FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

TSA’s Punitive Gitmo-style Groin Grinding

by

Photoshop #1 jpb walking Snapshot 3 (3-14-2016 10-49 PM)

The Transportation Security Administration finally obeyed a 2011 federal court order March 3 and issued a 157 page Federal Register notice justifying its controversial full-body scanners and other checkpoint procedures. TSA’s notice ignored the fact that the “nudie” scanners are utterly unreliable; TSA failed to detect 95% of weapons and mock bombs that Inspector General testers smuggled past them last year while the agency continues to mislead the public about its heavy-handed treatment of travelers.

The Federal Register notice is full of soothing pablum about how travelers have no reason to fear the TSA, declaring that “passengers can obtain information before they leave for the airport on what items are prohibited.” But it neglects to mention that TSA can invoke ludicrous pretexts to treat innocent travelers as suspicious terrorist suspects.

Flying home from Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving morning, I had a too-close encounter with TSA agents that spurred me to file a Freedom of Information Act request. On March 5, I finally received a bevy of TSA documents and video footage with a grope-by-grope timeline.

As a silent assertion of my rights, I opted out that morning from passing through the “nudie” full-body scanners. A TSA agent instead did a vigorous pat-down and then, after running his glove through an explosive trace detector (ETD), announced that I showed a positive alert for explosives. He did not know what type of explosive was detected and refused to disclose how often that machine spewed false alarms. Regardless, I was told I would have to undergo an additional special pat-down to resolve the explosive alert. I was marched off by three TSA agents to a closed room. TSA states that “a companion of his or her choosing may accompany the passenger” but I was never notified of that right.

TSA disclosed exhaustive video coverage of my every movement in the Portland airport, even detailing which chair I chose after getting a Starbucks coffee. But there is a tell-tale gap. The video timeline notes “7:50:29 group arrives at Private Security room. 7:50:55. Door Closes. 7:57:28 Door Opens.” The seven-minute gap in the recording is where travelers’ rights vanish.

TSA’s power is effectively unlimited behind closed doors. The lead Transportation Security officer (LTSO) proceeded to carry out a far more aggressive patdown, tugging on my shirt as if he thought it was a tear-away football jersey. The procedure was only mildly aggravating until he jammed his palm into my groin three times. Perhaps that pointless procedure was retribution for opting-out or my scoffing at their security theater.

The post-incident report by one agent in that room noted that “the pax (passenger) was asking about the false-alarm-rate of our machines. The LTSO explained several times that ‘there are things that the average person comes in contact with every day’” that trigger alerts. The agents talked as if, because innocuous items set off the detectors, TSA’s groin-jamming is also innocuous.

I had used hand sanitizer that morning — something which is notorious for spawning TSA explosive alerts. Aarin McCarthy, TSA’s Customer Service Support Specialist at the Portland airport, noted in an internal email a week after I was searched that “I have received several other complaints lately about ETD testing and ‘false positives’” at the Portland airport.

Millions of airline passengers use hand sanitizer every week. Yet, TSA entitles itself to treat anyone who triggers false alerts more intrusively than the Pentagon was allowed in 2013 to treat accused enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay. A Justice Department lawyer, Edward Himmelfarb, told a federal judge that intrusive searches at Gitmo were no big deal: “It’s basically like a TSA … supplemental search … The genital area is touched through the clothing with a flat hand, the way the TSA does.” Federal judge Royce Lamberth ordered “the military to stop touching the groins of detainees,” the New York Times reported.

An appeals court overturned his decision but not before Himmelfarb sought to recant his TSA remarks because of “sensitive security information.” But his revelations were no secret to scores of thousands of people who have been victimized by TSA supplemental searches. TSA’s pelvic pawing is especially traumatic to survivors of sexual assaults or those who have had surgery in that area. A TSA agent vigorously patted down the entire body of a 10-year-old girl in the Raleigh-Durham airport in December after she triggered a false explosive alert; her father Kevin Payne’s video of the groping sparked a national uproar.

When TSA published a preliminary notice in 2013 of its new regulation on scanners, it received more than 5,000 comments overwhelmingly opposed to its screening policy. TSA’s response last week noted the profusion of complaints about its privacy and civil liberties violations but brushed off such concerns as if they were narrow-minded quibbles. But Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth told Congress in November that the results of the most recent testing of TSA checkpoints at eight airports “were disappointing and troubling” and “we found layers of security simply missing.” Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Ron Johnson, after seeing confidential reports on the dismal failure of full-body scanners, suggested last August that passengers should be required to go through old-fashioned metal detectors after passing through the new scanners.

TSA’s Federal Register self-vindication omitted any mention of treating American travelers like Gitmo detainees. But even 44,000 words of bureaucratic wind cannot blow away the fact that TSA continues to be far more effective at hassling travelers than at assuring airline safety.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Fearsome: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail