TSA Watch: Confronting an out-of-control agency

It’s been a week of run-ins between the TSA and its critics. Maybe the most interesting one was Sen. Rand Paul’s confrontation with Transportation Security Administration Chief John Pistole during a Congressional hearing.

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“You’ve gone overboard and you’re missing the boat on terrorism because you’re doing these invasive searches on six-year-old girls,” Paul said of the TSA’s searches, pointing to a poster-size image of a young girl from his state being patted down. “It makes me think you’re clueless if you think she’s going to attack our country.”

Here are Pistole’s prepared statements for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. (And yes, TSA spelled it “govermental.” Why? Because they can.)

Meanwhile in Texas, legislators are trying to figure out how they intend to confront the TSA. You’ll recall that the anti-groping bill was pulled after the feds threatened to stop flights to the Lone Star State.

The bill was revived thanks to presumed presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry, but late yesterday seemed to be going nowhere, with the House Speaker calling it a “publicity stunt.” But lawmakers may get some traction on the legislation early next week. That ought to be interesting.

So if Perry wins in 2012, will he disband the TSA? Don’t hold your breath.

Oh, and if you think the confrontations are limited to the airport and Congressional hearings, think again. As I’ve already reported in this column, TSA is patting down bus, subway and ferry passengers. But who knew the agency conducted 8,000 such screening operations last year alone? We learned that during last week’s hearings in Washington.

That’s a lot of pat-downs — and a lot of confrontations.

But are these run-ins with an intransigent, overstaffed, overfunded federal agency getting us anywhere? All the evidence suggests that despite the rhetoric, the outrage and the well-publicized incidents, the answer is “no.” If anything, there’s a siege mentality at TSA. Anyone who dares to criticize the agency and its inept screening practices is seen as the enemy. They’ve circled the wagons and stopped listening to their own constituents, the American taxpayers who pay their salaries.

The TSA needs more than a stand-up comedian to deflect its critics and defuse confrontations. Something tells me it would benefit from an old-school ombudsman who can ensure every screening complaint is handled professionally and every credible critic is offered an articulate and reasoned response.

It’s not going to be easy. I’ve been an ombudsman for the last 15 years, and I can promise you, it’s hard work. And no, I do not want that job. But what we have now are angry airline passengers yelling in an echo chamber and bureaucrats dodging questions in Senate hearings, and we have to do better than that.

66 thoughts on “TSA Watch: Confronting an out-of-control agency

  1. Let’s see: an ombudsman, that has no authority to really change anything, for a government bureaucracy that’s really not accountable to anyone.

    Ok, folks, problem solved!

  2. Just what we need — another actor in the security farce.  An ombudsman would only spout the same bullsh*t Blogger Bob and his pals do now, except he’d probably be more highly paid.

    As for Pistole, he’d be laughable if he weren’t so sinister.  His jargon-filled sentences are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but his contempt for the citizens and laws of this country.

    I remember an interview he did with NPR back in November, when most Americans were experiencing the gropefests for the first time.  As one commenter at their site put it, he should go on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ so adept was he at sidestepping questions and speaking for almost six minutes without saying anything. Except this: We have the power; you don’t. Deal with it.

  3. So what was the outcome of this Congressional meeting, is anyone going to step up and curb the appetite of the TSA?

      1. Then according to you, Congress must be made up entirely of women, most of them masquerading as men, particularly when they discuss the TSA! We have enough problems without sexist idiots posting here.

  4. What TSA needs, first and foremost, are common sense and real experts telling them what should be done in the name of national security.

    Right now, they have neither. Just a bunch of people who rule with propaganda and fear, trying to prod a populace into compliance with whatever insanity they come up with.

    1. Actually, come to think of it, what TSA has directing them right now is even worse than the likes of Pistole and Napolitano: TSA’s being lead on a leash by lobbyists and corporations who care far more about lining their pockets than actual security or anybody’s rights.

    2. What TSA needs first and foremost is a copy of the CONSTITUTION.  They obviously don’t know what it says, and don’t seem to have one handy that they can check…

  5. I suggest that the TSA do background checks on the passengers. I, as a retired senior naval officer would welcome this instead of the pat down /groping that I go through because of my metal hip and two knees. They waste their time on me when they should profile passengers. I know that I just said  “bad words” but look at ElAl. These people know security. The argument is that this is a small country but I am discussing procedures.
    When I flow ElAl many years ago, I was greeted with my Navy rank which was not on my papers passport etc. They did a background check on me.

