The TSA checklist
March 27, 2015 7:23 AM   Subscribe

A 92-point checklist, obtained and published by The Intercept, reveals what kind of passenger behavior can merit a red flag for TSA agents responsible for pulling out possible terrorists and criminals out of airport security lines.

The checklist is part of TSA’s program to identify potential terrorists based on behaviors that it thinks indicate stress or deception — known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT (pdf). Last week, the ACLU and NYCLU filed a lawsuit "in an effort to uncover documents about a controversial passenger screening program used at airports nationwide."

ACLU: Can you S.P.O.T. a terrorist?
posted by roomthreeseventeen (113 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
So having an Almanac is a warning sign? What?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh, they've got whistling not once but twice - who are they looking for, Peter Lorre?
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:31 AM on March 27, 2015 [35 favorites]


Because obviously no one about to get on a flight is stressed out, confused, shy, ill, or intimidated by arbitrary security checks unless they're some kind of terrorist.
posted by Foosnark at 7:32 AM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


No more cheerful whistling while waiting in the security line.
posted by photoslob at 7:34 AM on March 27, 2015


I'm pretty sure S.P.O.T. is based on Ekman's microexpressions. Some objections to his Facial Action Coding System in this Quora answer.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:35 AM on March 27, 2015


So the answer is to stare at your smartphone like everybody else is doing in line.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:35 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


I can tell you what kind of person get pulled over. . . my son. Of Sicilian and eastern European Jewish heritage. Olive skinned, bearded, high cheek bones (yes, he is quite good-looking). He gets a going over almost every time he flies. But of course they are not profiling anyone.
posted by yellowdog at 7:36 AM on March 27, 2015 [41 favorites]


I'm headdesking at "wearing improper attire for location", as though many people in airports aren't there to go from cold places to warm ones and back.
posted by dorque at 7:36 AM on March 27, 2015 [32 favorites]


Exaggerated yawning? Body odor? "Cold penetrating stare"?

☐ Exhibits arbitrary behavior
☐ Does not exhibit arbitrary behavior

It's kind of sad that we're this deep into "I didn't like the looks of them" territory here.
posted by phooky at 7:37 AM on March 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Wow, it's like one of those Scientology "readings": huge list of vague factors that could apply to just about anyone, i.e., an excuse to harass whoever the hell you want to.
posted by indubitable at 7:38 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


"face pale from recent shaving of the beard"

Hell, my whole body is super pale, not just my face. Yet I've never been pulled for extra screening. Weeiiiiirrdddddd.
posted by Think_Long at 7:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm headdesking at "wearing improper attire for location", as though many people in airports aren't there to go from cold places to warm ones and back.

I do that all the time. Even in January, if I'm flying JFK to Orlando, I'll usually wear sandals to the airport. Of course, as a white woman, the only time I've ever been pulled out of line is when a TSA agent thought that my foam roller was a weapon.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


A cold, penetrating stare is worth 2 points, as is verbally expressing contempt for security screening.

Three points if you are confused by the entirely clear and sensible security procedures.

Signs of deception include giving answers that are either too clear or not clear enough.
posted by jeather at 7:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


Missing the factor that gets me flagged every time: "doesn't look northern European".
posted by Runes at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm also remembering the time I flew through O'hare with an entire carryon suitcase full of inscrutable scientific equipment and only enough clothing to pad it out, and no one batted an eye. But, y'know, I'm young and white and therefore obviously incapable of being up to anything.
posted by dorque at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's like they aren't even trying to pretend they care about efficacy, and instead asked someone to watch a bunch of episodes of 24 and write a checklist.

They've never bothered to try and run efficacy tests or statistical analysis, at least they've never tried to share the results of those.
posted by odinsdream at 7:41 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Olive skinned, bearded, high cheek bones

For the first few years after 2001, just being bearded was enough. I got the extra special treatment every time I flew, though nothing nearly as intense as friends who looked stereotypically "middle eastern" (whether or not there was any familial connection to that region or not).

I've flown a lot in the last couple of years and either they are getting a lot better at keeping the special screenings out of sight, or they are giving fewer people that treatment. Mostly these days it seems like just a mass exercise in tedium and humiliation as everyone shuffles along in their socks.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm headdesking at "wearing improper attire for location", as though many people in airports aren't there to go from cold places to warm ones and back.

Yeah, I have been detained and questioned for not wearing outdoor clothes while indoors.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've seen this in cartoons. Adam's apple, etc. Dead giveaway. They don't have someone exclaiming "GULP!" though. A crucial oversight; a large animated dog dressed in human clothes might be able to catch the red-eye to Scranton.
posted by user92371 at 7:45 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder what happens if you actually carry a red flag?
posted by thelonius at 7:47 AM on March 27, 2015 [31 favorites]


all the red flag touches
posted by indubitable at 7:50 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember in 2002 my wife got searched three times before we were allowed on the plane- security, special security, and at the gate. Great way to start a vacation. She still always gets the stink eye- mixed race with an atypical name sets off too many alarms I guess. Sad thing is- never do I or my bags get touched- and we are obviously traveling together.
posted by T10B at 7:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"FEAR INDICATORS: Bag appears to be heavier than expected or does not suit the individual's appearance".
My habit of feeling sheepish while when asked to hold my girlfriends handbag for a moment is VINDICATED BY EXPERTS!
posted by rongorongo at 7:52 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think you mean "EXPERTS".
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Direct link to PDF. It's a shitty scanned image and so far no one seems to have retyped it as text for us.

