing or sweatshirts that are bulky.

Is that spam for some kind of new travel leotard?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:08 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]



I have not observed any "spot" selection done by TSA personnel based on their own judgments.


Well ...

Last month I was flying out of LAX at a fairly late hour, so there weren't a lot of people going through security screening. As I approached the metal detector, I noticed that the operator seemed to be selecting every single person who went through for additional screening.

Sure enough, after I went through, the guy pointed at the screen where there was some sort of vague black blob. Everybody else at the station looked kind of pissed off, because they were the ones who had to search everybody. "Really?" One of them asked.


It was the most perfunctory search of my bag I have ever seen.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:12 AM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


"the "selection" occurred when I printed my boarding pass and saw that long line of "SSSSSSS" along the bottom or some other weird code"

I used to get those nearly every time I flew. Which, of course, would make me shift everything over to my wife so the search would go faster. Everything in my pockets, belt, bag, everything. I usually did this right in front of the TSA folks before going through the line. I got the impression that they realized what was going on and had zero interest in dragging my wife into the search.

I always thought it was stupid to warn potential terrorists that they were about to be search, and give them a chance to just give explosive's or whatever to someone else. But maybe it was on purpose - The TSA just wanted to get it's quota of searches done as easily as possible, and if people have a chance to swap everything to someone else that would make it more efficient.

Maybe the selection seems random now if they made the "secret" selection code harder to spot. Is there an article on that?
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mid: "the chance of getting singled out for an extra search would seem to me to have some good security/deterrence effect. Of course the trick is how you do the selection, but I don't take the author to be making any sound criticism of that process, just that she's annoyed because she's been singled out a few times."

not sure I agree with this particular statement. the author seems to me to be saying that the deterrence effect is bound to collapse (unless public outrage forces a change first) since the security procedure is poorly implemented and the staff seem improperly trained. her annoyance is certainly in there, but there's considerably more to her article than just whining about getting selected.
posted by shmegegge at 11:16 AM on October 30, 2009


Do I have the right to refuse this search?
posted by jeremy b at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


As a frequent flier (and have been since I was a kid - my dad worked for an airline), I have long raged (silently, at least at the airport) against the inanity of having to practically strip to go through the detectors at the airport. I can't help the sneaking suspicion that the likes of those who masterminded 9/11 are laughing hysterically at our anti-terrorism screening procedures, while the we line up like fucking lemmings to take our belts and shoes off.

I am happy to comply with policies that may be annoying/uncomfortable/time-consuming if I thought for one second that they would actually make us safer. Unfortunately, I completely agree with the sentiment that this is pure theater. And expensive theater at that.

I have flown to and from Europe, most often in and out of Frankfurt, for the last 30 years. I remember the change in procedures and security after the bombing the main terminal in 1985. Maybe it's some sort of weird bias on my part, but I have always had much more respect for the security measures in Frankfurt (and Amsterdam, for that matter) and have always felt that they were on the right track, as in, I felt safer for having gone through it all.

I'm curious as to the thoughts of those who use European airports (both for regional and international travel): what do you think of the standards there? Am I imagining the substance, or is it 'theater' as well?
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2009


I fly often enough that I'm totally intrigued by this. I fly about a dozen times a year, and 85% of the time, I don't get stopped despite having a pretty packed and bulky carry on of dense camera gear. My boss, who flies with me, almost always does, for his smaller bag that is likewise densely packed with complicated (thought smaller) camera gear. usually right after I go through. Now I need to check our boarding passes. It would be weird since our passes are printed from a self-checkin kiosk.

Yeah, the printed boarding passes are a huge security loophole.
posted by ryoshu at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


...the "selection" occurred when I printed my boarding pass and saw that long line of "SSSSSSS"...

I'd get the SSSS on my boarding card when I'd do crazy terrorist activity like traveling for business and booking the flight hours before leaving or buying a oneway ticket. One time I flew on Mexico's vivaAerobus from Austin to Monterrey MX and because the boarding cards were hand written, she put the SSS on the boarding card with a Sharpie. If I'm a good citizen and buy my ticket in advance I never get the secondary screening.

When I was flying internationally through DFW a lot I would get selected for the puffer machine every time I returned to the US. Every single time. I'd come back with coworkers who would never get selected. My boss told me because I look like a jihadist. The point is I think there's something to her assertion that your selection for the puffer is based on your appearance of willingness to comply.

I forgot about a can of Sprite I put in my bag and it sailed right through the X-ray in San Jose. I was rifling through my bag at the gate and was happy to see I didn't have to pay airport prices for a drink. The screener at LAX wanted to take away the keys to my Audi because of the "switch blade" like keys that could be used as a weapon. This was when VW/Audi/Mercedes and others had these keys for years!

I used to love to fly and would jet away on last minute weekend special trips a few times a month. Virgin and Southwest have $25 flights to SFO but screw dealing with the security. Sorry airline industry, I'm not going to help you. Flying in other countries is so much more pleasant. They have the technology where you can leave your shoes on, leave your computer in your bag, and deal with a 5oz bottle of shampoo.
posted by birdherder at 11:27 AM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do I have the right to refuse this search?

