I haz been violated!

January 25, 2011 • 9:19 am

Heading back to Chicago, I’ve just passed through security at Logan Airport in Boston.  And although I’m conscious of the need to intercept terrorists, what I just experienced was RIDICULOUS.

I’ve travelled a lot, and so am prepared: I take out my laptop and my toiletries (in the requisite one-liter plastic bag), take off my metal belt buckle (which unsnaps from my belt), remove my shoes and any change in my pocket, and put it all in the plastic containers.  That used to be good enough.

Not this time.  I also had to undergo this:

1.  They sent me through the NEW FULL BODY SCAN SEE-YOU-NAKED X-RAY MACHINE. You have to face the wall of the machine, put your feet in the imprints on the floor, and raise your hands.  And you have to stand there for about 25 seconds while they shoot a sublethal dose of X-rays though you.

2.  They then saw that I had a (buckle-less) belt on. They made me remove the strip of leather around my waist and send it through the conveyer belt.

3.  Then they spotted my wallet.  Out with that, too, and through the conveyer belt. I have never before had to take out my wallet when passing through security.

4.  After I had passed through the See-You-Naked machine, the uniformed TSA agent informed me, “Sir, I’m going to have to pat you down on the left forearm and buttocks.”  Which they proceeded to do.  Now I can MAYBE understand the left forearm, where my watch resides, but the buttocks?  There’s nothing there, since I had already removed my wallet and been completely x-rayed. And, sure enough, I got goosed by the agent.  I didn’t like it at all, and felt like saying something to him.  I restrained myself only because I knew I’d get into trouble if I mouthed off.

5.  Was that enough? Nope.  They then swabbed my hands for explosives, and put the swabs through the sniffer machine.

I passed.

Here is what was ludicrous about this episode.

  • making me remove my belt, a leather strip with only a small metal snap
  • making me remove my wallet
  • patting down my tuchus, for chrissake—when the X-ray machine presumably had already told them that there was nothing there
  • taking off my shoes, which were New Balance sneakers with no metal.  Yes, I know the shoebomber used his shoes, but this shoe-removal (which they don’t do in much of Europe) is simply post facto Security Theater.
  • and I do object to the hand swab, since there’s nothing I can detect that would make them think I was a terrorist (granted, I don’t know all the subtle cues the TSA uses to spot potential terrorists).

There’s nothing we can do about this, except perhaps ask for a humiliating full-body pat down in lieu of the Naked Body Scan. We are powerless before the impresarios of the Security Theater.

But thank goodness for the awesome Southwest Airlines, which provides comfy leather chairs with plugs—and for Logan Airport, which has free wi-fi. (It’s hidden on their site, but all you need to do is watch a short commercial).  And I have a bagel with cream cheese.  Life is tolerable again.

From Bruce Schneier’s TSA logo contest

108 thoughts on “I haz been violated!

  1. I agree that the process is quite invasive. But just imagine that everyone else is being screened in the same manner. I’ll bet you felt a whole lot better flying on that plane!

    1. Is *everyone* scanned so thoroughly? I haven’t flown into or out of the US recently, so I really don’t know. It just sounds like it would take an awfully — and prhibitively — long time to process *all* travellers quite so thoroughly.

      1. No, they aren’t. At Minneapolis airport, some security checkpoints have the scanners and some just have metal detectors. At Rochester New York, there’s just one checkpoint, but if it’s busy they send some people through the scanner and others through the metal detector. I will give the security people at Rochester credit – they belatedly realized that they have to tell people to remove everything from their pockets, not just assume they’ll know and then berate them for not doing so. There is one teeny-tiny sign, facing the wrong way, that tells you this, but the security people now repeat it verbally.

        1. “There is one teeny-tiny sign, facing the wrong way, that tells you this”

          That’s fabulous.

          I didn’t think everyone would — or could, reasonably — be subjected to the same search. I wonder why JC was…

    2. I don’t. But I have a devious mind and wonder things like ‘wouldn’t a smart terrorist just set a bomb in the security line?’ or ‘well, I’m more likely to die on the way to the airport than by a hijacker’ or ‘shouldn’t existing 2000-era security have caught the 9-11 hijackers, so why the extra precautions when previous ones weren’t implemented successfully?’.

