Airport Security Follies, Part Eleventy-Billion

photo of security theater t-shirt
Prepare For Your Liberty Molestation, America!

I have, with zero inside information (because none’s been required to see what was plain as day regarding our nation’s airport security) been warning – and mocking – for years about the nation’s substitution of “security theater” for actual safety. Unfortunately, it appears to have been even worse than we imagined, at least according to this exposé by former TSA agent Jason Edward Harrington in POLITICO:

It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.

Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.

It helps significantly to convey his message that Harrington is an aspiring writer – and a good one. But anyone who sticks their head up from the daily grind of life or ever wonders about their own place in the grand scheme of things – in short, any thinking, feeling person – could not have helped but have the sense (s)he was trapped in a Joseph Heller – if not a Franz Kafka – novel at realizations like those.

But, of course, many people rarely do ever stick their metaphorical heads up, meerkat-like, to peer around at the landscape and attempt to ascertain their own position within it. Many people simply plow doggedly forward, head down, self-awareness (let alone empathy) rarely present. Thus, Harrington relates:

Most of my co-workers found humor in the I.O. room on a cruder level. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses—mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.

Go read the whole thing at POLITICO, and then maybe reflect upon the knowledge that Israel’s Ben Gurion airport has chosen to take a pass on these invasive and ineffective radiation-scanners, yet has never had a hijacked flight in its entire history. Never. How have they managed such a feat? Because they know Israel has a big fat target on their backs for every one of the Muslim variety of terrorists, so they’re willing to do what’s necessary to make themselves as genuinely safe as it’s possible to be in an imperfect world.

By contrast, what do we do, here in the land of the free? Why, we expect top-grade professionalism from our nation’s recently-minted security forces, yet we pay them near the very bottom of the wage scale for federal employees. Then we outfit them with ridiculously-expensive and near-worthless “state of the art” irradiation devices, yet somehow we manage to be surprised when we get things like the undie-bomber and this…not to mention like this.

I will say it again, despite the fact that it has been clear for some time now: we are going to have to make a choice between security and convenience/speed/liberty. We need to either get serious about airport security by paying for a well-trained and professional airport security force and being willing as travelers to submit to serious security measures (which, ironically, often turn out to be less invasive than the BS we currently endure), or we need to abandon the pretense that 9/11 has made us want to change our habits much at all, and go back to the pre-9/11 days of (relatively) unfettered travel. The half-measures we have been taking have provided us with hardly any increased security from any competent, dedicated terrorist threat, while simultaneously invading the privacy and in many cases even the bodily autonomy of our nation’s travelers.