What’s behind the TSA’s new charm offensive?

Where would we be without the TSA?

Representatives of the $8.1 billion-a-year agency, which is charged with protecting America’s transportation systems, are stepping into the spotlight to ask that question.

Two of them caught my eye last week: an op-ed by a Federal Security Director in Florida and a “show-and-tell” event in Tennessee, that underscored the presumed value of this pricey federal initiative.

And there’s more to come. John Pistole, the TSA’s administrator, is making a rare appearance at the Press Club in Washington early next month, and is almost certain to echo the same talking points. Even the TSA’s own blog is getting into the act, above and beyond its weekly inventory of weapons confiscations. But more on that in a second.

What’s TSA trying to tell us?

First, they want us to know that they’re working hard — really hard — to keep terrorists off your plane. And that it’s an “incredibly difficult and complex” mission (those are the words of Robert Cohen, the TSA federal security director at Florida International Airport).

Jon Allen, a TSA spokesman in Nashville, “proudly” showed off an entire table of dangerous items at the agency’s, “show and tell” last week. They included giant knives, a pepper spray dispenser, a 3-liter box of white wine, even fully-loaded handguns. Allen said the items were largely confiscated within the past five weeks.

Second, TSA wants us to think that we’re really better off with the controversial Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) body scanners, and that anyone who feels otherwise is a whiner or perhaps even a terrorist sympathizer.

“AIT safely screens passengers for both metallic and nonmetallic threats, including weapons and explosives concealed under clothing — and it does so without physical contact — to keep the traveling public safe,” declares Cohen in the op-ed, which appeared in the News-Press, a regional newspaper. “With the installation of the latest software, we are able to employ state-of-the art technology while taking privacy to the next level.”

The watchdog site TSA News Blog found numerous lies and misstatements in these two efforts, which it denounced as “propaganda.” Perhaps the most significant is Cohen’s claim that imaging technology reduces the need for pat-down searches. With a 54 percent “false positive” rate, it actually increases the number of physical searches.

And third, the agency PR operatives are pulling out all the stops to make us believe the $30 billion we’ve thrown at the TSA since its inception is money well spent.

This is by far the most difficult item to sell. The only real evidence of TSA’s success is the absence of another 9/11-like terrorism attack, but who’s to say the rent-a-cops they replaced wouldn’t have been able to stop another airborne hijacking, and at a significant savings to the American taxpayer? Or even whether another 9/11 was in the works?

TSA bureaucrats hope the answer to that question — “Where would we be without the TSA?” — is, “We don’t want to even think about it.”

But once you consider the actual evidence, it’s hard to respond the way TSA wants you to.

I mean, c’mon. I could spend $30 billion protecting the United States from an alien invasion. And if it didn’t happen, I could declare victory against the extraterrestrials. TSA is using the same logic here, more or less.

And white wine? What’s a terrorist going to do with a box of booze on a plane, except get really drunk and show the entire plane that he has extraordinarily bad taste in wine? Likewise, we have no evidence that the knives, the pepper spray and even the loaded guns would be used for anything related to terrorism. More likely, they were packed accidentally and would have been caught with a conventional magnetometer or X-ray machine, anyway.

When logic and the facts don’t line up with TSA’s talking points, well, you can always bring out the cute animals.

I’m not making this up. The TSA’s blog highlighted its screening procedures for cute baby otters last week. I will only quote a few lines so you don’t have to reach for your insulin pump.

Otters are used to frolicking around in the water and snacking on invertebrates and such, but when it comes to airline security, it’s safe to say that’s one area otters aren’t used to.

Anyhoo, these furry little Asian River Otter pups and their significant “otters” were quickly screened and on their way in no time.


This is a classic and desperate PR strategy. When the critics line up and shoot your rhetoric full of holes, just roll out the googly-eyed pups.

It’s an otter disaster. There’s nothing new or particularly innovative about the TSA’s misinformation campaign. It’s the same old rhetoric wrapped in recycled paper, and only the most gullible Americans are likely to buy it.

It may even have an unintended effect, over the long term. Instead of bothering to answer the question, “Where would we be without the TSA?” that we will, at some point in the near future, ask another question — one the TSA doesn’t want us to even think about.