      1. Nah, we all know terrorists are creatures of habit, they always try the same thing over and over again.

        /sarcasm off

    3. I wouldn’t feel the least bit better.

      None – not a single one – of the added security measures since 9/11 would have impacted what happened. They used box cutters that were waiting for them on the planes.

      They did not have to sneak anything through security.

    4. Not really. But then again, the government doesn’t really care if everyone feels better, just enough people to justify their theater. If fewer people accepted that cold comfort, we could focus on productive measures instead of this bs.

  2. Of course by driving people off the airlines road deaths in the US increased after 9/11. I agree – it is pointless to do the pat down if they use the scanner – unless this means that the scanner is not really effective at spotting every possible threat. Of course we cannot possibly know or predict what type of threat the next threat will be anyway!

    1. The pat-down seems to be a punishment for people who don’t remove everything from their pockets or, in Jerry’s case, his non-metallic belt.

  3. Travelling nowadays is neither for the faint of heart nor the prudes; I haven’t been a regular traveller for more than two years, and still I have managed to notice that things only get worse. Though I have no story that can equal yours in magnitude, I can say that smuggling strange items through security does raise one’s spirits a bit — as I know from experience. I had the airport-time of my life when I pulled a marrow out of my purse at Heathrow after a “suspicious item” had been noted therein, plainly stating: “Yes, it is a MARROW.” Laughter from the security ensued.

  4. This is why I won’t fly until this insanity ends.

    Because, the very first words out of my mouth after a government agent asks to search me will be, “Of course. May I please see your warrant?”

    I refuse to be searched without either a warrant or being arrested. And you can bet your sweet tuchus I’ll sue for wrongful arrest if the only reason they arrest me is for demanding to see their warrant for searching me.

    Right now, I don’t have any need to travel, and I don’t have the time to make the stand just for the sake of protecting my constitutional rights. What scares the shit out of me is that, it seems, neither does anybody else.


    1. Exactly. Only a few brave people are openly challenging this oppression and violation of rights and they are not enough to make a critical mass.

      1. Why would they arrest you?

        They’ll just deny you access to the aircraft.

        no searchee = no flyee.

        Flying is not a right.

        1. Freedom of movement is a right, and one essential to exercising our other rights. In particular, one cannot peaceably assemble if one is barred from traveling to the point of assembly (or must forfeit other rights in order to do so).

          Imagine if the 18th Century British Navy required all private passengers on private ships to be strip-searched by Crown agents, with Royal Marines standing in the background, before permitting the passengers to board. Don’t you think some mention might have made it into the Bill of Rights?

          And I’ve heard from multiple sources that you will be arrested if you refuse to be searched; apparently, insisting on your constitutional rights is now grounds for arrest.


          1. I think the best result you could hope for with that approach is to be denied access to the flight. At worst, detention and possible charges (although I doubt such would actually hold up in court).

    2. You could do it as a test case – perhaps there is a civil liberties lawyer who would represent you. I agree – they (the authorities) are literally ‘taking liberties’.

  5. And this is why I refuse to fly anymore. I am a 33 year police officer retiree, during which time I had the occasion to arrest exactly two TSA agents! And yet, I am forced to undergo the same indignities as you.

    So I fixed that problem by refusing to fly. If I go anywhere anymore, I drive or walk.

    1. I’m almost to that point. I considered air travel to be uncomfortable and inconvenient before 9-11; imagine what I think of it now. I live about 90 minutes from the nearest big-city airport (still not a major hub), and if I have a choice between a 1.5-hour flight and a 9-hour drive to my destination, I’ll take the 9-hour drive. (I’d also take a 7- to 9-hour train ride if it were available).

      Since mid-1989, I’ve been going through metal-detector security checkpoints at state and federal courthouses, and there is no consistency regarding the tuned sensitivity of the equipment and the procedures used. At some checkpoints, the belt must come off and the overcoat and hat must go through the scanner, and at others, keep the belt and coat but take off of the shoes . . . . Meanwhile, anyone who wanted to smuggle a bomb or gun or big knife into a courthouse for actual use would steal an employee ID or enlist the aid of someone who had an ID.

      Just as a serious, committed, clever terrorist would avoid trying to sneak a bomb onto a plane and would set off a bomb, instead, at the security checkpoint bottleneck where those dozens or hundreds of passengers are waiting to be scanned, patted, and probed.

      1. You have to do all that going into the BBC Radio centre in London now, as I discovered on a recent trip to a radio show recording.

