Is your 15-year-old son a terrorist?

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.

“The air in Phoenix is very dry and we all had put some lotion on our hands that morning — maybe the cause of the result,” she speculates. “Or it may have been fertilizer from the grass he touched. After all, he’s 15.”

But the TSA treated him like Richard Reid’s son.

“All eyes were focused on my son as the rude agents threw accusations at him,” she recalls. “One agent asked him if there was anything sharp in the luggage. His response was, ‘What?’ Keep in mind he is 15, so his Mom packed the luggage. He had no idea what was in each bag.”

The agents were impolite and accusatory. They ordered him to stay away from the luggage while they tested it. He felt as if he’d failed some kind of test.

“He just stood there in shock,” says Bruce.

And that wasn’t the worst of it.

The TSA’s teen problem

The TSA may have figured out what to do with kids under 12 and passengers over 75, allowing those low-risk passengers to go through the screening area without removing their jackets or shoes. But something happens when that 12-year-old turns 13. He or she becomes a high-risk air traveler who’s scanned, prodded, and interrogated at the checkpoint. His only crime is coming of age, and from one day to the next becoming part of the feared “terrorist” demographic.

Bruce’s incident is hardly an isolated one. The TSA botched the pat-down of a 17-year-old girl in 2010, who also happened to be the niece of a U.S. congressman. During the exam, the girl’s sundress slipped, revealing her breasts in public. An internal investigation released late last year concluded the whole thing was an “unfortunate” accident.

Agents also recently gave another girl such a rigorous once-over that they broke her insulin pump. Savannah Barry claims TSA agents in Salt Lake City were rude and abrupt, even though she tried to warn them that she was wearing the pump. Clearly, the agents thought she was up to no good. Diabetics are such a menace.

Some of the worst stories are the ones that don’t make the news. One concerned mother contacted me a few weeks ago after the entire family flew out of Washington’s Dulles airport. The rest of her family walked through the metal detectors and full-body scanners without incident, but when it was her teenage daughter’s turn, the male screener asked her to back up and walk through again. He said the scanner “needed to get a better look” at her.

Yeah, I bet it did.

Is my son a terrorist?

While most of the incidents that capture the public’s attention involve teenage girls, probably because the cliche of the lecherous male screener preying on an innocent virgin is just too irresistible, the boys may have it worse. Bear in mind that young men do indeed fit the terrorist profile; all of the 9/11 bombers were young men, which means any TSA agent worth his training will be extra vigilant when it comes to anything young and male.

“It took every fiber in my son not to burst into tears,” remembers Bruce. “The agent continued to badger him until they whisked him away for a private pat-down, where they brought my husband to witness them groping him, including his genitals.”

Nearly half an hour after they approached the security screening area in Phoenix, it was all over. The Bruce family had been cleared for takeoff.

“We led our shaken son and sobbing daughter to the gate where boarding was already under way,” she says.

Bruce blames herself for allowing this to happen.

“I’m so upset,” she says. “I’m mad at myself because I feel like I failed my son by not protecting him. But I was totally unprepared for this.”

We are all unprepared for this. My oldest son turns 11 this year, but he’s taller than many 13-year-olds. What will the TSA do to him the next time we go through security? What will they do to your son or daughter?

Do we really have to trade our dignity for security? I don’t think so. The agents who barked orders at the Bruce family, who disrobed the congressman’s niece and broke Barry’s insulin pump would have benefitted from some basic customer-service training. Instead, they’re traumatizing an entire generation of air travelers.

We deserve better.

  • Svensonon

    We “deserve better”? The author states this as if saying it makes it true. As if saying this will make it come about. We don’t deserve better because most people haven’t done anything to make it better.

    If just 10% of people were to opt-out of the next scan, and insist on that pat down, the system would collapse. Just like that. No act of Congress, no messy protests, just good old fashioned not passively going along with an evil system.

    But we don’t get 10%. We get 1%, tops.

    Deserve: noun: “to be worthy, fit, or suitable”.

    We are none of those things.

  • RB

    TSA: We put the SCUM in bags!

    • Daisiemae

      Love it!

  • As we’ve pointed out umpteen times, ordinary things cause false positives in the phony-baloney “explosives trace” test: glycerin in hand lotion, fertilizer. The TSA — protecting us all from the terror of soft skin and gardening!

  • frostysnowman

    This is terrible. I can’t imagine how tramautized this boy must be. We are taking a couple of flights this summer and I am very worried about what they might try to do to my lovely 13-year-old daughter who looks about 17.

    • I recommend that you prepare yourself and your daughter to fight back if they try to get their hands on her. There is always another flight, but you should definitely refuse screening and leave the airport if they demand access to your daughter’s body. Please, please, for her sake, get ready to say no and stick to that decision. They can’t do anything to you beyond barring you from your boarding gate, and letting your daughter be sexually assaulted is far worse than missing a plane. See

    • TSAisTerrorism

      As someone who was just about that age when my father decided to “have his way with me” and my mother just sort of ignored it the very worst thing you can do is stand by and feel helpless.

      You MUST for your daughter’s sake follow Dr. Gentry’s advice. For her mental well being you must refuse the grope and leave. You can catch another flight. Often going through the checkpoint later that day will net you a much different experience.

      • frostysnowman

        TSA and Sommer, I fly from ATL and if you get in the right lane, you only go through a metal detector. At least that’s how it was the last time I was there. Crossing my fingers that will still be true. If not, and they find any “anomalies” on her, I’m ready to fight.

        • TSAisTerrorism

          My wife flew through ATL 2 weeks ago and said it was extremely easy to get in a WTMD lane. I also have found it ridiculously easy to do there. Good luck!

          • frostysnowman

            Good to know. Thanks!!

          • Yes and no. At BWI there are also metal-detector-only lanes. But you can easily get pulled out of one, as I was the last time I flew — September 2010, just before the gropes were implemented. Though everyone ahead of me was going through the WTMD, the TSA clerk suddenly pulled a cord across the lane when I stepped up and directed me to the scanner. I declined. They made me pay by forcing me to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, even when there was no one in any of the lines. No one.

            It was obviously punishment.

            And bottom line is still that whether you go through the WTMD or a scanner, they still have ultimate power. They can still bully, harass, rob, or grope you no matter what.

          • TSAisTerrorism

            The set-up in ATL can prevent this, though I know in other airports it can’t. They have lanes that (when open) feed only 1 WTMD, and there is not way for a mere mortal to be pulled into a NoS-only lane. The trick, of course, is to be able to get into one of those WTMD only lanes in the first place. Gotta keep us terrorists on our toes!

  • Susan Richart

    I want to know why a positive ETD swab requiring a trip to the private room does not require LEO intervention. It is, after all, a probable cause search, that cause being the positive swab.

    Why is the TSA allowed to get away with this action?

  • I’m feeling this family’s traumatization right now. My heart is racing because I know what that feels like: accused, singled out, yelled at, sexually assaulted, and then sent on your way. As if anyone could enjoy a trip or even contain one’s emotions after being treated that way by government thugs! I’ve been there, and I’m feeling very angry on behalf of this family.

    I have a slight impulse to say to them: we warned you! We told you the TSA gauntlet gets ugly fast! We told you these blueshirts were fondling penises and testicles! Why didn’t you prepare yourself and your family to fight this filth?

    Until each individual is victimized, it seems like TSA’s grabbing groping goon squad is the punchline of some sort of funny joke. I’m losing hope of reigning in this catastrophe and these blueshirted worthless sacks of sh**.