Ridiculous or not: Just who does the TSA think it is?

Hardly a day seems to go by that I don’t get a complaint about the Transportation Security Administration.

Today it’s Judi Kutzko’s turn. She believes many air travelers like her are afraid to stand up to the agency for fear of being blacklisted.

“TSA can — and often does — make things miserable for anyone who speaks up,” she says.

(Indeed, it took some convincing to let me share her grievance with you here. You’re a brave woman, Judi.)

So what, exactly, happened to her?

A few weeks ago she was flying out of Bradley International Airport in Connecticut when a TSA agent rudely ordered her through the airport’s full-body scanner.

“She said because it was a Saturday and not many people were waiting, they were X-raying everyone,” she says. “I was told to remove my jewelry, and before I could take off my watch, the TSA agent ripped it off my arm and threw it in the bin. Thank goodness it didn’t break.”

Kutzko had some trouble wiggling out of her medical-alert bracelet, and finally the agent told her, “Oh, never mind. Just get in the machine and hold your arms up.”

She asks how, precisely, this security theater is keeping America’s skies safer.

Also, to use the vernacular, what is up with the TSA?

It’s a good time to ask. The TSA is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, which is the perfect occasion to reflect on what the agency had done – and continues to do – to air travelers.

Kutzko and the many other travelers who have claimed during the last several weeks that the TSA is forcing them through the scanners are almost certainly the victims of an overzealous agent. The agency site is clear that the body scanners are optional.

Then again, TSA might have issued a secret order telling agents they could insist passengers use the scanners, contrary to its published policy.

If it has done that, it wouldn’t be able to tell me because, see, it’s a secret order.

Kutzko and others like her tell me they’re appalled by the agency’s apparent lack of accountability.

Incidentally, her story doesn’t end there.

“After the X-ray I heard her speak into a walkie-talkie and say, ‘OK, she’s clear’,” she told me. “I started toward the bin to retrieve my belongings, only to have the TSA agent block my path and say, ‘Where do you think you’re going? I’m not done with you yet.’”

Turns out there was “something” about her arms that had made them suspicious. She needed to be patted down. Kutzko told her that was “ridiculous” since she was wearing a sleeveless shirt.

“They were just doing this because they can,” she says.

I agree. I’m willing to bet that a 72-year-old retiree wearing a medical bracelet is not going to blow up a plane.

She wonders: Just who does the TSA think it is?

That may well work as a rhetorical question. But it is also answerable, to a certain degree.

TSA is an agency that thinks it can operate in secret, with little or no accountability. It is an agency that believes the rules – even the ones that it sets for itself – don’t necessarily apply to it.

On a more practical level, the TSA thinks that frisking grandmothers and forcing them through a scanner is not only completely acceptable.

It seems to also think that it can be rude about the whole thing.

It is easy for someone like me to be outraged by these clear violations of our dignity, if not our civil liberties. After all, I’ve been covering the most unpopular government agency since its inception a decade ago. I have been threatened by the TSA, lied to by it and been served with an illegal subpoena to force me to name a source (I didn’t).

But until everyday passengers share my disappointment with the way the agency operates, I’m afraid the answer to the question, “Just who does the TSA think it is?” will be: Whatever the hell it wants to be.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  • Blip66

    Got to agree with Jctoo. I have to connect often via Amsterdam because of the Delta tie up and Amsterdam is pretty bad. They are consistently rude as hell. I have seen them berate young, old, and everything in between for absolutely trivial reasons. And although they have had an elaborate personal interview system for every US bound passenger for many years it was obviously utterly useless at identifying the underwear bomber; which is the proximate reason for this entire scanning discussion. Oh and I pressed like by mistake instead of reply.

  • James_2

    “Ignorant citizens elect ignorant leaders, it’s as simple as that.
    And term limits don’t help. All you do is get a new bunch of ignorant
    leaders.” – George Carlin

  • cjr

    Nearly 1100 votes says quit trolling because you’re not very good at it.

  • Cjr

    Nearly 1100 votes says quit trolling because you’re not very good at it.

  • sa

    “I’m willing to bet that a 72-year-old retiree wearing a medical bracelet is not going to blow up a plane.”

    Sorry, I’m not willing to take that bet.  

  • Susan N

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about it, just that we should talk about it in more productive ways than just more sob stories

  • Daisymae

    When exactly did that happen?

