TSA Watch: America’s funniest federal agency? No, seriously

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.

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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.

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 this 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.

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.

Update (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.

Photo: Brendan O/Flickr Creative Commons

26 thoughts on “TSA Watch: America’s funniest federal agency? No, seriously

  1. I have no sense of humor and am too serious..I guess?  I have never once laughed at any TSA jokes on either side.  I find the whole experience so awful I no longer fly.

  2. Navy Seals snuck into a foreign country without permission and assassinated the terrorist leader and dumped his body in the ocean. I’m happy that the TSA keeps watch on the off chance the terrorists retaliate. Those travel professionals at the conference applauded because they know the effects a terrorist attack can have on their industry. Frankly, I think you make a mountain out of a 30-second molehill and pick through 50 million flyer experiences each month to find a couple of anecdotes. 

    1. Tom, TSA has already told us how to get explosives through the nude-o-scope and/or a pat-down. How safe do you think we really are?

      1. Well, yes, they did…leaving behind a top-secret helicopter with technology no
        one knew they had for careful copying by anyone interested.  And that was before
        they performed a gangland execution, bullet through the head, of an unarmed man
        in front of his children rather than bringing him home for debriefing and
        trial. You’re proud of these guys?  But they followed procedure, oh yes they did! And yes, the terrorists will retaliate, and
        the TSA will miss all the signs because they’re checking babies’ diapers and
        shoes. 

    2. How will the TSA cope with the next suicide bomber who detonates while waiting in line for their grope-down?

      Imagine the scene: hundreds of victims including dozens of TSA agents themselves, millions in scanners destroyed, body parts hither and yon, an entire terminal shut down (nobody in, nobody out) until Forensics is finished, and all before the first agent said “Please place your shoes on the belt.”

      The ratchet-up effect will be to send an escort to your house six hours before your flight, search you there, transport you to a secure holding area… you get the picture.  The cost will be phenomenal.  Nobody will be able to afford the price of a ticket.  Nobody will want to.  The US airline industry will collapse.  There will be two flights per week between LGA and LAX, and they will be mostly empty.

      Those “travel professionals” haven’t thought the problem through to its logical conclusion.  That’s why they applauded.  They think they have a future.  TSA suffers from the same delusion.

      1. The “terrorist in line” scenario is probably more realistic than another “shoe bombing.” I think of that everytime I’m packed in with dozens and dozens of other folks in security lines at major airports like LGA, MCO or ATL. You don’t need to go through security to hurt a lot of people and terrorists know that. And there is absolutely no way to avoid that scenario except maybe moving the screening OUTSIDE the airport grounds. Oh wait, you’ll still have lines/crowds. Hm.. suppose Frank’s idea is the only feasible one left. Have security meet you at your door. Wonder how that’ll work for the travel industry?  

  3. I tried to joke is a tsa agent yesterday at LAX, she was shouting, put your shoes directly on the belt (conveyor).” So i removed my belt and put my shoes on top. She wasn’t amused.

  4. Can you imagine how satisfied Richard, the shoe bomber, must feel as he sits in his jail cell?  Name me just ONE other person in the course of U.S. history who single-handedly changed the habits of MILLIONS of people.  The flying public is forced to take off their shoes before flying because of ONE man.  You are right, it is the terrorists who are laughing their butts off because they have accomplished at least one of their objectives – to fundamentally change Americans way of life. And, I for one, will fly as little as possible because of it.

  5. The whole Blogger Bob thing is utterly ridiculous. I mean, here we have the TSA saying that security is a subject that must be taken seriously,and that violating our constitutional protection against illegal search is a necessary evil. And yet they have this failed stand-up comedian trying to put a human face on the TSA. I have a great sense of humor, but jokes about space aliens from the same people who want to transmit naked pictures of my children to an unknown screener in another room? Sorry, that’s *completely* inappropriate. The real punchline is that as a taxpayer and a frequent flier, I’m paying this (failed) clown!

    Flew yesterday and had another pleasant experience with a helpful TSA agent (seriously). Kept thinking what a fantastic job these dedicated folks could do if we had TSA management that invested our money wisely instead of wasting it on “security theater”.

