Standing Up to the TSA

Almost overnight, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has gone from national joke to national nightmare. Passengers used to laugh when screeners so inept they missed 60—75% of the fake bombs undercover investigators smuggled past them nonetheless proclaimed themselves gods. No one’s laughing now, though, as the TSA ogles us with carcinogenic technology and sexually assaults anyone who objects.

Over 300 of the agency’s “naked” scanners lurk in 60-some airports nationwide, with more on the way; eventually, the agency will irradiate every passenger on every flight. These gizmos peer through clothing to photograph bodies in graphic detail. The TSA makes much of offering a “choice”: if you dislike posing nude for the government, its perverts will grope you instead — “prob[ing],” “prodding” and pushing “up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance” (and they don’t mean a slap in the face). You also suffer this indignity, even if you submit to the scan, should it reveal “anomalies” such as piercings or prostheses.

Are you still flying? Why? For your own protection and that of your children, for liberty’s sake, stay on the ground until Congress abolishes the TSA. No destination on earth or convenience in reaching it, no vacation, Thanksgiving dinner, meeting or sales trip, is worth the degradation the TSA is dishing out.

Its new “pat down procedures … allow security officers to touch passengers of the same gender in sensitive areas such as the breasts and genitals…” These attacks have been “likened to ‘foreplay’ pat-downs … [screeners are] using the new front-of-the-hand, slide-down screening technique for … over-the-clothes searches of passengers’ breast and genital areas.”

Such mass mauling is unprecedented. No regime anywhere at any time, however totalitarian or brutal, has ever routinely denuded and molested citizens.

Don’t underestimate the trauma of such aggression nor succumb to the TSA’s bland assurances that a screener “of the same gender” will paw you. We’re talking sexual assault here, not a few moments of discomfort you’ll quickly forget. Feelings of rage and helplessness, depression and worthlessness, can plague victims for months.

Most pilots are veterans of the Air Force; they’re pretty tough cookies who may even have survived combat. Yet one of them “experienced a frisking [from the TSA] that has left him unable to function as a crewmember. Words used to describe the incident include ‘rape’ and ‘sexual molestation,’ and in the aftermath of trying to recover this pilot has literally vomited in his own driveway while contemplating going back to work and facing the possibility of a similar encounter with the TSA.”

It’s one thing for a predator to force your submission at gunpoint; it’s another to voluntarily enter an airport and endure the TSA’s onslaught. Knowing that you could have avoided it entirely but instead cooperated with your assailants and even paid them to violate you will cripple you with despair.

Meanwhile, a former cop points out that the TSA no longer inflicts “pat-downs” but something far worse: “A ‘pat-down’ search by definition is ‘a frisk or external feeling of the outer garments of an individual for weapons only’ … anyone who watches cop shows knows what a pat-down search is. The words are part of the American lexicon, and the public’s image of a pat-down search by police is something that isn’t all that bad.” Shame on us that we didn’t consider it “all that bad” for the TSA to defy the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable,” warrantless searches, though previously with the “backs of their hands.” The cop continues: “… In police work, [the TSA’s current method is] called a custody search [and] includes everything short of a cavity search. The TSA needs to be honest about what they’re doing. It’s not nice to lie to the American people.”

Ah, but lying is the TSA’s forte. Despite the hundreds of passengers wailing about molestation, despite the videotapes popping up on the internet to document their stories, despite infuriated pilots’ unions and flight attendants’ lawsuits, the agency blithely denies what millions have witnessed: “there is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports,” asserts its website. “You have a professional workforce carrying out procedures they were trained to perform to keep aviation security safe.” Imagine if they trying to keep aviation security dangerous.

The TSA lies about everything, all the time. But it surpasses even its own astounding record of deception when it comes to naked scanners. For starters, it implies it foisted them on us to counteract the Underwear Bomber. Yet it was already testing them years before Umar Farouk Abdullmutallab oh-so-conveniently emasculated himself. Indeed, as long ago as 2006, the agency was touting porno-scanners as “likely future replacements for the metal detectors now in use.” Nor will these contraptions stay in airports. Cops may already be peering through your curtains and bathrobe with portable versions.

But perhaps the TSA’s biggest whoppers whitewash the hazards to our health from the two technologies with which it strips us. Experts in medicine, biochemistry, and biophysics warn that one, backscatter X-ray, concentrates in the skin rather than diffusing through the body as medical radiation does; therefore, the dose you receive is shockingly high — far higher than the government admits. Dr. Jeff Zervas, a surgeon in Montevideo, Minnesota, told me, “As far as living tissue is concerned, the less exposure to ionizing radiation, the better. Zero is best.” Dr. Zervas also worried about the TSA’s legendary incompetence: “What happens, for example, if some clown leaves the machine on, and a passenger’s standing in the field? And who calibrates these things? I wouldn’t trust a bureaucrat or anyone else without a stake in its safety to do it properly.”

