The TSA Is a Disaster

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 26, 2010

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s turn over the microphone to Larkin Reynolds:

I traveled by air yesterday to be with my family for Thanksgiving. And to tell the truth I was kind of looking forward to the flight almost as much as I was the turkey and mashed potatoes. I’ve been dying to find out firsthand what all the backscatter opt-out fuss was about, and I departed for the airport in something of an investigatory mood. My flight left from Dulles, which has the backscatter machines; if there was anything notable about the experience I’d planned to post something about it. All of that said, I fully expected the experience to be pretty straightforward and uneventful.

But my plans were shortly foiled.  After getting my boarding pass, I proceeded down to the security-screening area.  Because it was Thanksgiving Day, the lines were pretty short.  I saw the backscatter machines, duos of blue boxes set up in a neat row, interspersed unassumingly with the “normal” metal detectors.  But there was a problem: there was no one going through them.  They weren’t even turned on.  Was there some recent change in the security screening mandates that I hadn’t heard about?

No, no official policy change.  But that’s right, each one of the $150,000 backscatter machines was sitting completely idle, roped off from use.  All passengers were being screened through the normal machines, and no one was receiving any additional pat-down scrutiny.

After going through my own screening, I asked a TSA officer why the backscatter machines were just sitting there as though they were set decorations.  I didn’t write down his exact words, but if my memory serves his response was essentially the following: “Oh, they’ve been up and running for the past two days, but we just went to lunch so we turned them off.  We’ll have them back on in a bit.”

Wow, what a shame I’m not an underwear bomber, I thought to myself.

UPDATE: Apparently, the backscatter machines were turned off in lots of locales. Why? Because of National Opt-Out Day; turning off the backscatter machines meant that there was no need to opt out, which meant that people didn’t opt out or report legions of opt-out incidents, which meant that the TSA was spared a public relations embarrassment. As Gizmodo notes, turning off the backscatter machines on one of the busiest travel days of the year was crazy, given the many security concerns that the TSA has cited . . . unless, of course, the backscatter machines, and the patdowns that one gets if one opts out were never all that important to begin with. It’s a no-lose (if cynical) ploy by the TSA, since “if there was some sort of attack today because the backscatters were turned off, then it’s ‘See? We TOLD you so.’”

When it comes to the TSA, a quote by Lando Calrissian comes to mind: “This deal is getting worse all the time.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: This blog is going to be popular. This ranks as my favorite post on it.

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  • texasgalt

    Portland, Oregon terrorist attack averted. Hmmm, let’s see: Muslim, check__age 15-50, check__from radical country__check. I wonder. How they ever caught this jerk without a backscatter on every corner?

    Mean while, back at DFW International, another 3 year old . . .

  • Dave

    I also traveled over this past holiday. Two yrs ago I had a knee replacement so I have been used to asking for a “male assist” and being wanded with a slight pat down. As the scanners were not in use at West Palm, I did not have a choice so I had to undergo the agressive new pat down. It was offensive and insulting. I have no problem going thru the scanners but with no choice at many airports you must get the pat down. I believe many reasonable citizens are going to rebel against this intrusive tactic.

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