Are we better off without the TSA?

(Photo: CM Fong/Flickr)

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • TonyA_says

    I can’t vote since PRIVATIZING the TSA is not an option.
    It is the BEST option.

  • jpmcdonough

    We have to have some airport security. What we had before 9/11 was not good enough. But the TSA is just another government bureaucracy that is always engaged in mission creep.

  • ClareClare

    So okay, what’s going to happen when one of these baby otters gets on board and promptly hijacks the plane?  It’s only a matter of time, after all!  Shouldn’t the TSA’s own guidelines be distinguishing between Asian Otters and non-Asian ones?  Or would that legally constitute profiling based on ethnic origin?  Maybe they should establish a panel to study the matter, with a view to possibly revising the rules on otter-screening?

    I’m just taking this surreal conversation (initiated by the TSA, not by Chris) to its next illogical step…

  • Guest

    We need airport security and I would prefer government rather than private any day.  I think the issue is not whether we need TSA agents at airports but how we assure that the TSA as a whole and its agents are effective, efficient, honest, and courteous and that they understand their constitutional and statutory limitations.  A side note:  I recently flew round trip between BWI and Denver.  Since this was my first flight in two years, I was shocked that full body scans are now the routine treatment for everyone, not a secondary look for those who set off the alarm.  Because both airports used body wave technology rather than Xrays,  I was willing to allow this but I was shocked at the change.   The TSA agents were courteous.  At BWI the agent pointed to the generic image to show me what the agents sees.  I was pleasantly surprised that my artificial knee did not set off the alarm and when I asked about it the agent said that the machines are set to catch prosthetics as normal. One of the better experiences I’ve had at airports over the past half dozen years.

  • TonyA_says

    Body Wave Technology ???
    Is the TSA now into mind reading?

    Geez, get your facts right before try to convince us everything is great for a person who flies only once every 2 years or more.

  • Guest

    It is commonly called “wave technology.”  Sorry if my use of the word “body” set off your “gotcha” radar. Where in my comment do I say that “everything is great?”  I merely gave my opinion of what would make the TSA a worthwhile aency and related one recent experience which, surprisingly, happened to be a pleasant one this time around. I understand that there are a lot of people like you out there who find it therapeutic to surf blogs for the sport of pouncing on anything and anyone your think gives you an opening to display your self-perceived superiority.  Geez, it’s easier than addressing substantive issues or actually engaging in a real dialog. 

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    “Where would we be without the TSA?” — is, “We don’t want to even think about it.”

    Uh, yes we do…  We think about it every day, just how much better off we’d be w/o TSA.  This is one of the single most inefficient government agencies since the inception of government agencies and we DO want to think about life without it.  We DON’T want to think about flying with no security whatsoever, we just want to think about it NOT being TSA.

  • kirin aeone

    Your journalistic skills are impressing and so is this website you’ve created, I sopped by to congratulate and wish you an amazing new year :). Kisses.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, until someone OTHER than the TSA or the manufacturer tells me those scanners are safe, I’m going to opt out and have the pat-down every time.  It might creep me out, but at least I know it’s not going to harm me.

    Why won’t the TSA or the manufacturer allow an impartial third party to test the radiation exposure of the scanners? The nuclear science departments of several universities have repeatedly asked and been refused. The only answer that makes sense to me is that they’re hiding something.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The white wine box was the one that had me shaking my head.  I’m guessing the box was empty since the TSA agents probably drank it over their lunch break.  Nothing goes with a bologna sandwich like cheap white wine.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yuck! Least they could do is pour it over some ice, to get that metallic flavor out of your mouth. ;-)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EKMVLKEW3RIT4EZVPSFAIQTWFE Ray

    I have noticed a definitive improvement in the attitude and methods of the TSA around the country, and I fly a lot.  I scratch my head wondering what Elliott and others of his ilk have in mind, when they make specious comments about the fact that the only real accomplishment we’ve had is no further attack after 9/11.  WHY didn’t we have such an attack?  Because of the work of the TSA in at least SOME PART.  Yes, the TSA is still very much a “work in progress,” but I believe, as most Americans do, that we need this agency, and I feel the small inconvenience(s) of being checked and yes, even patted down is a small price to pay for airline safety.  