  • Blip66

    Ah yes it’s so terrible that we don’t officially sanction xenophobia isn’t it. Let me guess, you are all gung ho about profiling because you assume you won’t fall within a profile. “web/ gadget guru”  is a mighty odd name I tell you. ‘dem furriners use funny words like guru1

  • Daisymae

    When government bureaucrats and their connected cronies figure out a way to make millions out of “protecting” our water sources, then then a plot to our water supply will be uncovered.

  • Daisymae

    The time to stop talking about the sob stories is when the sob stories stop happening.

  • Daisymae

    Name calling? What names? She didn’t call any names.

    If she called you “stupid” or “idiot” or “ignoramus” or “fathead” then that’s a name. She didn’t call you any name.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Do you have a suggestion for a more “productive” way to talk about it? Are YOU doing anything? Or just criticizing those who ARE doing something for not being “productive” enough?

  • Daisymae

    Retaining the right to decide who can touch our genitals or view us naked is the most basic and fundamental of all human rights and therefore has a much bigger impact on people than any other issue. It certainly does affect the entire country and indeed the entire world since the US is forcing this violation of human rights on other countries.

  • Susan N

    No, which is why I am asking here. I was hoping that Chris’ articles and the comments here would help, considering that he/you seem to see it as one of your big goals.

  • Daisymae

    Was Lisa denied employment as a result of taking a stand against TSA?m

  • Carver

    I did a little checking. I wondered why the first two pages of google hits were primarily advocacy sites rather than more traditional news outlets.

     It seems that the real gist of the article is that the Rutherford lawyer screwed up and didn’t want to admit it.  Any SSI issue is beyond the jurisdiction of the District Courts and must go directly to the Court of Appeals.  Normally you would choose the court that is geographically correct.  However, in certain cases, e.g. patent prosecution, tax appeals, the DC Court of Appeals is given exclusive original jurisdiction because it makes sense to concentrate unique issues into a single court since most courts would have little experience in these areas.

    A hard news outlet would have the resources to check out the story better, while an advocacy site probably wouldn’t.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Ha, ha, ignorance must indeed be bliss!

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    It’s already been forgotten.  Predictably, it fizzled and died.  I still have several freelance gigs, none of which involve reporting the news or covering politics.  I never claimed to do either (unlike other folks at the networks who do claim that yet continue to engage in partisan actions with no problem).

  • Peggy Hain

    Why are you hiding behind (using) npr logo?  You obviously don’t have the brains to listen to npr programs.  I think you must be in sixth grade.  No, more like fourth grade.  

  • LeeAnneClark

    Are you having vision problems? Numerous comments on this article have detailed some very specific productive ways of fighting TSA abuse. Try reading one right above this. It gives suggestions for writing Congress, letters to the editor, local news stories, etc. etc.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I was wondering that same thing. Names? What names? If someone is going to accuse me of something, it would be nice if he could actually point to where I did it.

  • Anna

    The TSA is usually not the “first point of contact” for non-US citizens arriving in the US – that would be CBP (“immigration”) and the whole shebang with fingerprints, interrogations, etc. I don’t know if Andrea confused the two agencies, but I personally find CBP to be far nastier than the TSA.

  • Lemmie

    You can call me a troll, but if they aren’t coming here simply because of the TSA then they should be examined because they are mentally ill.

  • Lemmie

    Because they disagree with you.  Nice.

  • cjr

    What you people don’t seem to get is that it isn’t going to change.  Congress and the government will violate your rights from here to eternity as long as they can say they prevented or are preventing danger.  The fact that less than one percent of America will ever get off their diabetic a$$es to speak up just reinforces their points.  The topic is stale and pointless.  Most of America watches the videos of people getting “assaulted” like they would a reality show – it’s entertainment.  Nothing more.  Stupid people have gone to jail and pissed away careers over this and it’s just pointless.  You might as well go piss in the Sahara to solve the water problem.

  • NPR

    Ahh you got me.  That is the ultimate shutdown.  Much like Lisa’s journalism career.

  • Bill

    Its a sick comment because its true :(

  • Bill

    Well, you would also think that government employees and those in power don’t have to be intelligent either, since intelligence isn’t a prerequisite for politics or running a country?

    (Then again, America isn’t exactly known for intelligent politicians…)

  • Susan N

    But those things you mentioned don’t work, as time has shown.

  • Guest

    Umm…they’re “mentally ill” simply because they read enough about TSA to be put off them and, thus, be put off from visiting the U.S.? Interesting conclusion, though I wonder what (preferably) medical or factual basis does that come from without especially and thoroughly examining “them”.

