TSA watch: Is it “casual conversation” — or racial profiling?

A few minutes after Vance Gilbert’s recent flight from Boston to Washington pulled away from the gate, the aircraft made a U-turn and returned to the terminal. Authorities had a few questions for him before they could clear his flight for takeoff. What kind of book was he reading? And why hadn’t he stowed his fanny pack in the overhead bin, as a flight attendant had suggested?

Gilbert, a popular folk musician who lives in Arlington, Mass., has unwittingly become a poster boy for the TSA’s pilot behavior-detection program — a new screening technique that is almost certainly coming soon to an airport near you.

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As it turns out, Gilbert had perfectly valid answers to both questions. An amateur aviation historian, he was studying a book about World War II-era Polish aircraft. The fanny pack contained his wallet, so he tucked it underneath the seat in front of him.

But Gilbert believes that he was singled out because he is “a 6-foot-tall, bespectacled, slightly graying, 52-year-old, 230-pound African American male with a close hair cut.” In other words, that he was the target of racial profiling.

He says that he was “totally humiliated” by the experience. “All I want to do is go from one show of mine to another and enjoy studying some history along the way,” he told me. “Is that such a crime?”

Gilbert’s interrogation, which is described in more detail on his blog, may or may not have anything to do with the TSA’s new initiative. (He says that he was questioned by two police officers and at least one TSA agent; the TSA says that it wasn’t involved in any way.) But it has focused attention on the program the way nothing else has done.

TSA screeners in Boston are reportedly engaging each passenger in “casual conversation” in an effort to detect suspicious behavior. After passengers provide their boarding pass and ID, they have to answer a few questions from TSA officers. This “enhanced interaction” allows officers to better verify or dispel suspicious behavior and anomalies, according to the agency.

Agents “in no way profile based on race or ethnicity,” says TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

Of course, these so-called “chat downs” will probably invite as much criticism from passengers as the agency’s controversial full-body scans or liquid and gel limits. Why, travelers may wonder, was I singled out for a particular question? Do the TSA agents suspect me because of my previous answer, because of my skin color or because of something else?

For example, Josh Chessman believes that he was profiled for perspiring. “It took me longer to get to the airport than I had anticipated, and I ended up running in the summer heat to get to security,” says the engineer from Boston. “When I got to security, sweating quite a bit, my bags were X-rayed and I was then selected for special screening. They searched my bag somewhat thoroughly, and I had a whole bunch of new friends asking me questions like ‘Where are you going?’, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where are you coming from?’ ”

Lisa Schaefer, a research scientist from Vienna, Va., thinks that she was singled out because she was “white, female, educated, confident — and in a hurry.” Instead of asking her questions, TSA agents in St. Louis removed her bag from the X-ray machine and claimed that it had to go through again. Then they waited. Finally, another TSA agent re-screened her suitcase, even though it was obvious that she was close to missing her flight. “It was the only power they had over [me],” she says.

Experts say that behavior profiling, when done correctly, can make flying safer. “If TSA employees are trained and demonstrate that they are aware of how to engage people and then do a good job of engaging travelers in conversation, then travelers should appreciate the new approach,” says Rick Shaw, a Washington-based security expert. “However, if TSA employees attempt the behavior detection and engagement with a poor attitude, or act like they are just there to get a paycheck, or act like they are annoyed by travelers — attitudes I have observed quite often — then travelers won’t be impressed. They won’t see the value or feel any safer.”

But will they be any safer? The predecessor to TSA’s new behavior detection program in Boston, called SPOT — for “Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” — hasn’t caught any terrorists yet. “It’s a failed system,” says John Byrnes, founder of the Center for Aggression Management in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “Yet our government continues to use it and continues to try to validate it.”

But Peter DiDomenica, who helped create SPOT while working for the Massachusetts State Police, says that behavior-screening works. A study by the Department of Homeland Security found that it was nine times more effective than random screening at discovering high-risk travelers. In order for it to be effective, however, agents must be properly trained.

“Even if the correct methods are being used, there is the danger of unconscious bias creeping into the process, so that attention is unduly diverted to certain individuals based on racial, ethnic or religious appearance,” he says.

I asked Gilbert whether he thought that his “chat down” was a result of Boston’s new behavior detection program, and he said he didn’t know.

Could the incident have taken place earlier this summer, before the TSA’s pilot program started? Probably. Maybe the fact that it happened after the test started, and that a celebrity with a well-read blog was involved, shone a spotlight on behavior screening.

Just as well. Although the TSA is being coy about the future of “chat downs,” insisting that this is only a test and that the future of behavior detection is far from certain, I think we all know better.

It’s only a matter of time before TSA officers in airports everywhere start asking us questions, gauging our responses to determine whether we deserve a more thorough examination. It’s interesting, and maybe a little sad, that we’re having this discussion almost 10 years to the day after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Will behavior profiling catch another terrorist? Maybe. Will it draw untold complaints about racial, ethnic and other biases? No question about it.

(Photo: T. Magnum/Flickr)

131 thoughts on “TSA watch: Is it “casual conversation” — or racial profiling?

  1. Book?  They asked him what BOOK he was reading?!  That’s not a “chat down”, that’s mind control.  Guess it’s time for another “chat down” with my elected representatives.

  2. You are correct that it has taken 10 years to get to this.  And you are correct that if the TSA agents go at it with the attitude many in the government jobs have we are no better off than if we have been.  I can here it now, “good enough for government work.”  

  3. I’d rather have a properly operated ‘chat down’ than an obscene pat down or irradiation. Coming back from England a few years ago, we were subject to a rather lengthy and intense ‘chat down’ by a security person who examined our boarding information before we even got to the ticket counter. The gentleman was pleasant and respectful, but there was no doubt we were being ‘screened’. We didn’t have anything to worry about, so I didn’t find a problem with it. In fact, I thought it was probably a more effective way of catching potential problem-makers than the ridiculous screening and pat downs of toddlers and the elderly. Properly handled, this can be an effective technique.

    1. But here’s the problem: TSA doesn’t scale back. They only pile on. So, to answer your question, no, correctly answering these questions won’t exclude you from strip searches and public genital rubs. Answering them incorrectly, though, will guarantee it and a whole lot more. I’m glad you have nothing to hide. You should be embarrassed, then, to give up your First and Fifth Amendment rights so freely.

  4. This type of profiling may well work.  It might be employed by investigative agencies around the world.  But, I do not buy that minimally educated TSA security screeners have the background or education to employ it effectively and without their own personal biases. 

    I’m sure they’re all nice people and I’m glad they’ve found a job to put their minimal skills to work, but let’s face it: TSA employees are not exactly cream of the crop.  They were mostly hired en masse after the agency was created less than a decade ago, and acting as professional behavior analysts would not be their strong suit or else they’d be in the CIA.  Sorry, but I don’t trust a low-wage security guard to analyze my thought process and be successful with it.

