History repeats itself with TSA’s strip-search tactics

“The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”

That infamous statement, by an infamous monster, encapsulates perfectly the human capacity for denial. Indeed not just capacity, but eagerness.

People who don’t want to believe what’s right in front of their faces will pretend it doesn’t exist.

That’s what has been going on for the past two years with Americans and the TSA: denial.

Not everyone, of course, is in denial. Some of us have been ringing alarm bells about this agency for a long time. We’ve also been mocked and derided for doing so. But we continue, because we keep hoping that more people will wake up.

Genuine ignorance is one thing; willful ignorance another. At this point, after so much publicity about so many crimes and abuses, anyone who still claims that the agency is benign is being willfully ignorant.

Ruth Sherman is only the latest elderly woman – whom we know of – who has been abused by the TSA. Her assault occurred a day before that of another woman who’s in the news recently for having the courage to go public about her ordeal – Lenore Zimmerman.

Both women reported that they were strip-searched. Not “hindered,” not “inconvenienced,” not “bothered.” Strip-searched. Assaulted.

They aren’t alone – unless you’re one of those people still living in denial. Lena Reppert, the 95-year-old mother of Jean Weber Destin was also abused by the TSA, strip-searched in a back room.

So was Nina Gilkenson, a much younger woman – a very attractive much younger woman – as she posted publicly on her Facebook page on June 19, 2011.

So was ABC News producer Carolyn Durand. As she put it, “The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around. It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate.”

So were untold numbers of women at Reagan National Airport, by an organized ring of TSA assailants, as reported back in 2004.

Then again, sometimes the TSA punishes people just for the hell of it, as I discovered, as travel writer Charlie Leocha discovered, as Texas Public Utility Commission chairman Barry Smitherman discovered, as Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic discovered, as this couple discovered.

A rape survivor, Claire Hirschkind, didn’t want to go through the scanner because she has a pacemaker (though even people who go through the scanners are still often groped; the two aren’t mutually exclusive). She also didn’t want to be pawed. Instead, she was handcuffed, arrested, and dragged across the airport floor. “I told them, ‘No, I’m not going to have my breasts felt,’ and she said, ‘Yes, you are,’” Hirschkind said she was told. The TSA called the police to punish Hirschkind for not acquiescing to their demands.

Because that, in the end, is what this is all about – acquiescence. Obedience. Bowing to authority. That is the point of the TSA’s behavior, especially since John Pistole came on board and initiated the gropes. It’s the exercise of power for the sake of exercising power.

Groping someone against his or her will is sexual assault. You can try to pretty it up or deny it with euphemism – “enhanced pat-downs” – but what the TSA is doing isn’t patting down. Or frisking. I’ve been frisked by the police. The TSA is groping, not frisking.

People who blithely use the term “enhanced pat-downs” are the same people who call torture “enhanced interrogation.” There’s a reason Orwell coined the term “doublethink” in his novel 1984. It’s a pity so many Americans don’t understand it.

There are thousands more first-person and eyewitness accounts of TSA abuse – not only sexual assault but other kinds of abuse as well – in this document, which I’ve been compiling since 2010. Though if you’re in denial, better not read it. It’ll just cause more cognitive dissonance; and as research has shown, facts don’t matter. If you’re more comfortable living in denial, you’ll continue to do so, no matter how many facts get in the way.

Facts such as:

  • No bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11. The planes themselves were commandeered, something that won’t happen again because the cockpit doors have been secured, and because passengers will no longer silently submit (which is more than I can say for TSA apologists).
  • The last time a bomb smuggled aboard an airplane in the USA detonated was December 11, 1967. The plane landed safely; no fatalities, no injuries.
  • The last time a bomb was smuggled aboard an aircraft in the US from which there were fatalities was May 22, 1962.

Almost 50 years. And for all that time, until just recently, the TSA reign of molestation and rank stupidity didn’t exist. Gee, how is it possible we all haven’t been blown out of the sky by now? After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

Here are some more facts:

You’re more likely to be killed in a car accident than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Almost 40,000 traffic fatalities a year in this country. Have you stopped driving? Oops – there goes the argument that you’re concerned about safety. Especially if you talk on your cellphone while driving, something that’ll get you killed a lot faster than a bogeyman terrorist will.

More inconvenient facts: you’re more likely to drown in your bathtub, to get struck by lightning, to have a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts, than to be killed in a terrorist attack in this country.

Yet millions of Americans think it’s just fine that the TSA harasses, bullies, and assaults people, every day, all across the country. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion but that they’re content to live in denial. After all, if the sexual and other assaults never happen to you, who cares if they happen to your fellow passengers?

