Former Newark TSA screener: “A lot of what we do is make-believe”

A former TSA screener at Newark International Airport concurs with other screeners and with rational observers and security experts: “A lot of what we do is make-believe.”

In an exclusive column for the New York Post, this anonymous screener pulls back the curtain that so many of us have been pulling back for years. A few highlights:

Did you know you don’t need a high-school diploma or GED to work as a security screener? These are the same screeners that TSA chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refer to as a first-class first line of defense in the war on terror.

These are the employees who could never keep a job in the private sector. I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.

An agent got through Newark last week with an improvised explosive device? That’s not even news to anyone who works there. It happens all the time. The failure rate is pretty high, especially with federal investigators, and the pat-down itself is ridiculous.

That failure rate is high even with advance notice, which is practically de rigueur:

When there are internal tests, conducted by the Newark training department, it’s easy to cheat because they use our co-workers. You could be working with someone all morning, and then they’re gone. Word gets around the checkpoint. Someone will come over to you and say, “Hey, it’s Joe. He’s got a blue duffel bag.”

It’s “all for show”? No, Joe, say it ain’t so!

What are the chances of you being on a flight where something happens? We always said it’s not a question of if terrorists get through — it’s a question of when. Our feeling is nothing’s happened because they haven’t wanted it to happen. We’re not any big deterrent. It’s all for show.

This guy is wrong, though, about how the police conduct frisks — or are supposed to conduct frisks. As I’ve said till I’m blue in the face, I’ve been frisked by cops, and what the TSA is doing isn’t frisking; it’s groping. Cops aren’t legally allowed to grope. Yeah, I get it that they abuse their authority sometimes. I’m talking legal search. Legal frisk. Frisking isn’t groping. You don’t need to grope people’s genitals to figure out if they’re hiding a weapon. This TSA agent may know something about his former job, but he knows nothing about police frisks.

We’ll leave aside the whole fact that the TSA shouldn’t be conducting frisks in the first place. They aren’t law enforcement. Even law enforcement has to have probable cause to search you, and the TSA, besides not being law enforcement, has no probable cause.

As for what TSA employees in general think:

Most TSA screeners know their job is a complete joke. Their goal is to use this as a stepping stone to another government agency.

We work in a culture where common sense has no place. All but a very few TSA personnel know they’re employed by a bottom-of-the-barrel agency.

And again as we’ve written — and provided evidence for — umpteen times, TSA clerks target women:

Goofing off and half-hour-long bathroom breaks are the only way to break up the monotony. There is also a lot of ogling of female passengers by the male screeners. So, ladies, cover up when you get to the airport. These guys are checking you out constantly.

Of course, there are always the True Believers:

A small number of screeners are delusional zealots who believe they’re keeping America safe by taking your snow globe, your 2-inch pocket knife, your 4-ounce bottle of shampoo, and performing invasive pat-downs on your kids.

Oh, well, whatever. We’ve been presenting logic, facts, risk assessment, statistical analysis, empirical evidence for years. It hasn’t made a dent. And this guy’s exposé won’t make a dent either. Those people who want not actual security, but only the feeling of security, will not be moved. Not until they themselves get the grope of a lifetime or their belongings stolen. And even then, they’ll still insist it’s for their safety.

Meanwhile, our buddy over at Taking Sense Away has also had it. He’s tired of ringing alarm bells, speaking the truth, and having to deal with so much willful ignorance and stupidity in return. I know the feeling.


  • It is to weep. And the “ogling women” bit reminds me of that wonderful SNL skit about TSA agents engaging in a little repurposing: “Feeling lonely? We’ll tell you what to do. Schedule a flight, and go through security. You might get me (seductively dressed woman) or me (another seductively dressed woman), but most likely, you’re gonna get me (burly TSA guy snapping on his blue gloves)”.

    • frostysnowman

      That was a funny skit, an unfortunately an accurate portrayal of the TSA.

    • CelticWhisper

      I don’t mean this in any sort of critical fashion to Deborah or SNL, but…is anyone else here just totally unable to laugh at those skits? Not sure if it’s the discomfort of being reminded that “Hey, this shit ACTUALLY HAPPENS”, or the anger at seeing it taken less than seriously, or the realization that enough people think it’s no big deal that SNL is able to make light of it, but something about them is just more depressing than funny.

      I think George Carlin was the only one I was able to laugh with when he made fun of airport “security.” And mostly because he made a point of pointing out that it’s “just there to remind you that they can fuck with you any time they feel like it, as long as you put up with it. Which means ANY TIME THEY FEEL LIKE IT.”

      I know humor often serves a social purpose but I’m just not seeing it here. Not saying the purpose doesn’t exist, but if anyone has an idea as to how it’s supposed to work in this context…enlighten me? Pretty please with civil liberties on top?

      • CW, you know my feelings towards the TSA, but yes, I do see the humor in the SNL skit. I think humor is an essential component of this or any other civil liberties fight. If anything, humor can let us see the truth of the matter more than a straightforward presentation of facts can (and we all know how well facts go over).

        That’s why humor is often banned in totalitarian countries (or media sites, or blogs). Because it’s so important.

        I think that SNL skit ridiculed precisely the people who should be ridiculed: the TSA and the so-called citizens who think it’s all no big deal.

        • CelticWhisper

          I think I can see where you’re coming from. And it’s an interesting point (and one that I’d not considered) about humor being verboten in totalitarian regimes.

          Thinking more about it, I might have been reflecting on the spoof that came out shortly after the Reign of Molestation was instituted, wherein actors portraying TSClerks were talking about how bad THEY had it because so many passengers were “fat.” I think it was more a matter of seeing it as ridiculing the situation from a perspective sympathetic to TSA.

          Which is to say nothing of the irony of TSClerks, who are typically on the chunky side, ridiculing pax for their figures. I’m not one to judge people based on weight, as I realize there are often varied and complex reasons behind people’s body mass, but there’s that old saying about stones and glass houses to consider.

          Thanks for explaining that, though. It always helps to be able to keep some levity and perspective when the topic is something as nauseating as TSA.