Are TSA agents heroes?

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By Christopher Elliott

Two TSA agents who reportedly thwarted a passenger kidnapping in Miami recently are being hailed as heroes by the mainstream media.

It’s an irresistible man-bites-dog story for a slow news day: The “sharp-eyed” screeners saw a suspicious-looking passenger traveling alongside two men and, thanks to their terror training, knew what they had to do.

“When she came closer I realized she was black and blue on both sides of her face, her forehead,” one of the screeners told a TV station (see video, above). “I noticed her shoulder looked like she had a big rug burn.”

The TSA agents pulled the passengers out of line and reported them to law enforcement authorities. As it turns out, they’d stumbled into something of a love triangle. The woman, men, and two other female passengers were on vacation in Miami. One of the women accused the passenger of sleeping with her boyfriend.

The passenger reportedly was beaten, forced to withdraw money from an ATM and threatened.

“I believe we saved her life that day,” one of the agents said.

That may be true, but TSA apologists, aided by a bored establishment media, are leveraging this incident to justify the billions spent on airport security every year. They shouldn’t be allowed to.

No one’s saying the agents didn’t do good work, and they may have even saved this passenger’s life. But credit their terrorist training?

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Call them heroes?

Sorry, no can do.

When a screener selflessly throws himself over a terrorist bomb in order to save the lives of others, that’s when I’ll use the word “hero.” When an agent wrests a loaded firearm from the hands of a criminal who is about to mow down a crowd of passengers, I’ll have no problem using the “H” word.

Those of you who just wish critics like me would stop being so critical of the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems are probably wondering: What would make me give the TSA an “attaboy”?

(Vote for your favorite TSA hero or villain here.)

Stop a terrorist or two

I might be willing to call an agent a hero if he actually prevented a bona fide holy warrior from blowing up a plane. But to date, the TSA hasn’t stopped a single terrorist, at least that we know of. And you know they’d be broadcasting that news if it ever happened. Bonus points for drama on this one. If it involves a Hollywood ending in which someone’s shot, incinerated or there’s a high-speed car chase. That is when the TSA will get a big thumbs-up from yours truly.

Take a stand

Real heroes have principles, and that’s what leads to their heroics. Wouldn’t it have been something if large segments of the TSA workforce had refused to comply with Washington’s order to either scan or frisk their passengers two years ago? Or that they balked at the new “enhanced” pat-down procedures implemented from above, on the grounds that they violated the Fourth Amendment? People like that would be worthy of the label “heroes,” in my book.

Go the extra mile

When I see an agent exercising common courtesy, I’m impressed. I remember traveling with my seven-year-old son a few months ago, and I was dragging several bags out to the airport arrivals area while making sure my son stayed out of trouble at the same time (not an easy task). An off-duty agent opened the door for me and helped me carry one of my suitcases to the curb. Heroic? Maybe not, but I still offer a grateful “attaboy” for going above and beyond the call of duty. Also, agents like that me think twice before writing a hit piece about the TSA.

It’s fascinating to see how the agency’s supporters are willing to pin their arguments on any news, including this foiled kidnapping attempt, even when there’s little evidence to suggest that an alert passenger, flight attendant or airport janitor couldn’t have also rescued this passenger. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

But it might be worse. We could be justifying the existence of an oversize federal agency by an absence of heroics. Which is to say, hanging a “mission accomplished” banner simply because no terrorist has successfully blown up a plane over the United States in the last decade.

That kind of false logic may be worse than the false heroics that were reported last week.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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