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Bloviating Zeppelin: Airports & TSA: Unbridled Incompetence

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Airports & TSA: Unbridled Incompetence

[First things first: I've not been paying a lot of attention to the internet for the past few weeks. There are a number of personal issues engaged, and we are ridiculously short-staffed at work. My days average 12 to 15 hours, plus overtime, plus the extra hours on my days off. I find blogging, when I can, to be akin to Aloe on a sunburn, albeit for the 15 minutes I can spare roughly every other day or so. This may continue for a while, dear readers. Not leaving, but trying to stay in the game as much as I can. -BZ]

I've also managed to avoid this now-incendiary topic. A LE friend of mine (obviously to remain unnamed) who recently left TSA confirms staggering levels of incompetence in the system -- one of the primary reasons for his having exited a management position.

That said, and with permission of the author (see the site here), I reprint in its entirety his incident with the TSA and apparent unnamed officials or agencies he encountered along the way. Despite its length, I would suggest a complete reading so that you may be as fully informed about conduct involving the TSA at our domestic airports. With this information in mind, you may then make a more comprehensively informed decision about the basic premise of: under these conditions, do I even wish to fly? As written by John Tyner (and documented by the San Diego Union Tribune):

TSA encounter at SAN

[These events took place roughly between 5:30 and 6:30 AM, November 13th in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport. I'm writing this approximately 2 1/2 hours after the events transpired, and they are correct to the best of my recollection. I will admit to being particularly fuzzy on the exact order of events when dealing with the agents after getting my ticket refunded; however, all of the events described did occur.

I had my phone recording audio and video of much of these events. It can be viewed below.

Please spread this story as far and wide as possible. I will make no claims to copyright or otherwise.]

This morning, I tried to fly out of San Diego International Airport but was refused by the TSA. I had been somewhat prepared for this eventuality. I have been reading about the millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray machines and the possible harm to health as well as the vivid pictures they create of people's naked bodies. Not wanting to go through them, I had done my research on the TSA's website prior to traveling to see if SAN had them. From all indications, they did not. When I arrived at the security line, I found that the TSA's website was out of date. SAN does in fact utilize backscatter x-ray machines.

I made my way through the line toward the first line of "defense": the TSA ID checker. This agent looked over my boarding pass, looked over my ID, looked at me and then back at my ID. After that, he waved me through. SAN is still operating metal detectors, so I walked over to one of the lines for them. After removing my shoes and making my way toward the metal detector, the person in front of me in line was pulled out to go through the backscatter machine. After asking what it was and being told, he opted out. This left the machine free, and before I could go through the metal detector, I was pulled out of line to go through the backscatter machine. When asked, I half-chuckled and said, "I don't think so." At this point, I was informed that I would be subject to a pat down, and I waited for another agent.

A male agent (it was a female who had directed me to the backscatter machine in the first place), came and waited for me to get my bags and then directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening. After setting my things on a table, he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a "standard" pat down. (I thought to myself, "great, not one of those gropings like I've been reading about".) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, "if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.

We both stood there for no more than probably two minutes before a female TSA agent (apparently, the supervisor) arrived. She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor.

I took a seat in a tiny metal chair next to the table with my belongings and waited. While waiting, I asked the original agent (who was supposed to do the pat down) if he had many people opt out to which he replied, none (or almost none, I don't remember exactly). He said that I gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket. I replied that the government took them away after September 11th. There was silence until the next supervisor arrived. A few minutes later, the female agent/supervisor arrived with a man in a suit (not a uniform). He gave me a business card identifying him as David Silva, Transportation Security Manager, San Diego International Airport. At this point, more TSA agents as well as what I assume was a local police officer arrived on the scene and surrounded the area where I was being detained. The female supervisor explained the situation to Mr. Silva. After some quick back and forth (that I didn't understand/hear), I could overhear Mr. Silva say something to the effect of, "then escort him from the airport." I again offered to submit to the metal detector, and my father-in-law, who was near by also tried to plead for some reasonableness on the TSA's part.

The female supervisor took my ID at this point and began taking some kind of report with which I cooperated. Once she had finished, I asked if I could put my shoes back on. I was allowed to put my shoes back on and gather my belongs. I asked, "are we done here" (it was clear at this point that I was going to be escorted out), and the local police officer said, "follow me". I followed him around the side of the screening area and back out to the ticketing area. I said apologized to him for the hassle, to which he replied that it was not a problem.