  • Guest

    I agree with your skepticism, Cybrsk8r.  Even if we were to be convinced that the technologies, themselves, are safe, what assurance do we have that the machines are properly and safely maintained and operated by the agents and others?  The articles I have read seem to indicate that the wave technology is likely to be safer than the xray technology.  After many top to bottom pat downs set off by my artificial knee, I just decided to accept the wave scan but still refuse the xray scan.  Not perfect, but my compromise.

  • TonyA_says

    Has anyone here traveled recently to a country where there is an active insurgency and a REAL threat to getting blown off to pieces? I have. And not surprisingly, people there are just as alive as we are.

    Do they use these controversial Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) body scanners? I don’t think so. You’d most likely get a pat down and will surely walk through a metal detector.

    I’m not sure what the purpose of these virtual strip searches are. If you observe the TSA lines in very busy airports like JFK, when they use the scanners, the lines get longer and longer. So the TSA shuts them down and uses only the magnetometer. Using those scanners are a bad move. It just made more Americans hate the TSA. They should just junk those things and move on.

  • scapel

    I voted no and see I am in the minority. I remember before 9/11 I was concerned about the suicidal person who bought the 50,000 life insurance policy with the wife as the beneficiary and got on the plane with a bomb.
    The TSA is of course costing way too much money, but it is because it is run by the Government. Profiling I think might be as important as pat down. Not sure of that cost. TSA does give some measure of security even though it is not perfect.

  • Miami510

    Thinking Outside the Box
    We have a number of problems in our country and perhaps it’s time to think outside the box and not solve each problem as if it existed in a vacuum.
    In my opinion, TSA suffers from hiring low caliber officers.  They take many nare-do-wells, give them a badge and authority, and have them deal with the public. 
    I also think there should be a draft; a requirement that all citizens must serve in the military or a few of the other alternative areas.  A universal requirement for military service would make the entire country have “some skin in the game.’  I believe that if there had been a draft in effect, we would have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan years ago. 
    Let’s put these two thoughts together.  Allow the military services to do the job the TSA is now doing.  There would be more control by men and women who would be drawn from society in general rather than those who had a difficult time getting employment elsewhere.  There would be strict accountability and with the table of organization of the military services, there wouldn’t be the arrogance that is the source of so many complaints that we read in this blog.

  • AgentSteve

    I still have a hard time feeling positive about the TSA – anytime or anywhere.  The adage of: “what you see, is what you get”, provides me with no sense of comfort or security.  How about:

    1.  Create a FAA agency of sharp-shooting sniper sky marshalls.
    2.  Consider mandatory training and arming of flight attendants.  While this certainly might appear extreme, they need to have the resources, to act/interrupt violence and/or mayhem.  OK, so some will be uncomfortable using a gun; I get that.  Then allow them to “pull a switch” and fill the plane with a non-toxic sleeping agent.  It’s not as farfetched, as one might think. 
    3.  Allow law enforcement (police/sheriff deputies/marshalls/FBI/CIA/etc.) to be armed and empowered, to take immediate and aggressive action.  Through a vetting process, they could be offered a reduced air fare, in exchange for their service.
    4.  Disband the TSA in its entirety.

    Most citizens, including myself, are not prone to vigilantism; however, I do believe that many would do whatever they could, to overpower any hijacking attempt.

    In reality, the bigger threat isn’t so much the person or the weapon; it’s the scenario of explosives.  This is the category of most importance and what should be the focus, for security of flight.  Profiling “might” be a valuable tool; however, I wouldn’t bet the bank of it.  Concentrate on the problem; avoid wasting time on the symptoms.

    And remember, the TSA are the same geniuses that “screen” the cockpit crew; DUH?  Regardless of how much screening you do, if the cockpit crew is determined to some disastrous and vile action, the TSA will NEVER be able to thwart that mindset.

  • TonyA_says

    And remember, the TSA are the same geniuses that “screen” the cockpit crew; DUH?  Regardless of how much screening you do, if the cockpit crew is determined to some disastrous and vile action, the TSA will NEVER be able to thwart that mindset.

