Report on the TSA Aviation Security Advisory Committee

by Wendy Thomson on September 19, 2012


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.

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