Anyway, you’re in good company: the TSA denies everything. (That’s another feature Orwell warned us about.) You can read all you want about the TSA’s denial on the agency’s blog, a darkly hilarious repository of propaganda, where Blogger Bob routinely issues bland blanket statements such as “proper procedures were followed,” no matter how much evidence to the contrary. (I long ago stopped trying to comment at the TSA Blog, as my comments were always censored — except for one, wherein I said, “I wonder if this comment will be censored.” Perhaps you’ll have better luck.)

We can look forward to continuing instances of assault and abuse — when we find out about them, that is; most people don’t have the benefit of a reporter. As the famous experiments of Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram demonstrated over 40 years ago, people put in positions of unlimited power will abuse that power. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”

Oh, and the quotation that opened this post? By Josef Mengele, the Nazi concentration camp physician known as the Angel of Death.

It bears repeating: “The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”

(Cross-posted at ABombazine.)

TSA turns the gloves on itself

Isn’t it nice to know that you’re not alone? That the sexual assault the TSA perpetrates against you and yours is also meted out to its own employees?

Nilda C. Marugame, a TSA agent at Lihue Airport in Hawaii, is suing the Department of Homeland Security, TSA’s parent agency, for sexual assault. She says she was retaliated against when she went through the proper chain of command to report it. (That chain-of-command thing is beloved of bureaucrats and people who believe that all you have to do to achieve justice is tell the truth.)

Marugame says she is, to her knowledge, the third woman who received unwanted sexual advances from one particular TSA employee, a Transportation Security Investigator (TSI).

After Maragume reported her incident, she says she was forced to sign a statement disavowing it:

Marugame says she was suspended for three days, after being “forced … to sign a document stating that the TSI did not sexually harass her”. She claims her boss suspended her “rather than addressing and disciplining the behavior of a sexual predator in the workplace.”

She says the alleged predator “was not subjected to any discipline, while each of his victims were disciplined.”

Oh, well.  At least we peons know we have company!

John Pistole’s Thanksgiving song and dance

TSA Administrator John Pistole has been busy giving interviews this week to trumpet his agency’s supposedly improved procedures and to tell us heartwarming stories about how he views his mission.

The first interview appeared on CNN the day before Thanksgiving and has since been reprinted in other newspapers. The second was published yesterday in the Washington Post.

In both, Pistole repeats unfounded claims about the safety and efficacy of airport scanners, downplays passengers’ concerns, and gives us a glimpse into what he thinks of his fellow citizens.

Once again we hear that children under 12 will no longer have to take off their shoes, not that taking off shoes at the checkpoint has ever made sense for anyone of any age. Yet perhaps in compensation for this minor concession to common sense, new TSA regs seek to punish said children in another way. Pistole:

“. . . they’ll be given multiple opportunities to go through the screening to resolve something before we would ask the parents or guardians to be involved to try to resolve that anomaly.”

So children can be put through the scanners over and over again, despite the fact that the safety of the backscatter (X-ray) machines is still in doubt, so much so that the European Union has voted to ban them from EU airports. The TSA was supposed to conduct an independent study of the scanners’ safety, but to date it still hasn’t done so, with Pistole recently backpedaling on the promise.

Yet even if children go through the scanners, they can still be groped:

“There’s still a possibility — much reduced — that they would still have a pat-down, but it’s something that we are trying to work with the parents or guardians to help resolve what that issue may be so we don’t need to do that.”

Notice the deferential language – “ask the parents or guardians to be involved,” “work with the parents or guardians to help resolve.” Yet as countless people have testified, TSA agents rarely “work with” parents to resolve anything. Rather, they often bully and harass* parents and separate them from their children, no matter the age, even if a child is crying, even if a child is disabled.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of abusive behavior, one must ask why, if the scanners are such a technological advance, people must still divest themselves of shoes and empty their pockets in the first place? Isn’t the scanner supposed to see through clothing? Isn’t that the point? Why does anything left in a pocket – a coin, a key, a ponytail holder – constitute an “anomaly” that gets one sent off to the glassed-in gulag for a grope?

Aye, there’s the rub.

It turns out the scanners have a disturbingly high – and notorious – rate of false alarms. In the studies Germany conducted, it was found that all sorts of innocuous things caused the scanners to alarm – even pleats, even sweat. (English translation here.) The scanners had a 54% false-positive rate. Perhaps that’s why Germany isn’t using them. Neither is Italy. Neither is Israel.

But even as early as January of 2010, long before the scanners were rolled out all across the U.S., security experts warned that they were not a panacea, that they, in fact, probably wouldn’t have detected the explosive substance sported by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the mentally disturbed young man who tried to light his underwear on fire on a Detroit-bound plane in December 2009 (and who never had a chance in hell of actually blowing anything up).