So on one hand, this kind of behavior profiling is exactly what we want security screening to be. Yes, it's obnoxious, but if you accept that TSA should be looking for bad guys then how do you want them to look for the bad guys? The approach we mostly settle on is trying to keep all weapons out. That's really not enough to guarantee security. Finding the sweaty nervous young man really could help.

OTOH this kind of profiling is dangerous, particularly when applied poorly. The American Patriot in me is troubled to see "Displays arrogance and verbally expresses contempt for the screening process". You will believe in the TSA, citizen, or else face a humiliating groping at the hands of the State. Compliance is assured.
posted by Nelson at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


I wonder what happens if you actually carry a red flag?

Games Without Frontiers!
posted by chavenet at 7:56 AM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Exaggerated yawning?

Yawning is a symptom of nervousness/anxiety.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:57 AM on March 27, 2015


"Openly displays contempt for screening process"
AKA. Just accept massive government waste and ineptitude or we will make your life hell.
posted by Flood at 7:58 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Two times I was picked for screening:

-- honeymoon flight. My spouse has a name that, if you took it apart, it would sound vaguely Arabic. So we went through the extra bag searches, with the TSA goons (A) joking at me about confiscating my trail mix and (B) giving conflicting instructions from different goons (one said stop, the other said to keep moving).

-- a business flight where I was early enough that the ticket agent at the gate offered to switch me to an earlier flight, but switching to an earlier flight triggered a security screening which made me late for that flight.
posted by Foosnark at 8:00 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]




A cold, penetrating stare is worth 2 points

I should be fine then. My penetrating stare is warm.
posted by nubs at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


This seems pretty clearly to be a standard bureaucratic CYA document. The real (implicit) directive to the TSA is to detain people who look suspicious, a totally subjective thing. This is CYA windowdressing.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Cold penetrating stare

I call this my "being female in a public space" face.
posted by phunniemee at 8:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [49 favorites]


Sibling worked for an international security firm (think security for the Olympics) and he was pulled out by TSA 'professionals' everytime he flew. He'd laugh about it, but said it was flat out profiling, probably had to do mostly with his beard and confidence, and it's essentially what they were taught to do. Go with their feels. We had good discussions about it. This checklist is exactly what he would've expected. I mean, "bad guys" isn't subjective at all.
posted by lawliet at 8:04 AM on March 27, 2015


To add to the anecdotal evidence:
I'm of mixed race, neither of which is middle eastern, but do share some of that look (if that's the right way to phrase it). In 2002/2003 I was working for the DoD, and flew over 100 flight segments each of those years. Let's just say that I've been pretty well vetted for the work I do. This was when they had the "we'll pick someone random from the line for extra searches" thing. The only flight segments where I was not picked were the ones outside the USA which were not headed towards the USA. Everything else was pretty much guaranteed to result in a search.

A lot of my trips originated from a small airport where I was one of the regulars so the staff knew me. I actually had them come up to me once and say "Mr. Runes, the incoming flight is slightly delayed and we'd like to turn it around as fast as possible. We know you know the routine, we know what's in your bags 'cause we've seen them enough times, we'd like to use you for the "random" search since we know we can process you quickly".

In the interest of fairness, this did work to my advantage once. My taxi got stuck in traffic and I called ahead to ask them to book me on the next flight. When I got to the airport there was an agent waiting at the door with a boarding pass, security rushed the inspection of my luggage and I got on the plane and they closed the door only a minute or so late.
posted by Runes at 8:07 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ah this explains the full pat down of the Amish elder in a wheelchair I observed at IND several years back. Dude was damn cheerful. For an 80 year old invalid that is.
posted by spitbull at 8:09 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Finding the sweaty nervous young man really could help

Why though? If he tries anything on the plane, his fellow passengers are going to restrain him, just as they did for Reid and Abdulmutallab. They screen for liquids/gels and they screen for obvious/not so obvious weapons. Passengers are the best line of defense now, not pseudo-science observational screening.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Huh, they've got whistling not once but twice - who are they looking for, Peter Lorre?

[swearword]! I have a tendency to whistle absent-mindedly all the time. (People don't seem to hate it - I didn't even know I did it until someone asked me why I'd stopped and said they missed it.)

Good to know. I had most of these cues guessed already but this one...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2015


They forgot the imported addendum: ignore any previous indicator if the person is using first class or speed-pass services! Surely no one able to afford business class could be wicked?
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2015 [22 favorites]


I can tell you what kind of person get pulled over. . . my son. Of Sicilian and eastern European Jewish heritage. Olive skinned, bearded, high cheek bones (yes, he is quite good-looking). He gets a going over almost every time he flies. But of course they are not profiling anyone.

Yeah no shit. I have dark hair, beard, tendency to tan dark in the summer and a big nose. I had to take a hiatus from traveling to the US for several years after 9/11 because the border patrol in the northern US can't tell the difference between a french Canadian and a terrorist and border crossing became just too uncomfortable.