    The TSA is staffed with minimal pay personnel with little or no real security training. I have seen some that acted like bullies which indicates a lack of training. My knees with the scars was hand scanned many times until a supervisor came over and asked “What do you see?” – the response was listen – BEEP BEEP – The supervisor told the young man that it was inside – don’t worry about it. This example is what I am talking about.

    Have a wonderful day and Peace Be With You – Cliff

    1. We’ve discussed Israeli security on this blog many times.  Remember that though Israel has eliminated terrorism on planes, they’ve learned to accept it in other venues — buses, cafes, marketplaces.  There is no such thing as 100% security, anywhere.  The belief of so many Americans that there is is why they’re willing to bend over and spread ’em every time an authority figure tells them to.  They cherish the fantasy of security more than the reality of life.  Life entails risk.

      The Israelis also rely heavily on racial and ethnic profiling.  If you’re with an American tour group, for example, you’ll be ushered quickly through.  If you’re the “wrong” racial or ethnic type, you’ll get a thorough going-over.  And if you’re a peace activist — forget it; you’ll be strip-searched in a back room.

      As we’ve also discussed, Pistole and Napolitano are claiming they’re going to institute this so-called “Trusted Traveler” program — another scenario ripe for abuse.  First of all, you’ll have to give the govt your biometric data — retinal scans, fingerprints, god knows what else (and sure, they’ll never compromise that data!).  Then you have to be a frequent flyer or just wealthy — the rich can always get around rules that the rest of us have to follow.  Otherwise, you’re screwed.  Why should people who can’t afford to fly very often have to endure more scrutiny?  

      And even those who do agree to provide all this info will still be subject to more invasive searching if the TSA finds an “anomaly.”  That’s their all-purpose trigger for abuse now; it’s not going to change once this so-called Trusted Traveler system is in place.  

      Here’s an idea —  in honor of the late, great Color Code Terror Threat alert system, just slap a big ole’ orange sticker on the “risky” travelers. Yeah, history has never shown us anything like that before!

      1. The Israelis question everyone waiting to board a plane. They engage you in conversation and ask you questions while you are on line waiting for your baggage to go through the screening process, when you present your passport, and when you go through final security. They are trained to “read” people psychologically. They may profile, but as a white, female, Jewish tourist senior, I have been grilled every time. I have never been groped, although I was wanded when Israel was at war. The “grilling” has always been thorough, but with respect.

        1. Carrie, I know.  You’ll still get an easier time of it if you’re traveling with an American tour group.  And again, the point is that Israel hasn’t eliminated terrorism.  It has accepted the risk elsewhere in the country, just not on planes.

      2. Yes.  It has been said many times here that the harassment of people at the hands of border agents is pointless.  The majority of travellers are decent, law abiding citizens who leave home for business and personal reasons.  They are not the terrorists. 

        The current policies and practices of the governmental agencies placed in control of safety and secuity are not working.  The groping and body scanning, etc. of travellers is abhorrent to many and unduly intrusive to the rest.  These agencies must rethink their practices and find a more palatable way of conducting business.  It was announced here yesterday that children under 10 years will no longer be groped (my word).  I will be content only when the same goes for everyone.

        It has been suggested time and again that the only effective measure is to intercept terrorists and prevent them from getting to departure points. Terrorists and terrorist cells must be identifed in the community and rendered ineffective.  This calls for intensive intelligence work.  This will be no easy task, but they should begin there. 


        1. Sadie, exactly.  Responsible intelligence, responsible police work — the same things that have always been used to prevent crime.  But just say the word “terrorist” and watch how many Americans are rendered incoherent.  I wonder if their approval of TSA practices carries over into other realms?  Why shouldn’t the police have the right to stop-and-frisk whoever they want, whenever they want?  Oh, that’s right, they already do.  Obviously that has eliminated crime!  Now We’re All Safe!

          Thus the logic of the typical American sheeple.

          The last time a bomb was smuggled aboard an airplane in the USA was December 11, 1967:  Aviation Safety Network http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19671211-0
          Over 43 years ago. Yet for most of those 43 years, the TSA reign of molestation and rank stupidity didn’t exist. How is it possible we all haven’t been blown out of the sky already??  After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

          By the way, I wouldn’t trust the TSA’s “new” dictum on children. They said the same thing about children under 16 months ago and they lied. Then it was children under 12. Now they’re claiming children under 10. And individual TSA gropers do what they want anyway. They don’t follow their own rules. They have absolute power.