If you are an American, the answer to this question is, generally speaking, "no". Various Supreme court decisions have whittled down the IV Amendment to the point that it's basically a "ceremonial" law (.i.e, included in the text for historical and educational purposes but having little to no relevance in modern life).

I cannot think of any situation wherein a LEO could not find a way to perform a legally valid search on any person, place or thing at any time. This is one of those "bridges" to a police state that we crossed a long, long time ago.
posted by Avenger at 11:29 AM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


There is no incentive whatsoever for an officer not to search.

I'll agree with you that maybe there ought to be a little more incentive not to search, but there is definitely at least some incentive. A completely groundless or abusive search would probably subject the officer to a § 1983 claim, for example.

are we convinced that "the risk to public safety is substantial and real" still and if so, do we really think TSA procedures are "calibrated to the risk"?

Depends on who you mean by 'we.' I am not convinced, you're evidently not convinced, Bruce Schneier is probably not convinced, etc. But as I said, the TSA, the courts, and Congress are probably all convinced, or at least will pretend to be for reasons of political expediency or because their hands are tied by precedent.

Is the country as a whole convinced? Maybe, maybe not: in this late 2008 Gallup Poll [pdf] 70% of the public found the federal government's handling of air travel security to be good or excellent. On the other hand, the TSA is about as popular as the IRS.
posted by jedicus at 11:30 AM on October 30, 2009


There may be other reasons for secondary screening, but it is certainly the case that if your boarding pass has the letters "SSSS" on it (which I always figured stood for "super special secret search") you will get the full workup. FWIW, I find anecdotally that I get a case of the SSSS-es much more often when flying alone.

Also: whose ever fault airport searches were originally, it's not just the Americans doing it anymore. You still need to go through the whole thing (though not shoes, usually) in Canada, too, at least. In fact, I've found the most meticulous searchers I've seen work in Halifax International Airport: they once confiscated a butter knife that I had inadvertently left in my backpack, even though it had made it through an American airport just fine.
posted by goingonit at 11:34 AM on October 30, 2009


“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”

This is a question I heard many times during my law enforcement career.

My. Career.

Often my answer was no.

MY. ANSWER. WAS. NO.

But occasionally it would be “yes,” followed by an admonition to have a good day.

An admonition. To have a good day.

For the last half of my career, I would have documented each interaction.

MY. CAREER.

Each. Interaction. Documented.

DOCUMENTED!

I would have written down the nature and length of the interaction, the gender, race, and age of the person, and the outcome of the contact (arrest, citation, etc.).

I carry the baggage of this history with me.

I. Carry. The. Baggage.

THE BAGGAGE!

I’ve traveled over the last EIGHT years, mindlessly placing MY LUGGAGE on the conveyer belt and removing my shoes for TSA inspection.

My luggage.

My shoes.

Recently, something changed.

SOMETHING. CHANGED.
posted by Ratio at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


There may be other reasons for secondary screening, but it is certainly the case that if your boarding pass has the letters "SSSS" on it (which I always figured stood for "super special secret search") you will get the full workup. FWIW, I find anecdotally that I get a case of the SSSS-es much more often when flying alone.

Just use the "print out passes at home option", print them to a PDF, open it up in your favorite PDF editor, and delete the SSSSSSes. Easy peasy!
posted by mr_roboto at 11:42 AM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Out of curiosity, does anyone know how many terrorists they have ever caught? Actual proven cases of people with the means and intention to hijack or destroy an aircraft?
posted by Grangousier at 11:44 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


And then doesn't explain that logic or the context. So I have a hard time with the rest of it.

You have a hard time with the assertion that we need more data about the TSA's practices and their efficacy because the same person who asserted that also thinks she gets pulled for extra screening more often than one would antecedently have expected?

You're an idiot.
posted by kenko at 11:46 AM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Perhaps in a nod to decorum, she did not check my crotch, my armpits or either breast area. ... These three areas on a woman, and the crotch area of men, offer the greatest opportunity to seclude weapons and contraband.

And that's why I always stuff my weed in my crotch when I fly.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:47 AM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, when the author says that she thinks she was selected because she "looks compliant," that seems odd.

For 3 or 4 years before 9/11, I used to get singled out for 'additional screening' almost every time I flew -- I'll guess 85% of the time. Usually they would swab my bags with a cotton pad and put the pad in some kind of detector. Why? I have no idea. But when you are on their radar, you are really on their radar, and like Ms. Walker, you try to come up with plausible explanations. But you never really know.

Since 9/11, I have hardly ever been singled out, and security at airports has become much less hassle for me. Why did it stop? Again, I have no idea.
posted by Killick at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2009


Out of curiosity, does anyone know how many terrorists they have ever caught? Actual proven cases of people with the means and intention to hijack or destroy an aircraft?

