TSA Shenanigans on my way to Liberty ForumFebruary 21st, 2013
No New Hampshire Liberty Forum is complete without an anecdote about the TSA. We’re wasting no time this year. I approached the security checkpoint at the San Jose airport, sent all my personal property into the black hole of the x-ray conveyor belt and looked around for an opt-out line, but I didn’t see one. I asked a friendly TSA agent (we’ll call him “Tiny”) where the opt-out line was and he said, “You’re in the opt-out line.”
Confused I asked, ”Isn’t this the body scanner line?” and Agent Tiny told me, “Just step through the backscatter machine and they’ll screen you on the other side.”
I gave him an incredulous look and said, “I don’t think you understand. I’m not walking through that machine.”
Agent Tiny replied, “Don’t worry. We’ll turn it off. There’s no radiation. We won’t screen you here. We’ll screen you on the other side.”
I pointed out a metal key turned to the “ON” position next to a blinking green light and asked, “Are you going to turn off that key?”
“No,” he said, “but that’s pretty much you’re only option.”
“Only option” is one of these sneaky government euphemisms. It’s an oxymoron. If it’s my only option it’s not an option at all. It’s an order.
So you understand the set up, the x-ray machine and the body scanner were right next to each other between two conveyor belts. They both lead to the same area on the other side, but there was no roped off breezeway between the equipment like usual.
They’d set up the equipment so there was no way through without stepping through one of the machines. I saw other TSA agents step through the x-ray machine to get from one side to the other, so I asked Agent Tiny, “Why cant I go through the regular x-ray machine to get to the opt-out area?”
“I don’t know, but you can’t” was his answer. At least he’s honest.
So I asked, “Can you get me someone who can answer that question?” He grudgingly called over his supervisor, who we’ll call “Mustache.” Agent Mustache told me I couldn’t go through the x-ray machine because it was on, and once I went through an active x-ray machine I couldn’t have the opt-out screening.
“What’s the difference?” I protested, pointing toward travelers passing through both machines. “They both go to exactly the same place.”
Agent Mustache said, “I can’t turn off the x-ray machine, but you can go through one of the other backskatter machines.” He pointed toward the screening stations that were not in use. All the way off.
There was only one active station at this time of day. So I pressed, “If I can walk through the off body scanners in those lines, why can’t I walk through the off x-ray machines in those lines?”
Agent Mustache told me “Those x-ray machines are on.” Which is either an incredible waste of electricity, or a lie. I suspect it was lie, because no lights were on in any of the vacant screening stations.
I asked, “Is there ranking officer I can talk to?”
“No” said Agent Mustache. “I’m the supervisor on duty.”
“Right, but do you have a superior officer I can talk to?”
“Sure, you can talk to my supervisor, but he’s not on site. You’ll have to wait for him to get here. Might be a while.”
“I’ve got all the time in the world.” It was a bluff. I actually had about half an hour. But if he called it I would relent, and I was betting he didn’t want to bother his boss over something so stupid.
He caved, and asked if I wanted to go through the “AC Gate” or some such thing. It was a swing gate on the far end of the screening area. It looked like it was where they drive through with their security golf carts.
“Absolutely!” So he walked me to the far end of the screening area, through the swing gate, and then all the way back to the opt out area that had been just 10 feet away during this whole ordeal.
He tapped another male agent, we’ll call him “Doughboy,” to give me the rub down. Agent Doughboy gave me the standard treatment. He was unusually friendly.
I was wearing a wrist brace because I’ve been experiencing some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Nothing serious. But I asked him if he wanted me to remove it.
“It’s not necessary,” he said.
By this time the x-ray conveyor belt operator had identified the 1 inch pocket knife I keep on my keys. I’ve flown with it a total of 6 times and they’ve never noticed it before, but he said he’d have to take it. “Of course” I replied.
I find it very interesting that the 1 inch blade is a security risk that must be confiscated, but the 6 inch metal splint embedded in the wrist brace, which could easily be sharpened into a shiv, received absolutely no scrutiny. Kind of makes me wish I’d hid the knife in the brace.