Dr. David Caskey, a cardiologist who was also teaching at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans when we spoke, seconded that: “In the medical industry we try as hard as possible to avoid even the smallest dose of radiation. Here you will be subjected to a rather significant amount. The result can and will be an increase in cataract formation, thyroid cancer, bone marrow suppression, etc.” He was especially concerned for female passengers. “Even low level radiation can adversely affect a woman’s ovaries. There’s the potential for later birth defects. That risk increases if the woman is pregnant in the first trimester when she would likely be unaware of the pregnancy.”

Millimeter waves may be even worse. No one knows their exact effects on human flesh, but one study concludes that they “unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. … a new generation of cameras are set to appear that not only record [millimeter] waves but also bombard us with them…”

You might suppose that bureaucrats who constantly prate about protecting us would fret over the consequences of irradiating two million passengers per day, day after day. Nope. Instead, they insist against all evidence that the “technology is safe and meets national health and safety standards. … the radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders were well below the dose limits specified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). … Advanced imaging technology screening is safe for all passengers, including children, pregnant women, and individuals with medical implants.”

As you value your life, as you value liberty, don’t fly. We must boycott aviation until the TSA dies. Nor should we settle for a mere suspension of the agency’s ogling and groping. Our goal is nothing less than the TSA’s complete abolition; so long as it survives, it will await its chance — or create one — to molest us again. Another “terrorist” attack, and we’ll fight this same battle.

Indeed, we already did, in 2004: TSA was manhandling passengers then, too, though only women and above the waist. Its excuse? Two airliners had crashed within moments of one another in Russia that August. A Chechan woman had boarded each flight, and though the wreckage was so scattered authorities on the scene could not determine what caused the disasters, the TSA pronounced the ladies rebels who’d obviously hidden bombs in their bosoms. Hence, Americans screeners would molest female passengers.

TSA got away with this for three months before the public’s outrage forced it to desist. But this time must be the last. This time we stay on the ground until Congress disbands the TSA. Let’s evict politicians and bureaucrats from aviation’s security so that experts who understand the industry can design systems as unobtrusive and effective as those securing our homes, email accounts, cars.

But don’t waste your time begging Congress. Why bother after it went deaf to our cries on the bail-out and Obamacare? Hit its corporate cronies instead. Given the incest between the Feds and Big Business, boycotts are probably our most effective tactic. The American colonists tried one just before the Revolution exploded: under their “non-importation agreement,” Patriots refused to buy British goods. Much of the despotism afflicting the colonies was due to mercantilism, to the government’s favoring wealthy and influential merchants at everyone else’s expense. Sound familiar? Just as the British East India Company benefitted from subsidies, the granting of monopolies, and protective laws, so do airlines today. But when the colonists refused to play their role as consumers, the whole rotten mess collapsed.

So don’t fly, or at least don’t buy any more tickets until the airlines and allied industries press Congress to abolish the TSA. Educate your family and friends; infrequent travelers may not know of the TSA’s newest, literal grab for power.

If your job requires travel, talk to your boss about alternatives. Tell him how much productivity the TSA sucks from the American economy, that his interests, too, require this vile agency to disappear. Ask if you can “meet” with clients via teleconferences or iChat.

If you’re already holding tickets for the upcoming holidays, demand a refund and tell the airline why. Advise it you won’t fly again until TSA is dismantled.

If you absolutely must fly — if you’ll lose your job otherwise or the airline refuses you a refund (remember: the point of the boycott is to hurt the airlines’ bottom line, not hand them free money for no services) — prepare yourself mentally. Determine the point beyond which you will not permit the TSA to proceed — “if he touches my thigh, if he seems headed below my waist” — and leave when that seems imminent. Ergo, pack lightly or not at all so you don’t worry about a checked bag continuing to Des Moines while you head home.

Reports conflict about what happens to those who cut short the TSA’s fun. The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled in 2007 that once your bag hits the conveyor belt at the checkpoint, you may not depart: in effect, you become the TSA’s prisoner. In practice, screeners may permit you to escape without much fuss, or they may “detain” you, threaten, browbeat and intimidate you, call the cops, or “escort” you from the airport.

While grounded, write the CEO’s of airlines, hotels, and tourist attractions that you’ll patronize them only when the TSA vanishes. Cut up your frequent-flyer card and include it in your letter to the airlines; let hotels know how often you once travelled and how you’d love to do so again. Folks already using these tactics have succeeded so wildly that “executives from the travel industry, including online travel sites, theme parks and hotels” demanded a meeting with “Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and [TSA chief John] Pistole [last] Friday to discuss their concerns that security is crimping travel. ‘We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travellers vowing to stop flying,’ said Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association … ”

You can also join groups like wewon’tfly.com and National Opt-Out Day as they work to free us not only from the TSA’s current insults but the agency itself. Finally, enjoy the irony as the TSA reveals government’s nature in far greater detail than it does our bodies. Stripped of its marble monuments and fluttering flags, the State exposes its utter evil each time a screener torments a toddler or “groin-checks” another citizen. As the TSA denudes us, government is nakedly on display.

Reprinted with permission from Campaign for Liberty.

November 20, 2010

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