Well, the shoe bomber was noticed mid-flight by a flight attendant, so I don't think that really counts as a TSA success story. Apart from that, no, not that I've ever heard or could find. Which shouldn't be too surprising: government testing has repeatedly found that people can easily smuggle on guns and bombs, despite the fact that the TSA cheats by tipping off screeners about the tests.
posted by jedicus at 11:54 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Given that TSA interacts with tens if not hundreds of millions of travelers each year, it is incredible to me that we, the stewards of homeland security, have failed to insist that data capturing and analysis should occur in a manner similar to what local police agencies have been doing for many years.

It doesn't surprise me at all. First off, the police have been around a lot longer than TSA hand have been subject to thousands of lawsuits about procedural irregularities and abuses. This made it a best-interest scenario to start keeping track of officer-civilian interactions. Second, the police are measured on their successes; better processes and investigations lead to better arrests and so they have a vested interest in improving the way they do things (unfortunately this has also led to terrible things like property seizures for the profit of the law enforcement agency, which is a beyond stupid idea, but that's an argument for another place...)

Want the TSA to improve? Start suing them, require that they explain their actions and processes, and demand that they take responsibility for their failures. Things will change fast.
posted by quin at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2009


"I decided to make myself as nervous as possible. I would try to pass through security with no ID, a fake boarding pass, and an Osama bin Laden T-shirt under my coat."

This almost makes me want to try some of this stuff. They make it sound like the absolute last thing TSA workers want to do is discover a terrorist or slow down the line.

What exactly happens if they catch you trying to bring a knife through airport security? Apparently nothing, other than they take the knife. Just that, as it says on the tin, nothing. So if I tried to sneak a knife through security every single time I flew, no one at TSA would ever even know that.

We are so fucked. Not because terrorist will sneak stuff on planes, but because we pay billions of dollors for a security network that *actively* avoids security.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I used to get internally upset when subjected to screening. I have since realized it is fairly pointless to try to cling to an illusion of self determination when willingly subjecting oneself to such a farce, for whatever reason.

Now I am the dancing monkey, I cheerfuly do what the TSA says. I am not a citizen with rights. I just want to get where I am going and see loved ones. That requires a plane. I'm stuck with the mess and am tired of feeling like a sellout, so I just sold out.

Flying is more important to me than playing Constitutional Don Quixote and making all my future travels hell.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 11:58 AM on October 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


Great read. Very thorough.

^and then she jumps from this possibly made-up idea that she is frequently selected to her own judgment that it happens because she looks compliant. And then doesn't explain that logic or the context. So I have a hard time with the rest of it.

I also didn't really follow the logic about why she thinks she gets screened so much (ie looking compliant). Of course, why she thinks she gets screened so much, has absolutely nothing to do with her analysis of the efficacy/problems of the screening procedure. So the logic I really don't follow is how her presumption there negates the rest of what she said.
posted by molecicco at 12:08 PM on October 30, 2009


There is a great deal of whim involved with the selection process as well. I fly a lot for art shows and I generally have all sorts of oddly shaped things in my carry-on. Very recently, I had to go through a half-hearted search after one of the screeners saw something on the x-ray that made him laugh. Seriously. He sees a person-like blob in my carry-on, started giggling, exclaimed to a fellow screeners "You gotta see this!", and they all gathered around my bag to see what it could possibly be. It was like Christmas morning for the dudes. On the other hand, I'm trying to affix my shoes, my watch, my belt, my jacket, and my backpack in their proper place as the speakers were announcing the last boarding call for my flight. I only realized later that my bomb-making lip gloss was still in my pocket and- oh, yeah- that was a wildly invasive act solely for their amusement. I still wonder what would have happened if I had the wherewithal to refuse that search. One missed flight, certainly.

This is worse than theater; it's goddamned dinner theater.
posted by cheap paper at 12:08 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Antidisestablishmentarianist: "Constitutional Don Quixote"

what a great phrase. it really perfectly describes the type of person who argues about things with the person least able to affect change. like the guy who argues the finer details of a coupon with the teenager at the cash register. or, in this case, the person who makes a big stink with the tsa screener. it's not like your complaints get passed on up the line to the person who could ultimately fix the problem. and I think it's important to consider that, because at the end of the day, yelling at the schmuck whose job sucks worse than it does for you to have to deal with it is about all we're willing to do. we're often not willing to take things to the level that will affect change because it takes so much more work. I often wonder if this isn't by design. If the tsa policy wonks are isolated from the populace specifically to prevent accountability and change.
posted by shmegegge at 12:12 PM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ratio, are you writing monologues for Shatner now?
posted by adipocere at 12:13 PM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I also didn't really follow the logic about why she thinks she gets screened so much (ie looking compliant).

I think the idea is that the screeners' job is to process people, and it makes their life easier if they select people who will just do as they're told. Much more efficient for the screener. If they select people who will cause a fuss or require extra attention, it can slow them down and affect their throughput targets.
posted by Grangousier at 12:20 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I occasionally trip across something insightful, and google shows no results for "Constitutional Don Quixote" so:

Thanks shmegegge! You are too kind.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 12:21 PM on October 30, 2009


Ms. Former Law Enforcement Officer (Ms. Fleo), you do not have the authority to decide whether someone has a right to refuse a search or not. That is a Constitutional issue and will be decided by a Judge if it is raised in court.