I made my way over to the American Airlines counter, explained the situation, and asked if my ticket could be refunded. The woman behind the counter furiously typed away for about 30 seconds before letting me know that she would need a supervisor. She went to the other end of the counter. When she returned, she informed me that the ticket was non-refundable, but that she was still trying to find a supervisor. After a few more minutes, she was able to refund my ticket. I told her that I had previously had a bad experience with American Airlines and had sworn never to fly with them again (I rationalized this trip since my father-in-law had paid for the ticket), but that after her helpfulness, I would once again be willing to use their carrier again.

At this point, I thought it was all over. I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn't know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties. I then pointed to Mr. Silva and asked if he would be subject to any penalties. He is the agents' supervisor, and he directed them to escort me out. The man informed me that Mr. Silva was new and he would not be subject to penalties, either. He again asserted the necessity that I return to the screening area. When I asked why, he explained that I may have an incendiary device and whether or not that was true needed to be determined. I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. He told me that their procedures are on their website, and therefore, I was fully informed before I entered the airport; I had implicitly agreed to whatever screening they deemed appropriate. I told him that San Diego was not listed on the TSA's website as an airport using Advanced Imaging Technology, and I believed that I would only be subject to the metal detector. He replied that he was not a webmaster, and I asked then why he was referring me to the TSA's website if he didn't know anything about it. I again refused to re-enter the screening area.

The man asked me to stay put while he walked off to confer with the officer and Mr. Silva. They went about 20 feet away and began talking amongst themselves while I waited. I couldn't over hear anything, but I got the impression that the police officer was recounting his version of the events that had transpired in the screening area (my initial refusal to be patted down). After a few minutes, I asked loudly across the distance if I was free to leave. The man dismissively held up a finger and said, "hold on". I waited. After another minute or so, he returned and asked for my name. I asked why he needed it, and reminded him that the female supervisor/agent had already taken a report. He said that he was trying to be friendly and help me out. I asked to what end. He reminded me that I could be sued civilly and face a $10,000 fine and that my cooperation could help mitigate the penalties I was facing. I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, "then I'm leaving". He replied, "then we'll bring a civil suit against you", to which I said, "you bring that suit" and walked out of the airport.

There are other comments posted by the author, as well as phone video (consisting primarily of audio). Please visit his original post for these details. You will also see over 2,000 comments in response.

It appears the TSA is not backing down.

For this and other reasons, unless absolutely compelled for major/critical personal reasons, my inclination to fly has been terminated. I'm driving, even if it's across the country. I've done my own share of pat-down and/or strip searches and I'm sufficiently ancient and curmudgeonly as to not wish to experience them again, on the other end, at the hands of inexperienced and irate government officials making MickeyD wages.

There are any number of issues at play: are the new scanners safe? Is the radiation emitted of little consequence for the very occasional flyer? What of business fliers? What of very frequent fliers? What of pilots and cabin staff who must encounter these machines numerous times per week, or perchance per day? What does TSA staff do with small children? Nine year old females? Young boys? What of the female TSA employee in hajib searching a nun in full garb above? Who really has won, here?

So I suppose there are two important questions:

1. Did this man do the right thing?
2. Do or will these current circumstances influence your own inclination to take commercial flights? Or would you go so far as to rent your own private craft?

Please weigh in.



Blogger Greybeard said...

My two cents-
The airlines had better get this manure under control, and fast, or they'll be following GM down the drain.
I won't be flying until they get this crap under control.

Mon Nov 15, 08:58:00 AM PST  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Meh- I thought "I" had a bad day at Tulsa yesterday... It's going to come to a head, and it will be interesting to see the fallout...

Mon Nov 15, 09:43:00 AM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Greybeard: that's what I'm beginning to think. . .

NFO: people are getting close to "threshold," I suspect.


Mon Nov 15, 10:17:00 AM PST  
Blogger mrchuck said...

I demand that a walk-in steel blast chamber be constructed that has the electronics, etc. in it that would "DETONATE" any type bomb, incendiary device. Walk-in, get checked, walk out, go get on plane.
If you have a bomb, BOOM! The chamber contains all the explosion, and the perp is blown up.
"Attention, clean-up crew needed in aisle 2, gate eleven"!

Mon Nov 15, 11:52:00 AM PST  
Blogger Milepost 154 said...

