If you love the TSA, watch this

It happened again.

At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.

When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.

“It’s illegal to do that,” an agent says off camera, as Lucy sobs.

“I don’t wanna go to Disneyworld,” the girl cries.

After a 20-minute delay, the family was allowed to board their flight. The TSA eventually issued a tepid apology. The agency watchdog site TSA News Blog documented the controversy and added its two cents.

“The tactics here are insensitive and unkind on their face, as well as pointless,” wrote blogger Deborah Newell Tornello. “Not only is this little girl so obviously terrified to the point of crying out loud, and desperately upset that her comfort toy — her stuffed animal — is being taken away, she is distraught that her parents’ attempts to protect her are being summarily ignored.”

And that’s where it would have probably ended. Except that another site, which is probably best described as “pro” TSA, caught wind of the post and the predictable outrage being generated in the comments.

And it had a very different perspective.

“If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times,” the blogger wrote on a Boston-area sports site. “There is no bigger supporter of TSA on the planet than me. I’m team TSA loud and proud. I pretty much side with them 1,000 percent of the time in situations like these. And guess what? I’m siding with them again here.”

The Boston sports fans collided with the civil liberties activists on TSA News, creating a digital mushroom cloud. Eventually, the comment thread had to be shut down.

Where did these apologists come from?

It would be tempting to dismiss these TSA defenders as nothing more than social media plants paid by the Department of Homeland Security to rally support for a demoralized TSA. But that explanation would be too simplistic.

While there’s plenty of evidence that the American federal government is actively engaged in blogging and other forms of social media, it’s also an undeniable fact that some air travelers stand behind anything the TSA does — no matter how ill-advised or constitutionally problematic.

One of those voices belongs to travel guidebook personality Arthur Frommer, who comes to the TSA’s defense at regular intervals.

“We should be grateful to have a serious, dedicated TSA working hard to prevent terrorists from taking weapons onto a passenger airplane and seizing control of it,” he wrote on his blog recently. Frommer has also dismissed the TSA’s critics as “alarmist” and “sensation-seeking.”

Is there common ground?

Are these TSA defenders right? Are the agency’s critics just a small group of activists hell bent on letting the terrorists incinerate another plane over America’s skies?

I don’t believe so. Based on the support and readership of my TSA coverage, and the many other critical voices that cast doubt on the agency’s current procedures, I’m fairly certain that the “Team TSA” passengers are a misunderstood minority.

What’s more, I think they can be persuaded to come over to the right side — to “Team Passenger” (which, parenthetically, the TSA should be on, too). Their arguments come unraveled after just a few short minutes of dialogue.

Read the comments on the TSA News story for an example. The agency’s defenders insist that if we don’t remain vigilant, we will have another 9/11 on our hands, which is a fair point. But then they suggest that bending the Constitution and the law in order to achieve security is justified, and that the proof this questionable strategy has worked is 11 years without another terrorist bombing.

The TSA critics reply with cold logic. If you start reinterpreting the Constitution and passing laws that infringe on our basic rights as Americans, it’s a slippery slope, they say. And besides, the absence of another 9/11-style attack doesn’t necessarily mean that the present measures have been effective; it’s possible that the terrorists are just looking elsewhere to inflict damage.

The response? Personal attacks, which is what TSA apologists like to use as a weapon of last resort. They call the activists “cowards” and paint them with a broad brush of unpatriotism, or worse. That’s because they’ve effectively lost the debate.

Maybe you shouldn’t make generalizations about TSA supporters based on the rants of a Boston sports blog, but you certainly can get a feel for where they’re coming from. They just don’t understand how anyone could question an agency that’s ostensibly there for our own protection.

And yet, there’s also common ground. When we fly, both the activist and apologist are on the same plane. But one group feels that as long as the flight lands safely, every step that was taken by the TSA is justified. The other believes how we arrive safely does matter.