    1. I’m not necessarily opposed to profiling – I think the Israelis do it pretty well.  But I agree that TSA employees are not exactly capable of this kind of advanced screening.  It would either be ineffective, or it would allow the potential of abuse by some egotistical jerk who thinks his uniform gives him power. 

      1. Repeating again that Israeli methods are no panacea.  Though Israel has eliminated terrorism on planes, they’ve learned to accept it in other venues — buses, cafes, marketplaces. Bombs still go off there.

        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.  Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

        1. How many hijackings have occurred in Israel to-date.  I agree there is no such thing as “100%” except for death.  You selected the wrong country to make a comparison.   One hijacking of an Israeli plane could be very deadly to its enitire nation, of which I am a dual citizen.  Not so in the US.

          1. Since they only screen people getting on planes, not everyone getting on a bus or going into a cafe, aren’t you backing up the claim you were trying to dismiss?

            If they don’t have bombs go off in planes now, only other places, they must be doing something right.

            I’m all for copying Israeli methods, especially exact copies without addition/subtraction: ie Israeli trained military do “chat-downs” not some minimum wage employee who knows you are also going to go through a strip scanner after they finish.

          2. Dan, I’m saying there’s no such thing as 100% security.  There is no panacea.  We live in a world of risk.  You face more risks every day from ordinary things than you do from terrorism.  You’re so much more likely to be killed in a car crash than in aviation terrorism that it doesn’t even make sense to talk about them in the same breath.  Yet I bet you haven’t stopped driving.

            And I already detailed above what “Israeli methods” are.  They’re not the benign procedures so many people are making them out to be.

          3. I’ve always felt that if there were Israeli’s on any of those flights on 9-11, the outcome would have been very different.

          4. Please study the passenger and flights statistics for TLV.  About the same volume as SNA (Orange County John Wayne).  And TLV is, in reality, the only airport in Israel, sorry Eliat and Haifa.

      2. TSA has already abused their privilege with this program. At EWR the Behavior Detection “officers” (BDO) were known to single out Mexican and Dominican passengers for naturalization status, which is not terrorism for those keeping score at home. These people most certainly racially profile. It’s the only thing they know how to do.

  5. Agents “in no way profile based on race or ethnicity,” says TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

    Greg Soule is a TSA shill.  The fact that he lies we already expect.  The fact that he doesn’t seem to know that his agency is routinely engaging in crude “profiling” based on ignorance, personal bias, and power-tripping is troubling.  Isn’t he aware that his minions at Newark go “Mexican-hunting”?  Gee, it was only written about in countless newspapers.

    I’ve known Vance Gilbert for almost 20 years.  He is a sweet, kind, gentle man.  He’s about as likely a “terrorist” as granny next door.  But he’s light-skinned, he’s “Arab-looking,” he’s “Muslim-looking,” in the eyes of ignorant racist Americans. So of course he was “suspicious.”  He was potentially “dangerous.”

    As for the laughable SPOT program, that’s only been debunked dozens of times, based as it is on the nonsense theories of Paul Ekman.  And if people think a “chat-down” is going to obviate a grope, they’re delusional.

    Four days in the classroom and 24 hours of on-the-job training — that’s what BDOs get before they work their voodoo on you.  Yeah, that’ll work.

    1. TSA’s SPOT program was discredited not only by one of the most respected journals in the world, Nature, but also by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). What else do people need to hear to know that this program is bogus?

  6. I thought I remembered reading somewhere, may have been here on Chris’ page, that the TSA was hiring special agents to do the chat down and not using the regular TSA agents.  When I first read about it, I thought that it might be okay if the people doing it were highly trained and knew what they were doing.  Seems like this isn’t the case.  But then, what do you expect when each location has different procedures yet all claim they are following the same rules?

    1. That was my impression too.  Another poster here cleared that up for me.  The more the TSA tries to do, the more they mess it up.  What a shambles!

  7. Fine, you want to chat me up at security, that’s cool. Just make sure the people you have doing it are reasonably intelligent and able to pronounce words in the English language.

    My GF’s sister is a special ed teacher in SC. Imagine her surprise and seeing a young lady she had in her special ed class working for the TSA at GSP by checking boarding passes and IDs. This girl was in school until she was 21, never graduated, and barely able to read. A very nice girl, but very slow. My GF’s sister said, “She’s so dyslexic I’m surprised she can match names.”

    So there ya go. 
    Feel safer already do ya?

  8. How will they chat with a deaf person? Or will this handicap now prevent those that are deaf from flying because they won’t be able to respond to the chat questions, or will the TSA be trained in sign language and then be trained in face response to see how the deaf persons face reacts to the questions.

  9. In no way am I wanting to defend TSA, but this case does not sound like it is a bad “chat down” reaction by the TSA. The man had obviously already cleared the security checkpoints and TSA was no longer engaged.  A fanny pack sure sounds like the type of “small personal carry on” that FAs encourage passengers to stow under their seat. So keeping it under the seat would have been the semi “required” action for a passenger to take.  Since the man was already on board the plane how did TSA even know about this? It sounds to me that this is more like another example of an FA reacting badly rather than TSA. The other examples cited, yes, this one? not so much. No matter who is at fault here though, what happened to that man is horrible!

    1.  I’d like more information about this one as well, because I agree with CTP: it doesn’t sound like this had anything to do with the ‘behavioral detection’.

      If this was a result of that program, then the program is already a complete and total failure because the OP got on the plane and the plane had already started taxing. But then, I would expect no less than such a failure from TSA.

      Is this racial profiling? I have no idea. As I have said in the past, I have a friend who’s 6’4″, 220 lbs or so, young white male, and he’s flagged for groping by TSA *every time* he flies.

      1. “I have a friend who’s 6’4″, 220 lbs or so, young white male, and he’s flagged for groping by TSA *every time* he flies.”

        Typical TSA power-tripping.  They want to exert their control.  Remember the motto displayed at TSA air marshall training center:  “Dominate. Intimidate. Control.”  Nuff said.

      2. What I read in other articles is that the stewardess on the plane was concerned because he was reading a book with plane schematics. Perhaps CHRIS can clarify in a followup.

        The general trend of the TSA doing illegal chats (again, police cannot stop you without reasonable suspicion.  A police chat might go like “Where are you going all dressed in black at 3AM with a backpack in this alley next to the jewelry store?”).

        A chat with me by a non-law enforcement TSA employee will be much shorter. My answer, if I am friendly, is “Travelling legally in the US.”

  10. Well, the problem with this, as others have said, is that you’re not going to take a Wal-Mart cart-pusher, send him thru a two hour class, and PRESTO!, you’ve got a person who can do behavioral profiling. I bet the Israeli agents who do this go thru hundreds of hours of training before they’re turned loose in an airport.  What do you this the odds are the TSA will go that route?

