TSA: False Premise Theater

Arguments made in support of the TSA are invariably a toxic stew of strawmen, question-begging, and self-refuting premises. This week’s winning pile of gibberish is from the American Federation of Government Employees, which warns on its website that the Atlanta airport may return to “Pre-9/11 Era Airport Security” by dumping smurfs and hiring private security staff.

Pull on a pair of your very tallest boots, cowboys, ’cause we’re about to wade deep into the bullshit.

Most ridiculously, the AFGE – like the TSA officers it represents – insists on dramatizing a job that mostly requires low-status employees with minimal training to make Madge and the kids hold up their hands in submission posture for a silly piece of security magic. Quote:

TSA officers have one of the most stressful jobs in the world.

They are responsible for millions of lives a day. They know that one mistake could lead to a tragedy. Their job is also incredibly dangerous. A bomb in an innocent-looking bag could go off, or an anti-government lunatic could walk up to the check point and open fire, just like what happened at the Los Angeles Airport in 2013 where a TSA officer was killed.

The TSA is almost 15 years old, now, and has had one employee killed on the job. It’s far more dangerous to sell blouses in the suburbs, or to do just about anything else. The most commonly performed functions of the TSA officer — sighing, eye-rolling, petulant shuffling, sullenly smoking cigarettes in front of the airport — are almost perfectly injury-proof, except (over the long term) for the last one.

To be sure, a new killing spree at an airport checkpoint could bring the TSA’s number of violent workplace deaths surging to an average of almost .1 per year, making it, apparently, “incredibly dangerous.” It’s like being a lumberjack, except without the labor or the productivity or the plaid.

And about that “one mistake” that “could lead to a tragedy”: The TSA invariably makes more mistakes than that. People who achieve three successes out of 70 security tests don’t get to brag about how they can’t afford to make a single mistake at work.

Then there are the moments that make you wonder if smurf apologists can use their eyes to read the things their fingers are typing. Getting warmed up, the AFGE first warns of a dark plot to “return airport security to the pre-9/11 era in which screeners were poorly trained and paid.” And then, a few paragraphs later, the same blog post on the same website from the same organization sadly informs readers that “TSA screeners’ average salary is only $32,000 a year. They are among the lowest paid federal employees.”

So you can’t replace TSA officers, because then airport security screenings would be done by poorly paid screeners, which is very dangerous, so you should insist instead on having airport security screenings done by TSA officers, who are poorly paid. Hold the smoke in your lungs when you inhale, and that reasoning will get you high as a kite.

And then, a few sentences later: “When airports are understaffed, screeners often times cannot attend training they’re supposed to go to. They cannot do their jobs properly if they are not trained properly.”

So TSA officers should be replaced by private-sector security employees, who are poorly trained, but the irreplaceable TSA officers are themselves “not trained properly.” I said hold the smoke. No coughing! Hold it! Hold it! (pause) Okay, let it out. How are you feeling?

Equally absurd – on its face, right up front, not in any hard-to-detect way – is the entire premise that the use of private-sector security screeners represents a “return to pre-9/11 era airport security,” since private screeners run checkpoints to standards set and enforced by the TSA.

But whatever. A careful reader could find a dozen more reasons to laugh out loud at the AFGE’s defense of its lowest-status members. Or you could just sigh at how familiar the whole mess has become, and pour yourself another drink.

  • Susan Richart

    Per a request, I’m posting to advise that @AskTSA has just blocked my 3rd Twitter account. However, Twitter accounts are infinite and if TSA thinks I will stop commenting, they’d better think again. 🙂

    BTW, TSA spokesperson Farbstein has also blocked two of my accounts. She has blocked other accounts also. Apparently, Farbstein can’t take the heat.

    • Susan Richart

      BTW, it appears that @AskTSA is stalking me because I do NOT include them in my responses to passengers’ questions. On occasion, someone will respond to me and include @AskTSA but I do not address any tweets to @AskTSA.

      • Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. They’re a band of criminals. You’d think, if they were actual security instead of pretend, they’d have better things to do than harass Twitterers. Twitterers who post factual information, no less.

      • Mundane Lustrator

        Interesting. So you have said nothing directly to @AskTsa and they pre-emptively block you?

        • Susan Richart

          In at least one case, yes, I said nothing to @AskTSA directly and I was blocked because someone else included @AskTSA in a reply to me.

    • Mundane Lustrator

      How fast are they blocking your accounts? After one comment or even before you say anything to them?

      • Susan Richart

        None have been blocked recently since I just about dared them to block me in one response. 🙂 I have filed complaints with the DHS IG.

        • But you have been blocked in the past, right? And more than once?

          • Susan Richart

            Correct. It has also happened to one other person I know who questioned a response by @AskTSA.

    • Susan Richart

      After filing complaints with both the DHS IG and the TSA’s Privacy Office, Lisa Farbstein has finally removed the photo of a gun that showed the passenger’s name. She had been notified of privacy law violations by several individuals via Twitter but she took no action to correct the violation. (The TSA Blog showed the same photo but they removed the identifying information as soon as it was brought to their attention.)

  • Susan Richart


    Against the lavender-hued backdrop of
    the Homeland Security Department logo, then-Deputy Administrator John
    Halinski announced that employee misconduct and criminal behavior –
    along with the headlines those misdeeds spurred – were “damaging to the
    mission and to our reputation as a high-performance counterterrorism

    TSA is rotten from the top down.

