Is the TSA using scripts to push us through its full body scanners?

BBC ScannersRoberta Ling is a 73-year-old woman from Austin, Texas. Statistically, she’s likelier to be the next Miss America than a terrorist. But that doesn’t stop the TSA from harassing her whenever she flies.

Ling expects it. She has an artificial breast prosthesis, and is forced to make a difficult choice between a full-body scan and an uncomfortable pat-down when she’s screened. (Disclosure: I am opposed to the TSA’s current screening methods, and believe the choice between a scan and pat-down violates our Fourth Amendment rights.)

What Ling doesn’t expect is the hard sell on the scanner, which has sounded strangely similar lately.

First, they demand to know why I won’t go through the machine. Then they require me to listen to a lecture about the “safety” of said machine.

Then they tell me again that I should just go through the machine. It seems as though they are all reading from a prepared script.

Did she just say “script”?

I was intrigued by that. I wondered if the TSA is training its staff to effectively force us through the constitutionally-troublesome, poorly-tested full-body scanners.

The only way to find out is to try to refuse the scan myself and see if I get a scripted rebuttal. But the TSA has a well-known exception for families with young kids flying together. In order to avoid separating the group, they are all sent through the magnetometer instead of being scanned.

So the last few times I’ve flown, I wasn’t given the opportunity to refuse a scan. Lucky me.

I decided to ask the TSA. But my media contact, who normally answers my messages promptly, even if to say he can’t answer, responded with silence. That was more than a month ago.

Ling is convinced the TSA is using their words as batons to prod us into the scanners.

“My recent experience has been that the security agents are becoming bully boys,” she says.

I think it’s possible that the TSA is beginning to train its agents to verbally pressure reluctant passengers like Ling to be screened by these problematic full-body scanners. But short of actually seeing a training manual or sitting in on a training session, I don’t think we’ll ever know for certain.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    Here’s an update on Portland Maine. I departed from this airport this morning. After I opted out and got the initial grope, I was informed that my “hand alarmed,” although I didn’t hear any alarm. I then had to go through a “more thorough screening,” which included the use of the front of the hands on my genital area. It also included pulling almost every item out of my computer case. It was, in short, retaliation for opting out. I cannot help but think that they are trying to intimidate me.

    After my verbal and later written protest to the gropers, I wrote my congressman, both my senators and the White House the following letter:

    Dear Congressman/Senator/Mr. President,

    SUBJECT: Investigate TSA for retaliation against opt-outs

    After my experience this morning with TSA in Portland, Maine, I believe it is time to open an investigation into their motives, methods and even their very existence. It is difficult for me to say this, because I supported their formation, believing that a single agency would ensure consistent screening that would have to comport with Constitutional constraints on searches and seizures.

    This has proved to be a false hope. I have been punished many times for opting out of the full body scanners, but this morning was the last straw. I got the usual garden-variety groping punishment, but then they groped me again, using techniques that included rubbing the front of their hands across my genital area. While this was going on they took apart my carry-on luggage and examined just about everything in it. The excuse was that “my hands alarmed,” but I didn’t hear any alarm. They were punishing me, plain and simple, for refusing to go through their scanners.

    I would like to know if this is standard policy or if it is the actions of rogue agents and management who are trying to decrease the number of opt-outs at their particular location. Either way, I want it curtailed immediately. Our fourth amendment rights as American citizens have been under constant attack for the last fifty years, but under TSA it has gotten completely out of hand. Investigate this agency, force them to comply with the Constitution, and restore the rights that the founders guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights.

    I will be happy to testify and describe my experience.

    Thanks in advance for your attention. Sincerely,

    cc: Congressman Trey Radel, Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio, President Barack Obama

    As you can probably tell, I am not intimidated.

    • anc1entmariner, yes, it is retaliation. We have documented this many times, and individual TSA agents have admitted it. Which is why I keep saying none of this is about security; it’s about compelling obedience. But the United Sheeple of America don’t want to hear it.

      Too bad the govt shutdown hasn’t put these thugs and criminals out of work. That’d be worth a bottle of champagne or 10.