You may have been misreading this. It didn't sound to me like, on the fly, she was deciding a constitutional issue. It sounded to me like there are searches that people can refuse -- such as having the trunk of your car searched without an order from a judge -- and, when people could ask if they could refuse that sort of search, she would tell them yes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:30 PM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


My interpretation of the "do i have the right to refuse" interaction has always been "would i be disobeying a lawful order if i didn't, and are you going to make me anyway". Yes, the officer can choose to lie, but from that point they can't claim to have had your consent. I'm pretty clueless in these matters, and perhaps there are better ways to voice a refusal to consent, but to me the question does not seem pointless.
posted by tigrrrlily at 12:33 PM on October 30, 2009


“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”

This is a question I heard many times during my law enforcement career.

My. Career.

Often my answer was no.

MY. ANSWER. WAS. NO.
posted by Ratio


Christopher Walken, is that you?
posted by George Clooney at 12:37 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I. had known. I had THE RIGHT. to refuse a SEARCH. I wouldn't have kept. this UNCOMFORTABLE hunk of TIN. up my ASS. for all those ... years.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:38 PM on October 30, 2009 [12 favorites]


This reminds me of the time we were standing at a gate getting ready to board when someone from the airline stood up and said "TSA has required us to randomly screen two passengers for this flight. I need two volunteers to come up here for screening before we can all board."
posted by Big_B at 12:39 PM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's some sort of weird bias on my part, but I have always had much more respect for the security measures in Frankfurt (and Amsterdam, for that matter) and have always felt that they were on the right track, as in, I felt safer for having gone through it all.

I always chalk this up to the vaguely rent-a-cop feeling of the TSA.
They don't seem highly trained or competent as a general rule.
And there are always a few just standing around chatting.
Yes, I know, they're "crowd-scanning" or whatever, but c'mon, seriously, stop discussing your dinner plans within earshot of the passengers.

And don't even get my started on the (generally very nice) old dude sitting at the podium to stop you from going back into the gates.

By contrast, and I fully admit that it may just be because I don't have a lifetime of experience with European rent-a-cops, the screeners in European airports seem more polished and more trained. I rarely see them chatting with their coworkers or simply holding up the wall.
Maybe it's the uniforms. Or the automatic weapons.
posted by madajb at 12:40 PM on October 30, 2009


I've heard indirectly that Israeli airport security is very thorough, and based on newspaper headlines they do a remarkable job of minimizing risks. Can anyone describe how they manage security?
posted by msalt at 1:12 PM on October 30, 2009


And that's why I always stuff my weed in my crotch when I fly.

"What if your home, what if your family -- what if your dope was on fire?"
"Impossible, sir. It's in Johnson's underwear."


I get the SSSS on my boarding pass almost every time I fly (the people at LAX said "Oh, you've been 4Sed") because a few years ago I went through a security checkpoint with an expired driver's license. I learned my lesson cause I'm now on that "4S the bastard" list. I typically get taken off to the side where I get an arms-out patdown while they check my shoes and swab the inside of my carry-on. Sometimes the TSA guy giving me the pat-down launches into a line of questions that sound like they're calculated to try and trip me up if I was indeed a Bad Guy. Either that, or they're just proof the TSA guy really isn't listening to me.

"Where are you flying today?"
"I'm flying back home to Boston."
"Nice place for a vacation. And how long will you be there for?"
"...um, my vacation's over. I'm flying back home to Boston."
"Oh. You are free to go, sir. Your bag and shoes are over in that corner."

It's an even funnier conversation when it begins right after the TSA guy has finished closely scrutinizing my photo ID with my home address conveniently printed on the front.

Then there was the tough-guy TSA dude at Logan Airport who marched up and down a long checkpoint line reading off regulations like the warden in Cool Hand Luke, only the punishment wasn't "a night in the box", it was "randomly selected for a search."

Seriously.

"Take off your shoes and place them on the conveyor belt. If you do not, you will be randomly selected for a search. You can only bring three ounces of liquid with you in a clear plastic bottle. Any other containers will be confiscated and thrown away. Take your laptops out of their bags. Remove all metal from your pockets now. If you do not follow these rules you will make the wait longer for everybody else, and you will be randomly selected for a search."

I kept my mouth shut, presuming that if I asked what the word "random" meant in this case, I'd be randomly selected for a search. Then again, considering I was gonna get 4Sed anyway, maybe I should have.
posted by Spatch at 1:18 PM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


I worked on a story years ago on TSA security at Tampa International. The puffer machines were just starting to come on line and the TSA folks were telling us how they would eliminate many of the pat-down searches the writer describes. Funny how I've noticed the same machines sitting idle at TIA recently just like the writer mentions.

Also, and this is something most people don't realize, the x-ray software is programmed to report false positives to keep TSA personnel on their toes. The monitors will literally show a gun or other weapon in a bag when none exists. This then leads to a hand check.

I remember thinking how neat all the technology was that I photographed but how none of it really seemed to serve any logical purpose because of TSA folks running things. By and large many of the TSA personnel seemed to be no better than the folks working rent-a-cop jobs around the Tampa Bay area. What was even more surprising was the few "disgruntled" TSA folks who appeared to not really give a fuck even though there was media observing them.