Mr C: innovative, comprehensive and worthy of saving some taxpaying dollars.


Mon Nov 15, 01:13:00 PM PST  
Blogger Leticia said...

I heard about this and it is sickening, either you subject yourself, your children and spouse to a full body scan, which leaves nothing to imagination, or opt to get sexually molested.

What a choice? Not to mention those x-rays are dangerous to your health.

No, thanks! I prefer to drive.

Mon Nov 15, 03:58:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

I am of two minds; either I capitulate and insist that terrorists won't change my habits -- or I rebel and insist that my freedoms shan't be abrogated.

There is NO in-between.


Mon Nov 15, 05:14:00 PM PST  
Blogger jinksto said...

Just grab one of these:,487454767

I'm oddly more sickened by this than I would have thought possible.

Either let us see you naked or we get to grope you. It is, without a doubt, government out of control.

Mon Nov 15, 05:48:00 PM PST  
Blogger Milepost 154 said...

Jinksto: that's "it" in a nutshell; either you grope my penis or my vaginal area, or you don't fly.

Or you take radiation.

Some conflict.


Mon Nov 15, 06:19:00 PM PST  
Blogger Spokes said...

Great topic, BZ!
This individual's explanation of his encounter sounds very credible. HOWEVER.....he did not do the right thing. He basically set himself up for failure. To wit: Federal Regulations state that once an individual enters the screening process (bag on belt and walking through the metal detector)he has agreed to submit to security screening processes. The reason he is not allowed to call "Kings-X" once screening has started is because terrorists have been known to test the screening process. If, after noting how the process works, a passenger (or terrorist) is allowed to leave before the screening is completed, a terrorist will now have intell to assist them with their next attempt to get a device through the checkpoint. (Remember the underwear bomber last Christmas?). This guy should have submitted to the body imaging or allowed the TSA physical search to be completed. He basically is saying: "no, I think I will tell TSA how to search me". Imagine if TSA were to acquiesce to all such demands how safe would flights be? TSA is seriously screwed up in so many ways! However, from the information provided, the TSA did everything by the book. In fact, I would bet that someone at the TSA screening area took days on the beach for letting the guy leave the area. TSA screeners and Managers have VERY little leeway for deviating from protocol. I believe this guy is probably an attorney and went looking for a case. My 2 cents worth......

Mon Nov 15, 08:27:00 PM PST  
Blogger cj said...

I don't see what the fuss is about. TSA isn't searching anyone any differently than I do...

With a lot less reason at times.

Of course, in full disclosure - I don't fly. Never have, don't expect to so it's a non-issue pretty much for me.

I guess those who object would rather end up like the passengers on that plane last Christmas in Detroit? Terrified that your life was going to end at the hands of a madman?

I'd take the two minute pat-down and call it good.


Mon Nov 15, 09:06:00 PM PST  
Blogger ASM826 said...


I posted the solution to all this yesterday.


Tue Nov 16, 05:24:00 AM PST  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

I have never flown very often; the same is true for Mr. AOW even before his stroke last year.

However, the last time I flew (2005?), I got patted down. No groping, but it could very well have happened. In fact, I wondered if I was going to go through a gyn exam.

I asked, "Why are you doing this?"

Reply: "A random search."

To what end, for pity's sake?

Our airport security is a mockery.

I doubt that I will fly again unless there is no other way to arrive in a timely manner, when my mother-in-law in California passes (I live in Virginia). At this point in my life, I don't much care if I get groped; I surely don't need more x-ray exposure, and neither does Mr. AOW, who has had more x-rays and CT scans than the average person (brain surgery, stroke).

Tue Nov 16, 05:29:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is waiting for the "rightwingers" to get so mad at the TSA scanners so that they will be taken out. And then when the next airplane bomber is found he can blame the rightwingers for pushing to eliminate the body scanners

Tue Nov 16, 05:50:00 AM PST  
Blogger TexasFred said...

Just Friends said...
Obama is waiting for the "rightwingers" to get so mad at the TSA scanners so that they will be taken out. And then when the next airplane bomber is found he can blame the rightwingers for pushing to eliminate the body scanners
Probably right...

Tue Nov 16, 08:05:00 AM PST  
Blogger Greybeard said...

This is not a right/left problem, so Bozama will NOT be able to blame the right.
Both political spectrums are furious about Nuns being groped.