  6. The terrorists have won; they have our government violating our rights in the name of “protecting” us.

    They have given the petty tyrants that always gravitate to government more excuses for more control over the lives of the subjects. They have given our government the excuses that James Madison warned us about:

    “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

  7. President Obama doesn’t seem to have this problem on his agenda, but
    neither do most politicians; they’re afraid, just as the government used
    to be afraid of Joseph McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover.  In the next election, I will vote for any candidate of either party – and I never thought I’d consider voting for a Republican – who promises to eliminate the TSA.  I don’t care if he or she has been convicted of a felony or caught on tape shagging goats! This is more important to me than the economy, the employment rate or foreign policy because the abuses by homeland security goons undermine every aspect of a democracy. The other problems we can learn to live with or resolve over time. This one must be dealt with now – at any cost.

  8. No Christoper.

    The TSA needs to dissolve itself.

    Or America devolves further into becoming a 21st-Century version of the GDR.

    End. Of. Story.

  9. Dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs!!!!!  

    They cost less than your average TSA worker and they eat less.  They are far more friendly than your average TSA worker.  National Guardsmen could handle the dogs, which can’t be said for your average TSA worker.  Dogs can be trained to locate a variety of ills, which also can’t be said of your average TSA worker.  Dogs won’t abuse their authority which REALLY can’t be said of your average TSA worker.Were the government to fire all the current TSA employees and bring in dogs, I feel the United States would breathe a collective sigh of relief.

      1. Lisa that’s not a valid reason to not to using dogs, most airports
        already have these facilities and procedures in place for
        Customs and Immigration. They can easily be rotated out every half hour and allowed a play area on the airport grounds.

    1. My disabled son is terrified of dogs. Any size dog, from great danes to the smallest toy. Using dogs would freak him out.

      Horses, though, he’s somehow cool with.

  10. Having watched the video, I see Rand Paul doing a sound bite and feeling good about listening to himself – no follow-up questions, no penetrating questions, nothing for Pistole to deal with … so sure, he Pistole can get away with absolutely idiotic replies using examples from where, somewhere else in the world, to claim his agency bases the choices to pat down 6 year olds on that kind of silly analogy, or on some so-called “anomaly”.   

    Is Senator Rand Paul incapable of asking something a little more specific:  i.e. what do you mean by an “anomaly” in the case of a six year old?   I suspect not;  Mr. Paul likes to peddle his clichés and impress his voters with his superficial ideas.   Do not wait for any action from him!

  11. I still would like to know what you know about Jesse Ventura supposedly suing the TSA over it’s pat-down search.  I saw him on a television program saying that, yes, he was going to sue TSA.  Has he?  What has come of it?  Was it just a publicity stunt?

    1. Jesse Ventura is an American hero for filing suit against the TSA’s unconstitutional, illegal, and abusive warrantless searches.   You can read the filing for yourself at:

      We have a responsibility as Americans to fight the TSA’s fascism.  Every single person, in every available means, must resist their encroachment.  TSA’s pointless harassment goes against every American tradition of fair play, presumption of innocence, and individual rights. The lessons of history are clear: warrantless searches ignited the American Revolution in the first place.  Climates of fear, intimidation, and secrecy lead to abuses of power: witness the illegal internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, witness McCarthyism.  Then as now, falsely trumped-up danger is flogged as an excuse for the government to shamelessly abuse its own people.   

  12. What TSA needs is not an ombudsman, but a law passed by Congress and signed by the President to order them to go back to the security policies that were in place in, say, 2009.

  13. Security and ME:  I wear breast prostheses (cancer surgery) and woman at TSA KEPT SQUEEZING THEM.  I ALMOST said:  “I will take them out so you can feel them.”  Did not, however.  Because I’ve been through all this before.  Once my shirt blew up (in wind machine) and exposed about an inch of FLAT stomach.  I was told “cover up…”  Also told to take off my coat – it was a dress, and WHY do you wear two watches?  I travel through several  time zones and one is costume and one is dress.  Any more questions?  

  14. Elderly woman asked to remove adult diaper during TSA search
    June 25, 2011 11:09 AM

    A woman has filed a complaint with federal authorities over how her elderly mother was treated at Northwest Florida Regional Airport last weekend.

    Jean Weber of Destin filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security after her 95-year-old mother was detained and extensively searched last Saturday while trying to board a plane to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.

    Her mother, who was in a wheelchair, was asked to remove an adult diaper in order to complete a pat-down search.

    “It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” Weber said Friday. “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”

    . . . Weber said she sat outside the room during the search.

    She said security personnel then came out and told her they would need for her mother to remove her Depends diaper because it was soiled and was impeding their search.

    Weber wheeled her mother into a bathroom, removed her diaper, and returned. Her mother did not have another clean diaper with her, Weber said . . . .


