The TSA Must Be Abolished

In Customer Service, Government, Travel by J Michel Metz7 Comments

There is no secret that I hate the TSA. I have always hated the TSA. Tom Daschle has a lot to answer for.

Today did nothing to help my impression of the TSA, and in what was a long stream of insanity (ultimately capped by the most inappropriate “bad touching” I’ve ever experienced, I nearly lost it. I was a hair’s breadth of getting myself arrested, as I wanted to take a swing at the agent doing the pat-down.

Warning: the description is brutally honest.

The Insanity

We know the TSA is nothing more than security theatre. But why do they have to illustrate blatant incompetence so willingly?

At Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I’ve seen the TSA do some crazy things. As I mentioned on the Nekkid Tech (RIP) podcast a few months ago, I watched the TSA roll a completely opaque rack of donuts (at least, they had a Dunkin’ Donuts banner on all four sides) without even taking a quick look inside, despite the screaming and wailing alarms going off. I mean, if you wanted to send knives, guns, box-cutters – hell, this thing was so big you could probably stuff an RPG through that as well), apparently a donut cart is the best way to go.

DFW TSA underscored their ineptitude today as well.

Now, I always opt-out. This means that I accept a certain amount of willingness to be mistreated at the hands of the TSA flunkies, and this was no exception.

The guy immediately in front of me apparently felt the same way that I do, so I heard the TSA agent reading him the warnings.

“I’d like to not go through there,” he said.

“You have the choice of opting out,” the TSA agent warned, his voice turning ominous and dark. “But it’s a very thorough pat-down. It will take about 5-10 minutes. This is much faster.”

“I understand,” the passenger said, calmly.

I pushed my items through the x-ray machine, and the agent directed me to walk around the first passenger and enter the naked scanner.

“Actually,” I said, pleasantly, “I’m going to opt-out as well.”

The TSA guy looked pissed. “Are you sure?” he said. “Did you hear what I just told him?”

“Yes,” I said. “I understand. I”m used to it.”

“Male assist times two!” the agent yelled behind him.

And so we waited. And waited. No one came. A few passengers came around us and went through the naked scanner, taking out money, wallets that they still had in their pockets (apparently the TSA had realized that, despite their protests to the contrary, people should not have anything in their pockets because they’ll get through without detection after all.

After all, if you’ve got something that you’re trying to sneak through, you’re going to hold it in your hand because the TSA agent tells you to, right?

The passenger was getting a little impatient, and looked at me in exasperation. “They probably just do this to make you want to go through the scanner,” he said. I nodded.

The TSA agent wasn’t happy to overhear this. “You have the right to opt out,” he said.

“Sure,” the passenger replied. “But they make you stand and wait as punishment for exercising that right.”

The TSA agent shook his head. “That’s not true,” he said, but I’m not sure even he believed what he was saying.


We waited some more.

About ten minutes after opting out, they closed down the naked scanner, and started having people go through the normal metal detector.

But not me nor the other passenger.

“You realize this makes no sense, right?” I asked. That little voice in my head that kept telling me to shut up was screaming. But this was nuts.

“It does,” the woman on the other side of the metal detector said.

“No, it doesn’t,” I said. “From a risk probability perspective, someone who volunteers for a more-invasive screening is not likely to be a greater threat.”

She just smirked.

More and more people went through the metal detector. Another five minutes went by. The first TSA agent returned from the back, and took the passenger around the metal detector into the back.

“So,” I said, getting a bit annoyed as she waved more and more people through. “Explain to me why this makes sense.”

“You opted out,” she said, as if that were sufficient enough reason.

“Yes,” I said. “And if I had been five or six people later in line, I would have gone through the metal detector anyway.”

“We use the scanner 90% of the time,” she said.

I was beginning to lose it. Either the metal detectors are good enough or they are not. The fact that they prefer to use an ineffective tool 90% of the time is irrelevant to the probability that a given individual will pose a threat when that option is no longer available.

I said as much.

She paused, and it was clear she had no idea what the hell I was talking about. “You made your choice,” she said. Not being punished, my ass.