IMO the TSA and Homeland Security is one big boondoggle.
posted by photoslob at 1:22 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


photoslob: "Also, and this is something most people don't realize, the x-ray software is programmed to report false positives to keep TSA personnel on their toes. The monitors will literally show a gun or other weapon in a bag when none exists."

what?
posted by shmegegge at 1:33 PM on October 30, 2009


Also, and this is something most people don't realize, the x-ray software is programmed to report false positives to keep TSA personnel on their toes. The monitors will literally show a gun or other weapon in a bag when none exists. This then leads to a hand check.

That's pretty scandalous. It really just sounds like an urban legend, though. Got a cite?
posted by Burhanistan at 1:37 PM on October 30, 2009


It's real. I saw it in action.

This is the story I worked on.
posted by photoslob at 1:39 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good read. But too easy. It's just bureaucratic inertia that the TSA is still there doing things the same way.
...y'know, what’s funky, I remember reading how air defense response changed after 9/11 to where instead of intercepting one flight a week or so the blowtorches were scrambled more often to babysit suspect commercial aircraft. And just recently we had northwest flight 188 - fighters on 'alert' apparently but for an hour and change - nada. The 115th could have picked them up in 15 minutes but an hour and a half after the plane went unresponsive, no birds in the air to intercept.
So it's not just the TSA. I'll grant there's not much percentage in working hard to prevent the last method you were attacked with, but y'know, more precaution to close the big holes might be nice. I mean the amount of money were spending to supposedly fight terrorism, a few thousand pounds of fuel when a commercial flight goes dark doesn't seem too overcautious.
Meanwhile, we need a guy making minimum wage who's neck I can snap like a chicken bone telling me I can't bring mouthwash on the plane because it could be dangerous.
M'kay. Thanks. I feel safe now.

“I carry the baggage of this history with me.
I. Carry. The. Baggage.
THE BAGGAGE!”

She packed. My bags. Last night.
PRE-FLIGHT.
Zero hour. Nine A.M.

“I wouldn't have kept. this UNCOMFORTABLE hunk of TIN. up my ASS. for all those ... years.”

The way your Astro Zombie looked at it, this tin was your birthright. He'd be damned if any TSA goons were gonna put their greasy hands on his boy's birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the tin to smuggle through airport security. And now, little man, I give this tin to you. And here’s your boarding pass.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:43 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


That was like Det. Greggs blogging the TSA. Amazing yet scary. And sad. And awesome. And terribly terribly fucked up.
posted by rudster at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2009


Funny, the only times I've ever been 4S'd were the first time we flew with our new children as a family, and every time I travel with one child (without their sibling or mother.) I guess being a new flyer and flying as a fractional family are two of the things on the list.
posted by davejay at 2:08 PM on October 30, 2009


The fact that TSA does nothing more than theater has been documented many times before. What is interesting about this article is the emphasis on data capture and information analysis. If you don't audit, you never know how well the process is doing. Or worse, you have a process that is inherently not auditable and data is still captured and used as a metric of how well we're doing.

Beyond that, the TSA is an insurance policy for (and I hate using this term) black swan events. To implement a truly effective TSA policy would require body searches, TSA employees with training like cops (this is incredibly expensive) and all sorts of other things that would make flying seem like a preflight check for astronauts ... and even for them accidents still happen. That is the nature of the impact of the highly improbable.

And I'm not even touching on the fact that TSA, as a multi billion dollar agency employing a lot of people with minimal credential is probably the most pure form of a government bureaucracy you'd never kill. Relatively high paying jobs scattered across every city? Good job on reducing funding to that beast.

As a business traveler, I should note, that last minute tickets especially last minute one way tickets are a sure sign I will get SSSS. Never mind that terrorist attacks have been planned out years in advance and this doesn't fit the profile of any known attack (really if you're going to plan an attack for years you're going to foot the bill for the roundtrip to not get the SSSS). This does have a very real impact on business travel expenses. It was once possible to do day trips if the flight only lasted an hour or two. Leave early, come back late. For some reason security delays seem to be getting worse and now it is either spend a couple hours in the city or stay the extra night. Stay the extra night and you're already doubling your costs. No wonder people are flying less.

Lock the pilot doors, do a metal detector screen and make flying like getting on a bus. I'll take my risks on shoe bombers.
posted by geoff. at 2:38 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


msalt: In response to your question about how Israel (in the from of El Al, their national airline) manages secuirty better than the US, the answer is that they have a fundamentally different approaches to security.

The standard approach to problems, and especially security issues, in the United States is to look for a technology based solution and create strong and commonly expensive single nodes (think TSA check points, aircraft carriers, F-22 fighters) devoted to dealing with a specific threat. Further, the United States views a physical object as the threat to be detected.

Israel uses a personnel based solution with multiple layers of security nodes. In addition, Israel view the person, rather than the physical object as the threat to be detected. The thinking behind this is that having a knife or gun on a plane doesn't mean the plane is in danger. Having a person devoted to destroying that plane onboard always means the plane is in danger.

