Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, November 26, 2010 2:56 pm

Slap one on the scanner next time you fly

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 2:56 pm
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(Sent by my friend Valerie; if anyone knows the creator, I’ll be happy to credit him/her.)


Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:45 am

“TSA: keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.”

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 12:45 am
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My mother sent this letter to the editor of The Charlotte Observer earlier tonight. Since I think there’s roughly zero chance it will see print in any traditional daily newspaper in its original form, I asked her if I could publish it here, and she graciously consented.

I’m a frequent flyer, a consultant living in Davidson with clients all over the US and in Europe. I’m also a senior citizen with 11 grandchildren and two hip replacements. Since 9/11 I’ve had to undergo hundreds of manual screenings by TSA. On November 15 my husband and I flew to Austin, Texas, on a business trip. Even though I’m a news junkie, I had heard nothing of the new so-called “enhanced pat down” procedures until I was subjected to them at the Charlotte airport. (When I got a copy of USA Today that morning inside security, I read the first story on it.) So I was shocked when the agent began, without warning, aggressively rubbing my body with the front and back of her hands – breasts, waist, buttocks, and legs with 4 firm touches to the genital area (once sliding up each leg from the back, once on each leg from the front). When I protested, I was told these new procedures were put in place October 25. I asked about the wand which I was accustomed to. No more wanding, I was told. Either this “pat down” (the media need to make it clear, there is no patting – never has been – only rubbing, only now much more aggressively) or the body scanner, which was not at my security station. When I said there is a question of risk with the scanners, the male supervisor who had joined us told me I could “choose another means of travel.” Obviously since I live in Charlotte and my clients are so far away, that’s not an option – I would have to close my business if I could not fly.

For those who have not experienced this procedure, the media should make it clear: If you are anywhere else in the US and a stranger touches you in this fashion, they would be charged with assault. The new procedure is not just a little “enhancement” – this is government Doublespeak – but a major shift to an aggressive body search. Even though the prior procedures were offensive, I and most other passengers submitted to them believing it was the best way to keep us all safe. These new procedures are more than offensive – they are criminal.

Even before the change, a TSA agent in Charlotte in September, after wanding me, asked me to step into a private area. When I asked the purpose, she said she had “felt something unusual” in my bra. (The underwire and metal adjusting clips for the straps always set off the wand.) I protested this additional search, but protesting or questioning TSA always results in a belligerent response – always, in every airport. She insisted that I go to a private area with her and another female agent and lift my shirt so that she could examine the “unusual” something. I continued to object, to no avail. The other agent probed and said she felt nothing unusual, but the first agent would not clear me to fly until I had lifted my shirt so that she could see my bra. The “something unusual” was the end of my bra strap – a 2-inch strip of polyester. America, now don’t you feel safer?

On our return trip from Austin on November 17, I was once again subjected to this assault. Austin has no body scanners. This time I requested that my husband join us so that he could witness what the agent was doing. While her search was just as aggressive and invasive as the one in Charlotte, it was quite different in technique. As I have flown through dozens of airports in the US since 9/11, I continue to find great variation in the manual body search techniques. This time I asked the agent what would happen if they searched a woman passenger and felt a thick sanitary napkin or Depends. She looked uncomfortable with my question, but said, “I’d have to ask her to go back and remove it and come back through security.” I persisted. “So you’d make a woman who was menstruating go take off her bloody napkin and come through security, possibly soiling herself?” “Yes,” she said, “but that hasn’t happened.” I persisted. “And you’d make an elderly woman or man go remove their Depends and come back through security, probably wetting themselves before you’d let them board?” She hesitated, flushed, and said, “Yes.” TSA. Keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.

Janet Napolitano tried to reassure us that the aggressive body searches (please don’t call them pat downs any more) are done by a person of the same gender, and that we can always request a private screening. My response is first that assault is assault no matter who does it. Second, I don’t want a private screening unless I’m forced to by a TSA agent because if my human rights are going to be violated, I want as many witnesses as possible. The last thing I want is to be violated in private by a government agent, with no witnesses except another government agent.

To all those who protested “big government run amok” in the last election, this is the worst of big government. It is important to note that these screeners are low-wage, unskilled, poorly trained people who have been given enormous power over the basic human rights of Americans, with no experience, insight, or skill on how to use that power with the great care that it demands. (I have some ability to evaluate the evidence of their training as I have provided training to corporations and governments for over 30 years.) Unlike health care professionals, or even law-enforcement officers, they do not receive years of training and mentoring, and they are not screened for judgment and sensitivity or anything like customer relations skills.

For once I find myself agreeing with Charles Krauthammer (11/18/10):

“We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.”

And make a cancer survivor remove her prosthetic breast. And break a man’s colostomy bag. And make a woman remove her skirt. And probe a grandmother’s bra. And make a menstruating woman and incontinent grandpa soil themselves. And traumatize a rape victim by having a uniformed official probe her genitals.

There has to be a better solution. A cleared flier’s list, perhaps. (I once was cleared to work on site at the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge and Savannah River. But I’m not cleared to board a plane.) Profiling, as Krauthammer suggested. We’ll never make flying 100 percent safe, and we’ll never come up with a perfect screening process, but we have to find a better way. This “enhanced” process is handing the terrorists a great victory – the brutal stripping of our human dignity and human rights.

Emmie Alexander

UPDATE: Link to Krauthammer column added.

UPDATE: The Political Carnival picks this up. Thanks, Laffy!

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