PATRICK GEORGE on JALOPNIK
If you somehow need more proof that the Transportation Security Administration is an expensive, invasive joke of a federal agency that does not actually thwart airline terrorism, then writer and former TSA screener Jason Edward Harrington is happy to give you some.
Writing in Politico Magazine, Harrington details the three ludicrous years he spent working for the TSA at Chicago O’Hare International Airport which included, in his words, “patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show.”
The worst part, he says, is many of the TSA agents themselves feel that the agency creates mistrust with citizens and is a waste of public money.
Here are some of the great examples of how Harrington and his blue-shirted pals kept us safe in the skies:
Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.
People holding passports from the selectee countries were automatically pulled aside for full-body pat-downs and had their luggage examined with a fine-toothed comb. The selectee list was purely political, of course, with diplomacy playing its role as always: There was no Saudi Arabia or Pakistan on a list of states historically known to harbor, aid and abet terrorists. Besides, my co-workers at the airport didn’t know Algeria from a medical condition, we rarely came across Cubanos and no one’s ever seen a North Korean passport that didn’t include the words “Kim-Jong.” So it was mostly the Middle Easterners who got the special screening.
Really nice. And remember that would-be underwear bomber in 2009 who was thwarted by passengers? Although it was used as a justification for body scanners in every airport, the TSA knew said scanners wouldn’t work despite costing $150,000 a pop, Harrington writes, quoting an instructor:
“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket. We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.
Except for the TSA agents who wanted to stare at naked people, of course:
Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses—mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.
Which were also used to sexually harass women, because why not:
Then there was the infamous “guyspeak” in my “Insider’s TSA Dictionary.” One of the first terms I learned from fellow male TSA officers at O’Hare was “Hotel Papa,” code language for an attractive female passenger—”Hotel” standing for “hot,” and “Papa” for, well, use your imagination.
The TSA’s budget was $5.16 billion in 2013. Be sure and check out the rest of the story at Politico Magazine to learn even more exciting ways your money is being spent.