I won’t bore you with the details, which can be found here and are consistent with my experience. Several observations are worth sharing:
The Transportation Security Administration is an absolutely impotent failure as an organization. A single shooter runs into the airport, and the police lock it down. The TSA mill around behind the tensa-barriers. They do not assist the police in the search for this Security threat to the Transportation system. They do not implement any sort of organized plan for evacuating the terminal in an orderly fashion. They do not work with ground control to divert planes with passengers at Terminal 4 to the other terminals for deplaning until nearly 2 hours of lockdown. They have no information to share-when asked directly one agent told me “They (the police) haven’t told us anything.” They know nothing. They do nothing. Worse, they give the illusion of security without providing it. Now imagine the mayhem if 4 or 5 organized terrorists decided to attack the airport as opposed to one seat-of-his-pants shooting suspect. Lesson (re)Learned: The TSA are an impotent joke, a sham, and a complete waste of money.
The layers of bureaucracy and technology make it nearly impossible, not just inadvisable, to exercise your rights. I worked my way to the front of the tensa-barrier at the terminal exit and asked who was in charge. It was a polite US Air gate manager who told me the police just asked him to keep everyone in the terminal. I asked what would happen if I tried to leave anyway. He said he wouldn’t stop me, but that the police had locked all the stairwells, shut down the elevators, and on the first level had everyone lying on the floor with their hands on their heads. An officer with a dog came by 5 minutes later, steadfastly ignoring me. Same thing with the SWAT officer, and a detective. I finally got some eye contact and a stern “no, you can’t leave” from a female officer who promptly headed off before I could ask if I was being detained. At that point, 4:30pm, the rumor was that the shooter was hiding in the parking garage. Since my car was parked there, and the place was swarming with 100+ amped up police officers and potentially one armed shooter it seemed stupid to make some sort of libertarian point about going there, if it was even logistically possible. After two hours of lockdown, the police had searched the first floor, and released everyone in the secure area herding ~5,000 people to a tiny bus station that normally holds 300. I didn’t go, staying in the air-conditioned terminal at the ground level with maybe 30% of the crowd who realized that sweltering in Phoenix heat at 5:30pm was a bad idea. A stairwell was open to the garage with no police there, so I walked up. At the third floor, a polite but insistent officer told me the search was still going on in the garage and he couldn’t let me go up. I asked if I was being detained and who gave the order. He said his supervisor, but he couldn’t get him on the radio just then. I have no doubt this officer would have tazed me (yellow tazer prominent on belt) and called for backup if I had tried any sort of “am I free to leave…then I’m going” sort of stuff. That may work in a one on one situation, but will get your teeth kicked in when there are multiple cops in an amped up situation. The chain of command aka bureacracy absolves them of any critical thinking. They will bust heads first, ask questions later, and you will lose in the government’s courts because you will look like the lone unreasonable kook who insisted on his rights. Lesson Learned: Unless you are in imminent danger, you should get a decent crowd together to peacefully insist upon leaving. That won’t happen until at least 3-4 hours of captivity. Don’t go it alone.
A little polite subversion goes a long way. As the inevitable groups formed in our hostage drama, a single comment like “boy, the TSA sure is worthless” snowballed with all around piling on. It wasn’t griping, just an accurate assessment that they are the biggest group of poseurs and bullies on the planet. They have no problem groping teenage girls and humiliating their betters, but cower like the craven bootlickers they are when real danger, however slight, is at hand. Happily no one suggested they be armed. It was very telling that the blue-shirts huddled in their own little cliques of loserdom rather than interact with the passengers. Once it was generally agreed that the TSA were doing nothing, I pondered how Disney would handle a situation like this, adding that it’s one of the safest places on Earth, and has surely dealt with bad people intent on harming others. One woman relayed a story of a foiled kidnapping, and a man remarked that he had never thought of that. I said I thought the airports should be sold to Disney or auctioned off, since private security would obviously handle this better. This crazed, libertarian, Hoppean remark was met with approval all around. I was so astounded, I wandered off and repeated this little experiment 3 or 4 more times with the same result. Almost everyone has been to Disney. One rarely feels unsafe or unwelcome and all without pawing security agents leering at you while boarding Space Mountain. There are probably 50 people repeating versions of this story all around Phoenix. Lesson Learned: No need to go on about libertarian theory or anarcho capitalism. People relate best to comparing concrete experiences such as the lousy one they are in with a pleasant memory. Side-note: this works well at the DMV, too.
Yes, I’m glad there is security to catch an armed assailant, but 100+ officers and a 3 hour delay for 10,000+ people just doesn’t make sense in terms of proportionality or likely risk. The one size fits all approach and lack of common courtesy and decency was best captured when the robo-voice came on, after 90 minutes, to announce that we were being “held in place” for our protection. Someone had to think about what message would be played, tell the operator to type it out, and then standby while they robotized it. This was in contrast to the friendly and genuinely apologetic Southwest Airlines woman who came on the PA at the end of our ordeal to announce that bags would begin dropping momentarily, and thank us for our patience. The difference between the way the private sector and public sector responds is night and day. Lesson Learned: The police must be privatized and pronto. It’s the only way they will be put to the market test and have the feedback necessary to break the institutional arrogance and bunker mentality they currently have.12:13 pm on September 19, 2014 Email John Keller