  6. My word. What on earth made you think that you could go through security with anything in your pockets or wearing shoes and a belt? You could go through security in only your socks and drawers, but if you are holding up your underpants with a belt or wearing flip-flops over your socks, the whole damn kabuki security dance in your line will come to a halt so a TSA agent can frisk your goolies. Could you BE more selfish?:-)

  7. I sympathize. I just went through this the last time I went home to visit my parents. Try being an attractive 24 year old woman in skinny jeans. What could I possibly be hiding in there?

    My equally attractive husband also had to go through the scanner… while on his way to Lackland AFB to serve his country. While holding his military orders. If you can’t trust an American Airman, who can you trust?

    1. There was a funny story last summer of a group of military soldiers carrying machine guns (no ammo) onto the plane but having to give up their nail clippers.

      I think even the security guards have given up making sense of the rules and are just following the letter of the law.

      1. Heh. That’s nothing…there was a true story from last summer where an airline employee was made to give up his nail clippers.

        “Why” he asked.

        “So you don’t take over the airplane,” was the reply.

        “But I’m the PILOT!”

        Didn’t matter. Clippers were confiscated.

          1. I know I’m spoiling a punchline and everyone loves to mock the screeners but in this case I think that it was the right thing to do. Not taking away utensils and nail clippers, but treating pilots in exactly the same way they treat passengers. If you think about it for a moment, I think you’ll see why.

            When these stories are told, the fact that it’s a pilot is taken for granted but this is not obvious at the screening time. What we’re talking about then is whether we should allow people with a pilot’s uniform or a pilot’s ID to have lesser scrutiny. Now all these billions of dollars of security can be foiled by a fake suit or a fake ID.

            (As a side-note, the security for airline personnel, ground crew and even food staff is abysmal, sometimes just an unmanned door with a swipe card.)

          2. Except nail-clippers are supposed to be allowed. I carry mine on all the time with no issue.

  8. Ironically, just after security you end up in a consumer paradise filled with glass bottles, metal forks and knives and whatsmore. Do they realise what havoc a broken whiskey bottle can wreak?

    1. “Do they realise what havoc a broken whiskey bottle can wreak?”

      A full one is really dangerous too!

      Actually, for the convenience of would be plane-taker-overs they load all that stuff onto the aircraft for you.

      George Carlin had some comments about that too.

    1. Don’t say that, I’ve got your Vancouver talk highlighted on my calender with sparkly letters and everything! Say you’re still coming!

  9. I’m very mixed about these Rape-scans due to the way the companies involved have fought to prevent oversight, routine re-calibration, cost-benefit analysis, monitoring of radiation leakage and worst of all, empirical studies of how the radiation is absorbed (it’s designed to be absorbed by the outer-layer of our bodies yet dosage is calculated as if it was evenly absorbed throughout our entire bodies). The whole fiasco makes me very mistrustful.

    That said, the alternative of kicking up a stink (which we have the right to do but which we will probably get punished for anyway) and opting for a physically invasive pat-down seems unpleasant in entirely new ways. It may not be as harmful to our health, but dignity surely also has a price.

    What make the whole thing especially revolting is the way it’s adopted – security theatre rather than a reasoned attempt to deal with realistic threats.

    1. Also that they lied – and, at least in the Rochester, New York airport, still lie – about the machine’s capability to store images for later retrieval.

  10. The post facto bullshit really gets me. Shoes? Really? Because they really think that nobody’s going to think of any other place to hide something?

    Oh wait, the Underwear Bomber thought of one — in his underwear. So now we have the See You Naked machines.

    But WTF?!? Did the TSA not realize that people could hide shit in their underwear???? I knew terrorists could hide stuff in their underwear. The TSA didn’t realize this until someone did? Oh wait, that’s right, it’s “security theater” just like you say.

    I’ve been saying since literally 2002 that all of this new security is retarded, because a really determined terrorist can always shove something up his ass. And presumably we’re not going to resort to routine cavity searches…. right? Oh no… 🙁

    Terrorists don’t even half to detonate a bomb any more to succeed. Just get caught with a half-functional bomb stashed in an embarrassing place, and you’ve raped millions of Americans. Fucking worthless shitbag TSA…

    1. Did the TSA not realize that people could hide shit in their underwear?

      I’d be more worried if they started hiding it anywhere else, eww.

