Report on the TSA Aviation Security Advisory Committee

The Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) held its second public meeting September 18, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. I attended the meeting, as I also did in May. The meeting was composed of subcommittee reports, with highlights being:

– A recommendation to engage more dogs, and private dogs, to screen cargo. Apparently this idea has been piloted for several years. The subcommittee for this area is recommending “acceleration of the approval process.” (How many years do they need?)

– A recommendation to standardize cargo security requirements so that manufacturers don’t need a “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” approach to shipping cargo.

– A gnashing of teeth that general aviation airports, which were authorized a grant by Congress to do such things as install lighting and closed-circuit TV about three years ago, actually get the money to do something.

The Passenger Advocacy Subcommittee, which holds the most interest to many of us, had nothing substantial in the way of recommendations. They stated that they should by next year.

The man responsible for running this meeting told me that he had many requests for public comment; he had to turn people away. The Aviation Security Advisory Committee allows only four people to speak at one of these meetings. I was one of those people. Someone else was apparently waylaid by the floods, tornado warnings, and power outages that plagued the area. Joining me were Douglass Kidd, Executive Director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, and Hilary Waldron, private citizen.

Kidd recommended the bonding and licensing of TSA screeners and the abolishment of the strip-search machines and “enhanced patdowns.” Waldron recommended that full-size aircraft be allowed to fly under general aviation rules, allowing passengers to effectively choose the level of security they desire.

And I spoke. Here’s what I said:

Good afternoon and thank you for allowing me to speak. My name is Wendy Thomson, I live in Michigan, and I am here representing Freedom to Travel USA. We have members in 47 states and Canada.

I had prepared remarks, which I will leave with Mr. Walter; however, I decided to change my comments after speaking with a colleague last night. I was urged to tell my story with the advice that you need to hear this.

I have an artificial leg. I have joint replacements. I have metal plates. I am cyborg. I used to fly a lot – in my original comments you can tally the 21 airports I have used, many more than once, between 2001 and October 2010. Those dozens upon dozens of flights introduced me to being stripped down to my pantyhose while screeners were asking themselves whether they would require me to get totally naked, all while we were in a makeshift lean-to in Concourse A. I have had hands down my pants. I have had my breasts checked after the MMW screener called out “check her thigh.” I spent 2-1/2 hours in Dallas once insisting that TSA agents could check only what alarmed. Dressed in a similar fashion as I am today, I finally turned and left after the TSA insisted they needed to check my breasts because my right knee-to-ankle set off the metal detector.

I have been so groped and molested in so many ways that I am now properly traumatized. I was actually going to take my leg off at this point and set it up here on the dais, but I am hoping that such an extreme level of theatrics will not be required to garner your attention. I actually did that for several years: before I had these metal plates and joints I figured out that if I merely took this leg off and placed it on the conveyor belt I was not harassed. Leg on: breast and butt fondle, hand swabs, the whole nine yards. Leg off: none of the above. So now I’m thinking that I would need to take this leg off and hop on over to the AIT machine, stand there like a total criminal as the machine tried to figure out what to do when there is someone who doesn’t have two feet to spread their legs.

Spread their legs? Think about that phrase for a minute. Totally disgusting.

I cannot even think of traveling by air without losing sleep before and after. I become so enraged with the humiliation and egregious violation of my personal space and body that I have been known to pace all night. Now, being that I travel by train, ship, and car, I still lie awake crafting my response if I were to encounter the TSA at a train station.

I will tell you now that I will not submit. I will not consent. Exactly how I do that is still being formulated. I have walked away from flights before. I will walk away in all cases. And if it comes to me not being able to take any public transportation at all without being physically assaulted, I will see the TSA in court.

I have been attacked twice in my life. One resulted in broken furniture and blood splattered on my bedroom walls. I cope with those experiences by controlling who, when, and how anyone touches me. This is my body. I decide who touches me. I decide who sees me naked. I do not grant that privilege to any of you, nor any of your employees. The coercion and duress caused by TSA current policies and procedures have made me avoid them at all costs. And I mean all costs — such as my former $250K-per-year career.

I understand that by most measures I am a remarkable person. As a handicapped single working mother I managed to raise my two sons, took in a ward of the court, and got all three of them bachelor’s degrees. I was a navigator on a freighter, sang my way across Italy on a concert tour, raced sailboats, made over $4 million along the way, garnered a couple of patents, joined Mensa, and even rode a bicycle around Mackinac Island twice. I am very determined. I have managed to navigate this world and culture my own way, perforce on my own terms because I have had to create solutions when nobody else could.

This leg? I designed it. It is one of a kind, specific to my particular needs, and it was 15 years in the making. That’s because I am so outside the bell curve on so many parameters that I am the only one I have ever found who can effectively solve my problems.

Then along comes the TSA. I must admit, you have given me a hard nut to crack. I will take my still-spending travel dollars and direct them away from the industry that supports all of you. That’s unfortunate, but you have only the TSA to blame.