    I mean, if you yourself conclude “they” are “mentally ill” and should be examined without necessarily knowing more about “them”, then surely you can likewise understand why “they” would reach such a conclusion after reading and hearing what they have about TSA and the U.S.?

    Of course, one can conclude whatever they want. If you want a so-called desired result to occur, though, then surely it helps to hear them out and adjust according to that?

    Some foods for thought, perhaps. (and I’m mentally fine, thank you very much, even if you conclude otherwise…)

  • LeeAnneClark

    Oh? You can read my mind? And in your magical reading of my mind you are able to see that I actually WANT PEOPLE TO DIE in a terrorist attack?

    Who’s the sick one, Bill?

  • Pauletteb

    Of course you get almost daily complaints about TSA: The entire world knows how anti-TSA you are and that you’ll lend a sympathetic ear to even the most ridiculous complainer. Maybe I’m just lucky or, more likely, I know the rules, follow them, and treat security folk with respect — not because I fear being blacklisted but because it makes everyone’s life easier. From what I’ve read in your columns and others, some of these travelers deserve to be blacklisted for their general behavior. It is what it is; get with the program or don’t fly!

  • Pauletteb

    Why is it that anyone who disagrees with you is a troll?

  • Pauletteb

    What an idiotic analogy!

  • Pauletteb

    Again, why is anyone who disagrees with the anti-TSA tirades a troll? That’s the typical small-minded approach to people who know what they know and don’t want to be confused with facts. I don’t think TSA is doing a great job in general, but it’s ridiculous to demonize an entire group over the actions of a few. THOUSANDS of people travel through US airports a day and don’t have a complaint. If anyone’s a troll it’s the anti-TSA folk whose monikers show up again and again in these columns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Wow, Pauletteb.  I suppose you also would have told Rosa Parks to follow the rules of the bus company.  Rosa, get with the program and treat those racists with respect! 

    Those of us agitating against the TSA’s procedures are acting on behalf of a principle.  It’s shocking that anyone could disagree with the principle: an innocent person should not have to reveal his or her naked body to government agents, nor should an innocent person have to engage in sexual conduct with government agents.  I mean, opinions may differ as to whether to describe hand-to-genital rubbing through clothes as second or third base, but it’s certainly something teenagers do for sexual enjoyment and certainly not something many of us do casually with strangers. 

    I will not treat a sexual abuser with respect, and anyone who works for TSA takes money to sexually abuse innocent men, women, and children.  Respect is earned, and the behavior TSA employees exhibit does not merit respect, period.

    As for making everyone’s life easier, I imagine it would make my life much easier to just stop caring about the innocent children who have their first sexual experiences at the hands of scary strangers at the airport.  I imagine my life would be much easier if I stopped worrying about how forced sexual contact feels for the 25% of women who have survived sexual assault.  But as all progress depends on unreasonable people, I will continue to fight.  Luckily, I believe our world becomes ever more just over time, as more people fight for fair treatment, and I know in the long run we will win.  People will not stand for being pointlessly molested.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    The TSA has announced that all new scanner acquisitions will include the naked-image gingerbread man filter.  That could be seen as progress, and I doubt it would have happened without public pressure.  It’s not enough, since the patdowns are still sexually abusive and some airports are still taking naked pictures, but it’s not nothing.

  • MarkieA

    And you know what? This may be the basic difference between us; I am willing to take that chance. If it means that we don’t take that next little baby step towards the Police State, I am willing to take the chance that I may get blown out of the sky by the bomb being carried in the Depends underpants of the the incontinent 86-year old. As so many folks in this forum have pointed out, the chances of this happening are so slim, that the ever-accelerating progress we’re making towards Big Brother is unwarranted at best.

  • http://www.pipdigital.com Nancy Dickinson

    Wow, do you need a nap, Paulette?  You seem to have a problem with name-calling and when MY kids do that, they get a time-out.

  • cjr001

    I’ve never had a problem with CBP. I’ve had problems with TSA.

    CPB isn’t the one most likely to violate your rights, TSA is.

    While I was wrong to say TSA is the first point of contact, it is the one that people are most often hearing about, and the one to most rightfully be concerned about.

  • Donaldkinge

    It may not be the TSA specifically, but rather the draconian policies that treats visitors as criminals. Being sexually assaulted by TSA agents, being fingerprinted and harassed at the airport is a good reason not to visit the US. I avoid flying whenever possible because of the TSA and I know countless Americans who do too. The TSA is a dangerous organization that needs to be taken down.

