Me on Airport Security

Charles Mann made me the central focus of his article on airport security for Vanity Fair. (Mann also wrote about me in 2002 for The Atlantic.) The article was supposed to have been in the tenth-anniversary-of-9/11 issue, but got delayed.

Posted on December 23, 2011 at 11:03 AM • 16 Comments

Comments

Spaceman SpiffDecember 23, 2011 11:16 AM

Just read the article - Slashdot had a post about it and a link to the article. Very well done, I thought.

Petréa MitchellDecember 23, 2011 11:33 AM

32 mph is going to be my new favorite statistic for plane-vs-train debates. Thanks!

NobodySpecialDecember 23, 2011 11:55 AM

It takes 2h15mins to take the train London-Paris. Heathrow airport 'recommends' you checkin at least 2hours before your flight.

And Eurostar manage 98% ontime performance, and you are allowed to keep your coffee, and they don't take naked pictures of you, and you get a seat with a power socket - although you do miss the airline food and the inflight episode of Mr Bean.

GeorgeDecember 23, 2011 1:34 PM

The only thing articles like this accomplish is to validate the belief of Janet Napolitano, John Pistole, and other Homeland Security officials that they are doing an excellent job. They define "security" as "maximally visible, maximally intrusive hassle of as many people as possible." Complaints and criticisms merely prove that people are upset about the intrusion and the hassle, which means the TSA is highly effective at providing "security" as the DHS defines it. The more people speak out against the very clear absurdity and waste of money, the more validation that the costly and intrusive measures are effective "security."

That is why they so resolutely ignore criticism and complaints (except when it's about specific things that are so embarrassing and inexcusable that they need their spin doctor Blogger Bob to deny, justify, excuse, or put lipstick on the pig, appropriate). Their definition of "security" also requires that they pretend to be infallible, lest they betray some weakness to terrorists. So even when a weakness is obvious to everyone, they still have to pretend it's not a weakness. So the maddening inconsistency that has become synonymous with "TSA" officially becomes a "Security Strategy of Unpredictability" that "keeps terrorists off guard."

It is now possible to openly discuss the shortcomings of the TSA and Homeland Security without being branded "unpatriotic" or accused of "aiding the enemy." But that's only because it can never have any effect. The DHS is now an unstoppable juggernaut, accountable only to itself and impervious to criticism. They know that no member of Congress would risk being accused of "weakening security" for even suggesting oversight or proof of cost-effectiveness. So it's just something we have to accept, and learn to avoid becoming angry when forced to submit to it. Getting upset will only harm our health, and have no effect on the DHS juggernaut.

The terrorists won a great victory on 9/11, probably far greater than they expected. The real tragedy is that they won it because our Leaders decided they could gain political benefit from immediate surrender. It's now official policy that protecting the United States requires the systematic destruction of what makes the United States worth protecting.

ScottDecember 23, 2011 2:05 PM

You mentioned the hardening of cockpit doors as a positive; however, it did lead to the crash (and more than 100 deaths) on Helios flight 522, where passengers/FAs were unable to reach the incapacitated pilots; and the aircraft simply ran out of fuel and plummeted to the ground.

VlesDecember 24, 2011 3:01 AM

@Rick
>"It's terrible to think that we can not have a more educated way of tracking and preventing terrorist attacks."

Sorted! (let the privacy debate heat up) Thanking my brother who brought this to my attention...

meDecember 25, 2011 5:04 PM

If I had to log 10 million miles in flying I'd be mad too! You have to fight frustration by wearing a t-shirt that says,"I'm always flying to Tahiti..." You'll get pulled aside a lot for that one! ESPECIALLY if there's an image of a beautiful beach scene.

I feel for the people working in TSA screener roles. Underpaid, over-worked, and probably conscious they are absorbing the frustrations of flyers, that should be directed to the pols.

BTW, not endorsing but I saw a debate R.Paul was in back in 2007/08 and when he said he'd like to cut - cause he's big into cutting - federal agencies, I think the DHS was one of them. WOW!! The reaction of the other repubs then was like Paul had just announced he wanted to date Bin Laden or something...the other candidates started bullying holy heck out of him right quick!

Mark HDecember 27, 2011 12:08 PM

Reading the comments on the article a few people said that being able to get into the gate area with a fake boarding pass isn't a big deal. I agree, I'm sure you could kill a plane load of people by bombing the security choke, um I mean checkpoint.

kingsnakeDecember 27, 2011 2:27 PM

They did that in Russia earlier this year. (Not mention several times in the late 70s / early 80s ...)

RickDecember 27, 2011 6:24 PM

I find it fascinating that former President Bush once stood atop the rubble of the WTC shortly after the attacks and said something to the effect "that the people responsible for this attack would never change the face of America or our way of life". Here we are 10+ years later..I think the bad guys won.