  11. The last two times I have flown out of OMA and once from LNK this year, TSA agents engaged in casual chat with people, including myself, in the line waiting to have their boarding passes and IDs checked.  When I went through security at ATL last month, they did it while I was collecting my bags after the xray screening.  The X-ray agent at LNK even asked me “who is so lucky to be getting the sweet corn?”  (my carry on was over half full of fresh Nebraska sweet corn for friends in Alabama)  I feel a lot better with a casual chat than having my junk fondled. 

    1. Again, a chat doesn’t obviate a grope.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive.  Just like acquiescing to the scanner also doesn’t guarantee no grope.

    2. Lisa is correct. One does not exclude the other.

      As it stands – and this is probably part of TSA’s intent – we don’t know when you’ll get these ‘chats’. It was supposed to be the person who’s initially checking your ticket as you get into the security line. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we see it in other places: at the security gate, at the plane gate, perhaps even customs agents.

      I suggest the last because on my recent flights to/from Vancouver, I wasn’t talked to by the initial ticket-checkers, but we did have a brief, nice chat with the customs agent on the way home. But then, she sounded like she had a little bit of a Canadian accent, so it could just be that Canadians are generally nice people. 🙂

    3. I liked this the moment I saw you carried sweet corn back with you.  I’m also from the corn belt, Ohio, and our sweet corn is a precious commodity outside the area.  

      I carried home some ham loaves in my carry on (they were made at a butcher shop not far from where I grew up) and they were wrapped in foil, in a plastic bag, and then in another plastic bag.  TSA in DAY stopped me (I expected this and got there extra early to account for it) and were trying to figure out what to do when another TSA agent walked up, after overhearing everything, and vouched for the ham loaves being the best around, since they were from Copey’s Meat Market.  Turned out, the TSA agent was someone I went to High School with.

      The sweet corn is mailed home priority…

    4. You were lucky.  Lincoln was the place where the TSA agent apparently thought my Klondike bar looked suspicious (or perhaps delicious).  I had to throw it in the trash can to get thru security.  I don’t know why I turned around, but I did, just in time to see this TSA agent pluck the still wrapped Klondike bar from the trash and start eating it.

  12. Nothing surprises me anymore.  Especially about the TSA.  I haven’t flown in nearly a year because I dont like interacting with them.  I don’t mind having them check my BP and ID though I truly don’t see the purpose.   Not only are they asking you questions about where you are going/how long you have been gone, etc, the ID checker is asking you to pronounce your name.  How stupid is that?  All because several of their coworkers let that Michigan man go through several checkpoints using someone else’s boarding pass.  I don’t mind going through the metal detactor.  However, I will not go through their AIT machines and thankfully have never had a patdown.  This agency needs some serious reigning in. 

  13. It sounds to me like the flight crew delayed a whole flight over nothing.  They should not care what book someone is reading.  People read articles on 9/11.  Does that make them terrorists?  No!  However, if someone did go on a plane with a book about 9/11, I bet that the security people would “assume” they admired the attacks and would be getting extra scrutiny.   Of course, what you’d want to say is “Do you seriously think that someone up to no good would tip you off by bringing a book about the subject?”  There are a lot of things that the security people do that are just going through the motions, and not accomplishing anything but delaying people for no reason or going through pointless exercises wastes everyone’s time and causes annoyances.

    The gentleman asked about the book also has the choice of putting his bag below the seat in front of him or in the bin above, but generally it is his choice.  Having your wallet in a carry on bag is not the best idea, though..what if the plane is evacuated?  You are not going to get to take that wallet with you.

    I expect that the flight crew who created this incident should be held to account for their foolish and pointless actions.

    As for the TSA, I don’t mind talking to their agents, they often do engage me in conversation.  It is pleasant 99% of the time.  The othe 1%, it is some power hungry moron but the conversation is brief.
     
    However, the TSA, like the border protection people, quite often target the wrong people and generate conflict with the very people who are on their side for hostile conversations.

  14. So, what happens to my interstate right to travel if I just ignore these fools and exercise my right to remain silent?? Hmmmm?

  15. While I agree with all the criticisms of the TSA already posted, as far as I understand it was the flight crew who triggered the harassment of Vance Gilbert. The plane pulled a U-turn after someone noticed he was reading a book about airplanes. (Right, as if a potential terrorist would be winging it – trying to figure out the architecture of the plane only after he was sitting in it?) Oh, and they were historical airplanes. But in the national security state, *everyone* is called upon to be paranoid – and they were, with absurd and humiliating results.

    Maybe the TSA officially practices racial profiling; maybe they don’t. We’ll never get a straight answer. But it matters only slightly when the outcome is still disproportionately people of color being singled-out and harassed. Many white people who believe they’re anti-racist still carry unconscious racist baggage. (Try taking the test on race at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ – I found it illuminating.) As a white woman in Vance Gilbert’s general age group, I cannot imagine I would have been subjected to the same treatment. 

    These kinds of incidents are inevitable in a society that has traded liberty and reason for fear and illusory security. Racism just ensures that certain people are far more likely to bear the brunt.

    1. This is true too. Like TSA, we’re finding out just how much of a trip that pilots and flight attendants get when they’re handed the power to make a passenger’s life hell. And they’re exercising that power more often than we’re aware of.

    2. The TSA most certainly does engage in racial profiling. Do a search for the EWR Mexican Hunters. It was a “joke” to these agents that they were harassing innocent people. They never once caught a terrorist, and likely never will.

  16. Remember the lawsuit against JetBlue AND the TSA, because some Arab guy wearing a threatening t-shirt written in English AND ARABIC was prevented from boarding the plane?  They lost because it was found to be “discrimination.”  Offhand, this is the only case I know of where the TSA actually lost big-time (at least, financially speaking.  That means, of course, that we taxpayers paid the settlement.). 

    Why should the TSA and an airline together NOT be allowed to ban someone from flying with a threatening message emblazoned across his shirt, but they ARE allowed to turn a plane around because Vance Gilbert’s reading a history book?  Would someone please clarify?

    Oh, wait, I see.  The guy with the threatening t-shirt was apparently Muslim!  That explains everything! 

    So here’s what we should watch for next: how many obvious Muslims/people from the Middle East will be stopped by the govt using their latest “technique”?  And what percentage of people who get stopped will NOT meet the same profile as all the 9/11 hijackers, the shoe-bomber, the underwear-bomber?  Something tells me that we can guess these numbers RIGHT NOW…

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/08/09/2007-08-09_lawsuit_claims_jetblue_blocked_passenger.html 

    1. “Offhand, this is the only case I know of where the TSA actually lost big-time (at least, financially speaking.  That means, of course, that we taxpayers paid the settlement.). “

      Clare, the TSA has actually been quietly paying off millions of dollars to passengers they’ve robbed, detained, or otherwise abused.  I posted the link here a few months ago.  Will have to go dig it up.

      1. Thanks, Lisa, please do!  The only other cases that I know of involve slaps-on-the-wrist to the TSA, a few thousand dollars to settle here or there.  If they’re having to shell out millions, this should be shouted from the rooftops!  And it should also be cannon-fodder for those lawyers who I HOPE are working on further suits.  Ultimately the mountain of legal precedent should be enough to shut them down entirely, please God! 