While standing there, I started doing some mental calculations in my head. As an individual, my risk probability does not change depending upon the availability of the scanner to be in operation. Rapidly, this was starting to become Schroedinger’s TSA. My intention to be a threat is constant.

The question at hand is the likelihood of being detected as a threat. An individual with a high threat level would not, presumably, volunteer to increase the likelihood of being detected. By closing off the scanner after volunteering for opt-out means that my risk level has decreased to lower than those who they were ushering through the metal detectors.

Why? Because the base assumptions have changed from a risk perspective.

The assumptions of using a metal detector (when a scanner is available) is (and this is why the TSA is so full of crap) that people are trying to ‘sneak something by.” The actual detection probability for the metal detector does not change at all. The element of risk is entirely dependent upon presumed motivations.

In this case, an individual who exposes (so to speak) his motivations for non-threatening behavior is a far greater risk-averse option than one in which the expected motivation is zero (i.e., with no choice there can be no presumption of motivation behind the choice).

“I understand the policy,” I said, finally, after sitting for another ten minutes without being picked up (good thing I always give myself a lot of time before my flight for precisely this contingency), “but at least admit that this makes no sense.”

“It does make sense,” she insisted, still smirking.

Wacky Molestation Adventures

Another male TSA agent came up behind her, and asked me to go around the metal detector – the same as the first passenger. (Why? Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you have a passenger go through the metal detector to see if there could be an indication that there might, after all, be a threat to be aware of?)

He brought me back and gave me the run-down of the procedure.

When it came time to run his hands down the front of my jeans, nearly every other agent has gone down the front of my thighs, with varying degrees of height. Usually it starts at pocket-level and goes down. I explain to every TSA agent that my insulin pump has a setting located in my thigh, and point it out, and usually they take care to avoid touching too firmly.

This guy, though, placed his hands – the fact that it was the back of his hands is irrelevant – at the top of my fly, pressed in, and pushed his way down my crotch. Slowly. Almost as if he were to make up for the light touch around the insulin setting, he was using a very heavy touch over my, well, you know exactly where.

If this had been a woman I’m sure my fiancée would have left me due to cheating.

I was shocked and stunned. People who know me understand that I have major issues when it comes to government overstepping its boundaries. With all the stories I had already heard about, I was already angry from a philosophical level.

I would never let some stranger come up and press their hands into my crotch like this.

The Consequences are that there are No Consequences

And this is where we’ve come to. We’ve gotten to a point where the government can look us with a straight face and say that they are doing this for our protection, for our safety, while at the same time performing atrocities against its own citizenry. These same atrocities, that under every other circumstance would result in the prosecution of an individual for doing the same thing, the government merely shrugs off with nothing more than a weak apology.

These “mea culpas” mean nothing. They don’t result in the infraction being prevented in the first place. They don’t undo the terrorization that our the government performs on its own populace time and time again, because there is no accountability.

There is no recourse when the government commits these crimes.

This is the fundamental flaw in the TSA that no politician seems to be willing to address: the government cannot simultaneously be the regulator of health and safety as well as the executor. The government is needed to act as a recourse of restitution in cases where rights have been infringed and crimes have been committed. The kind of excuses the TSA and Department of Homeland Security make are verbatim from the East German Stasi or Soviet KGB. Both of those societies were remarkably “safe,” if safety is to be considered the ultimate goal.

As Schneier points out, the lack of trust between the TSA and the traveling public is worse-than-nonexistent. And why would anyone expect otherwise? Not only are the methods outrageously ineffective, but the quality of TSA employee is routinely shown to be sub-par:

Why the hell should travel goers have any trust in them?

It’s Too Late to Apologize

And what have been the consequences of the TSA’s behavior?

  • When they made a boy who couldn’t walk remove leg braces, the TSA apologized.
  • When they ripped off a cancer survivor’s colostomy bag, covering him in urine (and forcing him to travel that way), they apologized.
  • When they forced an underwear search, they apologized.
  • When they confiscated life-saving medicine and medical equipment, they apologized.
  • When they’ve handled the mentally disabled poorly, they’ve apologized.
  • When they’ve forced several octogenarians to strip searches, they’ve apologized.
  • When they’ve forced a woman to publicly use her breast pump, bringing her to tears, they’ve apologized.

