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Grope, no. Profile, yes.

I had problems with airport security long before 2001. I wasn’t exactly a frequent flyer, but I did several domestic and several international flights a year for a goodly number of years and found US security staff seemed to go out of their way to be unreasonable and unpleasant. I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy.

Granted, I have carried some odd things onto planes. Like a few jars of pond scum. Or that time I just totally lost track of just how much small change had accumulated in the bottom of my purse, and what that would look like on x-ray (I’ll never forget the look on my boss’ face when they upended that sucker and all those pennies tinkled out).

Oddly, airline staff didn’t bat an eye when I checked a fifty-pound bronze sculpture of a tiger in my luggage. It would have made a hell of a good bomb, too. Go figure.

Anyhow, the TSA has to be very low paid work, as it definitely seems to attract a certain type. And I don’t mean Rhodes scholars.

We’re still chasing the last terrorist scheme. Usually, a failed one. Millions of people feed shoes to an x-ray machine every day because of Richard Reid’s failed bomb nine years ago. Folks, they’ll never do shoes again. Next time, it’ll be a belt buckle or a laptop computer or a rectum. Short of stripping us down, feeling us up and giving us hospital johnnies to wear on the flight, we aren’t going to cover every possible hidey hole.

Would this have worked even for the plots we know about? Both the shoe bomber and the panty bomber used the same stuff — a powder that is mixed with a liquid to make a plastic explosive. That ain’t going to show up on these clever new x-ray machines. Carefully sewn into a garment, would it be obvious even to a good, hard grope?

The TSA only screens US-to-US flights. Chances are, threats from here on out will be coming from outside the US. Very likely going through Heathrow (or Gatwick). I’ve flown out of both many times. They don’t just wave you through, but they seem to have an eye-roll view of American security procedures. No junk-groping for the Brits, ta.

We do too profile, sometimes. I got pulled out of line just as I was getting on a plane (Boston to London) and gently questioned. It was one of those Christmases with the heightened alerts. I don’t know who the questioner was, but he was brief, pleasant and professional. I’m convinced he picked on me because I was wearing dark aviator sunglasses and looking harried. Okay, maybe middle-aged American women aren’t the most insightful demographic to give second glances too, but paying extra attention to people who look stressed out…is a start.

Have you seen their recruits? There were eight quiet years between the failed shoe bomber and the failed panty bomber. And those two guys should’ve rung all kinds of alarm bells. So, yeah, I’m sure al Qaeda would love to enlist a few Midwestern grannies to fly under our security radar, but they’re having a hard time getting desperate losers from the third-world shit-holes to sign on at the moment.

They’re reduced to recruiting inkjet printers, mailing them from suspicious addresses to suspicious addresses, and bragging that it only cost $4,200 to assemble their latest FAIL.

I’m thinking a leeeetle teeny tiny bit of profiling should be plenty.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2010, 8:51 pm

Although I’m a bit confused about the effectiveness of this stuff. An explosive is just a really fast fire. If it isn’t in a strong container — something that will rupture violently — I’m not sure how much damage it can do on its own.

If you follow that last link and watch the video at the bottom, they show a printer similar to the one on the cargo planes being blown up. But a printer is a container.

I guess sticks of dynamite do alright by themselves.

Comment from j2
Time: November 22, 2010, 10:37 pm

the gov is not capable of keeping it simple. they can’t burn enough of our money that way. what the hell is wrong with you Stoaty?:) your thoughts are WAY too intelligent for gov-thought….
you are therefore a racist terrorist and must have your “junk” / sensitive parts assaulted by a foreign national (who has not been subjected to an extensive background check before employment because that would be just “wrong”…)in order to keep a perfect 0% apprehension of terrorist record in tact.
Dignity – shmignity….. just walk thru that machine… Meat

my 10 o’clock break is coming up…. don’t piss me off

Comment from Elphaba
Time: November 22, 2010, 10:51 pm

Penn Gillette had a pretty hilarious story in his blog: http://www.pennandteller.com/03/coolstuff/penniphile/roadpennfederalvip.html

His interaction with TSA’s PR person out of Vegas is a scream:

I said that I had talked to two lawyers and they said it was really a weird case because no one knows if he can be charged with assault and battery while working in that job. But I told her, that some of my lawyer friends really wanted to find out. She said, “Well, we’re very new to this job . . .” and I said, “Yeah, so we need these test cases to find out where you stand.”

She said, “Well, you know a LOT about this.” I said, “Well, it’s not really the right word, but freedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I’ll spend to find out how to get people more of it.”

Read it through and tell me if you think she was implying that he might could get a “happy ending” via his next interaction with TSA.

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: November 22, 2010, 11:14 pm

For Elphaba:
I have no doubt that Mr. Jillette will have a happy beginning and ending to his next interaction, which should have occurred yesterday according to his story. Unfortunately, that only happens for Special people who have ways of getting personally noticed by the media. Mr. Jillette fits that demographic. Most of the rest of us don’t.