This is mindset is key to understanding how the two countries have their air transportation operations approach threats.

Generally, most security experts agree that the Israeli mindset is the more effective approach to security. Simply put, defeating a machine is easier than defeating multiple people. That, and while a machine might be built to counter a specific threat, that doesn't mean that the enemy won't simply alter tactics and use a different threat that the machine is useless against.

In practice, this means that the US looks for bombs and knifes at a TSA checkpoint using cutting edge technology. Israel uses highly trained personnel to look for potential bad guys from check in to landing. By highly trained personnel, I mean that El Al tries to hire as ticket its ticketing agents top college graduates and former members of the Israeli military's intelligence sections (which recruit the best and brightest).

If you happen to give off a bad guy vibe when flying El Al, here is what you can expect. Your walk to the El Al counter will be down the terminal, because El Al counters are located at the end of terminals so that there is a single threat direction. The counters will also be set up to be ballistic resistant (bullet proof) and have favorable sight lines and coverage. Once you get to the counter, the person (most likely a young, female, psychology grad) will start asking you many probing questions and won't stop until she's satisfied. If she isn't satisfied with your answers, you don't get to fly. If she is still worried about you after clearing her questioning but not enough to boot you from the flight, you'll be flagged. Your bags will be secretly searched very thouroughly. As you wait for your plane, the person that sits next to you will start a conversation about the weather and then start asking you questions about why you are flying, what you do for a living, and so on, looking for a lie or red flag. Once you board the plane (which will have hardened security points, such as doors and cargo holds), someone (normally a man) will sit next to you. He'll also start up a friendly conversation and have a few questions that he'll use to evaluate if you're a threat. He also will be secretly armed, and a few rows back, his partner will be armed and sitting behind you. Until you are off the plane, you'll be under someone's watch until you convince them that you're not a threat. Overall, El Al has done pretty well, considering how it would be the the most desired airline for many terrorist groups to attack.

Here's the wiki about it, and here's another article, and lastly a BBC article.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 2:51 PM on October 30, 2009 [31 favorites]


Just a frickin minute........ So you are telling me that El Al security is not only more effective, it's also less of a pain in the ass *and* less expensive? Why the hell would anyone want this TSA bullshit song and dance security when El Al already has a system that works?

Only in America do we get something that doesn't work, for more money, that everyone hates, which ignores proven solutions, and everyone agrees that's the best we can do and there's no sense fighting it.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:05 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


SeanOfTheHillPeople: "As you wait for your plane, the person that sits next to you will start a conversation about the weather and then start asking you questions about why you are flying, what you do for a living, and so on, looking for a lie or red flag."

oh wow, I'd be in big trouble flying in israel. I fucking hate it when strangers start talking to me (I carry a portable gaming system or 3 with me and prefer not to be interrupted while playing them.) and will often lie just to keep the conversation boring enough to stop talking about it. so when I deny what I do for a living, why I'm flying and where I'm going in order to be as boring as possible, I can just see this guy deciding I need to be arrested.
posted by shmegegge at 3:26 PM on October 30, 2009


shmegegge: You'd be fine. Terrorists hate Cooking Mama more than they hate freedom.
posted by amuseDetachment at 3:29 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I, too, hate Cooking Mama.
posted by shmegegge at 3:35 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The El Al strategy requires hiring competent people for the bottom level and paying them well. It does not work if you simply work at hiring the first hundred people with a GED, a clean criminal background and no huge debts. And doing that would be unAmerican. Or something.

Anyway, the CIA is too busy torturing enhancely interrogating people to be worried with actually securing a plane.

In all seriousness, I think the numbers necessary to create a system like El Al's throughout the United States, where air travel happens domestically much more often and I would suspect that air travel is (or at least used to be) a much more regular affair (I don't have numbers on this, so feel free to correct me). Finding and hiring that many competent people is difficult and time consuming. Buying machines is quick and easy.
posted by Hactar at 3:42 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have posted on this before (gotten flagged too) but as a frequent traveler, I see stuff all the time. I was just in Des Moines. Get to the TSA screening area and there are 15 TSA staff there...and just me in the line. Guess what happens next? Bomb screening of my luggage, of course. What secret detection system did I trip? I was the guy in line whose bags could be screened in order to justify a very expensive piece of technology that sits dormant 95% of the time.

TSA agents, by an far, are under trained and put in an unenviable position. Working with the public is difficult enough but when you have to throw out someone's jar of jam (that their 90 year old grandmother made for them) because it might be used as an explosive element? That is bureaucracy straight out of the film Brazil.

Returning from Fargo a week ago, my bag was checked because "it looks like there is a big lump of metal in there". There was, it was all of the change that I take from my pockets before I enter the metal detector. So much for being helpful.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:49 PM on October 30, 2009


I was just posting the google cache link to Facebook. Here is the error message I received:

Warning: This Message Contains Blocked Content
Some content in this message has been reported as abusive by Facebook users.

At least Facebook is keeping us safe.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:54 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's no accident that TSA checkpoints are horribly engineered. The awkwardness of navigating a needlessly log-jammed TSA checkpoint, full of people cramming valuables on a treadmill, random bullying and threats of missing your flight, is all part of the TSA user experience.