They apologized. How quaint. They can grope you, expose your genitalia in public, confiscate your property, and the only recourse you can expect is an apology. The handjob I got today standing out in front of the Dallas air-traveling public isn’t even as egregious as many of the links I’ve provided in this article, which shows me exactly how too far this has gone. If what happened to me today could be considered “tame” in light of other atrocities, we have already let it go past the point of recovery.

Even now, sitting on the airplane, I am angry with myself for not saying something at the time.

Forget slugging the bastard: I was afraid of being detained against my will. I was afraid of missing my flight (I didn’t have enough insulin to stay another day to catch another flight, thanks to my backup bottle breaking in the hotel room). I was dreading the “he said/he said” conversation.

And what would it have accomplished? We’ve already seen the TSA respond to atrocious behavior by the TSA agents as “following policy.” Of course he was following policy; the policy is where the problem begins. His execution of the policy was only the culmination of a series of poor judgment.

Ultimately, if I had hit him (which my reflex was to do), I would have been put in jail. And I wanted to go home.

If I had complained, the best I could have expected was to receive an apology. Yes, another apology. Nothing would change.

But here I am, angry at myself because even though I know, intellectually, I was subject to a government search of my person, that I couldn’t do anything about it, I feel like I should have. Sorry, but I don’t just let “anyone” come up and put their hands between my legs for a long, slow squeeze.

And it’s only going to get worse. DHS has expanded the TSA role into bus stations, train stations, metros, ferries, even sports stadiums. That’s not even counting the significant questionable Fourth Amendment policies on public streets. What’s next?

I’m no legal scholar, and I admit as much. But given what I’ve read of the Founding Documents, the underlying spirit of individual liberty and freedom and the requirement of due process on the part of the government, as well as the ability for the redress of grievances, are all in violation as part of TSA policy.

The TSA must be abolished. It should never have been created in the first place, but now it’s time to unbaked that cake, because its mere existence is toxic and affront to dignity. It is Zero Tolerance run amok, it is government ownership of the individual, and it is a slope down which we’ve already slipped too far.


  1. I honestly have to say, having gone through the VERY SAME GATE 2 days earlier, it seems to have been a different TSA Gate Agent, but apparently they feel the need to be a little more intrusive than other airports considering how often I fly.

    Still nothing close to your experience which is downright abysmal.

  2. Excellent post. Please, everyone who agrees, sign my petition to the White House here:

    We ask that the administration withhold funding for the TSA until they:

    1. Remove and destroy all imaging machines that potentially can “see” under our clothing.
    2. Cease and desist all invasive patdowns that involve touching genitalia unless there is probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime.
    3. Cease immediately harassment of people who assert their constitutional rights during airport screening.

    Let’s make the TSA atrocities a thing of the past! Thanks for signing.

  3. I also travel quite a bit for business. The last several trips through the naked scanner at DEN I have kept my watch on where I normally wear it on my left wrist. This is no small watch but it does fit under a shirt sleeve. Each time, the TSA agent has told me that they need to check my right arm since the machine detected something…I show my right arm, they dismiss me and I walk away shaking my head. Either the agents do not know their right from left or…

  4. I have solved the TSA mess. I have stopped flying. When my brother was sick, I made several emergency flights to see him before he died. All three times, I was pulled aside for individual search and my carry on was emptied and searched .. all because I bought the tickets at the last minute and was flying alone without checked baggage. I got this treatment at the the airports at both ends of the tips. When my brother finally died, I asked my sister-in-law to hold the funeral a couple extra days until i could drive my car to to her city. I haven’t flown for 5 years. I now vacation only by train or car.

  5. Thank you for posting this much detail and frustration eloquently stated than I had time to do on my blog. They DO punish you and make you wait 10 or more minutes. Like you I am a technologist, and cringe thinking about the unsafe machines people are being made to walk through. 50 years from now they will issues some apology to people who die from all this stuff.

    Safe travels. I too will continue to ask for pat downs… Imagine your travails multiplied by a 10 since I am Pakistani born Muslim American….


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