        1. I pointed out that an attack from a wheelchair-bound person is not unheard-of.  May I suggest that you stick to your own blog if you can’t have a civil discussion on elliot.org?

          1. There’s nothing “civil” about implying that this woman — or any other person, wheelchair-bound or not — deserves the kind of abuse the TSA is heaping on them.

          2. The abuses perpetrated by TSA do not give you license to verbally attack anyone who does not adhere to your point-of-view in all respects. 

            TSA was within their rights to search the woman in the wheelchair, for the reason that innocent-looking people in wheelchairs may not be innocent (see text of story I posted).  TSA had an obligation to search the woman with courtesy and professionalism.  If they did not do so, then this is newsworthy.  Her lack of preparedness in packing another Depends has nothing to do with the search – that Depends was soiled pre-flight, regardless.  I could not in conscience allow my own mother to remain in a soiled Depends for the time it takes to get to the airport, through security, on to and off of the flight and to my final destination.  Blaming that on TSA seems to be a transferral of the daughter’s own guilty conscience.

            I do not endorse the loss of civil liberties that Congress has so blithely given away (Patriot Act, TSA, etc.).  Chris’ column suggested a possible remedy to the current situation.  An ombudsman would be able to separate the facts of this case from the emotion and call TSA to task if needed.  We as citizens need to make Congress aware of our feelings; it seems that those of us who have noticed the gradual erosion of our Constitutional rights are in the minority.  We are more likely to be heard if our voices are rational – and civil.

          3. Once again, that is Iraq, not America.

            By all means, point out to me the last time a 6 month old in America was used as a terrorist weapon. When a 95 year old wheelchair-bound woman was.

            When you do, then and only then will you come close to having a point.

          4. The only transference going on is by those deflecting attention from the crux of the story — the abuse of a passenger — and trying to draw attention to how many diapers were on hand.  You have no idea when the poor woman’s diaper was soiled; it’s obnoxious that you’re trying to blame her or her daughter.  For all you know, she was so terrorized by the TSA thugs that she wet herself then and there.  But blaming the victim is a time-honored tradition.  So is shooting the messenger. 

            And the only attacks going on are by the TSA and its apologists.  You say they had the right to search her.  Did they have the right to take her into a private room, without her daughter as witness, and put their hands down her pants?  Apparently so, since somebody in Iraq detonated a bomb!  There’s logic, all right.

            So I’ll ask, for the umpteenth time, the question the TSA defenders never answer:  What happens if somebody detonates himself in the security line, with hundreds of people packed together, or in an airport cafe, or parking garage?  Then where you do strip and grope everybody?

            Oh, and news flash:  Car Bomb Blast at Afghan Hospital Kills at Least 20.  Let’s see, going by the logic on display here, what should we ban next?  Cars?  Or maybe just SUVs, since that was the vehicle that was packed with explosives.  Maybe the TSA could come to our houses and search our cars every day.  Because they have the “right” to search “innocent-looking people” who “may not be innocent.”

  15. This is a sentimental reflection on a very nice weekend trip for an
    annual event in Rochester, NY. I flew to this event last year, but this
    year I drove there from Baltimore, MD because I am unwilling to submit
    to the TSA’s sexual abuse.

    While I was in Rochester, I attended a wonderful backyard barbecue,
    complete with about forty friends grilling food on the vegetarian or
    non-vegetarian sides of the grill. Others were playing their guitars,
    ukeleles, flutes, and melodicas while singing some old-timey tunes. A
    group of us decided to take advantage of the small above-ground pool and
    we had a great time splashing around.

    After I got out of the pool, I needed to change from my swimsuit into
    some dry clothes. One of my friends, a sweet man about twenty years my
    senior, offered me his room in the house as a changing space since
    others were using the available bathrooms. Because that door didn’t
    lock, he stood in the hallway and I heard him deflect a person or two
    from wandering in while I was changing clothes. I thanked him, of
    course, but I got tears in my eyes as I reflected on the moment later.

    This, just this. This is what it used to mean to protect someone. It
    used to be that when you cared for someone’s safety, you kept
    encroachers away from their vulnerableness. This man guarded my privacy
    because he cares about me. This is what protecting people is truly

    The TSA doesn’t care about us. The TSA is doing the opposite of what we
    used to mean by protecting someone. They call it safety, but they are
    shoving their hands down our pants. They call it protecting us, but
    they humiliate us by examining every inch of our naked bodies. They
    call it secure, but they order strangers’ hands to wander all over the
    parts of our bodies we gave or will give to our spouses. I weep for
    this. The tradition of caring
    for others by protecting their bodies is important, and I can’t help getting truly emotional about the way TSA is perverting the notion of “protecting” someone.