    2. Clare – the guy should be able to wear any message on his shirt as long as it doesn’t violate local obscenity laws or intimidation laws. That is based on something called the 1st amendment. The Supreme Court just upheld this year the right for people to yell gay slurs at funerals of military servicepeople. It is disgusting, but their particular speech cannot be outlawed.

      Muslim terrorists who hate us can actually legally wear shirts that say “I believe we should cut the heads off all US military people.” for example. As long as they don’t plan or perform criminal acts, they can do this, fly on our planes, and generally enjoy our country after their TSA molestations.

      It is this freedom of expression, as embodied in the US Constitution, that makes us a BETTER country than any other. However, we are seeing our society change for the worse, especially regarding the 4th amendment of course.

      1. You’re missing my point.  If it’s okay to fly on a plane, wearing a t-shirt that passengers find threatening, why the bleep did Gilbert’s plane get turned around?  Do we not see some double-standard here?  Whenever an ordinary American, minding his/her own business, wants to board a plane, this in itself now constitutes justification for molestation and now mind-control  But if it’s an Arab or a person who in some way can be seen/presumed to be Muslim, he gets a pass, and we’re urged to be “tolerant.”

        1. Clare writes: But if it’s an Arab or a person who in some way can be seen/presumed to be Muslim, he gets a pass, and we’re urged to be “tolerant.”

          Simply not true. Please, let’s not play into the hands of our overlords by engaging in Divide-and-Conquer. They would love for us to do that. It’s a technique as old as the hills.

          Remember the interning of Japanese-Americans during WWII? How many Americans were just fine with that? Too many.

        2. My bad Clare – I missed your irony in original post. I am writing this AFTER 9-11-2011 and the , to be generous, ‘possible’ profiling of the 3 passengers on the Frontier flight to Detroit which resulted in the semetic-appearing US lady citizen getting strip searched without any reasonable suspicion.

          I am sure Chris might mention the hysteria of 9-11 and the airplane incidents.

  17. The hate that’s continuously directed towards the TSA is becoming increasingly annoying.  I typically fly 2-3 round trips per month.  Most of the TSA employees I’ve dealt with have been pretty good.  They’re not perfect; but then again, neither are store clerks, police officers, accountants, Congressmen, or CEO’s.  Do a I want a TSA agent to do brain surgery on me?  Of course not.  But I don’t want a store clerk, police officer, accountant, Congressman, or CEO to do it either…

    After going through security dozens and dozens of times across the US, I’ve only personally seen a couple of two situations involving TSA personnel.  In both cases, the issue involved a belligerent, non-cooperative passenger.
     
    As others have mentioned, the evidence sure seems to support the theory that the Vance Gilbert incident was initiated by the flight crew, not the TSA.  Don’t you think that the TSA would have stopped him before he got on the plane, or before the plane left the gate?

  18. All of this being done by people who, ten years ago, worked for McDonald’s, Burger King and the Post office.   HIRE people with security backgrounds, retired cops, fireman, etc.   These people can no more profile than I can do open heart surgery after a one week crash course.    This is C.R.A.P..

    1. AirlineEmployee, while I agree that competent, responsible training of competent, responsible people is important — in all walks of like — I don’t think we should play Divide-and-Conquer.  Being abused by a well-educated (in the conventional sense), well-trained goon is no better than being abused by a poorly educated, poorly trained one.

      Please let’s not devolve into class warfare.  There are a lot of well-educated idiots and sadists, and a lot of poorly educated smart, humane people.  I bet everyone on this board can attest to that.

      1. Lower class people should NOT be allowed to board a plane without increased scrutiny.  people of means are not going to screw up their lives.

    2. I agree with you totally.  I’m in a law enforcement family and can’t believe what I see when I have to go through security at the airport.  A lot of them seem like just a warm body they pulled in off the street.  Like others have stated above, I don’t feel safe when they’ve only had up to a week of training before they are assigned a position in the airport. 

  19. I went to the Transport Canada site in an effort to find what is happening at airports in Canada.  Got sort of bogged down with all the govt.’s Interim Orders and Intentions to Call for Proposals to supply of passenger behaviour observation programs.  So I decided to go to the public media to find out what is really happening.  I found that as of 2011 there is a pilot program in place at the Vancouver airport.  There appear to be some differences between this and what is happening in the US.  Nevertheless, there seem to be causes of concern some of which are mentioned in the following article:
     
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/08/30/pol-air-privacy.html
    Privacy czar slams airport screening plan
    “Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart is concerned about the potential unfairness of a plan to scrutinize the flying public’s behaviour at the airport.”
     
    IMO it will not take much for the powers that be to realize that behavioral  observation by unqualified personnel will not work.  All it will take is just one incident for the planners to realize that it is not sustainable.  It will self-destruct in time.  We will wait.
     
    However, in my browsing I did run into some information I find disturbing and has me wondering whether it is worth flying at all.  Admittedly, there is some degree of risk in this activity, but who would have thought such a small thing that has nothing to do with terrorism and that is totally outside of our control could present such danger?  Why was no one on top of this?  To tell you the truth, it puts the potential risk of harassment due to my hyperhidrosis into perspective.  
     
    http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/publications/tp185-4-06-pre-flight-4025.htm
    “NAV CANADA tracks all operating irregularities in an effort to identify safety hazards and find ways to reduce the probability of accidents. Lately, we have seen a disturbing increase in the number of instances where similar call signs have caused confusion among pilots and controllers, leading to situations where there is an increased risk of loss of separation between aircraft. Call sign confusion could also lead to an increased risk of controlled flight into terrain or obstacles.
     
    In a recent typical incident, two aircraft operated by the same airline were approaching a busy airport from the same direction. They had four-digit flight numbers, and the first, third and fourth digits were identical–only the second digit was different. The aircraft nearest to the airport was cleared to 3 000 ft, but the crew in the other aircraft read back that clearance and started descent from 9 000 ft. Fortunately, the controller noted this error and intervened before there was a conflict with another flight.”
     
     
                   

      1. Thanks for the link, Lisa.  Absolutely frightening!  I went further and watched the video demonstrating the sexual assault.  This is sickening.  I could NOT tolerate this happening to me.  I would have to protest and submit to the arrest that would no doubt follow.  I will NEVER, NEVER, EVER submit to anything of the kind.

        Fortunately, as a retiree, there is no place on this earth that I absolutely have to be.  All my remaining relatives live in Western Canada and in the U.S. so flying is the most economical method of travel available to me.  However, weddings, funerals, family reunions are going to take place without me.  As for my second home in Portugal, I am going to have to find some other means of getting there and back.  Balloon, maybe?     

  20. I like it — it is far better than invasive pat downs of 85 year old grandmothers.  I suspect it is modeled after the process used by El Al….ever see any successful terror attacks or hijackings on them ?