Flipping Glengarry Glen Ross, what the TSA are hired for is not to help us. What they're hired for is to FUCK-US-UP.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:09 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


last minute tickets especially last minute one way tickets are a sure sign I will get SSSS. Never mind that terrorist attacks have been planned out years in advance and this doesn't fit the profile of any known attack

It fits the profile of drug mules, though, which suggests the TSA's mission is creeping to help the DEA/FBI/local LEOs for issues other than air security.

There are stories about the TSA hassling professional gamblers, too, seizing money, which could be bleedover from drug enforcement or could just be a Treasury/IRS interest in burdening large transfers of cash to reduce tax evasion.


--

Re: El Al-- it's been pointed out (by Schneier?) that they have a much MUCH smaller number of passengers per day to screen so a personnel-based approach is feasible, but may not scale to a USA-sized domestic travel system.
posted by morganw at 4:12 PM on October 30, 2009


Also, on Air Canada, you are not allowed non-ear-bud headphones for "security reasons."

The fuck? Bose's crappy noise-reducing headphones are being hawked at most every airport. What a piss-off it would be to buy them, and then have Air Canada [spit] confiscate them.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:45 PM on October 30, 2009


The TSA is a make-work program for the types bullies, dimwits, and jackasses that George W. Bush partied with as a kid. And now that we're in a recessionary period, there's not a hope in hell that things will improve: firing their asses for incompetence and idiocy would just increase the unemployment rolls. In short, airplane travel in North America is fucked for a good, long time.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:57 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just a frickin minute........ So you are telling me that El Al security is not only more effective, it's also less of a pain in the ass *and* less expensive? Why the hell would anyone want this TSA bullshit song and dance security when El Al already has a system that works?

Uh ... speaking for myself, even though they are effective at it I wouldn't want the US to model airport security like that. First of all, there isn't the need for this type of defensive measure in the US, but Israel doing this makes sense. It may go rather smoothly for El Al for their needs, but it's not exactly conducive to relaxed traveling, nor the amount of traffic we have going through our airports, even when the economy is slumping like it is today. Imagine going through that rigamarole after a 20-hour flight with zero sleep for two days. At least their people are well trained, but you're still watched and scrutinized very thoroughly at every step. It works, but it's not really necessary for us. We just need sane, rational security which is suitable to the potential threat level, not wasteful, expensive, humiliating and (IMO) unconstutitional or at best unnecessary searches, just for the sake of "doing something" about air travel safety after 9/11, and the theater becomes very obvious and wears real thin after a while.

I was asked by a TSA officer in Nashville, "What, don't you like security?" after I had been randomly pulled to the side. I got a bit tired of the constant questions, which was veering into where I worked, specific location, that sort of thing, and I said, "None of your business." That pissed them off. I said I would need to have an attorney present before answering more questions, and was I being interrogated? Well, I didn't get cavity searched, but I think I was pretty close to it. "What, don't you like security?" What sort of stupid fucking question is that? Am I required to like TSA security too? Can't I just grudgingly put up with it, but at the same time think that it reminds be of East Germany before the Wall fell?
posted by krinklyfig at 5:01 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I got a bit tired of the constant questions, which was veering into where I worked, specific location, that sort of thing, and I said, "None of your business." That pissed them off.

To be more specific, that pissed off one guy pretty good. He was a bit older, looked like retired military or police. Man, he had a giant stick up his ass. The other guy, the "good cop" to his "bad cop" actually looked genuinely sorry at certain points, almost looking at me like, 'yeah, we can't stand him either, but what can I do? this guy is my supervisor,' kind of way. While waiting for the plane at the gate, I found the TSA complaint email address, and I wrote a really scathing and righteous email about the incident, which I saved and later deleted. Because I don't want to get the damn SSSS on my boarding pass every time. And that's why this whole system sucks, because it's incompetent, on a power trip and kafkaesque in its bureaucracy, making redress or accountability impossible. And we're paying out the nose for this shit, in direct costs and indirect drain on business (e.g., business and leisure travel). We really got to stop, because this isn't easily rationalized by the heat of war and people being understandably scared. At this point continuing like this is just dumb.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:15 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


To reply to the El Al security discussion, I think many very good and valid points were raised. I agree that the El Al model wouldn't be feasible for all the American airports for many of the reasons outlined.

As stated, hiring very large numbers of smart, dedicated, motivated people that can read others is challenging and expensive for the best of companies. Trying to picture the TSA competing for the same grads that Google and Goldman are going after is just laughable. When you consider that the number of competent employees that would be needed would have to be even larger than the existing TSA workforce (I'm unable to find the number of TSA employees and officers), this would be very challenging indeed. On top of this, luring young, talented, smart individuals to work in security would be much harder in the US than Israel due to the Israeli mindset of valuing security so much more.

One thing that no one mentioned is that El Al's security model relies very heavily on profiling, which wouldn't fly in the Unites States legal system. Denying individuals flights without explanation simply because a 23 year old ticket agent had a bad feeling would not go over so well. Having that become a pattern for one out of every one hundred male Muslims would be a devastating legal and political nightmare for the TSA.