What’s most distasteful about this is “Law Enforcement”. In spite of their oath of office to “…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution…”, and in spite of the fact that “Law Enforcement” is READILY available at EVERY TSA checkpoint, they do not bother to honor their oath. Of course, Mr. Jillette got a quick response from an officer who effectively told the TSA they had better not bother Mr. Jillette again. Unfortunately, that fine officer did not bother to tell them not to bother Aunt Annie or Grandma Martha. Wonder why not… The stench is overwhelming.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2010, 11:21 pm

Jilette actually got into quite a lot of trouble, ISTR, in the days when laptops were new. At the time, you had to turn them on at the check-point and demonstrate that they were really computers and not bombs.

He programmed his to boot with the message “WILL DETONATE IN 5…4…3…”

That was back when he wrote a column that appeared on the back page of PC World. There was quite the fuss about it at the time…

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: November 22, 2010, 11:27 pm


Yeah, it is just a really fast fire, but some things burn really, really fast. If it burns fast enough that the surroundings [including air] can’t get out of the way you get a blast front that tears things up. The binary explosive used so far, or the others caught, if properly mixed and detonated, do not have to be contained unless you are depending on the shrapnel effect of the pieces of the container to cause the damage or casualties.

And no, you have hit it right with your critique of the TSA. We have had a number of terrorist attacks, and every one of them has avoided our security measures completely, even when informants have warned us that it was in progress. TSA cannot point to one terrorist attack that it has thwarted or detected, even when asked about it by Congress.

I am a retired Peace Officer who has been watching this abomination. 1) TSA are not cops, and do not have arrest authority. 2) They are not trained. 3) And they are not subject to any psychological testing according to TSA Human Resources and it seems their background checks consist only of checks for current warrants and not convictions, including sex offender convictions. I speak from personal knowledge of the operation of a Maximum Security detention facility when I say that the strip search scanners and the sexual molestation searches we have seen would undoubtedly cause Federal courts to shut down any prison that tried to use them on convicted felons. TSA does it to supposedly free citizens going about their lawful affairs.

I, for one, am done with commercial flying in this country unless things change [it may be a LONG bus ride to Texas next year], and would recommend others do the same.

Subotai Bahadur

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2010, 11:48 pm

Ah. It’s like having my own private Wikipedia, this blog.

But with 100% fewer smelly hippies.

Comment from JeffS
Time: November 23, 2010, 1:28 am

Subotai has the right of it, Stoatie. For the TSA and explosives, but I’m thinking explosives right now.

What matters for explosive charges is their composition (i.e., rate of combustion) and size. And, sometimes, shape, if you’re being really specific on your target. But what’s more important is studying your target, and knowing its weaknesses.

Explosive charges can be used to weld or cut metal, bring down a building, or lay down earth and rock for convenient mining. An expert can design a charge to do what you want, assuming you can place it where it needs to be.

If you can find it, Mythbusters did a really good job on demonstrating how vulnerable pressurized aircraft are to handguns and explosives, in 2004, episode 10, if you can find a copy.

(I’d Bing up a link to the actual episode, but you seem to have issues streaming video from some places. So I’ll let you do that, if you wish.)

It’s a good study on how little it takes to bring down an aircraft (in spite of their reputation to go overboard, they really didn’t in that particular segment). I have to think that LEOs around the world cringed when they saw this episode, even though it’s a knee jerk reaction; God knows AQ have plenty of experts on explosives. For them, it ain’t design, it’s delivery that is their problem. As the latest incident clearly demonstrates.

And, Subotai, I wish I didn’t have to fly. Alas, my employment has me scheduled for at least two trans-continental trips next year. I’m hoping to keep the rest regional, i.e., driving.

Comment from Sockless Joe
Time: November 23, 2010, 2:01 am

Once again, the South Park dudes may prove to have been prophetic. Remember the “snuke”?

Comment from Monotone The Elderish
Time: November 23, 2010, 4:50 am

Well, Considering a bird can take down a jumbo jet…. yep.. not much at all….

Comment from Deborah
Time: November 23, 2010, 5:16 am

I haven’t flown since Dec. 2004, but I used to get special treatment all the time because I flew on one-way tickets, frequently bought on the day I was flying. A one-way ticket guarantees a closer inspection, and it was a counter ticket agent who told me.

Re: pennies in the bottom of the purse. Stoaty, I flew into Heathrow (in ’92) with another flight to Glasgow and Machrihanish later in the day. I had a little zip-lock bag of hair clippies in my tote bag, and on the x-ray machine they looked horrible all clustered together. The Heathrow screeners visibly jumped in alarm, but one gamely reached in to pull out whatever it was! I apologized profusely, and left them in a trash can somewhere in Scotland before I flew home.

Pingback from This Hurts Me As Much As It Does You « Ric's Rulez
Time: November 23, 2010, 1:40 pm

[…] Stoaty Weasel asks on Twitter, What’s gonna happen when all the TSA employees who hate touching people’s junk have quit? […]

Comment from Gromulin
Time: November 23, 2010, 7:44 pm

Not to sound all tinfoil hatterish, but…

1. The left loves them some high-speed rail. It’s so EUROPEAN. So therefore, smarter and better, by definition. If us stoopid ‘Merkins would just pony up some sweet, sweet tax dollars we could ALL be a-speedin down the rails.
2. Flying domestically just got to be a REAL pain in the ass.
3. Banner ads for Amtrak seem to be showing up much more frequently, advertising very low (subsidized) prices.
4. If you wanted to kill one mode of transport in favor of another, what would be a way that you could get those knuckle-draggin bitter-clingers to go along with the plan, while simultaneously telling them it’s for their own safety?