Don't get me started on the time they thought my comp sci algorithm class notes were bomb plans resulting in me having to teach them the concepts behind sorting algorithms or the time a US Marshall cowboy made like he was going to draw on me and then asked "Why you nervous son?"

Crossing the U.S. border often feels like Dumb and Dumber crossed with Blazing Saddles but instead of laughter you run the risk of your life being completely destroyed.
posted by srboisvert at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2015 [42 favorites]


__________ Responds to all inquiries with the words "Two weeks."
posted by rlk at 8:13 AM on March 27, 2015 [19 favorites]


I dunno, I hate TSA as much as the next person but these seem to be pretty reasonable.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:14 AM on March 27, 2015


So on one hand, this kind of behavior profiling is exactly what we want security screening to be. Yes, it's obnoxious, but if you accept that TSA should be looking for bad guys then how do you want them to look for the bad guys? The approach we mostly settle on is trying to keep all weapons out. That's really not enough to guarantee security. Finding the sweaty nervous young man really could help.

This really isn't backed up by any evidence.
posted by odinsdream at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's worth reading the MetaFilter thread from 2009 about What Israel can teach us about (airport) security. It looks like many people's worries in that thread were spot on.
posted by zsazsa at 8:20 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I once returned from the southern hemisphere with a carry-on packed full of nothing but huge chunks of obsidian. That resulted in some head-scratching and shrugs from the functionaries.

Of course, once I used an actual mexican dog to get some ill-gotten mexcal back through customs.
TSA Brute 1, picks up my gently sloshing sea bag: Anything in here you wanna tell us about?
Me: Nah, but over here.. *gestures toward small crate*: I've got a mexican dog, sir.
TSA Brute 1, into walkie-talkie: He's got some kind of dog! It's a dog from mexico, yeah, what do I do? *pause* Okay, you need to take all your stuff and go over there to the line for people with, uh, foreign animals or pets.

I had procured clean papers for my mexican street dog that i found in a little mountain village pure-bred German Shepherd so the rest of the journey was uneventful.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:21 AM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've been thinking about this in the context of Israel's behavior profiling, too. This recent article is interesting: Israeli Aviation Security Expert Calls TSA’s Behavioral Detection Skills ‘Worthless’. It's a former security director of El Al saying behavior profiling is good but the TSA's implementation is bad.
posted by Nelson at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


just be f***ing normal, people.
posted by philip-random at 8:23 AM on March 27, 2015


93: anyone from Al-abama.
posted by biffa at 8:24 AM on March 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


The behavioral detection scale is already super-scientific, but it really needs a little legend at the bottom:

0-10 points: Less than 1% chance the subject is a terrorist. Detain for further questioning anyhow - there's still a non-zero chance of the subject being a terrorist

11-20 points: 1-10% chance of being a terrorist. Decision Point: Aggressively pepper them nonsensical questions. If they cry, they're probably not a terrorist, let them go on their way. Keep an eye on them - if they high-five their traveling companion as they walk away - gotcha! If they keep their composure during your amateur interrogation, they are a terrorist! Their jihadi training obviously toughened them up to resist your steely gaze and unprofessional yelling.

21-30 points: Ask your supervisor if they remember what is supposed to happen (this part of your training didn't make a lot of sense, and it was a while ago - who can remember?)

31+ points: Get Guantanamo on the phone and tell them to get a cot and a hood ready. You've got a live one!

Remember, this is all super-scientific, because agency would possibly spend NINE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS on behavioral detection training unless it was all rock-solid, right?
posted by etherist at 8:25 AM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


My nine year old son has some behavioural and learning difficulties, and because of that, he can come across as a little odd at times. Particularly when under stress.

We're debating a driving trip into the States this year, which I think would be easier than going through airport screening, but I'm going to be nervous about his reaction to border screening. Together, the two of us might just be enough to get the whole car searched, which will only compound the stress and anxiety.
posted by nubs at 8:33 AM on March 27, 2015


> It's a shitty scanned image and so far no one seems to have retyped it as text for us.

Either someone giftedly appalling at scanning pages made it, or this was quite deliberately made shitty. The image scan is quite high quality (from one of these, if the metadata buried in the images is to be believed), but the noise doesn't look typical of JPEG storage: it looks more like an ordered dither with some noise thrown in to look like a bad scan. The scans are very straight, too. Happy typing!
posted by scruss at 8:34 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


_ Carrying nail clipper: inspect all luggage
_ Traveling with hummus: detain and swab carefully for explosives
_ Confused about the difference between TSA policy's and agent's definitions of "safety razor": detain for extra questioning, confiscate random toiletries
_ Asks if agent knows the difference between ounces of weight and fluid ounces: ragefully threaten to ban from flying because "I don't like your attitude, I think you pose a danger to the flight"

yes, all of these have happened to me
posted by RogerB at 8:35 AM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Facial flushing while undergoing screening." So if you get red in the face as you're being groped, you're in trouble.
posted by goatdog at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is "farts smell like hummus" on the list?
posted by Catblack at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"wearing improper attire for location"

Well, people often dress for their destination. So if you see someone wearing golden sandals, a white robe, wings and a halo, consider pulling them out of line for questioning.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:45 AM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


goatdog: So if you get red in the face as you're being groped, you're in trouble.