    1. Richard Reid, the UK citizens who was a spectacular FAILURE with the so-called “shoe bombing” flew through Isreal a couple of months prior to his failed highly-doubtful-it-would-have-been-a-big-deal-or-even-worked explosion attempt.

  21. Wait a minute.. Which one was racial profiling.. The black guy, the white woman or the sweaty guy?

    When everyone is complaining they’re being racially profiled.. Is it racial profiling?

  22. Whatever techniques TSA applies (or declares on its webpage), here is the bottomline. If you are in ethnic/traditional attire and/or speak with an accent and/or are in a hurry and/or brown or black skinned, your chances of getting special screening are very high. If one looks at the statistics of total number of terrorists and number of them being brown/black, you will get the idea as to why TSA thinks like that. 

    If one looks at the ratio of the number of people sigled out for the screening to the number of people falling under categories listed above, the ratio gets above 90% from my own observation flying as often as I do. 

    Being one of the brown skinned non-muslim, accented Americans, I often get the special attention. While I wait in line to go through security, I scan the group ahead of me and identify a few people in my mind who I think will have to go for additional screening, and they end up getting the enchanced patdown despite of going through the full body scanner. One can very easily predict now-a-days. Just try it next time you are at the airport and see how often you can be right.

    If one looks at the number of airline passengers, majority are white. It’s just a reflection of demographics, nothing wrong with it. If one also sees what percentage of such passangers gets special screened, it’s very small, less than 10%. To say that TSA is unbiased because one of the passengers screened was white is trying to justify TSA and satisfy our own mind with myths.

  23. I much prefer the chat down to the pat down, albeit from a well-trained intelligent person. I fly a lot. I have been treated well so far and have seen a big change of attitude in general from TSA, probably due to better training. As in every profession, there will be some very bad apples. I have witnessed some nasty actions myself, but the number has diminished.

    I was flying from BWI to STL with my daughter and two grandchildren a couple of months ago. It was an early flight and I handed my ID to the TSA screener. She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Happy birthday,” at which point my daughter and grandchildren chimed in, “Oh, yeah! Happy birthday!” Even I had not realized what day it was. So, some out there are not only pleasant, they really do look at your papers.

    Having gone through Israeli screening many times, including when they were at war, I certainly prefer their non-sexual methods. I also like that they know they cannot prevent casualty 100%.

    1. “I much prefer the chat down to the pat down, albeit from a well-trained intelligent person. I fly a lot. I have been treated well so far and have seen a big change of attitude in general from TSA, probably due to better training.”

      The chat-down doesn’t obviate the pat-down.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

      As for fewer incidents of abuse getting reported lately, we’ve been discussing this at Travel Underground.  Obviously no one, including the TSA, can say anything definitive about this.  We’ll all draw our own conclusions.  At TUG, we think they’re making a concerted effort to keep the bad publicity down, the better to control and manipulate people.  But it can’t last long.  Their determination to exert — and abuse — their authority will eventually re-assert itself.
      http://www.travelunderground.org/index.php?threads/master-lists-of-tsa-abuses-crimes.317/

  24. Here’s what I sent my 2 Senators and my Representative from Nebraska.  I’ve made it a tad more generic for public consumption.  If anyone has an idea of anyone else who might actually read what a Nebraskan says (as opposed to ditching the letter because I’m not a constituent), please let me know. 
    *****

    Dear Elected Representative:

    I became aware of what happened to Mr. Vance Gilbert on
    August 14, 2011 through a travel blog to which I subscribe.  (Please see
    http://www.elliott.org/blog/tsa-watch-is-it-casual-conversation-or-racial-profiling/#more-19785
    for a synopsis of this event.)

    I am infuriated that an American can be profiled as a
    “terrorist” just because he’s black and reading a book about
    airplanes on an airplane.  Is the
    government, in giving permission to the airline industry to enforce Homeland
    Security on the plane, also in the business of censorship, of deciding which
    books designated citizens of our nation are allowed to read and where they are
    allowed to read them?  If he had been
    reading Lolita, would that have made
    him a pedophile?  The Communist Manifesto, a Communist?  I’ve read both of those books as assigned
    reading in college courses and still have them on my bookshelves, but is that
    excused because I am a white female?

    Because I do read extensively, I am alarmed at what Homeland
    Security and the TSA are requiring of travelers in this country and the
    parallels to an authoritarian, rather than representative, government.   When did we stop being an American citizen
    the moment we purchase an airplane, train or bus ticket?  I urge you to look into this incident with
    Mr. Gilbert, to give it thought, and ask yourself if our nation is truly safer
    by treating black men as terrorists first, and American citizens second.

    *******
    Please feel free to adapt, improve and most importantly, send!

  25. On some trips into and out of DCA or IAD (and no where else and not at either of these consistently) I am patted down bec. I wear a longer (mid-calf) jumper. I was told by TSA it was bec. they couldn’t see my “contours” to which I harrumphed. They have control over whether we fly or not and whether to humilate us or not. This incident for Vance Gilbert was absurd.

    1. The TSA’s obsessive interest in examining every curve of our bodies is what makes me nearly vomit in fear when I think about going to the airport.  Hey TSA creeps, it’s none of your business what my body contours look like or feel like!  No means no, except in an airport where we’re expected to allow strangers complete domination over our bodies.

  26. I don’t want to lower myself by speaking to a TSA employee: they are traitors to our country, low-lifes who take money to put their hands all over the genitals of innocent travelers and create pornographic images of children.  I know that if they’ve got that blue shirt with the fake badge on, they’re molesting people day in and day out.  Their humanity has gone right out the window.  I’m not going to give out any personal information to anyone I mistrust so deeply.  

    As someone suggested below, what is the TSA-approved punishment for exercising our right to remain silent?  Can we refuse to answer these intrusive and pointless questions?

    1. Well, based on their track-record so far, anybody who walks into an airport and refuses to instantly acquiesce to anything he’s told by these thugs to do, is ipso facto dubbed “suspicious” and gets added treatment.  So it would seem, logically, that if you refuse to answer their nosey questions, they will label your conduct as “suspicious” on that ground too!

      That’s according to THEIR “logic,” obviously, not according to the legal logic of the US Constitution.  If a state trooper, e.g., pulled you over because your headlight was burned out, and you were cooperative and obviously sober and generally non-threatening and normal, etc., would he then have the right to arrest you if you refused to tell him exactly where you were going and why you were going there, and how long you would be there and whom you intended to see, and what you intended to talk about and how much money you intended to spend there?  (And what book you were reading?)  You get the idea.  These goons have arrogated to themselves a set of powers that is SO broad that no other law-enforcement personnel that I can think of can compare–with the exception of prison guards dealing with convicts.  Thanks, TSA! 

    2. So you’re better than anyone who takes a job at the TSA? Do you also disrespect anyone in a service type job? While the TSA has problems, generalizing every single person in the organization as a criminal just makes you look like a classist freak.