And patting down three-year-olds in a wheelchair is not acceptable, say critics.

It’s hard to argue against that.

  • James McDonald

    Don’t fly if you don’t want to be subject to search. I want my plane bomb free. Search away!!! If you don’t want to be patted down, take the car.

    • LeeAnneClark

      And here we are with our first representative from the “oh please, uneducated-low-wage-government-clerks, assault me so I feel safe” crowd.

      It’s always illuminating to see that people are actually willing to allow strangers who were recruited off a pizza box, provided minimal so-called “training”, and granted total power over innocent civilians to push them around, bark at them, grope their genitals, paw their children until they sob, humiliate and abuse their elderly parents, steal their belongings, all with total impunity…and then walk away feeling SAFER!

      The mindset is truly mind-boggling.

      As for telling us not to fly if we don’t want to be “subject to search”, given that we all know these “searches” involve actual sexual assault (that’s an indisputable fact), what you are saying is equivalent to telling women “stay in the house if you don’t want to be raped”…and being okay with that. Yeah, that’s how innocent Americans should think…”I guess I shouldn’t exercise my CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to travel because my government might sexually assault me with impunity if I do, so if I try to board an airplane and get assaulted, it’s my own fault.”

      I’d like to say that mindset is also mind-boggling, but sadly, it’s not. It’s actually quite commonplace. It’s exactly what we see in Taliban-controlled parts of the world, where women are forced to cover their bodies completely, and not leave the home without a male family member…and if they do go out alone and then get raped, they’re blamed for it since they had the AUDACITY to actually think they have a right NOT to get raped.

      Nope, not surprising at all.

      • Daisiemae

        Oooooo….watch out Lee Anne. Dangerous words. We can’t have people saying things like that out in the open. It might expose the ignorance, injustice, and inhumanity rampant throughout our country.

        I guess in this case if you see something, say nothing.

        EDIT: I’m assuming that everybody realized I’m being sarcastic. I think Lee Anne is spot on.

        • CelticWhisper

          ONLY in this case? That’s odd – I’ve made a mental note to myself that if I ever do set foot in an airport again, and I do see something, I’ll say nothing at all.

          Out of spite.

          You reading this, TSA?

          • Daisiemae

            Absolutely! I would never tell TSA anything. Even if I thought it was a potential act of terrorism. They would only run and hide. Or terrorize some innocent child or senior citizen while the terrorist ran amok.

          • Daisiemae and CW, I think we’re all agreed on this. And it speaks volumes.

    • Dolt

      Why are you more important than the rest of the free country? Why do you insist that everyone cow to your uneducated insecurities just to make YOU feel better about what YOU are doing? I say, if you don’t like being a part of free Americans traveling in a group on flights, then you should be the one driving.

    • Mr. McDonald, are you aware that the TSA has something called VIPR teams? We’ve written about them here several times (I’ll leave a link below). VIPR teams have infested all modes of transportation — subways, trains, ferries, even highways. Do you believe we should be subject to random searches everywhere we go in this country? Every time we leave the house?


      • LeeAnneClark

        Well hey, if it makes Mr. McDonald feel SAFER, by all means let’s have uneducated ill-trained low-wage government clerks posted on every street corner in America. And while we’re at it, let’s give ’em all vaginal probes, cuz ya never know when one of us gals is gonna carry some C4 up our hoo-haa. Remember, if the TSA doesn’t search a particular type of human (say, babies in diapers) or a specific body part (say, testicles), you KNOW the terrorists will immediately start using those humans and/or body parts to blow us all up!

        Yes. That’s Sheeple Logic for ya.

        • Daisiemae

          I know that I personally am terrified of exploding testicles!

          • LeeAnneClark

            Now that’s just funny!

            But sad too…because clearly the TSA IS afraid of exploding testicles, given the thousands of reports of screeners poking, prodding and squeezing them.