Just close your eyes and think of England ...er, America... FREEDOM, dear.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


For the record, I'm ok with people who whistle in public getting much worse than extra security screening.
posted by cellphone at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2015 [18 favorites]


nathancaswell: "I hate TSA as much as the next person but these seem to be pretty reasonable."

One of the get you a point items is "carrying GPS equipment". Something built into practically every smart phone. That along with traveling with a buddy you are not related to and you are well on your way to extra screening.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


11-20 points: 1-10% chance of being a terrorist. Decision Point: Aggressively pepper them nonsensical questions.

In a previous thread, I pointed out that despite the very diligent and thoughtful screening processes at American airports, I did not fly into or out of one for more than a decade. When I broke my long absence from the US two years ago, I landed at Logan. At immigration control when I handed over my passport, and the very first question asked of me by the immigration officer was, "How long have you been gone?" When I dubiously answered, "Er, from the US? Twelve years." I had a bunch of follow-up questions about what I had been doing all that time and how could I have been working and did I have a working visa to show to account for this supposed job, etc.

It transpired that he thought I was American. Yes, the first line of defense (while examining my Canadian passport in his hands) could not work out what country I was from.

That along with traveling with a buddy you are not related to and you are well on your way to extra screening.

I have also discovered that traveling with a buddy you are not related to and who is Arab by extraction gets you more questions than if you are solo and derived from Northern European stock. Quite a few more, in fact.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:01 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the next time I fly I'll stand in line doing a C3PO impression up until I pass the checkpoint... either that or Baymax ("Are you satisfied with your service TSA person? Great, I'll proceed to the pressurized tube then... *squeaky* *squeaky* *squeaky* *squeaky*")
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been intercepted for throwing a cold stare at a TSA agent who was obviously going down the line looking for victims. I wanted to strangle him. Mea culpa, behavior police.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:05 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


A German woman my brother used to work with is a Middle East scholar. She had a lot of trouble when she entered the US, with her passport covered in stamps from Jordan, Israel, Syria, etc. So the Germans just gave her a new passport. The next time she travelled here, no problems. So really the TSA should be treating passports with no visa stamps as suspicious, too!
posted by thelonius at 9:07 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


First check if the passenger has the mark of the goat, or an unusual birthmark, or has been seen covorting with the devil behind Goody Wainwright's shed.
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dr Dracator: "Huh, they've got whistling not once but twice - who are they looking for, Peter Lorre?"

Rick, Rick! Help me Rick! I'm not a terrorist. Tell them Rick, please Rick!
posted by Splunge at 9:36 AM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


SECTION 4: SIGNS OF DECEPTION
...
_______ Excessive complaints about the screening process


I just...I don't even know what to say anymore. It's literally the case that questioning TSA procedures is considered a sign that you might be a terrorist. I want to laugh, or cry, but I'm just angry. Angry that we let this happen, angry that there's no chance of rolling it back because any attempt at reform will be met by flag-waving idiots demanding to know if I want another 9/11.

Fuck, I don't know. Happy Friday, everyone.
posted by jcreigh at 9:43 AM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


the noise doesn't look typical of JPEG storage: it looks more like an ordered dither with some noise thrown in to look like a bad scan

Huh, that's interesting. I'm not qualified to make that judgement. But I wonder if it's a deliberate attempt to obscure any watermarks in the source?
posted by Nelson at 10:05 AM on March 27, 2015


What was this "billion dollars" spent on? I'd guess it was on studies and pay to upper management types so that the, uh, not very bright "agents" at the gates have something to look for...since it's now forbidden to do any kind of ethnic/racial profiling.

In other words, it's OK to pull someone for some kind of invasive screening due to different clothing, facial hair, or various/random affect displays...but don't even mention ethnicity.

Note: I can't imagine the mindset it would take to spend eight hours a day, after day, after day staring at and scanning people in a queue, constantly telling them what to do, where to stand, take off shoes, empty pockets...dealing with impatience and irritated people who have been standing in lines for long periods. Ugh.
posted by CrowGoat at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2015


I feel soooooooooooooooooooo much safer knowing that the checklist for Things A Terrorist Might Do In An Airport is 90% the same as the checklist for Things A Person Who Has 12+ Hours of Airline Travel in Their Future Might Do In An Airport.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2015


I don't trust the nekkid picture machine, so I'm an opt out every time, which means I pretty much always get the pat down. I have to say that, in general, the TSA officers doing it are professional and reasonable and generally pretty good-natured to me -- an older white guy usually in business casual, though with the dreaded beard.