    Yeah, don’t know if you remember this incident .
    It proves your point.

  • AgentSteve

    I don’t remember the incident; a sad story, no matter how you look at it.  Internal access, be it from crew, maintenance, food vendors, cleaners, etc., will always be an avenue of opportunity, for the depraved of mind.  My point was that regardless of how “squeaky clean” a cockpit crew member may be, it does not guarantee sanity.  The security and arms available to the cockpit crew are real; they truly are our last bastion of hope.  Does it really make passengers feel “safer”, when they see the cockpit crew being scrutinized by TSA?  (If so fine; for me, it matters not.)  Whenever you fly, you have put your trust and life in their hands; TSA has nothing to do with the/our outcome. 

  • AgentSteve

    How about this for TSA brillance?


    The sad part about this is that this is my gateway airport! 

  • gritchie

    Thank you for sharing this link. Interesting that I had never heard of this incident, and that it was televised on the Discovery channel in Canada, but not here. Hmmm. 

  • DavidYoung2

    Privatizing the TSA would be a disaster — think about what companies do now to save a buck and boost the bottom line.  You think the current TSA crop is bad — wait until you get screeners who the private companies recruited from Walmart and the local fish gutting factory.   And Chris, really, the absence of major terrorist acts is not PROOF they’re effective, but you seem to imply the opposite.  Your bias is showing.

  • Carchar

    I think what we had at our airports before 9/11 was good enough. What we didn’t have was coordinated intelligence-sharing between CIA, FBI, etc. instead of competition between them. What we also didn’t have was serious consideration by our government and others of the  warnings that were put out by those agencies.  TSA and its hardware are an unhealthy and unconstitutional waste of the money and time that could be put to effective security.  

  • TonyA_says

    Too close for comfort. That was my airport, too. 2 sons born in Sacratomato. My team used to be regular jump-seaters on the MEM-SJC Fedex flight mentioned in the wiki article but I quit before the incident. That’s why it stuck to my mind forever.

    It seems that most countries I visit (Europe and Asia), the airport security is private. Don’t know why we need a gov’t entity to do ours. Personally, I can live with the risk we had before 9/11 now that the cockpit doors are secure.

  • TonyA_says

    I might add that my friends in Memphis (I used to work for the same company) told me a story that the crazed pilot was allegedly planning to use the fuel laden plane and crash it to the HUB in the airport near where many of my friends worked. This might be where the 9/11 evil doers got their idea. Funny you say many Americans did not know what happened.

  • Carchar

    And then there was the Egypt Air pilot, who committed suicide, taking a planeload of passengers with him. 

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah I remember that flight from here JFK. They were only able to prove it was a suicide when they heard him mutter a prayer before shutting off the engines.

    In JFK when the (foreign) crew comes in, all passengers are asked to step aside while the crew gets a quick magnetometer check. No pat downs and scanners for them.

  • TonyA_says

    If they privatize, the airlines will have to take back that responsibility they had prior to 911. Because COST will be the #1 issue, those useless machines will be history and checks will go down to sanity levels (like MOST AIRPORTS IN THE WORLD!)

    Yes my bias is also showing – I really don’t like BIG Gov’t. and airport security costs too much today. I used to work for an airline for almost a decade. I disagree with your comment that private companies will simply hire worse people. The typical Walmart employee won’t qualify for airline jobs. Since people can sue private companies, they will need to watch their backs more closely. Besides airlines own (or lease) the aircraft that will be destroyed if they goof security.

    IIRC, on 9/11 the private security checks in BOS/IAD/EWR only mistake is they did not see the box cutters (bought from Walmart) that were in the hand carry bags of the hijackers. I’m not even sure if box cutters were banned at that time. Today, the TSA misses firearms in hand carry bags. So what is the diff?

  • AgentSteve

    Absolutely agree! (para.2)

  • AgentSteve

    Sadly, there will always be the crazed one(s); they exist in every land, culture, religion, etc.  It would be nice if they were branded with a “scarlet letter”, but yea verily, we can’t see what’s inside their minds or hearts.  But we can not live in constant fear; lest we surrender to the unknown.