      For example…exaggerating about “creating pornographic images of children” and that anyone who works for TSA is a “molester”…Go back to talking about your labia. At least that was funny.

          1. Raven, Sommer Gentry was sexually assaulted at BWI by a TSA agent who shoved a metal detector wand up through her labia.  You think that’s funny?  You think that makes her a nutter?

            She has written about her experience publicly on the web, including on this site.  I call that courageous, not nutty.

            It’s very telling that the TSA can get away with assaulting people and that’s okay with half the population, but using anatomically correct words?  Oooh, verboten.

          2. Correction. She SAYS she was sexually assaulted. If this actually happened, why is there no court case? Why hasn’t she been interviewed on national TV like anyone else who claims TSA abuse? 

            The more she talks about her labia, the more I think it’s an internet attention whoring stunt. Google her and all you’ll find are her responses to internet posts. Nothing else.

            Her statement above that all TSA workers are molesters and traitors to the country is totally over the top and trolling. I’ll be one of the first ones to say there are bad apples and bad policy at the TSA but I certainly wouldn’t just assume the guy wearing “the blue shirt”–as she says–is a child molester.

            Don’t defend her. She’s just a troll.

          3. Yeah, she just woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decided to make sh*t up!  As did the thousands of people whose accounts of abuse I’ve documented, in the report you clearly can’t be bothered to read (I’ve posted the link umpteen times), because you know they’re all lying.  Gosh, why didn’t I think of that?  Life is such a bore, why not just make stuff up?!

            And Sommer Gentry is a Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.  She is distinguished in her field, a fact that, if you actually had Googled her, you would already know.

          4. Googled her and saw that. Didn’t think it was worth mentioning since it has nothing to do with my points above. You also did not respond to my pointing out that she is using patently classist and generalizing language.

          5. I have spoken out repeatedly, on this site (including down-thread today) and elsewhere, against class warfare.  You will never see me use the terms that many TSA-hating commenters use, such as “pizza-deliverers,” “burger-flippers,” “postal clerks,” on and on — implying that just because someone has a job low on the social totem pole therefore they’re to be denigrated.  There are a lot of well-educated, privileged assholes and a lot of lowly decent human beings.  I cast my lot with the latter.

            I don’t care, as I said earlier, how “educated” TSA agents are.  They are abusing people with impunity.  That’s the point.

            And it was you who said “Google her and all you’ll find are her responses to internet posts. Nothing else” which is why I informed you that she’s a math prof at the USNA.

          6. Wait, I’m generalizing based on the duties of the job they have agreed to perform.  We know they’ve all agreed to do what TSA asks them to do on the job, and we know that TSA asks them to touch children’s genitalia.  I don’t see how generalizing about people who take a job doing an unacceptable thing is an unfair generalization.  I don’t see what it has to do with class.  I think John Pistole is the head child molester.  I’ll say all day long that Pistole is running a child molestation ring, and that guy is certainly not uneducated or lower-class.  He’s just evil.

          7.  she is using patently classist and generalizing language.

            Says the poster who earlier wrote of a TSA employee, ” A very nice girl, but very slow.” Implicitly implying that “retards” don’t make us any safer.
            Look, I believe Sommer without a court case because I personally know these things happen. It’s great they don’t happen to you. I’ve personally had my own testicles lifted and separated by the back of the hand. When I complained to the supervisor his response was “Enjoy your secure facility.”

            Sommer is committing an act of bravery by making her horrific story public. Employees of the TSA are indeed molesting the general public, as well as taking nude photographs of children with the aid of technology. If that’s not perverse then what is?

            It seems this job does indeed attract a certain “class” of person, as evidenced by the nearly 40 TSA employees arrested just this year, many of them for pedophilia.

          8. You have something of a problem, I’d say, with class warfare written all over your posts. Stick to the subject, please. And what’s with the troll charge?  If there were one word I’d flag on the internet, it’s that. The lazy charge of last resort.

      1. I respect many people who have service-type jobs, if they do those jobs
        well and show respect for themselves and for me.  I do not respect
        anyone who has a sexual-assault-type jobs, and that’s what a TSA job
        is.  I recognize that you don’t call what they do sexual assault.  I do.
         

        I consider the stated “standard operating procedures” of the TSA to be criminal, and therefore I consider anyone who agrees to conduct such procedures to be a child molester.  It is crystal clear that the TSA intends to touch travelers’ sexual organs, because they threatened to shut down air travel in Texas if TSA’s sexual touching were outlawed.  I don’t care what the intent of the screener is: all screeners are forcing children to accept unwanted sexual touching, and I call that child molestation.  Obviously you think it’s just fine to force small children to endure genital touching from strangers, even though that leaves the victimized children more vulnerable to other sexual predators by including complete strangers in the “who’s allowed to touch them in bathing suit areas” group.  I consider every single TSA employee to be a child molester.   You don’t have to agree.  I don’t speak to child molesters.  I wouldn’t degrade myself by speaking to a person whom I know forces unwanted sexual touching on children. 

        1. No, you’re just classist. The first line of your post just proves it. I fly 3-4 days a week and have NEVER seen a TSA agent touch a child, much less touch one inappropriately. If I had, I would be the first person filming with my phone. 

          Move along now. I have nothing more to say to anyone who assumes that because someone is wearing a blue shirt that they are a child molester. 

          1. Here’s some video of how TSA agents touch children inappropriately:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba030UmbkCo
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6ByKOhAhsU
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSQTz1bccL4
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqsepiCPukI
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASgneJEkl7g (skip to 3:00 and watch how the screener forcefully rams her hands into a 14-year-old girl’s crotch. You can watch the victim flinch as the screener lifts her off her heels with that karate chop.)

            Now you can’t say you have NEVER seen a TSA agent touch a child.

          2. Five instances do not make EVERY SINGLE AGENT a molester.

            I take personal offense at your blanket statement since a friend of mine is former marine who was employed at the TSA. He lost three fingers fighting for our country. 

            Why was he working there? Because when he came back from Afghanistan, there were no other jobs and he has a family to feed. He has since found different (better, as he’ll tell you) employment.

            However, he isn’t a child molester or a traitor or any of the other hateful terms you’ve used above. And…I bet your superiors at the USNA would LOVE to hear how you’re insulting a member of the armed services by calling him a child molester.

            I think I’ll email him and his father this thread. His dad loves to send emails that go viral about people insulting marines. I hope it winds up on the desk of someone who can remove you from your employment if you honestly think a former marine is a “traitor.”

          3. All of the opinions I expressed above are only my own.  I am speaking as an individual citizen, not as a representative of my employer.  I am glad that your friend has found better employment.  I do not know whether he was at TSA after November 2010 when this travesty of justice began, so I’m not sure whether my characterizations apply to him.  You might ask him, just out of curiousity, whether he was instructed to touch the genitalia of passengers.  Or maybe you don’t think that’s important.

