Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Touching Tribute to the TSA

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This story came up on Fark recently, and they posted it as a kind of throw away article of mainly prurient interest. The story is about a 36 year old woman leaving Denver to return home to San Diego with her 3 month old daughter:

Ava Kingsford, 36, of San Diego said she was flagged down for a pat-down search at Denver International Airport last month as she prepared to board a flight home with her 3-month-old son. Kingsford objected when a female screener with the Transportation Security Administration told her, "I'm going to feel your breasts now…." Kingsford said when she told the screener that she was uncomfortable with it, more security agents and police officers arrived. They told her that she couldn't board her flight without submitting to the final step of the search.

In the Fark discussion of the story, a user wrote:

“Good God something like this almost happened to me coming back from DFW. I got picked out for a double screening and this totally butch screener starts waving her wand all over and such. After removing my shoes and jewelry, we were still getting beeps. Sure enough, it was my navel ring. Now consider this: I was wearing a dress at the time. Not a top and a skirt, a one-piece dress. The only way for the screener to actually see this would be for me to flash the entire farking airport.

When I assured her that it was my navel piercing, she had to call over her supervisor and they both had to explain to me how the security officer was going to "feel my abdomen area." I stood there, arms spread out, feet shoulder-width apart, and in front of everyone the s.o. started rubbing my belly back and forth….. So now I pose this question (in all seriousness): What if it had been a clit stud instead of a navel ring?” - americandecadence

Humorous, eh? Silly girl should have left the old rubbly nubbly alone. That’s what you get…etc.: when you live in a police state.

OK, we may not be living in a fully functioning police state yet (although the legal work necessary for one has been accomplished). Still, a cursory internet search will reveal literally thousands of stories like these stashed among the blogs and discussion groups. Steven Yates at has a good essay about this called, “Why I Avoid Airports.”

Lately I’ve been checking out allegations of women and girls being "searched" rather zealously, shall we say, at security checkpoints in airports. Incidents of overly intimate touching and fondling have been reported at Phoenix, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Portland, and elsewhere. Perhaps three dozen such cases have been reported. I don’t know that they happen everywhere. There is no way to know what hasn’t been reported, of course. A few of these cases involve children. In the Atlanta case, a 9-year old girl was frisked. In yet another, from Orlando, a 3-year old girl was patted down. There are related cases of absurd levels of paranoia among security personnel. At Kennedy Airport in New York City, a woman was forced by a security guard to drink from three bottles of her own breast milk to "prove" that the white liquid posed no threat to anyone. The dominant news media have been mostly silent about these cases except for a tiny handful of local news stories.

He goes on to make the case that, “When federal employees can bully citizens with impunity, including getting cheap sexual thrills out of it, the citizens cease to be citizens and become subjects: subject to arbitrary federal power.” It would be one thing if these searches or programs like CAPPS, CAPPS II, the Trusted Traveler et al., offered some reasonable protection from terrorism, but they demonstrably don’t. Witness the number of guns, knives, fake explosives, etc that have made it through our “screening” process post 9/11.

Noted security expert Bruce Schneier makes a succinct and convincing case the most recent incarnation of these programs will not make us safer for one simple reason:

What the Trusted Traveler program does is create two different access paths into the airport: high security and low security. The intent is that only good guys will take the low-security path, and the bad guys will be forced to take the high-security path, but it rarely works out that way. You have to assume that the bad guys will find a way to take the low-security path… Airport security is best served by intelligent guards watching for suspicious behavior, not dumb guards blindly following the results of a Trusted Traveler program.

I don’t know why this all pisses me off so much, makes me want to find one of these screeners at a bar and preemptively clean his clock. Reading about incidents like the two above, I shake with adrenalin I forcefully ignore the screams of my lower brain. Perhaps I share with Yates an “intense dislike of anyone who abuses power.” Mrs. Primate and I have encountered a, thankfully, lesser cousin of this kind of treatment in the States. Those of you who know me know that I understand more than the average Joe about actual security; I have a bit of a temper on me; and I've got just an tinsy insy problem with authority; I'm a veritable TSA perfect storm. I’m not sure what I’d do if some uneducated, uncouth and unctuous TSA employee gave my family a hard time. Hopefully and probably I’d be smart. But the fact that there’s a bit of doubt in my mind, that I can easily imagine a trip to the airport landing me in prison, tells me something is very, very wrong with this system. When normal people can be driven so, something is good and fucked.

But, even worse than substituting the illusion of security for real safety, even more crucial than the loss of civil rights and the decay of civil behavior, is the tragedy that has become of the American character. When we accept - in the main without question - that it’s normal for strangers to violate our persons against our will on a regular basis and on behalf of what is ostensively our own government, we’ve entered an advanced and perhaps terminal decadence.

It was never in the American character to let folks, much less bullies and certainly not governments push us around. The coup of 2000 is symbolized most aptly by the subsequent and possibly related attacks on the Twin Towers: just like the New York skyline, we’ve been neutered as a people. Lured with succulent treats to the front hall, wrapped gently in old blankets, pushed suspicious but still trusting into the back of the station wagon, dragged irresistibly through the animal din of the veterinarian’s lobby to await the inevitable.

But this bit of hyperbole highlights the regime’s greatest - and possibly only real - weakness. It’s one thing to illegally arrest foreigners or our own more marginalized citizens. "Eh," most people will say, "I'm sure they had it coming." And that only if they notice at all. Even excepting the occasional arrest of an apparently “regular” person, like Brandon Mayfield, as of yet the regime hasn’t interfered with most folks’ lives even as it robs and tortures and kills out of sight of mainstream America. But if we’ve haven’t passed the terminal juncture yet - and we probably have - ultimately only visceral interference with the lives of Americans will wrench us from our induced and diseased slumber. I just hope, and if I prayed I would, that this wasn’t, really, the founders’ intention when they penned the Second Amendment.

...and I'm hoping that this First Amendment expression hasn't just landed me on the No Fly list.


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