Welcome to the (TSA) machine

Not so long ago, there ran a common, bitter joke that we would all one day have to fly naked. Anybody laughing at that one now?

by Colby Cosh

“We’re taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” President George W. Bush, June 9, 2005. Of all the nose-stretchers W ever told, this one rings the most hollow in 2010, with American air travellers said to be in a state of “revolt” against the system of industrialized sexual assault that has been implemented in their airports. The more the United States takes the fight to the terrorists abroad, the hotter the war being raged against the travelling civilian by the Transportation Security Administration. Not so long ago, there ran a common, bitter joke that we would all one day have to fly naked. Anybody laughing at that one now?

The term “revolt” is not exactly freighted with the violent overtones it once was. The most radical of the revolutionaries who have captured the American imagination in recent weeks is a fellow named John Tyner, whose blow for liberty took the form of refusing to submit to either being photographed in the nude or subjected to an “enhanced” groping, and then, most treacherously of all, leaving the “security area” of the airport without permission—a federal offence that could see him fined up to $11,000. He didn’t black the eye or batter the groin of any TSA personnel, and he certainly didn’t barrage Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano with rotten eggs and filth.

There is probably no sense blaming the employees of the TSA, although if we’re really talking with “revolt” as our underlying moral premise, not being blameworthy doesn’t mean you are not an appropriate target of abuse. The airport rage of Americans is being fuelled by legitimately illogical, cruel, dumbass moves by frontline TSA workers—errors that, for the most part, represent the inflexible application of rules in situations that either (1) were not anticipated, (2) do not arise often enough to be covered in training, or (3) simply aren’t amenable to handling according to a script or a 20-word official doctrine.

In other words, America is keeping its airports safe the way it builds its cars and fights its wars: on the assembly-line model. It has been presented with an enormous responsibility to create safety, or the appearance of safety, over a huge universe of flights and passengers; it probably cannot, unlike Israel, approach this problem by training a small corps of intelligent persons and leaving them free to improvise, applying general principles using nuance and extensive local knowledge.

Given that merely living with the threat level we were all exposed to without much complaint in the 1980s is no longer an option, the Republic has to break down the great task of making-safe into small chunks that can be taught to people with IQs of 85—and taught by people with IQs of 105. The U.S. Army helped liberate Europe, a couple of times over, by means of the same industrial methods. (There’s a reason that in both the British-Canadian fighter and bomber commands during the Second World War, pilots and other crew who displayed particular talent were made instructors very quickly; not infrequently they became instructors of instructors.)

But generals and factory owners have continuous Darwinian pressure helping them with the organizing of human capital. Airport security officers aren’t easy to evaluate, even collectively—we don’t know how much value there is in having a TSA at all. Individually, the workers are like the household tiger repellent in the old joke. Are they of any use? Well, when was the last time you saw any tigers around here?

Without competitive pressure, any industrial apparatus becomes increasingly bloated and clumsy. The market for subsidized tiger repellent is potentially unlimited. TSA is going to get worse before it gets better—especially with new arbitrary prohibitions being fed into the system every time there’s a failed terrorist attack.




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Welcome to the (TSA) machine

    • Unfortunately that may not be regarded as a failure by the powers that be. Less people flying makes their job easier. The airlines may not be too happy but nobody ever seems to have much sympathy for failing airlines, so that's not a big deal.

      That said there's a lot of people who either need to fly for business reasons or like to fly for personal reasons and will continue to jump through all the additional hoops as they get added. I wish you well on your boycott, it is your personal choice to not jump through the hoops on command. I just hope you're not the type that enjoys travel and are depriving yourself of it for the rest of your life because you're insecure about an admittedly kinda pointless full body scan.

    • This is completely unrealistic for some people, especially in a country this large. If someone from Halifax could take the train to Toronto in less than 28 hours or to Edmonton in less than four days, perhaps a boycott would be an option.

      I prefer Penn's approach of charging the groper with assault: ,
      but as Penn says "freedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I'll spend to find out how to get people more of it."

  1. Careful Colby, you're getting awfully close to touching their junk…

  2. Careful Colby, you're getting awfully close to touching their junk…

  3. Colby, you've got it right, unfortunately.

  4. Unfortunately that may not be regarded as a failure by the powers that be. Less people flying makes their job easier. The airlines may not be too happy but nobody ever seems to have much sympathy for failing airlines, so that's not a big deal.

    That said there's a lot of people who either need to fly for business reasons or like to fly for personal reasons and will continue to jump through all the additional hoops as they get added. I wish you well on your boycott, it is your personal choice to not jump through the hoops on command. I just hope you're not the type that enjoys travel and are depriving yourself of it for the rest of your life because you're insecure about an admittedly kinda pointless full body scan.

  5. Alternatively, Western governments could hunt down and kill the terrorists before they kill any of us, protecting citizens is supposed to be the first priority of government.

  6. The question people might want to get answers on is if this information is being recorded. Or better yet, why do these devices even have the ability to record these images. It is a stated fact by TSA officials that these scanners have the ability to record the images, but have them turned off to recording. So, why would one have it able to record unless there was something sinister behind it in the first place.