  • AgentSteve

    Quite honestly, as I said in my previous post above, I have no sense of being more secure nor safe, vis-a-vis the TSA.  I have yet to sense an air of professionalism, from any TSA agent at any TSA interaction.  A simple suggestion is to fund the local law enforcement agencies, to do this job.  I know that I would definitely feel a lot safer, seeing my local cop or sheriff’s deputy, taking care of business! 

  • TonyA_says

    Most cops won’t take that job. Working security part-time pays more.
    Ironically, one thing the TSA does well is hire a lot of people who might otherwise be jobless. On the other hand, the stories of heavy handed treatment of foreigners probably scare the hell of people and they do not come here to spend money. The tax paying traveler is probably the loser since s/he pays the bill that funds the agency that will make her/his travel experience miserable.

  • scapel

    Local cop is a good idea. I used to know some quite well, but now I know them and they  know me by sight in this small airport. I hate the large airports.

  • Daisiemae

    And just think how lucky those five people were….they had the privilege of being groped twice!  One of them was a 12 year old girl.

  • Elmo Clarity

    From what I remember reading about the 9/11 attacks, the box cutters were allowed items at the time.

  • Elmo Clarity

    The “We don’t want to even think about it.” answer is what the TSA wants us to think.  They want us to be mindless sheep that follows blindly.  The real answer is what you said.  We need to think about it all the time and when we do, we realize that we do need security, the TSA is not the answer.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Actually, I think they drank it while eating those dangerous frosted cupcakes they confiscated.

  • Elmo Clarity

    In regards to the show and tell stunt by the TSA, it would be interesting to see what the airlines had stopped from coming through before the TSA took over.  I’m sure they could show a nice collection too.

  • Chature

    The TSA has done a lot of damage to the US’s reputation as being a friendly tourist destination. Their bullying and aggressive treatment of ordinary tourists from destinations such as the UK has given repeated bad press for US tourism in British media. Maybe the TSA can explain how ruining a cruise visit to Los Angeles for 2000 mostly elderly British cruise passengers 
    http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1520374/pg1 has protected the US from terrorism. If that was an isolated incident over ten years, one might write it off as a freak incident, but when there are repeated reports along the same lines over several years, I don’t see how it cannot make some potential tourists change their mind and lot for less hostile tourist destinations. If the aim of the TSA is to make people NOT go to the US and to create hostility amongst so-called allies, they have succeeded to some extent, but it seems to me that it’s the wrong people they are discouraging. I’d love to visit the US as a tourist again, but I can wait until this harrassment of tourists has stopped. And if it doesn’t, well there are other holiday destinations that treat tourists decently.

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

    The purpose is to line the pockets of “security” contractors. The scanners are a billion-dollar boondoggle. $150,000 to $200,000 a pop, all going to companies such Rapiscan, L-3, Smiths, American Science & Engineering, etc.  It’s a money-making scheme. (As all war is.)

    And who are the biggest contributors to politicians’ campaigns? The “defense” and “security” industry. One hand washes the other.

    You have the added benefit of power and control. Power and control. The United Sheeple of America fall right into line. Nothing is too base, too degrading for them, as long as it’s for the illusion of security.  There are millions of people who would gladly bend over and spread ’em if an authority figure told them to.  After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

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

    Yeah, since I’ve been putting giraffe deterrent on my lawn, I haven’t seen any giraffes. Wow, that stuff must really be working!

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

    No bombs were brought on board on 9/11. That’s not what brought the planes down. If anyone shows up nowadays with knives, box cutters, guns — or, god help us, tweezers — passengers won’t play along.

    There are two things that have made us safer at the airport, neither having to do with the TSA: the cockpit doors have been secured — something that had been recommended for years before 9/11 but which wasn’t done — and passengers will no longer silently submit to would-be attackers.

  • Daisiemae

    Private security would not be above and outside the law like TSA. They would be forced to obey the law of the United States and of the individual states in which they operate.

    If one of their screeners breaks the law, he/she would be prosecuted…..unlike these TSA lowlifes who can operate outside the law with impunity protected by the mantle of their federal status.