  16. Chris: I just read on the Houston Chronicle that the TSA asked a 95 year old woman to remove her adult diaper. It happened in Florida. Can you find out details and what is being done about the idiot screener and TSA’s protocols?

        1. And the TSA’s predictable, disgusting response, being reported by news agencies all over the world:

          “While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.  We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.”

          I’d call these people pigs except that’d be an insult to pigs, which are actually intelligent, sensitive creatures.

          1. The only thing that surprises me about this story is that this poor woman hasn’t been charged with a crime for daring to soil her diaper.

  17. I’m also going to drive on my two trips this year instead of flying.  I won’t have to put up with the former cart-pushers at the TSA and I won’t risk having TSA agents steal me blind.

  18. Now we have a 95 year old grandmother with cancer being strip searched…how much more humiliation can we take before we refuse to fly? Wake up people before its too late. Also look up the VIPR program…TSA is expanding its searches.

    1. Jim, I started writing about VIPR in November 2010 at a group blog to which I used to belong.  Got shouted down.  They didn’t want to believe it.  Same thing often goes on here, as you can see.

      Unfortunately, I think things are going to have to get worse — a lot worse — before they get better.  More people are going to have to experience this abuse personally, they or their families, before they wake up.  And by then, it’ll probably be too late.  We’re trying to put the horse back in the barn after the door has been closed.

      A chilling quote by a past monster is apropos:

      “The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”
      -Josef Mengele

      1. The US put a stop to the horrendous abuses committed by the German government during WWII.  Which country will step in to stop the horrendous abuses committed by the US government?

  19. EPIC v. DHS Lawsuit — FOIA’d Documents Raise New Questions About Body Scanner Radiation Risks

    In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA’s airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.” For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security – Full Body Scanner Radiation Risksand EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program).
    Posted on June 24, 2011


  20. I didn’t have to listen to the circus recording above.  The administration, regardless of title, is and has been training us to accept the fact that we are subjects.  The Constitution means nothing anymore, “THEY” are in control, just do as you’re told and line up for your portion.

  21. When it comes to poor security, some things never change:  http://www.prisonexp.org/
    “TSA security person:  Please change your protective plastic gloves before you examine me.  I don’t know what the many people in front of me may be afflicted with.”–Nobody

  22. Nothing will change – the problems are embedded deep in the founding culture of TSA and are  promoted through the employees themselves.  It is not even necessary to have a high school diploma to have a position as a screener! They now call themselves “officers”. Give ignorant and ill-educated people authority and a badge and uniform and they them they are saving the nation and they will behave in exactly the way they do – arrogant and incompetent.  As Lord Acton once wrote, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  Hence we see 6 year old girls groped and a diaper removed from a 85 year old terminally ill woman.

    1. Minor quibble — well, not so minor:  the level of education of TSA agents is a smokescreen.  Well-educated thugs are no better than poorly educated ones.  They’re still thugs.  The students in the Stanford Prison Experiment were all university-educated.  They still behaved like despots. They still tortured their “prisoners.”

      Yes, of course education, in general, is a good thing.  But even if all TSA minions were required to have some higher degree, their retention of absolute power, as you correctly note, will guarantee that they’ll abuse it.

      I also don’t want to see us adopt this divide-and-conquer strategy, which will only hurt us.  Our overlords are adept at playing this game for all other political battles.  Let’s not succumb to it here.  Though I hate, loathe, and despise the TSA, I also recognize that there are many TSA agents who hate it, too, and who don’t try to abuse passengers.  We need them on our side.  Especially because the sad fact is that the only growing sector of the economy is the National Security State.  DHS and TSA budgets will likely increase, and the desperate state of many unemployed people means that, like it or not, they’ll take jobs there.

  23. Boarding Pass Arrest: Nigerian Who Slipped by Airport Security a ‘Storyteller’
    June 30, 2011

    The arrested foreign national who allegedly flew from New York to Los Angeles last week with a stolen boarding pass and ID card is a self-proclaimed “storyteller, strategist, and designer who is passionate about reaching the world for Jesus,” according to one of the many websites with which he is affiliated.

    Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, 24, a Nigerian-born man who was found with the stolen ID and up to 10 old boarding passes containing various names, was arrested Wednesday after attempting to board a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta; five days after passing through layers of airport security at New York’s JFK airport to board a plane with a day-old boarding pass, federal authorities said.

    . . . It is unclear how Noibi managed to get through security at both airports . . . .


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