I was flying about a month ago, though, and the guy was almost maniacally thorough. I've been through dozens of these and this guy was checking places no one has ever checked before -- under my shirt collar, in my pants cuffs, etc. Finally I ask him what's up, and he says he's due for testing, so sometime in the next few days someone in the stream is going to have something hidden somewhere, and he has to find it or he's in trouble. So I'm sorry, but it's just a bad day to be an opt out -- now please stand with your feet slightly apart, I'll be using the backs of my hands . . .
posted by The Bellman at 10:18 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I hate TSA as much as the next person but these seem to be pretty reasonable.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:14 AM on March 27



[squinting] Alright, put that guy on the watchlist.
posted by General Tonic at 10:28 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


The "deductions" for being over 55 if female, 65 if male, 55 if in an "apparent married couple," or if a "member of a family" are just as absurd as the rest of it. And it's great to know that since I'm male and part of a same-sex couple that "males 20-40 years old traveling together who are NOT part of a family" get extra attention. I'm not under 40, but is a TSA thug going to give a shit about my age if I'm traveling with another male and "NOT part of a family"? Because of course a same-sex couple isn't a family.
posted by blucevalo at 10:31 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


You think that bulge in my clothing is a FEAR factor, but maybe I'm just hoping for some secondary screening.
posted by meinvt at 10:38 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because of course a same-sex couple isn't a family.

Hey now, Obama's faceless security apparatus recognizes all marriages!

I don't actually know this to be true.
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 10:42 AM on March 27, 2015


Finally I ask him what's up, and he says he's due for testing, so sometime in the next few days someone in the stream is going to have something hidden somewhere, and he has to find it or he's in trouble.

Note that even when the security apparatus knows something is coming through as a test, things can go amiss sometimes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2015


Sorry, looks like a couple of dead links there. Here is another account.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2015


Citizen, pick up that can.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I always opt out of the scanner machines (not the metal detectors, but the full body scanners). Never been in one.

I'm always asked if I want to go to a room for privacy. Holy shit, who says yes to this? The only thing I trust less than a security apparatus that uses security theatre and doesn't understand treat modeling is those same folks in a room without witnesses. Yeah, I'll always opt for the witnesses, thanks much.
posted by el io at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is why I no longer drink during layovers. I have a bad attitude about security theater and if I drink I develop the attitude of a Hell's Angel being stopped by Barney Fife.
posted by ITravelMontana at 11:05 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


how many points for "strips butt nekkid and walks through metal detector"?
posted by despues at 11:17 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Delayed Response to Questions"

A couple years ago the family traveled to England on vacation. After the all-night flight, during which I didn't sleep, and being herded through a half-hour line at customs at 6am, my son and I stepped up to the counter. The UK customs agent asked "Purpose of your visit?" and I just completely blanked. "Uh.... uhh ... uhhh...." before blurting out "tourism," which didn't even sound right to me. The agent grilled us for about 10 minutes—where were we staying? what were going to do? occupation? return flight? where were we from? etc., then repeating some of the same questions before finally letting us go. So if you're asked that stumper by a customs guy trying to trip you up, the answer is "Vacation!"
posted by stargell at 11:29 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Used to fly regularly between BOS and SFO when the SPOTnicks first appeared. When asked to say/pronounce my name I would spell it as M-R--Z-E-I-K-K-A. They might ask for my first name then and I'd ask for theirs as we weren't on first name basis. Or if asked asked where I was headed to I'd say that I am going home/ work/gate 34/ airplane. Never, ever I would give any sensical answers. Sometimes they'd get pissed, especially since I'd also opt-out from the scanners, but it got to the point that security theatre people started to know me at both ends and it was generally quick. I did get some retaliatory attacks on my genitals during few pat downs as a result though.

With the US border patrol and customs I always had much more compliant tactic as I was not a citizen until recently. I would always declare every single thing to the point of including the free newspaper I took from the plane or candy bar I didn't eat. However, I would never volunteer any information and just answer with one word if possible.

Once in Madrid they had the "extra" security for US bound flights at the gate. They asked whether I had kept all my luggage with me since packing them. I answered truthfully that I hadn't [and maybe rolled my eyes]. The lady gets angry with me and asks what I mean. I stated [correctly] that I had checked my baggage with Iberia in Barcelona and I had no idea what they had done with it since. She got even angrier and told me that I knew that wasn't what she was asking about. I just told her that I couldn't guess what she was asking about and wanted to answer truthfully [and maybe rolled my eyes more] ... *

* Play at your own risk. I never had anything illegal, nor hid any information and have northern european pigmentation
posted by zeikka at 11:48 AM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


"dry mouth"? Have these people ever been on an airplane?
posted by joeyh at 12:06 PM on March 27, 2015


dorque: "I'm also remembering the time I flew through O'hare with an entire carryon suitcase full of inscrutable scientific equipment and only enough clothing to pad it out, and no one batted an eye. But, y'know, I'm young and white and therefore obviously incapable of being up to anything."

To be fair, O'Hare led the nation's airports several years running in knives, guns, and other implements let slip through security. It's possible that ORD's security wasn't so much profiling you as COMPLETELY FAILING TO CARE about security.

The Whelk: "Surely no one able to afford business class could be wicked?"

It's like you don't even understand capitalism.

blucevalo: "nd it's great to know that since I'm male and part of a same-sex couple that "males 20-40 years old traveling together who are NOT part of a family" get extra attention"

Shit, now I need to know if GAY-married men under age 30 get the marriage discount on their car insurance or not ... are young gay-married men statistically safer drivers like straight-married men are? Are insurance companies allowed to differentiate if there's a statistical difference? I NEED TO KNOW.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2015


I want to meet the incredible individual who approaches the screen while whistling, appearing to be in disguise, and brandishing an explosives training manual they have no apparent reason to possess. As long as they maintain constant and unceasing eye contact with security personnel, it's only 5 points, no automatic LEO notification. Unless they shaved recently. Then they're in trouble.
posted by Errant at 12:35 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


So I guess if you are a terrorist, and find some maniac willing to blow himself to kingdom come, you just send him through screening over and over empty-handed (and ignorant of the real nature of his payload) until he stops getting screened, then do your evil deed.
posted by popechunk at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2015


This screening list probably catches every person leaving Las Vegas on a morning flight.
posted by popechunk at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2015


It's good to know that my standard stressed/anxiety symptoms are also symptoms of terrorism.

