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.