Coincidentally, that event provided the perfect opportunity for scanner manufacturers to urge that their machines be installed everywhere. One of the people touting the benefits of the scanners was former DHS chief Michael Chertoff, who was working as a public relations man for one of those manufacturers, Rapiscan, which went on to get a lucrative contract from the government to supply the machines. Quel coincidence.

No word on whether Chertoff or Pistole has ever seen the irony in the company’s name.

Pistole says he solicits and receives frequent feedback from the TSA workforce on how things are going. Yet he never mentions the rest of us – the people he’s supposed to be protecting and supposedly serves. We are paying the $8.1 billion a year for his agency and its almost 60,000 employees. Has he ever asked you, dear reader, for your feedback?

There are some telling tidbits about motivation as well:

“I want to be sure there’s a sense of urgency, because terrorists try to come up with new and creative ways to harm us and we focus on preventing that.”

One person’s sense of urgency is another’s promotion of a constant state of fear. Such a state makes it easier to control a populace, whether one is barking orders to “put your hands above your head,” “don’t touch that!” or encouraging people to believe The Terrorists (apparently a monolithic group) are hiding around every corner. It also ensures a steady stream of profits to corporations that are getting rich off the scanner boondoggle and terrorism business – extraordinarily rich, as the number of lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill attests.

If Pistole is so concerned about preventing “new and creative ways to harm us,” why is it that his agency is entirely reactive? Does he think The Terrorists are still cooking up shoe and panty bombs? Does he think they’re incapable of, say, blowing up a checkpoint, where hundreds of people are massed together like sitting ducks? Does he think they’re oblivious to trains, buses, boats, stadiums, malls? (Answer to that last question: no, since the TSA has also invaded every other type of transportation, as you can read here.)

Wouldn’t a “new and creative” attempt be to smuggle different bomb parts in body cavities and then assemble them on board? Never mind the absurdity of this scenario, as it’s being hyped to within an inch of its life. But given the “sense of urgency,” why isn’t the TSA conducting body cavity searches of all passengers all the time? After all, we want to say ahead of those “new and creative ways,” don’t we?

Pistole doesn’t say. He also doesn’t address the number of TSA employees who’ve been arrested for stealing, impersonating an officer, child pornography, and sexual assault – 62 so far this year alone.

These are the people looking at your naked image and “patting down” you and your children. These are the people pawing through your belongings and determining which ones to confiscate. These are the people, along with John Pistole, keeping you “safe.”

(Photo: TalkMediaNews/Flickr)

*Link broken; verbatim content:

Posted by waterthink at 1/21/2011 9:17 p.m.  #913523
Just this week, on returning from a family vacation in CA over MLK weekend, myself, my wife, and our two children were detained by the TSA because we refused to have our children go through the back-scatter machines.

 When my wife told them we were opting out the TSA woman at the metal detector said “Do not touch your children.” I then went through the metal detector and waited with my son as my wife and daughter were escorted away. When another TSA agent came to take me and my elementary school age son to be searched, I put my arm around him and the woman yelled “DO NOT TOUCH HIM!”

 All four of us were then subjected to approximately 5 minute searches each.

 It is a truly surreal experience to watch your child being searched by uniformed agents. Really just unbelievable. I watched the people going through the line watching this and I think most were aghast.

 Never thought I would live to see this happen in this country. Never.

TSA expands beyond airport screening

You might think that the TSA operates only at airports. If so, you haven’t been keeping up.

The TSA has its hands all over the country’s transportation systems, from trains to buses to subways to ferries to trucks. Its VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program has been in operation since 2005.

VIPR teams periodically descend on transportation hubs to conduct “random” searches, as they did in Tennessee; in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky; in Des Moines, Iowa; in Tampa, Florida; in Sacramento, California; and perhaps most notoriously, in Savannah, Georgia, where train passengers were separated from their luggage and body-searched after they got off the train.

Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor hit the roof when he found out and forbade the agency from ever setting foot in an Amtrak station without permission again.

VIPR teams also operate in the New York City subway and in other cities, where, according to the TSA, they “surge into a transit agency.”

They can also show up at “special events,” such as football games. TSA head John Pistole recently testified before Congress that the TSA “conducted more than 8,000 VIPR operations in the past 12 months, including more than 3,700 operations in mass-transit and passenger-railroad venues.”

Then again, VIPR’s activities are legally questionable, as this memo from an anonymous Department of Homeland Security lawyer points out. And not everyone is so sanguine about VIPR’s reach.