    — Opt-Out Aaron

      1. bodega, did you even read the responses in the previous thread, or are you just repeating yourself because you have nothing better to do?

        1.  Aren’t you a happy camper CJR?

          I was told there would be a separate column on Chris’ ideas, but he posed this instead which actually bores me.  I get tired of those who thing they know better yet complain without presenting another solution.  I don’t have any ideas to make our flying safer, do you CJR? 

  6. I hadn’t heard about this ‘drill’ in Minnesota. But then, when incompetence rules, nothing is a surprise.

    But hey, how funny is this? (“Don’t like it, don’t go to your prom”, apparently.)

    TSA to oversee searches at Santa Fe prom

    http://www.kob.com/article/stories/S2122102.shtml?cat=504

    Or is this one just funny enough?

    TSA agent sneaks on to a Dominican-bound jet
    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/queens/sneaky_tsa_jet_stowaway_0miTelAaiJJXHmmpCg8wJN

    Or isn’t it just hilarious that TSA agents can’t follow the rules themselves?

    TSA officer arrested after gun spotted in luggage
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/19/2224155/tsa-officer-arrested-after-gun.html

    1. JetBlue should sue that TSA guy for the value of every last drop of jet fuel they wasted during the flight.  Why are they even discussing whether he should be fired.  He should have been arrested.

  7. Oh, and you know what is truly not funny in the least?

    Napolitano’s definition of how “very, very, very few people get a pat-down”.

    TSA themselves says it’s about 3% of passengers. That equates to 1.8 MILLION people a month.

    And still: 0 terrorists caught by TSA. Hilarious, right?

  8. I am not defending the TSA and I don’t find any of their jokes remotely funny. But being cynical I smile. However, is the TSA’s job to catch terrorists or deter terrorists. The job of catching terrorists lies with the CIA and other intelligence agencies abroad and the FBI domestically. The TSA is supposed to be the last line of defense, frightening isn’t it. This is how the system is supposed to work, 9/11 was the result of the failure of a multi tier detection system or simply put a failure in communication. Airport security then did not detect the 9/11 hijackers’s weapon of choice, box cutters with plastic handles and snap off blades because they were not prohibited then. Right after 9/11 all sharp objects including children’s play scissors were prohibited. 

    1. And box cutters need not be prohibited now because the cockpit doors are secured… something that should have been done decades ago, but the airlines balked because of the cost.

      9/11 itself was entirely preventable, but wasn’t because of the pursuit of profit by the airlines.

      But then, all this still isn’t stopping the numerous other box cutters, knives, guns, and more that get through the TSA Kabuki Theater every day.

  9.  I find nothing about the TSA to be even slightly humorous.  It is, unfortunately, part of the travel experience everyone must endure when flying from any airport in the US.  

  10. Do any other Firefly fans find that box of gloves hilariously appropriate?  Not much about the TSA is making me laugh these days, but that sure did!

  11.  I flew last month with my 2 month old son. I showed up to the airport several hours early because I was carrying pumped breast milk which I did not want to go through the scanner. I had researched and printed out the alternative screening rules before I got to the airport so I knew what was allowed and what I could expect. I told the man I didnt want it to go through and to have the alternative check instead. He looked at me blankly and said “Its fine” as he shoved it through. Then he told me to take my sons shoes off. I said “Do you mean his socks because he isnt wearing shoes”. He looked at me like I was arguing and told me to “Take off whatever was on his feet”. I fail to find the humor in any of that. 

  12. TSA is doing a wonderful job protecting me and my kids as we transition our travels from Chrysler minivan to the 737 = they are doing everything they can to protect us in a complex varying world . . . oh wait – I’m channeling Judy Coulter . . . 

    Never mind.   Still think Blogger Bob is gonna do that interview or did he back out and this is Elliott’ revenge? 

  13. No, the TSA isn’t funny, but humor is a critical weapon, so I say we use it.  Satire, parody, jokes — all have been important historically in fighting injustice.  Humor also helps us, personally and collectively, as moral support.  It’s important to laugh in the faces of people who are trying to abuse you, who are trying to lord their power over you.

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