"Doctor, I'm going to be flying soon, I need tranquilizers."
"Are you afraid of planes?"
"No, I love flying. I'm afraid of the TSA misinterpreting my anxiety disorder."
posted by cmyk at 12:48 PM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm 6′ 2″ with broad shoulders, long hair, and a brooding mien. Despite being a complete teddy bear, I apparently look dangerous enough that I have on many occasions made strangers nervous by my mere approach.

My business partner is 5′ something, and conventionally attractive, including having a large bust. She's friendly and boisterous.

We're both plainly white. Guess which one of us gets pulled out of line every single time?
posted by ob1quixote at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2015


My nephew says he gets singled out because of his birth date: September 11th. True story!
posted by Superfrankenstein at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2015


It's literally the case that questioning TSA procedures is considered a sign that you might be a terrorist.

Someone at TSA misunderstood the term confirmation bias, I guess.
posted by phearlez at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2015


This more or less looks like my kindergarten report card. (I passed whistling, FWIW)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I fly out of Boston Logan pretty regularly (and almost always with the same terminal/airline), and I've noticed particularly over the last maybe 4 or 5 years that they are constantly shuffling around there screening techniques.

A couple years ago, they seemed to be testing out a new interrogation thing on all passengers, at the point where you show your ticket and photo ID to the TSA person right before going through the baggage scan line. All the agents were totally stone faced, and asked a bunch of questions, like why was I going on this trip (um, visiting my parents for Christmas?), what was I doing in Boston, and several other questions that I don't remember. There was a couple directly in front of me, who apparently were both going to visit their (same) home town, and he was asking them things like how they met, how far apart their parents houses were from each other, etc.

The thing is, this seemed to be like the worst possible way to detect "terrorists." I mean, I think a lot of people are uncomfortable when they have a person in uniform who is interrogating them about personal information. Not to mention, this is completely within ear shot of a bunch of people, so yeah, I didn't really want to get in to how I was unemployed and primarily spending my days going to multiple therapy appointments. Also, my brain is just not firing on all cylinders when I've had to get up super early to get on a flight. There's nothing that makes people act more suspicious than treating them with suspicion.

Still, I don't think I've ever gotten pulled aside for extra screening, which I'm guessing is because I'm a petite, white twenty something female, with a really common last name.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "dry mouth"? Have these people ever been on an airplane?

Everybody knows that only speed freaks suffer from a dry mouth.
posted by scruss at 3:10 PM on March 27, 2015


Looking at other passengers? Are you fucking kidding me? When I'm in one of those snaking lines, my single pleasure is people watching. I people watch all the fucking time.

Maybe that was the reason I got pulled out of the line at JFK.

Or maybe it was because I had had a few cocktails and forgot to remove several metal objects from my person. Actually I was a complete idiot and forgot to remove my belt. Then I still had my phone in my pocket. After three tries, it was naked machine time. Then I still left my phone in a tray and had to go back and find it. The TSA guy that retrieved it for me thought I was hilarious. I guess this is a semi-positive TSA comment. Honestly, thinking back, I wouldn't blame them for going hard core on me. I was a schmuck that time.
posted by Splunge at 5:05 PM on March 27, 2015


I mean, I think a lot of people are uncomfortable when they have a person in uniform who is interrogating them about personal information.

Exactly this. The first time I encountered this at BOS a few years ago, I was certain I was going to end up getting detained. I'd already opted out--and had to argue about it, even, because the agent tried to convince me that going through was "perfectly safe"--and then they started with the questions, delivered rapid-fire in a really harsh, accusatory way: Where are you going? Why? Who are you staying with? What street do they live on? Where do you work? and there's just no normal response to be had on the other side of that. I was very spluttery, and had no idea what street my hosts lived on, and might have forgotten how to spell my own middle name if they'd asked me. After I was finally let through, I overheard a similar interaction in the next line, and they were grilling a guy about how many employees his company had. WTF?

At this point I'd almost be more suspicious of people who seem prepared for these questions. (I mean obviously not really, because at this point I do prepare for them for my own peace of mind! But still.)

This all still makes me very sad and angry. If I didn't value my faraway friends and family as much as I did, I'd give up flying.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:10 PM on March 27, 2015


AnecdoteFilter:

I'm pretty sure the scanner isn't gonna give me cancer any more than the radiation I'll take from the flight itself, which is much more substantial, so I go through the scanner. I doff my belt, coat, hat, shoes, etc.

I go in and they make you do the superhero pose, then the scanner, which is on a rotating mechanism, violently rotates from my upper left to my lower right. I'm like "okay", and then it slowly rotates from my lower left hip to my upper right shoulder. I twist slightly, following the motion for half an inch or so, okay maybe an inch, before I remember that you should stand still.