            As to contacting my employer, you wouldn’t be the first to try that particular method of silencing my dissent.  It won’t work.  I will never stop fighting the TSA until they stop touching people inappropriately.  Rest assured that my right to speak my mind as a citizen on the affairs of this country has been affirmed by my superiors.   Also, from Wikipedia: “Academic tenure is primarily intended to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics.”

            Finally, this issue seems to boil down to individual responsibility versus systematic change. I am also working for systematic change: organizing, lobbying, funding litigation, writing letters, changing my own travel plans and letting my airlines know why, attending protests, and so on. I still believe that individual employees are responsible for the actions they take, even if their employer ordered them to do it. Many people disagree with me on this, and Stanley Milgram’s research shows that most people are willing to harm another human being if an authority tells them to do it. All the more reason to hold TSA screeners individually accountable, in my mind.

          4. Regardless of when he stopped working there, I think it’s amusing to see you backpedal. “Oh, well, if it was before Nov 2010, my characterizations might not apply to him…”

            I just want you to realize that not everyone you paint with your high and mighty brush are evil. If what happened to you is the truth, then I’m offended at the actions of that TSA agent. But not all of them are “child molesters.” 

            Right, but just remember that with an election year coming up, some members of Congress may be more zealous than others. Whether or not my friend’s father does anything is up to him, but it makes me personally sick that someone who educates our future military officers refers to one of them as a “traitor” and “child molester” without even knowing the man. 

          5. Honestly, I wish I would not come across as high and mighty.  I’m angry, wounded, and vulnerable.  I have spent many hours and days of tears, sleepless nights, paralyzing fear, flashbacks, and many epic non-flying journeys as a result of what happened to me.  I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, and I know that makes me an outlier.  Maybe someone else would have just shrugged and walked away.  Look at it this way: people certainly have their different levels of comfort with strangers, comfort with nudity, comfort with someone getting up close and personal with their body.  There’s a range of reactions that people might have, and what TSA is doing basically says to the most sensitive 15% : We don’t care about you.  We don’t care about your pain and anguish.  We’re going to touch you there anyway.  Having people refer to me as crazy for being sensitive to these things feels awful – probably as awful as hearing me call your friend a child molester did.   So here – I take it back.  Maybe your friend never did touch a child’s genitals.  How about we all take a step back and consider whether it’s all worth it?  Does touching people between their legs really make anyone any safer? 

          6. Fair enough.
            And no, touching another person’s genitals have never made anyone safer. I agree with you on that. I just don’t like blanket generalizations.I want a better, more intelligent way to handle screening but I don’t want to insult the good people who are just doing their jobs and haven’t fallen to the level of power hungry evil TSA agents.

          7. Raven, until Chris removed it from an earlier post, you suggested that a passenger solve his/her problems with a gun, which apparently you bring with you at all times.  What do you do for a living, anyway?  Are you a TSA worker, or just a Tea Party supporter? Some kind of nut job, certainly, so I’m not surprised to see you attacking Sommer and other posters who stand up for our rights. If you take a job where you are likely to be ordered to commit immoral acts – and that includes the TSA and the military – you are guilty, whether or not you ever commit those acts. I’ve been poor, and it never occurred to me to seek a job in those areas; I preferred to live for years on a dollar a day, and I did. Today I pay for it in health problems that will never leave me, but I’d do the same again rather than prostitute myself to the government.

          8. I never suggested someone solve their problems with a gun. I only posted (and it’s still there) that I always travel with my firearm when and where it is legal. Is it not legal to have it when I go to England, so I leave it at home.

            I have a concealed carry permit. My job has nothing to do with law enforcement or the TSA. 

            And, I have nothing to do with the teabaggers. 

            Nice try, though. 

          9. It’s not on my screen anymore – I just checked.  Can anyone tell me why this happens?  And I almost never see the polls anymore, even though other people’s replies show that they should be there.  Raven, you really think concealed carry permits for civilians are a good thing?  I rest my case.

          10. he isn’t a child molester or a traitor
            If he worked for the TSA and didn’t stand up and say, “No, this I will not do. I will not rub a child’s resistance, I will not fondle another man’s resistance, because if I don’t the terrorists will win”, then he most certainly is a traitor.

            Just because he’s a marine doesn’t make him an awesome American. I hope you get his dad to email everybody. EVERYBODY! And then we can discuss how former marines and other service members are sexually abusing innocent people because, hey they have mouths to feed, and well, they’re just doing their jobs. I imagine a TSA line matron is exactly the kind of job that Linndie England would have loved.

          11. I fly 3-4 days a week and have NEVER seen a TSA agent touch a child, 
            Good for you. Just remember, TSA is all fun and games until TSA happens to you. I certainly hope the first time your testicles are manipulated you’ll keep it to yourself since, really, it apparently is no big deal.

            http://www.womenonbusiness.com/it%E2%80%99s-not-so-bad-until-tsa-happens-to-you/

            http://abovethelaw.com/2011/09/two-minutes-of-terrorist-triumph-alone-with-the-tsa/

  27. Recently I came back from a 4-month stay in Paris.  Amazing to me was that I was not asked to remove shoes, remove one of my two watches I wear or anything else.  Most civilized behavior.  Neither was I groped as I have been in the past.  5’2″ 113 pounds.  Blonde — not young.  But in past times I have had to go through all sorts of searching — usually for wearing a dress that looks like a trench coat — wanted me to remove it, and prostheses from breast cancer.  Lots of squeezing on that trip.  

    1. Nparmelee2001, again, just because you’re “chatted up” doesn’t mean you won’t also be groped. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

  28. By Bill Forster, former TSA screener, Los Angeles:

    I think the BDO antagonize PAX.
    Actual conversation I have overheard between a BDO and a passenger:
    BDO: How do you feel about flying?
    PAX: What do you mean?
    BDO: What’s making you so angry?
    PAX: I’m not angry.
    BDO: Then why are you unwilling to talk to me?
    PAX: I am talking to you.
    BDO: Tell me wants going on.
    PAX: I don’t know what’s going on.
    BDO: Why do you feel so confused?

    The number one strategy they use is, they never ask you a yes or no question. They just try to get you to constantly talk. Basically they try to confuse you into blurting out your true sinister intentions.

    BDOs get paid better and its easy to get the promotion from TSO. Some of the dumbest and/or craziest people I have met at the TSA are now BDOs. They spend most of the day walking around “watching people” or hanging out in break rooms and drinking coffee, often text messaging or just plain leaving the airport. Their supervisors are on the other end of a radio. Actually a lot of them ARE supervisors.       
    BillForster, Aug 1, 2011

    http://www.travelunderground.org/index.php?threads/more-bdo-interaction.542/#post-4386

  29. For what it is worth, my family trust returned from Tahiti. En route back to the US we went through their version of security. Remember, we are talking Tahiti here. EVERY person was pat down and every bag was inspected after going through the xray machine. I did not see anyone complaining. They went through and was done with it.