  7. The question people might want to get answers on is if this information is being recorded. Or better yet, why do these devices even have the ability to record these images. It is a stated fact by TSA officials that these scanners have the ability to record the images, but have them turned off to recording. So, why would one have it able to record unless there was something sinister behind it in the first place.

    • Recording the image probably has something to do with probable cause for further detention and prosecution.

  8. The events leading up to this go further back than 9/11. Less than a hundred years ago you could travel from any part of the world to any part of the world without papers, permission or jumping through government hoops. Now you can't because we have meekly sacrificed our freedom of movement to our our fears ever since then.

  9. The events leading up to this go further back than 9/11. Less than a hundred years ago you could travel from any part of the world to any part of the world without papers, permission or jumping through government hoops. Now you can't because we have meekly sacrificed our freedom of movement to our our fears ever since then.

    • I blame Russia

  10. This proves the need for F-35s.

  11. This proves the need for F-35s.

  12. "Without competitive pressure,"

    According to the Homeland Security Act, airports are free to hire private security personnel in place of the TSA. That is becoming a much more enticing option for airlines that want to keep their business.

  13. "Without competitive pressure,"

    According to the Homeland Security Act, airports are free to hire private security personnel in place of the TSA. That is becoming a much more enticing option for airlines that want to keep their business.

  14. " ….. In a stroke, the young man ascended to myth, or at least the next edition of Bartlett's, warning the agent not to "touch my junk."

    Not quite the 18th-century elegance of "Don't Tread on Me," but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket. What the modern battle cry lacks in archaic charm, it makes up for in full-body syllabic punch.

    Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare – get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back ….. " C Krauthammer, Washington Post, Nov 19, 2010

    Did you need a quote to start your post, Cosh, because I am not sure how Bush' pants are on fire for this. Naked scans and full body pat downs are all Obama's doing. It is just one decision of many by Obama that Americans have come to loathe.

  15. " ….. In a stroke, the young man ascended to myth, or at least the next edition of Bartlett's, warning the agent not to "touch my junk."

    Not quite the 18th-century elegance of "Don't Tread on Me," but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket. What the modern battle cry lacks in archaic charm, it makes up for in full-body syllabic punch.

    Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare – get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back ….. " C Krauthammer, Washington Post, Nov 19, 2010

    Did you need a quote to start your post, Cosh, because I am not sure how Bush' pants are on fire for this. Naked scans and full body pat downs are all Obama's doing. It is just one decision of many by Obama that Americans have come to loathe.

    • Except that Obama didn't make any such decision.

      • "President Barack Obama stood by new controversial screening measures Saturday, calling methods such as pat-downs and body scans necessary to assure airline safety …. The president said such methods are needed after what happened December 25, 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria allegedly boarded ….. " CNN, Nov 21, 2010

        You better let Obama know than, Emily, because he's under the impression that he has made decisions.

    • Oh please, the TSA was created by Republicans, staffed by Republicans, and enriching Republicans (see Chertoff, Michael). Good try, but sadly for you my memory is longer than the average voter.

      Krauthammer? You're kidding right? I didn't see him complaining about government stepping on his freedoms at ANY point between 2001 and 2008.

      Sorry for the snark but Tea Partiers are johnny-come-latelies(sp?) to the true libertarians who have been loud and vocal since the Patriot Act was slammed down people's throats in 2001.

      • DHS was created with bi-partisan support following 9/11 and modelled after a proposal from a 3-year, senior statesmen commission examining international security challenges of the 21st Century.

        Hope this helps.

  16. Not so long ago, there ran a common, bitter joke that we would all one day have to fly naked. Anybody laughing at that one now?

    Well, this guy sure isn't.

    When a San Diego man opted out of security screening using the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) at Lindbergh Field Friday, he stripped down to his underwear in an attempt to avoid the pat-down procedures.

  17. Not so long ago, there ran a common, bitter joke that we would all one day have to fly naked. Anybody laughing at that one now?

    Well, this guy sure isn't.

    When a San Diego man opted out of security screening using the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) at Lindbergh Field Friday, he stripped down to his underwear in an attempt to avoid the pat-down procedures.

  18. Except that Obama didn't make any such decision.

  19. "President Barack Obama stood by new controversial screening measures Saturday, calling methods such as pat-downs and body scans necessary to assure airline safety …. The president said such methods are needed after what happened December 25, 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria allegedly boarded ….. " CNN, Nov 21, 2010

    You better let Obama know than, Emily, because he's under the impression that he has made decisions.

  20. Oh please, the TSA was created by Republicans, staffed by Republicans, and enriching Republicans (see Chertoff, Michael). Good try, but sadly for you my memory is longer than the average voter.

    Krauthammer? You're kidding right? I didn't see him complaining about government stepping on his freedoms at ANY point between 2001 and 2008.

