Is the TSA America’s funniest federal agency?

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By Christopher Elliott

If the TSA wasn’t violating our civil rights with its intrusive screening procedures, as so many passengers claim, and as Texas Rep. David Simpson explains in his thoughtful commentary, then all of this might be kind of funny.

I mean, take a few steps back from the situation — the tearful videos, the rhetoric, the charged comments — and it’s not hard to see the humor.

Exhibit #1, my friends, is the above video by the folks at Reason magazine. It exposes the double standards and all-round absurdness of the screening process in 2011.

Sample lyrics:

Please put your shoes in this
Please go take off your shoes
it seems we can’t communicate
with anything that’s wearing shoes
I do the pokey pokey
and I touch you all around
That’s what it’s all about!

Playing along with the joke, Janet Napolitano insisted the shoes must continue to come off during screening in a speech this week to a tourism conference. Her remarks drew applause.

Let me say that again: The Secretary of Homeland Security affirmed the TSA’s ridiculous policy of removing our shoes — and the travel industry applauded.

I think that’s funny.

And then there’s exhibit #2 — our friend Blogger Bob. If you don’t think the TSA’s social-media mouthpiece has a sense of humor, then you haven’t read his April Fool’s Day post about invisible space aliens being screened.

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It’s not entirely clear what their intentions are, but they need to be screened just like anybody else. We don’t mind space aliens visiting our airports. In fact we think it’s kind of cool.

However, they need to go through security just like everybody else. They can’t just continue to stroll through security, especially if they have their shoes on or if they’re carrying liquids. Or even liquefying weapons…

Bob is constantly cracking jokes on the blog. Some are funny, some are not.

OK, most are not. But at least he’s trying.

How about last week’s bomb “drill” in Minneapolis that TSA forgot to tell local law enforcement about? Oops. That had a few observers chuckling, didn’t it?

Here’s something I find hilarious. Every time I ask for a comment about some outrageous incident, like TSA agents patting down a baby or improperly touching Miss America, I get the exact same response, almost word for word.

TSA has reviewed the screening of this family and determined that the officers involved followed proper current screening procedures.

Hey guys, that’s part of the punchline of another joke. You know, the one with the handwritten note that says, “Send this jerk the cockroach letter.”

Can you remember the last time the TSA said its procedures weren’t followed and it promised to discipline its screeners? I can’t. I’m starting to think they have a cookie-cutter response they’d send out on any incident, no matter how egregious.

I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall in the office when they get a request from a reporter.

“Hey boss, what should I do about the query on the enhanced pat-down of the cheerleading squad?”

“Send that jerk the ‘we followed procedure’ letter.”

“Sure thing.”

Come to think of it, I can’t really laugh at any of this, because I can’t remove the context. Napolitano’s ridiculous comments about explosive shoes make fools of us all. How many “shoe bombers” has TSA caught? That’s right — zero.

Similarly, cracking jokes at the expense of the TSA’s victims is in poor taste. I don’t care if people are laughing; it’s inappropriate.

Some TSA apologists thought that just because the screeners and passengers in a photo of a baby being patted down were smiling, it was fine.

I’ve been pondering that for the last few days, and I think they’re wrong. Unfortunately, people smile for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they smile when they’re nervous. Or afraid. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

The canned responses? Funny, too. Until you think about why they’re being made.

The only ones laughing are the terrorists, who have succeeded in frightening the American public and turning the land of the free into a what many believe is a police state.


(1:30 p.m.): Reader Jason Andrews adds this joke to the mix.

Today I was passing through the TSA security checkpoint at Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, when I noticed a few boxes of exam gloves by the TSA station.

The brand of the gloves caught my attention and thought your visitors might get a chuckle out of this, just as I did.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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