            It does make you wonder why they continue to squeeze testicles when one one has ever exploded. And it also makes you wonder what they would DO if a squeezed testicle actually happened to explode on them!

    • You want your plane bomb-free? Good, thorough police/intel on the ground, long before a criminal gets anywhere near an airport, is the most effective way, by far, to protect passengers, and for that matter, people on the ground. Cockpit doors are now reinforced and locked, preventing terrorists from using the aircraft itself as a bomb. The metal detectors through which your bags pass will pick up weapons, as well as the parts necessary to detonate a bomb, as long as the screening people are intelligent enough–and well-trained enough–to recognize them. The walk-through metal detector, properly calibrated, will alarm at these parts, too, and subject the person to further screening by wanding or pat-down. (The last time I flew, it alarmed due to the wire in my bra, and that was resolved not by groping me, but by a hand-held wand.)

      The naked scanners are not only potentially dangers, not to mention unconstitutional, they are completely ineffective, therefore they are by definition “more intrusive and intensive than necessary” (as per the legal standard which must be met in order for administrative searches to be acceptable. Look up that term: “administrative search”).

      Again: ineffective. They cannot detect many types of plastic explosives. Nor can they detect metal objects placed on the sides of the body, as Jon Corbett demonstrated again and again. And even if they *could* detect all types of plastic explosive hidden in someone’s bra or underwear, a lump of plastic explosive *by itself* is about as dangerous as a ball of Play-Dough. You can’t just roll it into a ball and pelt the interior walls of the aircraft with it, hoping to blow a hole through the fuselage, which is apparently what you think people can do. The Underwear Bomber and the Shoe Bomber tried to light such material on fire, as one would a cigarette, and succeeded only in getting it to smoke, whereupon they were subdued and neutralized (to put it mildly) by altert, motivated passengers. Ones with reflexes and muscle.

      In order to cause an explosion with plastics, you need blasting caps and a detonating device, not to mention a decent amount of wiring. Ask a detonations expert if you don’t believe me (because clearly, you have no idea what you’re talking about).

      Gropings? All they do is humiliate people and violate their Fourth Amendment rights. They can’t detect all threatening objects, most saliently ones that have been hidden in body cavities.


      Oh, and ordering people to “take a car”? Well, thanks to short-sighted, ill-informed, terrified and terrorized TSA-apologists such as yourself, the creeping police state has now infected our highways, and TSA personnel are doing random pull-overs and searching cars. Same thing at train and bus stations. Because Americans have continued to meekly submit to the ineffective, unconstitutional, and wildly intrusive searches at airports, the security theater expands to every aspect of life in what used to be the land of the free, home of the brave.

      Take a bow. You’re helping to pound the final nails into the coffin that suffocates a once-great and free nation, and soon enough it will snuff it out in toto.

    • FulanoZutano

      Mr. McDonald:
      I have an even better idea. If you are scared to fly on a plane with unmolested children, then why don’t you “take the car”?

    • CelticWhisper

      There are things in life that are more important than safety. Dignity is one of those things.

      Also, leaving aside the ludicrously infinitesimally small chance of terrorist attacks happening on any flight, I consider it more offensive and a graver violation of my person for an employee of the US government, a government that is ostensibly still by, of and for the people, to invade my personal space and privacy and compromise my dignity than for a terrorist to attempt to blow me up.

      We KNOW terrorists (what few exist) want to cause damage. That’s no surprise, and as sad as it sounds, it’s the way things are “supposed to” be. They’re the Bad Guys(TM). For them to carry out attacks is obviously a negative and undesirable thing, but it’s “right” in that it’s the way the relationship between terrorists and victims is understood to be. It’s expected for a known enemy figure to try to cause harm.