    • Before he left, Halinski signed off on what several current and former TSA employees call an unusual 28.75 percent salary increase alongside a noncompetitive promotion for an executive assistant.

      Current and former officials say that at a minimum, the promotion and subsequent raise strained ethical boundaries because it went far beyond the normal range of 3 to 5 percent salary bumps, according to internal documents obtained by Reveal.

      The questionable move and resulting resentment highlight the internal dysfunction, distraction and distrust that have racked the agency’s senior ranks for years. The complaints also underscore how disconnected some middle managers and the rank and file feel, as evidenced by consistently low morale.

      Current and former officials say a double standard exists for senior leaders and promotes a “shut up and move up” culture within the oft-maligned agency.

      Robert Cammaroto, a retired senior official who joined the TSA at its inception, said the harried effort to create the agency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks permitted an unhealthy culture to develop – and fester.

      . . . Current and former employees echo those descriptions, adding that top officials reward one another, including automatic bonuses to senior managers who make more than $160,000 a year.

      Your tax dollars at work!

      • Daisiemae


        But we absolutely must cut social security and Medicare!

      • Susan Richart

        For lower level employees, it’s this:

        It’s completely true. Been a one striper for 11 going on 12 years.
        Have been told that going to a congressperson or the media will lead to immediate dismissal.


        • We will never be rid of this agency in my lifetime. The abuse will continue, and people will continue to put up with it

  • In this article about strip-searching and shackling juvenile offenders, no matter how non-violent they are, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the TSA. The whole point — the singular point — is humiliation. It’s to humiliate them and show them who’s boss:


    And the comment thread also sheds light on why so many people in this country don’t care what the TSA is doing.

  • ssa

    My face when the government and public try to justify the smurfs

  • Jadeveon Clowney

    This is a great piece. Meanwhile, look at what other travel blogs are talking about — what did I say the other day? — fees. Always fees:


  • Susan Richart

    OT: Lisa Farbstein, TSA “spokesperson” seems to hold herself above the law. She has had a tweet on her @TSAMedia_LisaF page for a week now showing the photo of a knife confiscated from a passenger. That photo has the passenger’s name on it which is a violation of the Privacy Act.

    (I had a copy of her Twitter page showing the knife but it didn’t appear here.)

    Despite being advised on several occasions that she is in violation, the tweet remains on her page. Then she had the gall to block the individuals who advised her of the violation.

    (Same comment as above: I can’t get the picture to appear.)

    (The TSA Blog had the same picture, but upon being advised of the violation, the blog photoshopped the picture to remove the passenger’s name.)

    @TSA has the same photo which is, obviously, in violation of the Privacy Act. That page is apparently linked to Farbstein’s page.

    DHS IG’s office has been notified of these violations.

    Will anything be done? Somehow I doubt it.

    • The TSA, above the law as usual.

    • Daisiemae

      TSA can’t be bothered with anything so trivial as the law.

  • dogmatix

    TSA’s biggest concern is how to avoid responsibility if something bad does happen. That’s what’s keeping private companies out of airport security – TSA will not indemnify them if something does go wrong, and they don’t have TSA’s qualified immunity.

    • Even if all so-called security were private, that wouldn’t change a thing as long as they continue to strip and paw people.

  • 1amWendy

    One of the best analyses I have read in quite a while, Chris.Bravo!!!

    • Chris Bray


  • Susan Richart

    Great article, Chris. But PLEASE stop using the term “officer” to refer to screeners. They are not and should not be referred to as such as doing so only perpetuates the myth.

    • “Officer” doesn’t pertain only to law enforcement. The term is used for all kinds of bureaucratic functionaries.

      • Susan Richart

        However, Lisa, you know that in the case of the TSA the term “officer” is designed to make the lemmings believe screeners have law enforcement capabilities.

        • True. I use the term “agent” myself, but I’ve had people get upset about that one, too.

          • TestJeff Pierce

            “Officer” should never be used, as it implies “Officer” like in LEO – LAw Enforcement Officer.

            I have NEVER called anyone in a bureaucracy an officer. I use “clerk” for DMV clerk for example.

            Clerk or employee or screener are alternatives.

    • Chris Bray

      I’m torn, because it’s their real job title. I actually like “agent” less, because federal law enforcement agencies have “agents,” and the term to me equates smurfs with FBI agents and the like. “Dumb assholes” is the correct term, but it breaks the sentence flow.

      • Susan Richart

        What’s wrong with just plain “screener” – that’s what they do.

        • Chris Bray

          Well, it’s what they pretend to do.

      • Daisiemae

        Another problem with using the correct term is the government’s love of referring to everything by its initials. Referring to the Smurfs as TSA DA’s would definitely endow them with undeserved legal status.

        But the correct term would, however, justify the use of a garment that currently fascinates TSA DA’s…the diaper!

        Yes, I’m beginning to like the correct term! A diaper should become part of the required TSA DA’s uniform.

        Look at the ad on your next pizza box! Get an exciting job as a TSA Dumb Asshole…a career where Depends, Xray vision, and federal benefits come standard!

  • Brilliant, Chris! As usual.