  • Donaldkinge

    I’d love to see you travel in a country where they profile Americans and subject them to harassment and discrimination – just to show you how “fair” it really is.

  • Donaldkinge

    You should read the complaints against the TSA by women who have had agents put their fingers inside of them – not sure what they were looking for either.

  • Rcwally_80303

    As much as I think the TSA agency is a waste of time, and at best, should be turned over the military instead of $10 per hour agents, I am just not seeing all the problems people here complain about.  My husband flies about 10 times per year from Madison, WI or Chicago, one daughter flies several times a year, usually out of the country with small children, another daughter flies back and forth between Cape Canaveral and the Bahamas several times a year.  We live in the Denver area and fly out of DIA.  We just returned last week from Kauai.  Getting out of Kauai took a bit a effort because of the agriculture issues but honestly?  Everyone in TSA, from DIA to Kauai were wonderful.  At DIA I lost my toothpaste because it was too big, but the agent called me over to advise of that and asked me if I wanted to check it in.  I declined.  Our entire family makes a serious effort to be as friendly and attentive as we can be to the agents, and we have not had a single problem in almost 8 years.  In the first couple of years after 9/11 some agents were over zealous (trying to separate me from my children when they were being looked at more closely) but the last few years have been great.  We even flew back from Paris in September 2010 on the day there was a bomb scare in the airport and they locked everyone out of the buildings for almost an hour.  Personally, I believe a big part of it is attitude.  If you think about these people trying to save you from blowing up while you are flying, and just take a step back and treat them the way you want to be treated I think most of the issues would be resolved.  Granted, I am sure there are over zealous agents, just like there can be over zealous police officers.  I have more issues with the way we are treated once we are on the airplane then anything I have observed before we get on it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_N3ZAUPJC44NBAU64ZEUWWKKJPQ J

    What are the right people the 4% respondents are alluding too?  Sure as heck it isn’t the flying public. One thing that definitely needs doing is REMOVE the uniforms from ALL TSA emplyees. Their uniforms are designed to give the impression that TSA is either a) a police agency, or b) a quasi-military agency; which neither is true. Handing a person a uniform AND A BADGE, it tantamount to giving free license to the wearer to consider them to be such and it then follows that they will act as such. We all have seen this mindset in play for the past 10 years.  DHS, the parent agency of TSA, was created during a complete climate of FEAR foisted on the American public and is still being played out today.  The ONLY way we will see and realize a re-do is when we have an administration who will ORDER shut down of BOTH agencies and start from scratch to make a better one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Rcwally, you say, “If you think about these people trying to save you from blowing up while you are flying,” and I think the difference between you and me is that I don’t believe they are there to save me from blowing up while I am flying.  Not for one second.  The risk of blowing up while I am flying is less than the risk of being killed by lightning.  Also, their searches are known to have a massively high failure rate (fail to find weapons in 70% to 100% of tests), so what they’re doing doesn’t even reduce the risk of blowing up while flying.  There is not a single rational argument for their presence in terms of making people safer. 

    I’ve actually scratched my head, thought it through, and I’m still drawing a blank as to why they are actually there.  Maybe it’s really about the war on drugs and trying to exploit the “administrative search” exception that courts carved out of the Fourth Amendment to try to nab drug users?  Maybe it’s just a massive boondoggle to scam money out of Congress?  Maybe it’s just that people aren’t rational and they become super-manipulable and docile when fear strikes their reptilian brains?  Yeah, it’s probably a combination of all of those and mostly the last one.  Plus fear plays well politically.

    You should really examine the actual risks in your life so that you can respond appropriately: car crash, heart disease, real risks, oh-no-a-terrorist is so rare that the possibility must be entirely discounted in trying to plan how to live your life.  And I don’t plan to live my life being humiliated and bullied by government thugs, so I will never never consider patdowns and body scans as something done to protect me.

  • panhead20

    Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.

    Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Seems I struck a nerve Paulette, apparently you’re one of “those people”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    You just said it yourself, “I don’t think TSA is doing a great job in general” yet we’re trolls for saying the same thing and calling them out on being part of an ineffectual system that has spent millions of taxpayer dollars without improving security one iota. The true trolls are the ones who must resort to petty name calling and strawman arguments to make their point. You’re the troll, and I feel dirty for having fed you.

    Apparently you’re having a moment of cognitive dissonance.