The thing beeps, they tell me to walk to the exit and stand on the feet prints. I do so, and see the two TSA people manning the station. It's an older woman and a tall kid who might as well have been wearing a paper trainee hat. I'm standing there, when I see the kid go totally white.

The older woman gives me the once over, I'm wearing a tight-ish button up shirt over a tshirt and jeans. "Did you move?" I only have to lean forward a little to look at the monitor, which is positioned like the target on a dunk tank, and there's a picture of me covered in explosives. I sheepishly say that I did. She says go back in, and put that chap stick that's in your pocket in your hand. "Oh, try closing your eyes this time." I think she thought it was funner than I did.

You rock, L******.
posted by Sphinx at 6:26 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Despite my Muslim-country passport & name, I don't actually get pulled aside all that much at US airports. I think the fact that I present Western-female is in my favor. Though one time upon arrival my bags got an extra check, and the guy was obviously not even trying.

Australia though, sigh. There was one point in time where I was flying out of BNE three times in a month, and every single time I got pulled aside for an extra security check. To the point that the security guys RECOGNIZED me. Random my ass.
posted by divabat at 6:41 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I hate TSA as much as the next person but these seem to be pretty reasonable.

I cover my mouth when I talk, I avoid eye contact but like watching the other people, I go pink and look down, I'm partially deaf so sometimes there's a delay while I work out what someone has said.

But I get waved through with barely a glance or at most a kindly admonition for me to be careful, little lady, even though even I feel like I am a suspicious character based on my behavior. No one views me as a threat.

The reason these are unreasonable criteria is because they all come with an unspoken rider of 'these rules only apply for certain kinds of people', which makes them useless because no one who did the list ever watched The Battle of Algiers.
posted by winna at 7:21 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


German woman my brother used to work with is a Middle East scholar. She had a lot of trouble when she entered the US, with her passport covered in stamps from Jordan, Israel, Syria, etc. So the Germans just gave her a new passport. The next time she travelled here, no problems. So really the TSA should be treating passports with no visa stamps as suspicious, too!

Wouldn't she have needed one to visit most Arab/Islamic countries after getting an Israeli stamp?

It happened to an ex of mine, who had studied Arabic at university and travelled around the Middle East for work and tourism; her trip to Israel made it impossible for her to visit much of the rest of the Middle East (and also Indonesia and Malaysia) without getting a new passport. The UK, apparently, will discreetly provide second passports to anybody in such a situation (though the documentation doesn't name the contentious states in question).
posted by acb at 7:27 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised I only had LEO called in once, about a month after 9/11. Maybe it's because I opt out every time (no Xray or MMW for me, thanks), but if they are paying attention I'd be at 10 or 12 points every time.

Typically I just get a cursory pat and have never had them actually make indirect contact with my scrotum, although they have done the under the belt/collar thing and even got a bit of a scalp massage once. It's been almost 2 years since I last flew, though. Come to think of it, the last one wasn't commercial, it was "drive up to the jet." Until then it was several times a year, though. Maybe it was the Flyertalk bag tag. I know it helped out one time when the screener (that's how small the airport was) was too busy talking to me about FT to bother looking at the Xray display.

Funny thing though, it wasn't 9/11 that changed everything. It was Richard fucking Reid. Things weren't significantly worse than pre-9/11 until that asshole made them go apeshit and make us take off our shoes and pose naked.

In the immediate aftermath it was just National Guardspeople with their rifles, turning the sensitivity on the metal detectors up high enough that a small belt buckle or eyelets on your shoes would trigger it, and the occasional gate screening. I was so annoyed when I went from being through a checkpoint in 30 seconds to a minimum of 10 minutes. At first they were really vindictive about opt outs. They would take literally at least 15 minutes to get someone to come grope you. Well, not really grope at that point. They weren't yet allowed to rub your crotch with the back of their hand.

At the time I didn't care, since it was highly unlikely I wouldn't be accommodated on the next flight. (Frequent flier elite tiers are nice, yo, sorry if you got bumped because the TSA made me miss the flight I was supposed to be on, not that more than 4 or 5 of those were full anyway. Load factors were terrible then. More than once it was just me and the crew on a 100+ seat jet)
posted by wierdo at 7:43 PM on March 27, 2015


Wouldn't she have needed one to visit most Arab/Islamic countries after getting an Israeli stamp?

When I went to Israel about 5 years ago or so we actually were given a sticker that you could take off after you returned from your trip instead of a stamp. I'm assuming it was to help get around that. (I was visiting from the US on Birthright Israel, so maybe things are different coming from different countries/under different circumstances.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:35 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Funny thing though, it wasn't 9/11 that changed everything. It was Richard fucking Reid.

This. Definitely this. I mean, I can live with taking off my shoes even though I think it's pointless, but please just let me bring my damn Diet Coke through security. I'm starting to suspect that the whole no liquids thing is secretly supported by the airport vendors, so that they can charge me three bucks for a bottle of Dasani water. Not o mention it's nearly impossible for me to find seltzer at most of those news stand places. And don't even get me started on when I have a flight at 5 am and none of the airport stores are open, and my only option to swallow my pre-flight tranquilizer is the lukewarm water fountain. I'm sorry, but fuck that shit.