    Sorry for the snark but Tea Partiers are johnny-come-latelies(sp?) to the true libertarians who have been loud and vocal since the Patriot Act was slammed down people's throats in 2001.

  21. To me it doesn't even come down to liberty vs security. It's a lose-lose proposition. Does anyone really think that if a terrorist/'bad guy' wants to do soemthing bad these new TSA (and Canadian equivalent) procedures will actually stop them? If you believe it, then I've got a bridge in Yarmouth to sell you.

  22. To me it doesn't even come down to liberty vs security. It's a lose-lose proposition. Does anyone really think that if a terrorist/'bad guy' wants to do soemthing bad these new TSA (and Canadian equivalent) procedures will actually stop them? If you believe it, then I've got a bridge in Yarmouth to sell you.

    • I like this line of reasoning. To apply it elsewhere:

      "Does anyone really think that if a criminal/'bad guy' wants to do something bad these old long-gun registry procedures will actually stop them?"

    • Sadly, I know of a number of politicians and high level bureaucrats who would like to buy your bridge. There are at least 2 US presidents, and 3 members of the Great Canadian Coalition to Unseat Harper, who have only one question to ask you: "How much for the bridge?"

  23. We might find the U.S. administration amenable if heads of foreign corporations (as customers) refuse to allow their employees to travel to the U.S.

  24. We might find the U.S. administration amenable if heads of foreign corporations (as customers) refuse to allow their employees to travel to the U.S.

  25. Our border/airport thugs are just as bad, if not worse. Oh no? have any of the US TSA tasered a man to death (or more accurately sat around and watched while it happened?)

    At least their nazis can speak intelligible english while their frisking you.

  26. Hogwash! If I've learned anything from this blog, it's that the primary responsibility of any government is to run a long form census.

  27. Hogwash! If I've learned anything from this blog, it's that the primary responsibility of any government is to run a long form census.

  28. I blame Russia

  29. I like this line of reasoning. To apply it elsewhere:

    "Does anyone really think that if a criminal/'bad guy' wants to do something bad these old long-gun registry procedures will actually stop them?"

  30. Recording the image probably has something to do with probable cause for further detention and prosecution.

  31. DHS was created with bi-partisan support following 9/11 and modelled after a proposal from a 3-year, senior statesmen commission examining international security challenges of the 21st Century.

    Hope this helps.

  32. The TSA and US Border Patrol are separate LE agencies and have different law enforcement portfolios, except that both are subordinated to DHS. Most TSA agents are unrmed. All border patrol officers carry firearms, and use them when someone shoots at them.

  33. This is completely unrealistic for some people, especially in a country this large. If someone from Halifax could take the train to Toronto in less than 28 hours or to Edmonton in less than four days, perhaps a boycott would be an option.

    I prefer Penn's approach of charging the groper with assault: ,
    but as Penn says "freedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I'll spend to find out how to get people more of it."

  34. Sadly, I know of a number of politicians and high level bureaucrats who would like to buy your bridge. There are at least 2 US presidents, and 3 members of the Great Canadian Coalition to Unseat Harper, who have only one question to ask you: "How much for the bridge?"

  35. Either way, the people (and their methods) who are supposedly guarding us, instill no faith in me. Quite frankly, I would not trust them to watch an empty briefcase. My cat could probably do a better job. Of course, he could only patrol one airport…
    In both cases, both the "RCMP Vancouver Taser Club", and the "USA TSA 'We Don't Need No Constitution!' Gang"… the public are being badly served. And in our Vancouver Turkey Shoot, stupidity went right on up to the highest levels, of every organization concerned…. Municipal, Provincial and Federal Governments. A SLEW of Airport Managers, and RCMP and local Police Brass. Not to mention Enquiries, and other such…

  36. Either way, the people (and their methods) who are supposedly guarding us, instill no faith in me. Quite frankly, I would not trust them to watch an empty briefcase. My cat could probably do a better job. Of course, he could only patrol one airport…
    In both cases, both the "RCMP Vancouver Taser Club", and the "USA TSA 'We Don't Need No Constitution!' Gang"… the public are being badly served. And in our Vancouver Turkey Shoot, stupidity went right on up to the highest levels, of every organization concerned…. Municipal, Provincial and Federal Governments. A SLEW of Airport Managers, and RCMP and local Police Brass. Not to mention Enquiries, and other such…

  37. And what makes it even more ridiculous: even if (and it's by no means proven) the new technology could detect shoe or underwear bombers – neither of those idiots boarded their flights in the US!

  38. And what makes it even more ridiculous: even if (and it's by no means proven) the new technology could detect shoe or underwear bombers – neither of those idiots boarded their flights in the US!

  39. Our border/airport thugs are just as bad, if not worse. Oh no? have any of the US TSA tasered a man to death (or more accurately sat around and watched while it happened?)

    At least their nazis can speak intelligible english while their frisking you.

      • The TSA and US Border Patrol are separate LE agencies and have different law enforcement portfolios, except that both are subordinated to DHS. Most TSA agents are unrmed. All border patrol officers carry firearms, and use them when someone shoots at them.

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