The TSA’s no-charm offensive takes flight

by Lisa Simeone on December 7, 2011

The TSA is once again scrambling to counter recent bad publicity with a re-hashed propaganda piece. The news that its employees routinely harass, strip, and grope people, even if they’re elderly disabled women in wheelchairs, has brought more unwanted attention to an agency that tells us it’s only doing it for our own good.

To wit, the latest robotic op-ed letter to the editor by a TSA spokesperson, this time written by Kawika Riley in the Washington Times.

To its credit, the Washington Times has written several critical editorials about the TSA, treating it with the skepticism journalists are supposed to bring to bear on the claims of powerful organizations. So it’s only fair that they turn over their pages once in a while to PR flacks for those organizations, whose job it is to ignore criticisms and paper over flaws. Riley fulfills this task with aplomb. He’ll probably be promoted.

A favorite tactic is to repeat tag lines and act as if they’re solemn pronouncements:

The country’s aviation system is safer, stronger and more secure than it was 10 years ago, and the employees of TSA are on the front lines every day protecting the traveling public.  In the past decade, TSA has developed a highly trained federal workforce that has safely screened more than five billion passengers and established a multi-layered security system reaching from curb to cockpit.

I don’t know which is my favorite — the part where he states that the system is safer, stronger, and more secure; the soul-stirring ”front lines” bit; the “highly trained” howler; or that cute bit of alliteration at the end — “from curb to cockpit” — one wonders how much of our tax dollars went to pay for an ad agency to come up with that.

In fact, the system is “safer, stronger, and more secure” than it was ten years ago, though not because of the TSA. It’s for two simple reasons: the cockpit doors have been secured — something that had been recommended for years before 9/11 but which wasn’t done — and passengers will no longer silently submit to would-be attackers.

No bombs were brought on board on 9/11. That’s not what brought the planes down. If anyone shows up nowadays with knives, box cutters, guns — or, god help us, tweezers — passengers won’t play along.

The “front lines” bit is not only clichéd, it’s nonsense. If an actual terrorist, as opposed to a forgetful chef, makes it past the “multi-layered security system” that this country is supposed to have in place, all the way to the checkpoint, that’s a failure of intelligence, not something  to trumpet as a test for the TSA. If you managed to bring a bomb to an airport, why would you bother trying to get on a plane? Why not just detonate the thing in a concourse, like a bomber did in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport?

TSA agents are “highly trained”? Really? Is that why the agency advertises on pizza boxes? And is that why in this article on her experience as a TSA agent, Barbara S. Peterson revealed the lackluster interview process and lack of background screening for TSA employees? After all, these are the people pawing through our bags, wallets, and pants, questioning us about our financial transactions, ordering us into the glassed-in gulags for a grope. Shouldn’t they be “highly trained”?

Riley goes on to tout the TSA’s confiscation of “more than 1,100 guns this year alone.” I’m surprised he didn’t brag about the confiscation of the potato chip bag containing meth, a bold move by the TSA. Aren’t you glad you weren’t on that plane? What if that guy had gotten through? The admixture of sodium chloride, methamphetamine, and potato starch might have caused a chemical combustion! (Never mind that TSA agents aren’t law enforcement and have no business searching people for drugs in the first place.)

Despite Riley’s boasting about “more than 1,100 guns,” the TSA’s own Red Teams have consistently found that screeners miss most of the banned stuff anyway. In Denver, in Newark, in Tampa, in Dallas, in you-name it, the TSA’s “highly trained” agents are missing the very things they brag about finding. Maybe that’s because they’re too busy sticking their hands down people’s pants to notice.

Here’s another scary find according to Riley:

Two weeks ago, officers in Newark, N.J., caught a passenger with a knife disguised as a credit card, which was hidden in a wallet and stuffed in the passenger’s luggage.

Wow, “a knife disguised as a credit card”?!  Say it ain’t so! I’m getting the vapors just thinking about it. Could it have been one of these? I’m sure all the campers out there appreciate knowing that their handy tools won’t be used for nefarious purposes with the TSA on the beat. Same reason I was so happy to have my corkscrew confiscated years ago, since you never know when I might get the urge to go all James Bond on someone while enjoying a nice glass of cabernet.

But there are too many points in Riley’s puff piece to refute, and I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll leave it to you to carry the torch in the comments section. Just don’t try to carry that torch onto a plane — that’ll get you into lots of trouble with our crack TSA! (Oops — did I say “crack”? Oh, dear, I think that might be one of those banned words, which, along with banned items, can get you in trouble. Good thing I don’t fly anymore.)

(Photo: iruben/Flickr)

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