TSA Encounter at SAN

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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. The quality
is pretty good, and I’m in the process of getting it online.

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out of date.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.This video starts with my bag and belongings going
through the x-ray machine.They’re kind of long, and they don’t show
much, but the audio is really good.

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