      For an attack (and I do consider TSA standard operating procedure, which mandates sexual assaults meeting the FBI’s definition of rape, to be an attack) to be perpetrated against me by employees of my own government, however, and by low-level government clerks at that, is far more perverse. It’s a mutation of the understood relationship between citizens and government. Now the entity that claims to be looking out for my interests, thus garnering my trust, is using that trust and that stated relationship against me and violating my rights, my dignity and my psychological well-being instead. The Good Guys(TM) have gone bad. To me, this is worse than terrorism. It is betrayal, plain and simple.

      And it is why, in order to address the problem of TSA, abolition is the only solution.

  • LeeAnneClark

    From Christopher’s article above: “Are the agency’s critics just a small group of activists hell bent on letting the terrorists incinerate another plane over America’s skies? I don’t believe so. Based on the support and readership of my TSA coverage, and the many other critical voices that cast doubt on the agency’s current procedures, I’m fairly certain that the “Team TSA” passengers are a misunderstood minority.”

    I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to “air dirty laundry” or whatever, but I can’t help but find it incredibly ironic that Christopher is, on the one hand, supporting and defending us TSA critics…and on the other hand, BANNING US from commenting on his own site when we actually speak our truth about what the TSA has done to us.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been BANNED from commenting on Christopher’s site. Since about a week ago I am unable to comment on his site at all.

    Why? Well I’m still not exactly sure – I originally got banned after I responded to a commenter who insisted that “free speech” in American comes with the reasonable risk of arrest, and that I should fully expect to be arrested for saying “I do not consent to have my genitals touched” at the checkpoint. When I pointed out that the Taliban shares a similar viewpoint, I got banned.

    I was subsequently told that the real reason I got banned was that the moderators over there were unhappy with how often I repeat my TSA abuse story, and the fact that I use so-called “graphic” terms (read: anatomically correct terms such as vagina and labia) to describe the parts of my body that were assaulted by the TSA.

    I will also mention that I know for a fact that I am not the only TSA critic who no longer participates on Christopher’s blog, because they too are disturbed by what appears to be an effort to silence us. The stupid part is that those who attack us – the people who call us liars, hysterical mental cases, alarmists, and anti-American, are left alone to attack us unfettered.

    So while I continue to respect Christopher’s efforts to shed light on the civil rights horror that is the TSA, I can’t help but wonder why he is allowing his pearl-clutching pollyanna moderators to drive away those of us who might actually be ON HIS SIDE. Yes, we TSA critics are a plain-speaking bunch. We speak the truth, and we don’t believe in whitewashing what the TSA does. But when we do speak the truth, and speak it using accurate terms, we get silenced.

    Eventually all that will be left on his site will be the Anything-For-Safety Sheeple. And they HATE it when he writes about the TSA…so if he keeps it up, he’ll lose those readers as well.

    Seems an odd strategy to me.

    • Daisiemae

      Yeah, LeeAnne, I see that there is a determined effort to drive anti-TSA voices away. One person over there is allowed free rein to terrorize any person who opposes TSA. He bullies, attacks, name calls, etc. Anyone who responds to that is admonished by the moderators. This bully even accused someone of racism when it is clear to any reasonable person that no racism existed.

      Then guess what? The moderator comes on and says that any person accused of racism rightly or WRONGLY could be blacklisted. Not one word of reproof to the bully throwing around false accusations of racism, but a threat to the victim instead.

      I also cannot believe elliott.org’s weird strategy. After seeing what is happening over there, I can now understand why Lisa and Sommer are leaving up the vile, filthy stuff that those fools from barstool recently deposited on this site. As offensive and stupid as that drivel is, censorship is not the way to go. Censorship is an ugly tool in the hands of a bully.

      • LeeAnneClark

        Yup…saw the whole thing. Of course there were a lot of comments I would have liked to have made…in particular, the irony of how yet another Anything-For-Safety commenter called all Italian men “pigs” (which, being an Italian-American myself, did not sit too well with me), and later suggested that men who sexually harass women in Italy are simply acting on “ageless cultural differences” that we women are apparently supposed to silently endure because, well, it’s CULTURAL, not sexual assault!