Security SolutionsDecember 28, 2011 2:29 PM

I think there should be a correction. The 19 people that boarded the planes in Sept. 11, did not bring cutters on board. They were placed on the planes by the cleaning crews.

Also I fly on a Black US Passport and at times the TSA does not want that for an ID. They would like to see a drivers lic. What a waste, they have no knowledge of what or who they are looking for. You are right on target!!

victoriaDecember 30, 2011 5:04 PM

I was tired of being subjected to a full body “pat down” (why do they call it a pat down when it is really a rub down?) at the airport.

I have a hip replacement and have a card from my doctor stating this fact. Each time I fly out of Greenville/Spartanburg airport(GSP), I set off the walk through metal detector. Well, back in August, I removed all my jewelry, no metal was present on my body except the metal hip implant. As usual, I set off the metal detector. I offered to present my card from my doctor and they said they don‘t need it. I was subjected to a full body “pat down”. I asked why there was no hand held metal detector that could pinpoint the source of the alarm. The TSA agent said they do not use the hand held wand.

Then a couple weeks ago, I thought I would call the GSP airport and find out if there might be some other checkpoints that does use the hand held wand. When I spoke to a TSA agent, they stated “We choose not to use this equipment”. With this information I decided I’ve had enough.

I flew again 12/28 and thought I would speed the process along and wore a 2 piece bathing suit through security. I wore a summer dress through the line and as soon as I got up to the walk through metal detector, I took the dress off. Again no other metal on my body, and I set off the metal detector. I was planning on putting the dress back on after my screening.

Now the fun began. They took me aside and wanted me to go to a private screening room and I asked if the private room has video surveillance, they said no. I stated I wanted a video taping of my screening. Next a Greenville Policeman came over and asked why I am wearing underwear? Well, obviously he does not know the difference between swim wear and underwear. He also asked where I was from. I told him North Carolina and he said “you are in South Carolina and we don’t do this here” I told him that women, wearing bikinis, in LAX and Salt Lake City airport were let through security without pat downs and he said “well this is not LA or Salt Lake City”. He said he could arrest me for indecent exposure. What? Swim wear is indecent? I can wear the same thing to a pool or beach but can not wear any other place? Some of the clothes people wear out on the streets are more indecent than the swim suit I wore. He also stated “I am concerned you are not right in the head” so my wearing swim wear to prevent the groping is evidence of “not right in the head”?

I asked the screener why she can’t just “pat down” the areas that are covered by the swim suit and she stated that “We don’t know if you have some metal or explosives in a body cavity or under the skin” this is laughable. So the groping through clothing can detect this situation?

After about an hour, they said they could not screen me unless I had clothes on. They made me put my dress back on and groped me though the dress, even though the screener saw that I did not have anything but a 2 piece swim suit on. Crazy.

GSP does not have the body scanner as in other airports. I do not mind going through the body scanner since it avoids a “groping”. Also, at other airports, when the body scanner is down or they do not have one, I have been screened using a hand held wand that passes over areas of the body and if it goes off, they pat down only that area.

I feel that I am discriminated against because I have a joint replacement. Why is it I am forced to be subject to basically “feel up” every time I fly out of GSP? As I stated before, I would prefer a full body scan, but this airport does not have one. Why? I should have the right to not get groped because I want to fly. If I was outside the airport this kind of treatment would be considered assault and I would be treated as a victim, instead in this case the police threatening to arrest me.

Sure, I could always fly out of an airport that has this equipment, but when trying to find the cheapest and most convenient flights, this airport came up as the choice many times.

I am disgusted with the policeman’s attitude where it seems he made the rules what I should and should not wear through airport security. If there is acceptable wear through security, why is it not documented? I searched the TSA.gov web site for any rules regarding what can be worn and found nothing.

I think some guidelines should be developed that if a person chooses to go through security with swimwear, where it is obvious that there are not hidden weapons or outward metal then they should be given a different “pat down” than one with baggy clothing, excess clothing, etc. Ideally, use the hand held detectors.

Why is it an airport can “choose” what equipment to use to screen the passengers. I feel like I am being treated as a criminal each time I need to fly out of GSP, forced to get a pat down because they “choose” not to use this equipment.

As a tax payer, I feel that I am paying for this security at the airport, and therefore, should be able to avoid the groping hands of a stranger. I “chose” to wear my swim suit through security because I thought it would avoid this groping. They made up the rules that I can’t be screened unless I have my clothes on.

I am aware that there are necessary measures to insure the safety of travel, but if there is technology to avoid my personal space from being violated, then this technology should be used. The TSA agent said “Ma’am, you would make this a lot easier if you just let us do the “pat down”. Well, they would make it a lot easier if they got the right equipment to eliminate this embarrassing treatment.

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