Lastly, to reinforce my earlier point that the US relies on technical fixes, many of the database mining programs that were born after 2001, such as the infamous Total Information Awareness program were really just attempts to do the same thing as El Al, except with computers rather than people. Instead of someone asking you many questions, making you nervous, looking for a slipup that would flag you for extra attention, a giant government database would be monitoring you your entire life, looking for a slipup and flagging you for extra attention.

Not to derail the discussion, but it is interesting that when you start looking at the American perchance for expensive technical fixes over training/educating/collaborating fixes, you see it everywhere.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 6:45 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, on Air Canada, you are not allowed non-ear-bud headphones for "security reasons."

I haven't flown Air Canada in about a year and a half, but this wasn't true then, and I don't think it's true now.
posted by oaf at 8:24 PM on October 30, 2009


"If you don't want to be screened then don't wear baggy clothing or sweatshirts that are bulky."

So if I travel in nothing but a cock sock I'll be fine?
posted by arse_hat at 11:27 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Regarding Air Canada, I had about 8 flights in the past 12 months and several times I heard them announce that non-ear-bud earphones are not allowed. They do not confiscate them, they just don't let you use them. All of my flights were on the Bombardier RJ, so maybe that has something to do with it (makes as much sense as anything else).
posted by Mid at 11:19 AM on October 31, 2009


The leg I'm thinking of was LGA-YUL, so it was a small aircraft, but I think it was an Embraer RJ. Our final leg was YUL-YYZ, which I'm pretty sure used something larger. This was in March 2008.

Over-the-ear headphones are more comfortable and provide better sound quality, anyway.
posted by oaf at 12:32 PM on October 31, 2009


If you download and print your own boarding pass, you can just remove the SSSS with an image editing program or even whiteout and a photocopier.

Someone should start a business like "Clear" except it's online and all it does is quickly and easily run your boarding pass through a filter like that. Maybe that would get the TSA to fix their broken ID triangle that makes the no-fly list 98% useless. Or how about a greasemonkey script?
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do I have the right to refuse this search?

That's OK people. I've been used to being SCREENED ALL MY LIFE.
posted by ersatz at 1:43 PM on October 31, 2009


Several years ago when I took an El Al flight to Israel to go on an archaeology dig, the first thing that happened was, they wouldn't tell you the exact time of the flight until about 2 days before it took off. You had to keep checking in. After screening the bags, and checking in, a security guy who looked about 15 years old came out and started asking questions, in a nice but very careful way--why was I going, where was I staying, was I planning to travel around, and then veered into, what are your feelings about the Holy Land? What? What? You have none? And so on and on, about 30 questions, as I recalled at the time. Very polite, always, but I'd say very clever, too.
posted by etaoin at 9:15 PM on October 31, 2009


Thousands
Standing
Around
posted by m0nm0n at 9:22 PM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the link posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 3:37 PM on October 31

This made me laugh:

"(Later, Schnei­er would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)"


By contrast, and I fully admit that it may just be because I don't have a lifetime of experience with European rent-a-cops, the screeners in European airports seem more polished and more trained. I rarely see them chatting with their coworkers or simply holding up the wall.
Maybe it's the uniforms. Or the automatic weapons.
posted by madajb at 3:40 PM on October 30


I can't speak to mainland European airports, as I haven't flown through one for a few years, but the screeners at Manchester and Heathrow airports seem to me to be just as sour-faced, but a little less drunk on their own power as TSA agents. As a general rule, they tend not to do the shouting at the queue for compliance trick that Spatch mentions above.

Also, the guys carrying automatic weapons at and around british airports aren't airport security / TSA equivalents - they're Police, and they're there not to catch the guys trying to smuggle stuff onto aircraft, they're there to stop imbeciles in Jeeps and other, more serious threats to the terminal building itself. Although what we really need there is an elite force of Glaswegian Baggage Handlers, if you ask me.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2009


On Air Canada and headphones, I did some googling and I stand (partially) corrected: you can use earbuds with the in-flight entertainment system during takeoff/landing but not over-the-ear. Still makes no sense, but there you have it.
posted by Mid at 1:01 PM on November 1, 2009


molecicco - Her presumption doesn't negate any of the common facts in the rest of what she says, but she's trying to use the hook that she has insight because of her special case. I'd rather read someone with more insight in general on this issue or any other issue. TSA screeners and attemps at post 9/11 security are hardly topcis people don't talk and write about.

Jenny McCarthy is an idiot. Despite that, she probably has some good information about applying false eyelashes and eye liner, but if I need that information, I'll get if from someone who isn't an idiot instead of Jenny McCarthy. Not because her idiocy about some things negates her information about eye makeup, but because she's proven herself generally not useful. If she was the only person with the mascara wand clues I need, then I'd go ahead and take her advice, cautiously.

Grangousier - It's certainly possible that she is being picked for looking compliant, but she doesn't make any arguement for this conclusion or exclude other possibilities. Maybe she's super hot and they just want to spend more time with her.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:36 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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