When Barbara Leary went through the full-body scanner at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport recently, her hip replacements set off the alarm. She was directed to another line, where she underwent a physical search by a Transportation Security Administration agent.
If airport security is so good, why do passengers feel so bad?
That’s a valid question, considering how the Transportation Security Administration seems to be spinning its performance lately. The agency wants you to believe the dark days of body scans and pat-downs, of liquids, gels and shoes obediently placed on the conveyor belt, are well on their way out, thanks to its vaunted new Pre-check system. And remember, there have been no successful terrorist attacks since the agency’s creation, it would hasten to add.
So why aren’t we buying it? Why are lawmakers such as Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., threatening to introduce legislation that would force TSA agents to mind their manners?
A day after Sheilah Reardon checked into the Bellagio Las Vegas, she received an e-mail alert from American Express warning that her credit card had been compromised. Among the fraudulent charges: a $67 bill from an online memorabilia store.
A day later, her friend Jennifer Henderson got a call from a MasterCard representative. Her card number had also been stolen. The thieves had made a $67 charge at the same online store moments after they hit Reardon’s account.
“We had checked into the Bellagio at the same time, side by side,” says Reardon. She and Henderson believe that their credit cards were targeted while they were at the resort — most likely while they were checking in — because it was the only time when their cards were used together. Reardon says that she hadn’t used her card, a “travel-only” Amex, since a trip to Florida last summer.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. You arrive at the airport to fly home from your family vacation, and something goes wrong — terribly wrong — at the TSA screening area.
It happened to Susan Bruce recently when she flew from Phoenix to Dallas with her husband, teenage son and daughter.
“When we got to security, my son went first in line through the X-ray machine and TSA flagged him for the hand swab test,” she remembers. “While the rest of the family was stuck on the other side of the X-ray machine, my son was pulled aside for supposedly having a positive result for explosives.”
Bruce, who lives in Dallas and is a mathematician by training and a homemaker, is certain it was a misunderstanding. Her son is no terrorist, she says. He’s a clean-cut honor student.
Next time you fly, take a minute to look around at the airport screening area. You’ll see all kinds of interesting passengers, from the “get-alongs” to the dissidents to the folks who think the rules don’t apply to them.
Just last week at the crowded Orlando airport, I had a front-row ticket to a confrontation between a young woman and a TSA screener.
Young woman: “I don’t want to be X-rayed.”
Screener: “We don’t use X-rays.”
Young woman: “I don’t want to be scanned, either.”
Screener: “Then you’ll get a pat-down.”
It’s been more than a decade since the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems.
Almost from the beginning, a small group of activists have kept a vigilant eye on the agency. When TSA agents pilfered your luggage, they spoke up. When the blueshirts forced us through inadequately tested scanners, they said something. When agents treated us like prison inmates, they fired up their laptop computers and they wrote.
Intrusive airport searches are just fine with a majority of air travelers. They also think the TSA has singlehandedly prevented a 9/11 repeat, and that critics of the agency’s current practices are nothing more than “anxious advocates.”
At least that’s the impression you might be left with if you read a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune and other surprisingly favorable mentions in the mainstream media. Even amid the sequestration slowdowns, we’re big fans of the TSA.
Connect the dots, and the conclusion is inescapable: There’s a silent majority of Americans who really do believe the TSA is the “gold standard” in aviation security, as the TSA’s John Pistole recently proclaimed. We’re safer today because of the TSA, and out in flyover country we feel nothing but gratitude toward America’s airport sentries, who are the last line of defense against terrorism.
If you think the American government keeps too many secrets, you should meet Jose Lacson.
Lacson lost his job as a federal air marshal in 2011 after allegedly disclosing “unauthorized” information to the public. The TSA says he published what it calls “sensitive security information” (SSI) in a website forum.
But here’s the interesting thing: In an appeal to his dismissal, Lacson claims the posts were fictional. The information referenced the number, deployment, and attrition rate of federal air marshals hired at various times and deployed at various duty stations, according to a report.
I repeat: Lacson says he made it all up.
When the Minnesota Vikings faced off against the Green Bay Packers last weekend in Minneapolis, the big story wasn’t that the Vikings defeated the Pack to secure a wildcard berth.
It was, strangely, the TSA.
That’s right, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems was patrolling the Metrodome. Nathan Hansen, a North St. Paul, Minn., attorney, snapped a few photos of the agents before the game, and broadcast them on Twitter.
“I don’t think any federal law enforcement agency needs anything to do with a football game,” he told me yesterday.
You don’t have to read the 59-page congressional report on the Transportation Security Administration’s shortcomings, released on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, to conclude the agency has “become its own worst enemy.”