Why you believe it’s fine that you have turned “Driving While Black” into the no more acceptable “Flying While Handicapped” escapes me. Why you have not come up with a way to capture institutional knowledge about harmless people with medical devices escapes me. Why you have decided to make anyone with a medical device a second-class citizen escapes me. I can assure you of this: demographics tell us that your current model is unsustainable, since more and more people will be taking advantage of these medical miracles. You will simply be swamped.

By the way: these birth defects of mine? Caused by my father’s secondary exposure to radiation from being stationed as part of the occupying force in the Hiroshima valley. Two months after the blast. 53 days of exposure. Radiation can cause birth defects. I would strongly suggest that you keep your screeners away from the 4-1/2 feet on either side of the backscatter machines. I read the NIST and Johns Hopkins reports. Those are danger zones.

Studies have concluded that there’s a reasonable argument to be made that TSA policies have diverted so many travel miles to freeways that you have been responsible for more deaths in the last 10+ years than 9-11. I don’t think you also want to be responsible for causing birth defects.

(Photo: Flickr/Ron Rothbart: ‘Truth’ by Jules Lefèbvre)

Editor’s Note: Wendy Thomson also wrote about her experiences for TSA News here.

  • StopTouchingMyBoobsAndPubes

    Wendy, THANK YOU! I am a young, female, molestation-survivor, rape-survivor and owner of two metal knees. I am furious about being molested every time I fly, simply because they can use my knee replacements as an excuse to pull me aside for “additional screening” and then sexually assault me. I’m fed up. My letters to my representatives in congress, the press, Homeland Security and the TSA go unanswered. How do we get rightful attention paid to this problem by the mainstream media, representatives in government, etc.?

    • CelticWhisper

      I don’t know, but if you or anyone figures it out, please do tell me.

      I’m (thankfully) not a rape victim myself, but what I am is on the autism spectrum. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out how I would react to a stressful, time-sensitive situation where I’m forced to interact with strangers in positions of (some) authority who love to abuse that authority and do so in directly, personally-violating ways. I cringe when touchy-feely co-workers so much as pat me on the shoulder or graze my elbow. Freedom Fondles? Forget it – the TSA clerk-not-officer-not-agent would end up in the hospital and I’d end up either in jail or catatonic.

      I’ve written to my elected officials. Here’s how it goes:

      -Pat Quinn: silence

      -Dan Kotowski: silence

      -Rosemary Mulligan: silence

      -Sheila Simon: Genuine concern, coupled with regret about limited influence at state level

      -Mark Kirk: “Gave this to TSA. Their problem. Now, remember to read Senator Kirk’s 10,000-word diatribes about Israel and private schools.”

      -Dick Durbin: limp form-letter replies about AIT/WBI, even to letters that had nothing to do with scope-n-grope.

      -Jan Schakowsky: The absolute WORST. Snivelling, craven, cowardly apologetic responses and excuse-making for TSA at any and every opportunity. USAF lieutenant arrested for reciting 4th Amendment was “not evidence of abuse.” Letters reiterating “I think TSA does a good job of keeping us safey-safe-safe. I love safety. We love safety. Safety safety safety.”

      Out of all of them, ONE seemed to actually give a shit. And it was the last one I would expect to care. Lt. Gov. of my state? I figured response from state-level reps would be minimal due to TSA being federal (and I was mostly right) but the response from federal-level officials has been nothing short of nauseating. Either TSA is providing truly prodigious amounts of hookers and blow to these people, or they’ve got Congress so utterly convinced of the terrorist-boogeyman threat that nobody dares go up against them.

      Considering that we’ve been (vocally) making the argument that TSA is utterly ineffective for years now, and backing it up with hard evidence (Sommer Gentry’s “Failure by numbers” was brilliantly brutal in ripping TSA a new orifice), I’d place my bet on the hookers-and-blow scenario.

      • TSAStopTouchingMyBoobsAndPubes

        Wow! You must be a neighbor somewhere in the NW burbs. So, howdy neighbor! I also wrote to our state gov officials. The only one who bothered to give a decent, thoughtful response was State Sen. Matt Murphy. I wish I’d have kept it, so I could quote it here. I’m not surprised about Mulligan. She should have retired a long time ago. Ever visit her office? Disaster area! Likely hoarder. Anyway, with the big hubs of ORD and MDW nearby this is a big issue for our state.

        • CelticWhisper

          I am indeed – hello from sunny (ha, ha, ha) Park Ridge! Great town for vacations – I can walk 5 minutes and be at the train station, head to the city, transfer from Ogilvie to Union and be anywhere in the country without ever having to set foot in the gulags formerly known as airports.

          As for our dear legis-leeches…

          I’m willing to give Kirk a partial pass on the matter due to his stroke, but cold as it may sound, an absentee senator isn’t much use to their constituents. There’s no excuse for Durbin or Schakowsky, though. Irritates me, too, because Schakowsky is normally pretty good on civil-liberties matters. Voted against SOPA, against NDAA, against FISA warrantless-wiretapping, I’m pretty sure she’s pro-choice and pro-LGBT-marriage. Travel freedom, though? Worse than useless.