But VIPR is only one of the TSA’s “vigilance” programs. First Observer is another. It’s a highway security program, and it engages truckers as watchdogs. Its mission is “to promote the security of our critical infrastructure within the United States by training people to observe, assess, and report risks and security breaches.”

A few days ago, the TSA announced a First Observer award. This is where things get a little confusing. The program is funded by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and DHS, and run by the TSA, which recruits truckers from an organization called OOIDA, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. OOIDA, in turn, partners with a security firm called HMS.

It’s hard to figure out exactly who does what, but it appears that HMS trains truckers to “observe, assess, report” for OOIDA, which then sends its observations, assessments, and reports to the TSA. In other words, it’s DHS chief Janet Napolitano’s “If You See Something, Say Something” program writ large.

Or at least writ more expensive, since Napolitano’s exhortation applies to the average Joe and doesn’t, presumably, require any special training.

Now that you see how many alphabet-soup organizations are involved in your security, I hope you feel safer — just in time for Thanksgiving! (sarcasm alert)

TSA agent, in uniform, charged with sexual assault

In Manassas, Virginia police have charged a TSA agent named Harold Glen Rodman, age 52, with sexual assault.

According to the victim, she and a friend were walking in a residential neighborhood around 3 in the morning on November 20th when they were approached by an unknown man in a uniform. She said he flashed his badge at them before the alleged assault.

The police later canvassed the area and found Rodman. He’s been charged with aggravated sexual battery, object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy, and abduction with intent to defile.

Perhaps he thought his uniform and tin badge conferred on him some kind of authority. And why not? TSA agents get away with all kinds of behavior at checkpoints; why not everywhere else?

This is hardly the first time a TSA agent has been charged with a serious crime. Bill Fisher and I have compiled a Master List of TSA Crimes and Abuses that aggregates thousands of accounts of eyewitness testimony as well as police and court records.

TSA conducts explosive demonstration at Myrtle Beach

Hey, ever wonder what happens when you blow stuff up? Fear not. The fulfillment of your special effects fantasy is just around the corner. Or on the beach, as the case may be.

The TSA has conducted an explosives demonstration at Myrtle Beach. Because what could be more fun than feeling the earth move under your feet and watching sand scatter at the same time?

Quoting from the article:

“To better understand the destruction explosives can cause, the TSA conducted a safety demonstration at Myrtle Beach International Airport Wednesday morning. It included the live detonation of explosives like C4 and dynamite, hidden inside common baggage, like a briefcase.”

There’s even a nifty video.

Who knew “the destruction explosives can cause”?

Someone named Nick Slater had this observation:

“If that’s on a plane, the plane is gone.”

Wow. Really? I wonder what would happen if “that” were at the security checkpoint itself, where hundreds of people are crammed together in one space?

Oh, I know — all those see-through plastic baggies would protect us.

No word on how much this little demonstration cost, but hey, folks, your tax dollars at work.

George McGovern calls for eliminating TSA, DHS

George McGovern, former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, is doing what few in Congress (besides Ron Paul) are willing to do: calling for the elimination of the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

As The Hill reports, McGovern terms airport security procedures “silliness” and “a needless hassle.”

He quotes a figure of $7 billion a year to fund the TSA. Earlier this year, Janet Napolitano, head of DHS, which oversees the agency, asked for $8.1 billion for Fiscal 2012, which would go towards hiring another 3,270 employees, for a grand total of close to 60,000 TSA employees, most of them screeners. The budget of DHS is even larger — $42 billion, according to McGovern, with 200,000 employees.

With the economy in the doldrums and ordinary Americans being told they must face “austerity,” one wonders how the government can justify this extraordinary expenditure, especially when the result is to bully and harass those same citizens.

McGovern points out that the creation of DHS was a reaction, if not overreaction, to 9/11 and that the time has come for the country to stop making policy based on fear.

Canadian report finds private information breaches

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) isn’t adequately protecting passengers’ private information, according to a report by Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

In its annual report to Parliament, the privacy office determined that “CATSA acted beyond its authority by producing security reports on incidents not related to aviation security, and even contacting police about the legal activities of some passengers.”

CATSA agreed with the report and stated that it would stop collecting personal information as it related to legal activities (something the TSA in this country could learn from). There are also problems with CATSA’s holding on to certain private records, including financial data, long after they should have been deleted.

Another discovery was that in two cases, forbidden devices were found in the rooms where full-body scans were being viewed:  a cellphone and a closed-circuit TV camera. Followers of the TSA will recall that the agency has repeatedly declared that no such devices are allowed in the viewing rooms, an assertion we are meant to take on faith. No doubt such faith was also called upon in Canada until this report came out.

You can also comment on this report at Travel Underground.