And you know what really gets me? You're allowed to bring a lighter on a plane. You can bring multiple lighters! And this isn't even one of those, if we don't catch you things. At least as of a couple years ago, you were not allowed to put lighters in your checked baggage, but you were more than welcome to bring them on the flight with you. I mean, I can't bring a sealed bottle of Diet Coke through security, but I can bring multiple Bic lighters? Really? I feel like we could eliminate a lot of risks by just banning all lighters and matches. After all, Richard Reid's entire plan hinged on him using a match.

Of course, looking at some of these most recent plane crashes, it seems like the real danger comes from incompetent or suicidal pilots, or you know, someone shooting a missile at your plane. By all means, x ray my stuff, and please, ban lighters from planes, but I feel pretty confident saying that making millions of people take off their shoes and throw out their drinks has not made us even the slightest bit safer, and I don't think this TSA checklist is going to do a bit of good either.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:56 PM on March 27, 2015


This might be what they are supposed to be looking for, but after a recent four leg flight where I got randomly selected for explosives screening four times, I finally asked outright if I was doing anything suspicious.

They said no, the opposite. I was young, white, female and smiled, so they figured I was less likely to shout at them that I was too important for this, or make any complaints about being unfairly profiled. They said they like to pick people who will be agreeable about being patted down.
posted by lollusc at 9:49 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I now take a drug whose listed side effects include (occasional) uncontrollable yawning. Good thing I'm a middle-aged white woman or I'd be in trouble.
posted by immlass at 9:53 PM on March 27, 2015


popechunk: "So I guess if you are a terrorist, and find some maniac willing to blow himself to kingdom come, you just send him through screening over and over empty-handed (and ignorant of the real nature of his payload) until he stops getting screened, then do your evil deed."

This has always been the case. The 9/11 hijackers took multiple practice flights.
posted by Mitheral at 10:31 PM on March 27, 2015


You're allowed to bring a lighter on a plane. You can bring multiple lighters!

Are you sure? I flew to the US from Heathrow this summer, and had my carry-on bag emptied and wipe-tested (for explosives, I guess) because I had two lighters.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:21 PM on March 27, 2015


A few years ago I flew on a plane with pepper spray in my purse. I didn't even realize I had forgotten to take it out of the bag until I was already on the plane and found it in my purse. I was super relieved TSA didn't catch it when it went through the scanner. That was a close call. Now I always make sure to check all the contents of my purse before taking a flight.
posted by rancher at 5:20 AM on March 28, 2015


Divabat wrote: There was one point in time where I was flying out of BNE three times in a month, and every single time I got pulled aside for an extra security check.

I've had bad experiences with BNE too. The last time I was called out for extra screening I pleasantly asked the screener "We both know this is security theatre. Did you pick me because you think a parent with small children is an easy target?"

I said this while I was lifting my bag to the counter for inspection. She called over her supervisor who started lecturing me about being uncooperative and so forth. Honestly, they're jackbooted little Mussolinis. The ridiculous thing is, if someone did want to attack an airport they would do it in the cramped, crowded, impossible-to-escape-from security area. It's just the stupidest design imaginable.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:30 AM on March 28, 2015


They said no, the opposite. I was young, white, female and smiled, so they figured I was less likely to shout at them that I was too important for this, or make any complaints about being unfairly profiled. They said they like to pick people who will be agreeable about being patted down.

There was a period some years back where my partner was getting the special searches almost every time she flew. Our theory was that there was more than a bit of perving involved -- they would offer to get a woman staffer, "If you don't mind waiting..." Then it suddenly stopped -- either she aged out of the "young and unlikely to complain" category, or their procedures changed; I don't think she has gotten any extra searches since then.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:33 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I flew to the US from Heathrow this summer, and had my carry-on bag emptied and wipe-tested

According to this TSA page, there was a time where they were banned, but as of 2007, you are allowed to bring lighters in your carry on.

My first inclination was to say that maybe it's different on international flights, but that page also says the US is the only country in the world to ever ban lighters. Still, my hunch is that they are probably most stringent when it comes to international flights coming to the US. Out of curiosity, did they let you keep the lighters?

I quit smoking a couple years ago, but I was a smoker for awhile, which is why I first looked into this issue, and I can say that of the multiple flights I took in which I was carrying lighters in my carry on, I never once got any extra screening or had lighters confiscated. Maybe it also helped that I always had cigarettes on me. I could imagine they might give extra scrutiny to someone with like 10 lighters and no cigarettes (or cigars), but then again, it's not exactly hard to throw in a pack of cigarettes if you wanted to have a cover for bringing lighters on a plane.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:05 PM on March 28, 2015


Out of curiosity, did they let you keep the lighters?

No, I had to pick one.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:03 PM on March 28, 2015


(Oh and I was smoking at the time, and also carrying a bunch of duty-free tobacco as a gift for a friend I was visiting, who is a notorious unintentional lighter thief, hence the multiple lighters.)
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:07 PM on March 28, 2015


either she aged out of the "young and unlikely to complain" category

One of the transition points of life in the age of the post-9/11 Forever War.
posted by acb at 5:56 AM on March 29, 2015


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