        And he was allowed to say these things with impunity.

        And then a TSA critic mentions a rude TSA clerk’s poor English and tacky accessories, and he’s called a racist and threatened with banning, even though race wasn’t even mentioned in a single thing he said!

        Yep. I used to be a huge fan of Christopher Elliott, and I’m grateful that he continues to write about TSA abuse. But the sad reality is that he’s handed the moderation of his blog over to pearl-clutching pollyannas who have a distinct pro-TSA bent, serve only to stifle free speech and open communication, and seem to unreasonably target TSA critics while allowing AFSers free reign.

        But I can’t comment on any of this, because I’ve been banned, for the crime of telling my TSA assault story too often. (I guess the idea that Chris’s blog might actually get new readers occasionally who haven’t heard my story yet was beyond their ken…not to mention that they have the option of NOT READING IT if they’ve heard it before.) Oh, and using words like “vagina” and “labia”. I guess the pearl-clutchers like it better when we use euphemisms like “vajayjay” and “naughty bits”. THAT, apparently, is the way adults are supposed to talk. {{{rolling eyes}}}

        • LeeAnne and Daisiemae, totally agree. Banning people who speak the truth is on a par with blaming rape victims. But as you can see, those are ever-popular activities.

          Apparently it’s okay that the TSA assaults people; what’s not okay is talking about it. So the only conclusion one can reach is: action, including criminal action, ok; speech about said action, not ok.

          Just be glad you’ve chosen to live in adult-ville, not in kindergarten. This blog is a place for adults. Here, we talk about adult things. Important — vitally important — things, such as civil liberties, rather than childish things such as “tone.” We’re interested in facts, not in PG ratings.

          • Daisiemae

            Chris’s most recent article is about “the silent majority” of people who oppose TSA. A previous article details reasons why people are afraid to speak up against TSA.

            It’s quite bizarre and ironic that he is allowing these so-called moderators to repress anyone who speaks out against TSA. I guess we are now supposed to become the “silent majority” who are afraid to speak out on Chris’ blog for fear of reprisals and blacklisting from the biased moderators.

            Perhaps in his next article, Chris can include biased bully moderators as the reason people are afraid to speak out against TSA.

          • Daisiemae, indeed, the irony doesn’t escape me.

  • “[…] patting down three-year-olds in a wheelchair is not acceptable, say critics.”

    Hear, hear.

    I’ll go even further and assert–as other contributors here have asserted multiple times–that it’s unconstitutional, as are most of the TSA’s procedures. The logic is crystal-clear:

    (1) The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized”.

    (2) In U.S. v. Davis, in 1973 and in response to the hijacking of aircraft, an exception to the Fourth Amendment, called an “administrative search”, was instituted. The salient words: “[an administrative search is allowed if] no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, confined in good faith to that purpose, and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly.”

    (3) What does “search”mean? In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled, in Katz v. The United States that a search occurs when a) a person expects privacy in the thing searched and b) society believes that expectation is reasonable. Since the exposing of innocent people to radiation of unknown consequences, creating images that see beneath their clothes, and, most saliently, performing manual, hands-on searches of their bodies, including their genitalia, which are legally defined as assault (and even, in some circumstances, rape), both by law and by FBI guidelines, it is an unassailable fact that the TSA’s searches not only breach limits beyond which a person expects to have privacy–and far overstep that which society considers, reasonably, to be the private domain of the individual–but also, according to local, state, and federal statutes, violate the law itself.

    (4) It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the so-called nude-image scanners are ineffective because they cannot detect metal objects carried on the sides of the body. It has been acknowledged, by security experts and industry people alike, that the machines cannot detect certain explosive materials, including the kind used by the infamous “underwear bomber”, nor can they detect certain plastic explosives if they are flattened out and worn against the torso, nor can they detect materials or objects hidden within body cavities, or, with people who have enough flesh on their bodies, within the folds of their torsos.