    • STMB&P, that’s what we discuss endlessly on this blog. Keep reading. And refuse to stop fighting. Here are some suggestions on ways to resist:

      As always, we welcome other suggestions as well.

  • Reggie

    Simply Thank you for all you are doing to stop the assault of the Traveling public

  • RMulligan

    Wendy, I am now sitting here in tears and shaking, not for me but for the millions that are experiencing and will continue to experience the ill-thought out, illegal and disgusting policies employed by our government. Please let me know what we can do next to stop this horrible invasion and torture of our minds and persons.

  • Vy Tran Hodgson

    Moving, touching, and powerful.

    Thank you for sharing this, Wendy, and thank you for being an inspiration to me.

    • nveric

      Is your father named Shawn?

      • 1amWendy

        No, it was John.

        • nveric

          I’m sorry. I confused your name Tran, which is Vietnamese I’ll guess, with what turned out to be Filipino instead. Confusing? Your last name is close to a cousin who was married to a Filipina. His last name is Hodgdon. My mistake.

          And thank you for taking the time to answer me, and to have an interest in this woman’s story. These changes in our country are unacceptable, and require us all to say so. Some day we will have to do more than talk, but instead do more with actions in mass protest to force government to remove these obscene requirements for traveling. A return to a simple single pass walk-thru metal detector is all anyone must agree to.

  • Dazymae

    I don’t believe that TSA cares if they cause birth defects. They don’t care if they cause deaths. All they care about is maintaining and expanding their own power and lining the pockets of those connected politicians, lobbyists, and corporations who are getting rich off their lucrative contracts.

  • Sharon Curry

    I haven’t been so moved by a personal testimony like yours since Jill Bolte Taylor’s testimony on Ted 5 years ago. You make powerful and persuasive arguments against the TSA’s inane policies that do little to protect while demeaning and dehumanizing all of us–and in your case, their treatments fall even further, into harassment and cruelty. Thank you for speaking out for yourself and countless others who lack your gift of expression but need your advocacy.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    Brava, Wendy! Thanks for your courage and persistence.

  • Drontil

    Powerful indeed, Wendy. Thank you.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I posted a portion of it to my FB page (not that I have that many friends and not that any of them have stopped to even think about what the TSA is doing to us).

    I, too, would be interested in knowing what reaction you received from the committee. I’m betting it was either silence or just an extremely curt “thank you.”

    • 1amWendy

      This is what I noted: the less-than-10% of women on the Committee seemed to be listening most intently – there was one who was looking at me so intently it was almost uncomfortable. When I got to the “Driving While Black” part a black man (a TSA employee) had a vocal reaction, although I wasn’t looking at him and did not know whether that was out of protest or not. The Chair of the group came up to me, thanked me and shook my hand, and told me that my message had been heard. He wants a medically-based “Pre-Check”. He asked me to keep in contact with the Chair of the Passenger Advocacy Subcommittee. At that, I promptly took myself promptly over to that man and told him that “Carter says we should stay in touch.” I have a card. A lovely woman that represents victims of air disasters told me I was the group’s conscience, and “Bless your heart.” The man that arranges the meeting offered to drive me back to my car (I declined). Everyone else pretty much went their own way. So emboldened, yesterday I sent that public comment to the office of the Chair on the Homeland Security Subcommittee with a cover letter urging him to use the full force of his good offices to fix the issues. We’ll see if I get a response. @Drontil, now that I have finally gone public with pretty much the whole story (that was not an easy thing for me to do), its as if the floodgates have opened. My story is now firmly within the bounds of open season. Share at will.

      • I felt going public with my story was very empowering also! After spending such a long time feeling traumatized and ashamed of having been a victim, I started to talk about it. When I reached this stage of shouting from the rooftops that the TSA had sexually abused me and was continuing to abuse others, I somehow stopped blaming myself and began to blame the people responsible – each and every one of the TSA’s thousands of molesters, thieves, and immoral lowlifes, up to the psychopath in charge, John Pistole, and all who support their sick actions.

  • Powerful, Wendy. But you can bet some idiots will read this and think, “she’s hyper-sensitive because of other things that have happened to her in her life, not because of the TSA.”

    I won’t put into writing what I wish would happen to people like that.

  • Fisher1949

    Very powerful. Thank you for having the courage to share such a painful experiences for the benefit of others.

  • Renee

    Thank you Wendy! I so appreciate all the hard work on this issue!!

  • Daisiemae

    Your post was so powerful, I was stunned. I had to wait and then come back later to comment.

  • Kathy

    Thank you for being so courageous and speaking the truth about the TSA. Also for all the time you spend in this fight.

  • Wendy, my jaw dropped reading this. I hope you got a similar reaction from those present.

  • Great advocacy, Wendy! Thank you for doing such a great job standing up for us. I’m unhappy to hear that they turned away people who wanted to provide public comment. I spoke at the last Aviation Security Advisory Committee meeting, and the meeting concluded at least half an hour early – that time would have allowed at least ten more people to provide public comment. What a farce of public participation this is!

    • Renee

      Thank you too Sommer!!!

  • NewsMom

    Well said.