Tue Nov 16, 08:42:00 AM PST  
Blogger jinksto said...

@CJH in all of my years on this earth I've only been patted down by a police officer twice. One, I admittedly deserved and the other was as part of a demonstration.

The trick is that these pat downs won't prevent something like the underwear bomber. If you want a full-proof way of getting a quantity of explosive onto an airplane you could think of a way to do it in about 30 seconds. When you put someone in prison, they do a more invasive search for a reason. But to answer your question, yeah, last year I was perfectly happy flying around the country knowing that the odds me meeting a terrorist were 5,000,000 to 1 (lightening strikes are about 500,000:1). The odds of him actually managing to kill me are significantly higher (25,000,000:1).

I don't care about the radiation threat. I find the fact that they can scan me naked offensive. I find it offensive that if I refuse to be seen naked that I have to submit to molestation in order to travel.

@spokes interesting thoughts. I think my problem isn't that the screeners did things by the book it's that TSA wrote the book that the screeners enforce. Also, the "terrorist testing" argument doesn't hold up. It's too easy to get a $150.00 roundtrip ticket through any airport in the nation and record the whole thing. You could get all of the intel. that you need and be back home for dinner.

Interestingly the TSA is winning big time with this. Recent attempts to speak out via "opt out day" were followed by these more invasive "enhanced pat downs". I think, purposefully. That means that the groping and humiliation isn't to secure you it's to force your submission into taking the naked scan.

Remember that these are supposedly "random" scans. Which means that except for the luck of a random number generator the person refusing the scan and getting groped would have walked through a metal detector and been at the gate before you could get your shoes on. They're not instantly a terrorist.

Tue Nov 16, 08:45:00 AM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Spokes makes some excellent points -- however, which again makes TSA look like numbskulls. If the guy wasn't supposed to leave, then why the verbal "okay" AND the escort? I can see the point, to a degree. But I think the overarching issue is this:

Why the flip don't we actually start PROFILING the assholes who really DO this kind of thing and subject THEM to mechanical and physical scrutiny?

I think people could better understand some things if they could see LOGIC applied to the screening process.


Tue Nov 16, 02:20:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...


If John Boehner flies "commercial," you think TSA will stick their hands into HIS "junk"??

NO. They will PROFILE him and ALL the other Politicos in DC!

And THEY will be EXEMPT!

Using LOGIC, of course.


Tue Nov 16, 05:33:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

And now, naked body scans seem to have made their way ONLINE:


Tue Nov 16, 05:38:00 PM PST  
Blogger cj said...

Hey, BZ, I feel the need to add a disclaimer or clarify what I said.

My comment wasn't intended to agree or disagree with the current methods being used.

I don't. I think they're cost prohibitive, time consuming, and foolish.

I think they're much better ways to do things.

I was comment strictly on the use of a pat down search. I do not see it as intrusive... but I wouldn't, would I?

And here's another concern, for me. If pat downs are demonized as intrusive in this instance, will that spill over to the street and law enforcement there?

A review of what we're doing and why is necessary. We've headed down the wrong path and it needs to be fixed a pat down being compared to molestation? Nope.


Wed Nov 17, 12:33:00 PM PST  
Blogger Spokes said...


You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!! TSA needs to get some balls, fuck the PC and start profiling these known assholes that are attacking our country! But, as you and I both know, that will never happen. Intell CLEARLY identifies those that are a threat to our country. Granted, you have the possibility of a Timothy McVeigh type of terrorist,however, the overwhelming evidence points to RADICAL Muslim extremists. Most of whom are easy to identify and monitor. Remember the days when terrorists and communists arrived in this country and the FBI, was able to be all over their arrival, where-abouts and personal contacts from the moment they stepped foot on American soil until they flew out? WTF happened to that? The ACLU, wiretap restrictions, and political correctness is what now prevents this kind of "prevention" based law enforcement. TSA is all smoke and mirrors, my friend. They employees know it, Headquarters knows it and law enforcement knows it.

Wed Nov 17, 07:19:00 PM PST  
Blogger Susannah said...

Again I ask, 'What are we to do?'

Somebody help...

Btw BZ, just want you to know how much I enjoy your blog. Thanks for what you're doing. Though you don't have a 'follow' group, I'm adding you to my follow list. Thanks again - and Happy Thanksgiving!

Mon Nov 22, 07:16:00 AM PST  

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