I know…I know. /tinfoilhat

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 23, 2010, 7:54 pm

As an aside, Gromulin, I like the trains here. It’s a much more common mode of travel, and it’s a pleasant way to go.

But it’s eye-wateringly expensive. For anything other than short hops, it’s almost always cheaper to fly. And they’re about to raise the rates again.

Nobody can work out how to make train travel economical. I’m not smart enough to figure out why, but it’s true. Rail networks operate at a loss wherever they go (as far as I’m aware).

Comment from David Gillies
Time: November 23, 2010, 8:14 pm

Last time I went to the UK I flew via Madrid specifically so I didn’t have to go through immigration in Miami.

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: November 23, 2010, 8:19 pm


As a follow up, and warning to our Brit friends, it just got more complicated. They have just added another layer you have to go through to be strip-search scanned and/or molested.


In short, the author was returning to the US from Europe. He arrived in his home city, and AFTER he had cleared both Customs and Immigration and only had to go pick up his baggage from the claim area; he found a barrier of scanners and gropers to go through before he was allowed to get his bags. Keep in mind, that he had already cleared Customs and Immigration and had no possible access to any aircraft or boarding passengers who are inside the secure area from the moment of debarkation. He had entered his home country legally and is on his way home. He posed no threat to any aircraft or passenger, any more than the cab drivers waiting outside.

He stood his ground. It took 2 1/2 hours, and the cops were involved [on his side, remember TSA are NOT cops], but he was escorted out without either strip search or sexual battery. Something to keep in mind, and be willing to file charges against TSA pukes.

If you have to come to my poor, besieged country, I would commend the concept of flying in via Canada or Mexico and entering by land, and using land transport. If you enter via Mexico, if you use the most common route; you will be able to avoid Customs, Immigration, and any record of entry. This is by deliberate government policy. If you do come, it would be greatly appreciated if you would stand with the cause of Liberty if/when you encounter these petty tyrants. Hold them to the law, which they seem to have forgotten.

Subotai Bahadur

Comment from Gromulin
Time: November 23, 2010, 8:24 pm

Don’t get me wrong. High speed rail makes perfect sense with large population clusters that need to get from A-B, B-C etc. I like riding the train, it’s a great way to travel. But it just won’t pencil out, ever, in the US. We are too spread out. But that won’t stop them from the “build it and they will come” mentalaity. As long as they have the funding, that is.

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: November 23, 2010, 8:47 pm

Sorry to jump in again, but more information backing one of my assertions. In the last three days, news has come out about 3 TSA screeners being arrested for sex crimes. Day before yesterday, one out of Boston Logan International was arrested for enticement and sexual assault on a 14 year old girl, who he may have first spotted at the airport. Yesterday, a TSA screener from Miami was arrested for sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy, while off duty. Today this news comes out, about a screener at Atlanta who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman from the airport parking lot.


Remember what I said about background checks. Anecdotes are not hard data. But given the number of TSA screeners nationwide, and the fact that most sex crimes are not reported, let alone cleared by an arrest; three in three days is at least a statistical anomaly that would reasonably raise the index of suspicion.

Subotai Bahadur

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 23, 2010, 9:53 pm

Fascinating stuff, Subotai Bahadur. Thanks for the updates.

I’d heard about the one employee committing sexual assault; the one that tried to commit suicide.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: November 23, 2010, 10:33 pm

Back to the train (off) topic: Shorpy has pictures of the Mt. Lowe railway and Alpine Tavern, with the astonishing news that a ride on that rail line cost $5 in 1893.

Googling ’round a bit gives an estimate of inflation since 1893 of roughly 100:1. If they could charge $500 for a single round trip, that resort might still be in business. A trolley car ride in those days famously cost 5 or 10 cents; if the city bus charged $5 or $10 for a trip downtown, it might be profitable.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 23, 2010, 10:37 pm

I can get lost for hours in Shorpy.

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: November 24, 2010, 6:27 pm

Yeah, back again. I talked about the quality, or lack thereof, of TSA hires. Note this please:


They are advertising for applicants for TSA scanners and gropers on pizza boxes. “Join the Few, the Proud, the Slackers”.

Subotai Bahadur

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 24, 2010, 9:01 pm

I saw that! Geez!

Comment from Armybrat
Time: November 26, 2010, 1:22 am

Husband and I have taken to flying first class or business the 1-2 times a year we fly any more. We figure the extra expense is well worth the decrease in time and irritation. You didn’t really think that 1st class is treated to the same shit, did you?

Comment from Mazzuchelli
Time: November 30, 2010, 8:27 pm

The only people that will ever be profiled are Republicans. They’re doing that right now at Atlanta Hartsfield.

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