    2. It’s always been security theater.

      If the TSA or Homeland Security really, truly gave a damn about “security”, you would not be permitted to bring a carry-on into the cabin and every bag you checked would opened and inspected.

      Airline security is a joke, and the scary, bad people already know this.

      The idea behind this security theater is not to make you safer, but to make you think that you are safer. Big difference.

      1. To a great extent, making people feel safer about air travel is what airport security is supposed to be about. People are dying untimely deaths in American all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Doing everything possible to prevent an airplane hijacking is not the most efficient way for our government to use its resource–if the goal is to save lives and prevent property damage. On the other hand, when people lose confidence in the air travel system, the economic effects, and accompanying human misery, can be huge. That’s why we have this performance of security theater.

  11. Was that enough? Nope. They then swabbed my hands for explosives, and put the swabs through the sniffer machine.

    Just be thankful you are not a biologist who regularly handles birds.

    It seems bird shit gives false positives for explosives swabs. All those nitrates apparently.

      1. And any law enforcement personnel who went to the firing range.

        Or any law-abiding citizen who did the same.

        Or people with heart conditions who take nitroglycerin.

  12. Mrs DiscoveredJoys and I are planning a special holiday this year. We discussed where to go and although I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon and its surroundings I refuse to fly into the USA while while you’ve got ignorant control freaks bullying people who want to fly.

    So that’s a big chunk of tourist dollars the alleged security regime has cost you USA.

    1. I second that. I live in the UK and I’m avoiding the US due to their crazy security theatre.

      Not that Europe is much saner, but I can always catch a ferry/train.

  13. Wait. The media keep saying it’s only conservatives who object to being electronically stripped searched.

    Since the next bomb is likely in the body perhaps we should all just skip straight to mandatory X-rays. Never mind that a 16 year old can apparently (and tragically) access the wheel well of a plane. . .

  14. All you have to do is opt out next time. I do it, they give me like a 5 second patdown instead, much better than getting dosed by radiation everytime you fly.

    1. Back when Germany was not yet unified, I flew into West Berlin from somewhere else in West Germany. (Wild ride, that flight.)

      Everyone, man-woman-child-young-old-everyone, got a pat down.

      Mine lasted about 3 seconds, after which the security guy could tell you whether I’m circumcised or not. He was very thorough and very, very quick.

      1. Interesting, I didn’t have that happen when I flew into West Berlin. They did make each passenger identify his or her luggage though.

  15. They sent me through the NEW FULL BODY SCAN SEE-YOU-NAKED X-RAY MACHINE

    Some things cannot be unseen.

    The hard part for me is that these people are utterly humorless. It’s how I get through life. Without that, I’m totally at a loss while a large unsmiling sweaty man sticks the back of his hand down the front of my pants. However, there was a TSA agent in St Louis who, after I removed my shoes, pointed at my feet and said “Uh, uh, uh.” “What?” sez I, looking down completely annoyed. “Gold toe socks.” I look up to see a big grin on the face of the TSA guy.

    So what’s the deal with making life miserable for my 90 year old mother in law? Bending over backwards to seem fair? It takes like an hour to get her shoes on & off.

    I don’t actually refuse to fly, but will do so only in cases of absolute necessity. They have taken all the fun out of flying, which as an aviation enthusiast and former commercial pilot, is really hard to do.

  16. Yeah, there are naked pictures of me somewhere too.

    Cant wait till I get to see them in Playboys ‘Women of the airport’ edition (special intro written by Chris Mooney).

    I think they should at least offer you a copy of the pics. Like how you can get pics of yourself on ‘Space Mountain’ at Disney World? That would be a nice gesture.

  17. All these security procedures wouldn’t have prevented the Russian airport bombing, which took place at an arrivals area. If one’s goal is not specifically to bring down a plane, but simply to cause massive economic disruption, a bomb in a suitcase at a busy check-in counter line is just as effective as a bomb on a plane.

    I’m just surprised this approach of attacking airport crowds hasn’t been used before now. Airports are one of the few places with large, tightly-packed crowds where carrying big objects wouldn’t appear out of place.

    1. There were some airport attacks back in the 1970s, I believe. There are good reasons, however, why they are not particularly attractive targets for terrorists.

      A plane is an extremely soft target; the fact that it’s in the air is a huge force multiplier, and even a small explosion can kill everyone on board. Airports, on the other hand, are thick with security (meant to protect against attacks on planes). There are other places with comparable densities of people that are much less secure. Most notably, terrorists seem to have figured out that attacks on subways can be quite devastating yet hard for authorities to prevent.