  • Dan

    Dont fly, drive. Remember 9/11!!!!!!

    • As long as you also remember that over 35,000 people are killed in traffic accidents every year in this country. How many 9/11s is that?

      • Enaylius

        I’ll remember all the human rights abuses and senseless slaughter of people who were of no threat to me Dan. Those slaughters, torture and the continued destruction of the US Constitution is quite fresh in my mind. Oh I remember “9/11” quite well. Hundreds of thousands murdered by the USA. They hate us for out freedoms alright. Problem is it isn’t some man with a turbine its the US government and its Corporate owners.

        • Enaylius

          Edit: turban

  • Marie Shively

    Well, when I used to fly regularly, I never used the phrase “opt out”; I always refused to go through the scanners. May be childish of me, but I just don’t want to adopt the TSA terrorists’ terminology.

  • drumbabe

    It depends on the airport and the thug standing there. My experience has mostly been that when I use the words, ‘I opt out’, they realize that I’m informed enough to use the correct wording and don’t harrass me anymore.
    Although, I do get plenty of passive-aggressive retaliatory waiting.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    So far as I can tell, it’s not a script, but there is certainly a push at some airports to convince people to go through the scanners. In Portland, Maine, they say something like “You know that machine doesn’t use radiation, don’t you?” My reply is generally: “I know everything I need to know about those machines, and I will be opting out this morning, just as I always do.”
    In Manchester, New Hampshire, they just shrug and start the grope. In Fort Myers, Florida, they just roll their eyes, because they all recognize me by now, and they probably have read my written complaints as well.

    • Chris Bray

      Ask the next TSA officer who tells you that it “doesn’t use radiation” to define the word “radiation.”

  • Chris Bray

    “Because I’ve looked at job advertisements for TSA officers, which say explicitly that it’s a GED-optional job, and I’ve read more news stories than I can count about TSA officers being arrested as thieves, rapists, and pedophiles, so I don’t trust either your representations regarding a complicated piece of technical equipment or your ability to operate it properly. Where would you like me to stand for my pat-down?”

    • Brilliant, and accurate, but that’ll probably get you punished even further. Smacking testicles is one of their favorite ploys:

      http://tsanewsblog.com/6490/news/is-the-tsa-punishing-us/

      By the way, are you the Chris Bray who’s a writer in Hollywood?

      • frostysnowman

        I wonder if he’s the Chris Bray who was on the Today show with his father after taking a photo at the final space shuttle launch. I love his above “script” and wish I were brave enough to try it.

        • Chris Bray

          I’m not a lot of people named Chris Bray on the Internet, including the space shuttle guy, the guy who makes leather stuff, the Australian mountain climber, the producer of “Pawn Stars,” the English Satanist, the Canadian realtor, and the dude who’s really into Hootie and the Blowfish. I’m a writer, and I just moved out of West Hollywood, so Lisa may be onto the right one of me. Sticking to recent examples, I wrote this:

          http://www.thebaffler.com/past/passions_of_the_meritocracy

          And this:

          http://thebaffler.com/past/street_legal

          • frostysnowman

            Thanks for clarifying. I know Space Shuttle Chris and have been very curious to know if you were him.

          • Chris Bray

            I would like to add that I’m also not a backgammon columnist or a celebrity biographer. TOO MANY CHRIS BRAYS.

          • Ah, so you are! I subscribe to The Baffler and have read you there. Small world indeed.

            (I, too, get the “are you that Lisa Simeone?” since there are over a dozen in the U.S. alone. But I’m the radio one.)

          • Dolt

            I am disappointed that you are not the one obsessed with Hootie and the Blowfish. We could have been good friends. 🙂

  • central texas

    How could it be anything other than a script? The TSA folks certainly know nothing about the equipment that they were not told either by the helpful manufacturer or his ventriloquist dummy, the TSA/DHS managment.

    The antidote is to not engage. You do not NEED A REASON to refuse the scanner and the decision is not a voting matter among you and the automatons.