“Anyone boarding an aircraft should feel maybe only a teeny tiny bit safer than if there were no TSA at all.”
The author of those words should know: He (or she) used to be a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. An article by this anonymous former screener in the New York Post paints a devastating portrait of an agency that employs incompetents, enforces arbitrary regulations, and engages in what security expert Bruce Schneier calls “security theater”: public actions taken in the name of security that actually do nothing to make people safer.
Government officials often call TSA screeners “a first-class line of defense in the war on terror,” observes the author. In fact, the author points out, one needn’t even have a high school diploma or GED to get a job as a screener. “These are the employees who could never keep a job in the private sector. I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.”
Most screeners aren’t really concerned with airport security, the author says. They are there for the paycheck – $15 an hour to start, plus “tons of overtime” filling in for no-shows – and the benefits, including generous amounts of vacation and sick time and a near impossibility of being fired unless they get caught stealing from passengers. Supervisors, it seems, care little about what screeners do – as long as they don’t chew gum on duty.
Another benefit (for male screeners): “a lot of ogling of female passengers.” The author advises women to “cover up when you get to the airport. These guys are checking you out constantly.” Of course, covering up won’t do you much good when you go through the scanners that show your naked body to the screeners anyway.
The former screener states that there are a few “delusional zealots who believe they’re keeping America safe by taking your snow globe, your 2-inch pocket knife, your 4-ounce bottle of shampoo and performing invasive pat-downs on your kids.” The rest “know their job is a complete joke.”
The rules are arbitrary, he argues, and the pat-downs are “ridiculous.” “As invasive as it is, you still can’t find anything using the back of your hand on certain areas.” Some screeners, embarrassed to be patting down children or wheelchair-bound seniors, just give them a quick once-over to make it look like they’re doing something; otherwise, the entire terminal would have to be shut down until the individual who wasn’t groped was located.
Then there are the stories of TSA screeners’ strip searching grandmas, examining (and sometimes breaking) passengers’ urostomy and colostomy bags, and exposing the breasts of teenage girls, just to name a few outrages. Whenever one of these incidents occurs, the TSA’s first defense is usually to claim that proper procedures were followed; later, when the affront to human decency becomes so obvious it cannot be denied, the agency blames the screeners for not following procedures. This is nonsense, writes the ex-screener: “Every time you read about a TSA horror story, it’s usually about a screener doing what he or she is instructed to do.”