      1. Planes are indeed force multipliers, but they are most definitely no longer a “soft target”. My point was that securing an airport (rather than an airplane) is an almost impossible task, and a few airport attacks would have the same long-term disruptive effect as blowing up planes directly.

        Airports may have security, but it is useless against such attacks because of the very nature of airports as a place where lots of people gather together with large bags/parcels/luggage. One can’t ban luggage entering a ticketing counter line, since some way needs to exist to check luggage, and it is very hard to prevent long lines and crowds in an airport. All it takes is someone with a steamer trunk of explosives in a ticketing line at Thanksgiving to produce carnage of an enormous scale.

        You’re right that subways are also vulnerable, but attacks there produce much less long-term economic damage — just look at the disruption and money spent by the TSA to deal with minor threats like small amounts of fluid. Now imagine having to secure US airports against the kind of attacks in Russia.

    2. Russian airports generally have armed security people around to watch for this sort of thing, but there’s nothing to prevent a suicide bomber from walking up to the edge of the “secure” point (where ever that is) and setting off a bomb.

      In Moscow, the usual target has been the Metro system, which is very crowded morning and evening.

  18. The TSA’s just embarrassed that they saw Adam Savage’s junk but not the 12 inch razor blades he had in his laptop bag.

  19. I’ve always wanted to get several guys and keep going through security over and over…..maybe try to stuff $1 bills in their pants when they turn away.

    Probably would get arrested for terrorism though. Would still almost be worth it.

  20. If 10% of the TSA’s 2011 budget was instead donated to worldwide aid relief, it would probably save more lives and do more to combat terrorism that the entire history of the organization’s security theatre.

    1. Oh, BTW, at my age anybody who’s willing to do a body pat down, my only request is that you are slow and thorough.

      I can see lots of cases of PTSD coming.

  21. The belt thing is ridiculous. If their scanner can’t see through my cloth belt, then it can’t see through the waistband of my jeans.

  22. sounds like the terrorists have won…sad. The future will only get worse and it will all be in the name of safety and security.

  23. At the other extreme–I & a few jillion of my fellow countrypeeps got stranded in Denver just before Xmas due to probs at O’Hare that magnified in concentric ripples across the nation…The next day at Denver airport there were so many people lined up at TSA that we were pretty much shuffled right through as fast as we could move. I forgot to take off my shoes–no one even noticed.

  24. Jesse The Mind/Body is suing the TSA.

    One upside to all of this is that since the TSA has started the fondling, no granny has committed a terrorist attack on US soil.

  25. Until we get rid of the TSA and hire people who know what they’re doing, expect more of this – and expect it to get worse. It didn’t even start out well – remember when people were complaining about the goons ripping the files off nail clippers? It’s gone downhill from there and it’s still going … Basically this sham industry is just creating more jobs for itself and sucking up federal funds which are better spent elsewhere. Oh, but you should hear how they justify their existence!

  26. My wife and I just travelled to and from the US without much hassle, although at Heathrow they did ask to search my wife’s carry-on bag.

    But I also don’t see how most of this “security” actually adds to our security. Did anyone feel safer after 9/11 to have the guys with M-4 rifles in the airports? That would not have stopped the 9/11 highjackers anyway.

    It’s more about subjecting the public to more harrassment, either to subjugate us or to appear to be doing something.

  27. Somewhere in Yemen, somebody is packing a firecracker into an Ipod and giving to an idiot with a ticket to Amsterdam. No damage will be done to anybody. Ipods will be banned on planes for the next century.

    1. In 2002, my wife and I had a 3 or 4-hour flight delay because someone left an iPod on board from the previous flight, and no-one could identify whose it was.

      And this is without any Al Quaeda would-be iPod bomber.

  28. There was a time I would have thought that Americans would hit a limit. Just how much degradation would they accept because some government thug says ‘its for your own good’.

    Being as some of the procedures are IDENTICAL to non consensual activities that people are serving hard time for, apparently sexual assault is acceptable.

    Perhaps if people were required to to submit to a rape, they’s bend over for that too.

    As the Moscow bombing shows, they DON’T HAVE TO get on a plane. Just bring a suitcase bomb into the ‘security checkpoint’ area, set if off there.

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