Many folks smarter than I am have already written about TSA’s ridiculous new airport screening policies, with the backscatter X-ray (the Porn Machine that shows agents your naked form, provided the clothing you’re wearing lacks creases) and the alternative pat-down (the Molestation), if you opt out of the Porn Machine.
Continental at my local airport (Newark) hasn’t implemented Porn Machines yet, so though I’m a frequent flier, I had yet to encounter the Porn vs. Molestation Sophie’s Choice conundrum — until this past Monday. I was flying back from Florida after a weeklong cruise. (Worth noting, of course, is that the cruise ship held about 4,000 people, and TSA didn’t screen a single one of us before we got on the ship. TSA won’t start screening cruises until the first time a terrorist tries to attack a ship, I guess.)
Lauren and I were traveling with our two daughters (a 4-year-old and a nearly 2-year-old). We saw that one of the four active security lines in Fort Lauderdale International Airport was indeed using a Porn Machine. By luck, we’d put ourselves into a separate line from the Porn Machine, so I figured we were safe.
Several unrelated events then occurred in tandem, as they so often do.
The first of our two car seats jammed the carry-on scanner. It wasn’t a huge deal; we’d placed it properly, and they just needed to give it a poke or two to get it through. But since I was waiting with our stuff to make sure it all went through — as the TSA requires — before going through the metal detector, the line adjacent ours was thinning out a bit. (That would be the line with the Porn Machine.) Lauren and the girls had already gone through our line, and thus escaped Porn vs. Molestation choice-free.
I pointed out to the TSA agents that I had a second car seat, and asked if they’d like me to do something different with it to prevent it from getting stuck in the X-ray machine. The agent took the second car seat and brought it around the scanner to the other side. That is, they never scanned the second car seat, since the first one had caused a 20-second hiccup. Terrorists, don’t read this post and get any ideas.
It was at this point that the whole charade of TSA’s security theater became useless, right? If they don’t even bother scanning an item (“oh, it’s just a second harmless car seat!”), then every other check becomes increasingly worthless.
So, all our stuff has gone through the scanner, and the woman from the now-empty adjacent line asks me to approach the Porn Machine. I tell her, “Oh, I’m going to opt out of that.”
“You’re opting out?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I have to read you this statement, then,” she said, reaching into her pocket. She pulled out a laminated form that indicated that by opting out of the safe Porn Machine, I would be subjecting myself to a full pat-down, which would include touching me in “sensitive areas.” (Her statement mentioned “sensitive areas” twice.) Knowing that, would I prefer to stick with the Porn Machine? (She didn’t call it that.)
I stuck with my opt-out. They paged — three times — for whichever agent had drawn the short straw that day. He showed up eventually, and took me into a private room on the side of the scanning area. Oh, I should clarify: By “private room,” I mean a room that had a plexiglass clear front with full visibility between it and the screening area — Lauren and I made frequent eye-contact. It had a locked door on one side which twice tricked the agent, as he got stuck and couldn’t open it from inside the “room.” Of course, the opposite end of the bus-stop shaped room was open space, leading directly towards another metal detector, so he’d just walk out that way and go around.
He explained repeatedly that he’d be touching me in various “sensitive areas,” and that he’d always use the back of his hand when he did so. He put his fingers in my waist band, and his hands indeed went right up to my bits and pieces, and all over what he termed by buttocks, which rhymed with “nut rocks” when he said it. I tried not to moan softly during the pat-down.
Fortunately, I didn’t have any weaponry or explosives shoved up my ass or even taped to the front of my crotch, since those would have escaped even this offensive inspection.
The TSA’s laughable attempts at security won’t prevent a new attack. Americans shouldn’t sacrifice personal freedom — freedom from being groped or strip-searched included — to fly. As many have pointed out, the world’s safest airline, El Al, doesn’t waste time with these techniques at all.
As Timothy Carney writes, “In the past decade, terrorists on airplanes have killed just about 3,000 people — all on one day. Even if the Christmas Day bomber had succeeded, the number would be under 3,500.
Those are horrible deaths. But in that same period, more than 150,000 people have been murdered in the United States. We haven’t put the entire U.S. on lockdown — or even murder capitals like Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore. While reducing the murder rate to zero is very desirable, we also understand that the costs, in terms of liberty and resources, are too great. But when it comes to air travel, 9/11 seems to have stripped away our ability to put things in perspective.”
My older daughter Anya watched on occasion as I was patted down. I don’t want to explain to my daughters (or unborn son) that besides their parents and doctors, government employees can also touch them in certain areas.
If the next successful terrorist attack doesn’t involve a pregnant woman or car seats — both of which easily evade extra TSA inspection — I’ll be surprised.