    The latter conditions also demonstrate why the vast majority of “enhanced patdowns” are ineffective and useless, above and beyond their being violative and illegal per local, state, and federal statutes as well as FBI definitions.

    Thus: the scanners are ineffective and pointless. The “enhanced patdowns” that include the touching of people’s genitalia, even through clothing, even with the back of the hand, are ineffective, pointless, AND illegal by definition.

    (5) Again, per Davis–above, in point (2)–“[an administrative search is allowed if] no more intrusive or intensive than necessary”

    If a search is ineffective (does not work for its intended purpose), it is by definition “more intrusive or intensive than necessary”.

    Only that which is effective in detecting explosives and/or weapons could be defined as “necessary”. That which has been proven, again and again, to be *ineffective” is not being executed for its stated purpose–detecting explosives and/or weapons–but rather, is being executed for unstated reasons. Reasons which, no matter their intent–be it nefarious control of the populace via incremental violations, or else overreach due to an inability or unwillingness to consider and apply established law–are ineffective and thus more intrusive and intensive than necessary. Therefore they do not meet the legal standard for the Administrative Search Exception set forth in Davis, and they do indeed violate individuals’ Fourth Amendment protections.

    • Susan Richart

      US vs. Davis was in 1973 and while the ruling technically impacts only the 9th Circuit Court geographic area, it could be influential country-wide.

      What concerns me going forward is the phrase “in light of current technology.”

      What exactly does that mean in today’s world of WBI and invasive “pat downs?”

      • I can see why you’d be concerned about “in light of current technology” language. I’d like to parse that a bit for clarity and prove, logically, why it is irrelevant to the question at hand (is the search more intrusive or intensive than necessary?)

        Here’s the exact wording in full:

        “[an administrative search is allowed if] no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, confined in good faith to that purpose, and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly.”

        What it says is, the administrative search–even by technology that does not exist at the time of this writing but may exist in the future for the purpose of detecting weapons or explosives–must be * no more intrusive or intensive than necessary* and confined in good faith to that purpose…”

        That is, in the ruling, the judge is providing for the future development of new technologies for searching for weapons and explosives, but nowhere in the ruling is it stated that searches performed using this “new/current technology” are exempt from the rulings requirement that they be “no more intrusive or intensive than necessary”, as well as confined to detecting weapons or explosives.

        I think I could argue this, I really do. I’m sure others have, but I’m pretty good at arguing, especially when I know I’m right, ha! (Where to start, though?)

        • RonBonner

          I noticed recently that TSA has added to the list of prohibited items marijuana, both medical and non medical.

          The TSA search is clearly no longer limited to WEI. if it ever had such limits. This has moved TSA administrative searches to the illegal search category.


          —bottom of page—

          carry on checked
          Marijuana (including both medical and non-medical)* X X

          Snow globes (unless otherwise prohibited)** OK OK

          *Screening procedures are governed by federal law and designed to detect threats to aviation security. TSA officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs; however, if an item is found that may violate federal law during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to law enforcement. Whether or not marijuana is considered medical marijuana federal law provides no basis to treat medical marijuana differently than non-medical marijuana.**Snow globes that appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces (approximately tennis ball size) will be permitted if the entire snow globe, including the base, is able to fit in the same one clear, plastic, quart-sized, re-sealable bag, as the passenger’s other liquids, such as shampoo, toothpaste and cosmetics.

          • Thanks, Ron. For those readers unfamiliar with the acronym WEI, it stands for “weapons, explosives, and incendiaries.”

  • Susan Richart

    The language used by the commenters at the Barstool site says all that it needs to say.. Their language was crude and rude which is why the comments were closed. Had any one of them tried to make an argument without strewing their comments with four letter words, the discussion could have continued. But, in the manner of true bullies who are full of inadequacies and fear, they had to attack and intimidate.