Illusionist reveals TSA is all smoke and mirrors

It is no small irony that Daniel Sylvester, a.k.a. the magician Sylvester the Jester, contacted me several days ago to reveal his mistreatment at the hands of the Transportation Security Administration — and to share his troubling conclusions about a federal agency that likes to think of itself as our last line of defense against terrorism.

In August, Sylvester returned to Los Angeles from a short gig in Tempe, Ariz. When he opened his checked luggage, he discovered that its contents had been unceremoniously dumped out and then thrown back in.

There was a telltale sign of who created this mess because there was TSA tape over some of the props they had broken and a few odd and ends that they left strewn in the interior.

Several props were damaged and an expensive Sennheiser cordless microphone receiver was left loose to clank around in the interior of the case instead of being in its protective case.

Sylvester immediately phoned the TSA and was directed to the agency’s site to file a claim. He did, sending photos of the damage and repair estimates. Two weeks later, he got a call from a TSA representative.

She said they had reviewed my claim, and that I really did not provide proof that TSA was responsible damage of my equipment.

I explained that I carefully packed my equipment. And who else could have opened it and damaged it?

She replied in a surly tone, “Well I read your statement that you checked in two hours early, which means that anyone could have opened your case and messed around with things. Sometimes airline employees get bored and that’s what they’ll do.”

The TSA representative also told him with “definitive arrogance” that it couldn’t honor his claim because he didn’t have receipts for the damaged items.

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Wow. It sure didn’t take long for the TSA to steal a page from the airline playbook on luggage claims. Its secret manual includes instructions on how to deny you are responsible for the damage and avoid paying a claim by insisting on seeing receipts that you know the passenger doesn’t have.

One of these days I’ll find that manual.

Sylvester has had some time to ponder the effectiveness of the TSA. I think his conclusions are interesting.

As a magician, and as someone who understands perception better then most, I can honestly say with great confidence that the TSA is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

Any truly committed terrorist would not be effected by TSA in the least.

The problem with the function of TSA is that their heads are pointed in the wrong direction. Instead of interviewing the people, and making making sure they know who is flying and why, they herd us like unintelligent cattle and go through all of our luggage to see if we have anything that could be used as a weapon or that can be flammable.

In fact, the whole airplane is flammable and can be a weapon.

This all sickens me.

Sylvester probably speaks for a lot of travelers. The TSA has lost its way. Or maybe it never had a way to begin with.

And who better to expose an illusion than an illusionist?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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