    1. Thank you for the airport update.  Now that I know that one can not travel to Tahiti without being abused, I’m putting it on my list of places never to go.  Everyone gets patted down in India too, hence, I will never return.   A complete stranger has no right to put their hands on my body, period.

    2. I bet they were indeed patted down and not groped.  The incompetence and determination to humiliate in this country has few parallels.

  30. So, TSA agents are going to become multilingual super psychologist overnight. I can imagine the chat down with someone who does not understand English and I will throw in Spanish for good measure in a Security Line. In International Airports they might as well just carry on with the screening of all foreign passengers. I am sure Middle Eastern looking people and passengers in “Muslim attire” will be a good target.

    1. There have been three or four (I can’t keep track) instances of planes being diverted just in the past two weeks because of paranoid passengers. The latest one is in today’s paper: Flight to BWI diverted due to passenger’s ‘suspicious behavior’

  31. Hang on a sec. How does Vance Gilbert’s story have ANYTHING to do with the TSA? The plane turned around because the FLIGHT CREW thought he was suspicious. The police who showed up to question him were there at United’s request, and they quickly realized he was a harmless aviation buff and put him back on the plane.

    His story does raise questions about racial profiling on behalf of United Airlines (and if they haven’t yet apologized to him and disciplined the flight crew, that’s absolutely worth Chris’ intervention), but there’s no indication any of the law enforcement agencies or TSA did anything improper in this particular case.

  32. I think two completely different things are getting thrown together here that have no relation to each other.  And the result has got a lot of us really stirred up.

    If Mr. Gilbert had “failed” the TSA questioning or raised any concern at all about security, why wasn’t he sent for the enhanced pat down or have his bag manually searched at the security point?  Or even denied passage through the security point?  I don’t think the TSA had anything to do with his flight returning to the gate.  How would they have even known which flight he was on once he left the security check? 

    This sounds totally like a flight attendant going overboard and nothing else.  All you have was a man who refused to follow an order given to him and then he was seen reading a book about planes.  What was his actual response to the request to stow his pack in the overhead?  Not knowing him I can’t guess, but I have to believe his statement that the exchange was civil.  What happened next was completely uncalled for and the flight crew involved should be reprimanded and the airline should publicly apologize.

    Let’s keep the facts straight and the topics separated when articles are posted here.

      1. Yes, AFTER the flight attendant apparently reported him to a pilot and he was removed from the plane the TSA may have been there along with the police.  The TSA was NOT involved in the decision to turn the plane back to the gate.  Also, nowhere in Mr. Gilbert’s account on his blog does he state that it was a TSA person who asked any questions after the plane went back to the gate only that there was at least one present during questioning. He specifically states it was the police who did all of the questioning at that point.  Mr. Elliot did not clearly state Mr. Gilbert’s own words in his recap of the incident.

        I don’t like the TSA any more than anyone else here.  However, we need to be accurate in our accusations if anything is ever going to change.

  33. I’m not opposed to profiling, but you just can’t take a bunch of yahoos and make them into behavior profilers.”  TSA needs to hire and thoroughly train *the right people* to do this job.  Please understand that I am not calling all TSA employees yahoos.  But, I’m not sure that the vast majority of current TSA employees meet the standard of “the right people” for the new job description.  

  34. Several years ago, I watched a TAP flight from New York to Lisbon “randomly” select only black men for a body search.  Profiling is not the answer! And the TSA, whatever form it takes, is not the solution.

  35. Leave or depart from Israel just one time and you will see how this is done properly, Is this effective? How many problems are there on flights going to or originating from Israel? They screen everyone, they look you in the eye, and you know they mean business.  If TSA could do that, no problem for any honest travelers beyond getting to the airport earlier.

    1. Hi, Travelfly.  We’ve discussed Isreal many times on this blog.  Israel has no panacea.

      Though the Israelis have eliminated terrorism on planes, they’ve learned to accept it in other venues — buses, cafes, marketplaces. Bombs still go off there.  

      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.  Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

  36. Hmmm…I wonder what would have happened if he had the book on a Kindle and started reading during the flight!

    This summer while going through security my “chat down” consisted of “How are you today?”‘ To which I replied, “any day you go on vacation is a good day! That was it!  Everything else was a breeze!

  37. I’m one of a handful of people that flies regularly into Israel both on El Al and other airlines.  I’ve been through the pre-flight interview dozens of times, and was singled out for a special bag-check or an extended interview a couple of times.  The last time I flew in, a soldier pulled me aside on my way to passport control for no apparent reason.  Did I get upset?  No.  They have always been extremely professional.  I know that they are highly trained security professionals and take their jobs very seriously.  And you can bring liquids on the plane!  

    The TSA?  It’s a joke.  We’re the laughingstock of the world.  The TSA is the McDonald’s of world airport security companies, with employees to match.  Rarely have I seen such unprofessionalism and blatant disrespect in developed countries.

    Having said that – I support the interview if done correctly.  A few quotes in the article strike me as odd.  Lisa Schaefer sounds like she’s looking for evidence of the patriarchy rearing it ugly head at the airport.  What does the fact that she’s educated have to do with anything?  Being in a hurry or looking nervous is exactly what will get you slowed down when security sees you.  “That’s the power they had over me” – yeah, they have that power over men, too.

    Who is John Byrnes to comment on anything?  He’s not a security expert, he helps people manage aggressions.  So he runs the world’s biggest high school conflict resolution center.  Is that how we’re dealing with terrorists, now?  How does he know it’s a failed system?  It certainly works for El Al.  We don’t know if its failed here yet, give it a few years.

    The one real security expert you quoted said it works if done correctly.

    As for bias creeping in – welcome to human nature.  Unfortunately, most of the terrorists were Arab Muslims or Africans.  So as a group, there will be a disparate impact on them with chat-downs.  But as you see, the TSA is inclusive, as a white educated female was also chatted-down.  Is political correctness worth risking our lives?  I don’t think so.

    I’ll take a chat-down over a pat-down any day of the week.

    1. We’ve addressed this countless times.  Just because you get a “chat-down” doesn’t mean you won’t also get a grope.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

      And “is political correctness worth risking our lives over”??  Hello??  You risk your life more every day when you get in your car or cross the street.  Have some perspective, people.  This 9/11 victimology and paranoia has got to stop.

      1. No, they aren’t mutually exclusive, but in Israel they may be provided you pass the chat-down.  Sometimes I haven’t.  But 80% of the time, I have.  20% patdown > 100% pat-down.

        This political correctness non-sense has gone far enough.  Read about the gate agent who let Atta through even though his gut told him something was wrong.  He thought he was profiling.

        It’s not “profiling” if they’re guilty.

  38. A friend of mine has a very effective system if stopped by a traffic cop. He smiles sweetly and speaks in multi-multi-syallabic words. Cop says “Thank you, sir,” and sometimes salutes.  TSA, anyone?

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