Monday, November 22, 2010
Patted Down or Felt Up?
Already, the TSA has responded to the public push-back by modifying some of their more grotesque practices. Thanks to a Memphis-based pilot who filed a lawsuit, the agency has halted the practice of molesting uniformed pilots before a flight, instead referring to them as "trusted partners." I guess if a pilot can be trusted to fly the plane, he can also be trusted to land it at the scheduled destination. Scanning a pilot for explosives or a nail file seems redundant if he intends to put it down in a shopping mall. Passengers are not so fortunate. The New York Times editorialized, "There are far too many reports of TSA agents groping passengers, using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and disdaining complaints." While women who "opted-out" of the full naked body scanning complained of near sexual assault by zealous civil servants, right-wing religious leaders have raised the alarm about gay agents administering the enhanced frisking. I heard a rumor that if you declare a gender preference at the rubdown checkpoint, you may be given a masseuse consistent with your sexual leanings, i.e., a female agent would be assigned to pat-down a gay man. So, what would I have to lose by claiming to be homosexual? If somebody's going to squeeze my lemon, I would prefer it be by a woman. When she's done, I could ask for a "happy landing."
We have been reassured that the new porno scanners are designed to delete images as soon as they are examined, yet hundreds of leaked body scans have already been circulated on the internet. Women have reason to be squeamish ever since embattled TSA head John S. Pistole told The New York Times that the scanners can detect tampons and sanitary napkins, which may cause the need for further, personal interaction with agents. Another recent complainant was a women who, after undergoing a mastectomy, had her prosthetic breast squeezed and manipulated by a clueless examiner. News footage of the aggressive handling of a sobbing, three-year-old girl whose teddy bear triggered an alarm helped to solidify public opinion that this entire TSA operation is a mindless, time-wasting, charade designed to give the illusion of security while trampling constitutional protections, including that one about "unreasonable searches and seizures." There is nothing in the "enhanced" version of airport security any more effective than the old metal detector, wand, and baggage exam, which served as deterrents instead of a choking and degrading spectacle. What's needed are computerized file sharing techniques between competing airlines for the "No-fly lists," and "Watch lists." Had these been in place, the Underpants Bomber would never have made it onto a plane to begin with and we wouldn't be dealing with strange men gliding their hands up our inner thighs. At least the TSA is consistent. They are always prepared to respond to yesterday's threat.
It's not like there aren't other experts to consult. I once flew El Al Airlines from New York to Israel and was subjected to their thorough but non-intrusive security examination. All passengers were required to be in a sequestered airline waiting room several hours in advance where their luggage was screened and checked. Each passenger was then required to sit across the table from an airline security specialist that looked like an ex-Mossad agent and answer questions. When the agent asked why I was travelling to Israel, my inner imp wanted to say, "Because the Lord has called me back to the Holy Land to redeem my people," but he looked like someone who didn't appreciate airport levity. Although merely a tourist with nothing to hide, my inquisitor's pointed questions and piercing gaze were so unnerving, by the end of the interview I was ready to confess to masterminding the Entebbe hijacking. The Israeli government has found that a direct look in the eye is better than a ham-handed body search. To those who say, "Israel is a tiny country with only one airline," I suggest each domestic carrier hire one trained profiler for each of the TSA rent-a-cops that will become unnecessary.
A passenger uprising has already begun with internet pages ranging from horror stories in the grope line to the laments of TSA agents who don't wish to spend every day feeling the butt-cheeks of disgruntled, same-sex airline patrons. One activist group declared Nov. 24 as "Opt-Out Day," where participants refuse the naked scan in order to overwhelm the touchy-feely committee. Other air passengers plan a post-Thanksgiving, silent protest. With security agents at waist-level pawing at private parts, bloated travellers will seek revenge by unleashing a massive, low-lying fog of residual green beans and candied yams. It will be sort of like Saddam and the Kurds. With all concerned equally revulsed, it can truly be a Black Friday for everybody, and we can try to bring some reason back into the process. Everyone wants to be assured of their safety, but these absurd intrusions only show that nine years after the attacks on the Twin Towers, we are still being held hostage by the 9/11 hijackers. On the other hand, given the history of the pilgrims, what could be more American than to have a smiling stranger say, "Happy Thanksgiving. Now assume the position."