Dear America, I Saw You Naked
And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.
I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilotsâ€”the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.
Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the groupâ€”a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.
There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.
Most of my co-workers found humor in the I.O. room on a cruder level. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women whoâ€™d had mastectomies were easy to discernâ€”their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred posesâ€”mouths agape, Ã la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.
There were other types of bad behavior in the I.O. roomâ€”I personally witnessed quite a bit of fooling around, in every sense of the phrase. Officers who were dating often conspired to get assigned to the I.O. room at the same time, where they analyzed the nude images with one eye apiece, at best. Every now and then, a passenger would throw up two middle fingers during his or her scan, as though somehow aware of the transgressions going on.
But the only people who hated the body-scanners more than the public were TSA employees themselves.
Which is at least somewhat to their credit, I suppose. But they went along with it anyway, just like the rest of us did. And all of it for nothing, at least in terms of actual security, except the psychological advantage granted to the police state by yet another sheep-like capitulation: the inuring of the populace to another encroachment on their dignity, their self-respect, their self-determination. And each little bite leads inexorably to another one. If you haven’t figured that out by now, you need to wake the fuck up and start paying attention. The monstrous Superstate will never, ever have enough; its appetite for liberty is never sated.
Read on to find out just how well those vaunted full-body scanners and the other kabuki machinations work at stopping terrorists. No doubt this guy can look for a visit from some fully-militarized federal alphabet-soup goon squad or other real soon now. Bottom line:
My roommates told me I would be stupid to go. After all, if some government official was going to sit me down for questioning about my involvement with an anonymous whistleblower site, the exit interview would be the place it would happen.
I decided to show. I had committed no crime in daring to speak out; I had only provided information the public had a right to know. As I saw it, $40 million in taxpayer dollars had been wasted on ineffective anti-terrorism security measures at the expense of the publicâ€™s health, privacy and dignity.
And that’s a feature, not a bug. Via Ed, who wastes his time on futility:
Of course, one reason this story is so compelling is precisely because it confirms our previous assessments of TSA, both as travelers and in overall analysis of their function. Itâ€™s still one manâ€™s perception of the environment, albeit one man who did go to some risk to publicize these issues while still at TSA. Harrington studied writing while working at TSA, and it shows; itâ€™s an entertaining and compelling read, and tends to reduce the skepticism we would normally apply to tales from self-described disgruntled workers.
Itâ€™s compelling enough that Congress should invite Harrington to discuss these issues in hearings, and haul some of his former superiors and fellow agents to explain themselves. If Harrington is exaggerating or making the error of applying a local experience into a global rule, a fair hearing will bear that out. But given the experiences that Americans have had with this intrusive and perplexing TSA security regime, we are owed some accountability for its performance, and an answer to the issues that Harrington raises.
Yeah, that’s gonna take care of it. Another “blue-ribbon panel,” more useless, tail-chasing “hearings” and “investigations” that lead nowhere–seeking “answers” we already know but refuse to confront honestly, to questions that amount to nothing more than a way of shielding ourselves from the ugly truth. Hey, maybe some peon or other will resign in “disgrace,” going on to collect his full pension after the dust settles a la Lois Lerner. And somebody can set up a countdown website: Day 768 of the TSA scandal: can’t get no satisfaction edition!
Oh, please. Somebody put on some Lee Greenwood and crank it up, quick-like.