    In addition, passengers would be able to sue the security company and individual screeners for damages….unlike the untouchable TSA. The three ladies who were strip searched at JFK, the gentleman who had his colostomy bag torn off, and the lady who was forced to remove her breast prostheses would have some recourse. The parents of the six year old girl who was groped, the lady who was arrested while defending her teenaged daughter from being groped, and the lady who was forced to repeatedly enter the nude-o-scope for TSAs perverted entertainment would all be able to exact punitive damages on privatized screeners…to say nothing of the man who had his pants pulled down and was then arrested for indecent exposure!

    Arrests, prosecutions, and lawsuits would be a deterrent to crime and abuse by privatized screeners against law abiding United States citizens. Another plus is that private security companies would be more likely to fire criminal employees rather than send them for “additional training”. And if they don’t, the airlines would fire the security company to avoid being named in the lawsuits.

    Overall, it sounds like a very good idea to privatize security to me. That way we could get rid of the Terrorist Support Agency and get some real security….and free up $8 billion dollars a year from our budget in the process.

  • TonyA_says

    Exactly the reason WHY we need to make airlines responsible for their OWN security. I can’t see the airlines paying big bucks to these firms listed above. If the airlines do not get any SUBSIDY to pay for these machines, there won’t be any of these machines.

    I read in wikipedia that the underwear bomber did not even have his passport so Northwest did not want to board him in Amsterdam. Then a man in a suit supposedly interceded. I don’t know if this story is true, but if it is then the whole incident could have been avoided if NW simply refused to board him because of lack of documents. He also paid for his ticket in CASH.

    The shoe bomber was also initially declined boarding by AA in Paris according to wikipedia since he (a Brit) bought a ticket in cash and had no luggage for the flight. He came back the next day and was allowed boarding.

    The (I think Pakistani) guy from Bridgeport, CT who tried to bomb Times Square and leave the country bought his ticket in cash but was able to board a plane to Dubai. He bought the Nissan Pathfinder which he tried to explode also with Cash.

    It seems like we can save a lot of aggravation if airline security simply concentrate on ANONYMOUS people who buy tickets with CASH.

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

    Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Underwear Bomber, was indeed allowed onto that plane without a passport.  Lawyer Kurt Haskell and his wife were witnesses and have been talking about it ever since. They both also testified at Abdulmutallab’s sentencing hearing.
    Abdulmutallab is a seriously mentally ill young man who never had a chance in hell of detonating a bomb.  The scanners were implemented right after his “attack.”  Quel coincidence.

    9/11 happened because of the negligence of our intelligence agencies.  And the overreaction, hysteria, and fear-mongering that have ensued show no signs of abating.

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

    fithsk, you are correct.  I now discourage overseas friends from coming to the U.S.  And I’m not the only one.  

    Foreign tourism to this country is down.  So is domestic air travel.  Meanwhile, Amtrak has broken all records, especially during Thanksgiving, the single busiest travel time of the year in the U.S.  Air travel that same time declined by 2%.  And train tickets can be more expensive than plane tickets to many destinations, so it’s not all about the economy.

  • DavidYoung2

    Really?  You think the basis of initial security screening should be “Arrests, prosecutions, and lawsuits?”  Sad what you think motivates employees.  Hopefully you’re not in management at any company with which I might come in contact.

  • AgentSteve

    And in today’s newspaper (same as link above), in the printed “version”, the reporter states: ” . . . were found and rescreened . . . .”  Isn’t it amazing that the TSA spokesperson’s words of ” . . . rounded up . . .” somehow became “found”?  What does that say, about the manipulation of verbatim, by the press?

  • LonelyTraveler

    I recently traveled to India – which does have an active terrorism problem – and the experience of going through airport security was miles ahead of my experience of going through Airport security in the US.

    Airport security in India is handled by the CISF- the Central Industrial Security Force, which is a very well trained force, operated by the government. But the main difference I noticed, is that the focus is on security, and not security theater… No scanners, just magnetometers and X ray machines and pat downs. But most importantly, you are treated with respect and courtesy, and the pat downs are done professionally.

    I had an anecdotal experience a month ago that I posted on one of Chris’ earlier articles. While traveling through Mumbai airport (BOM) I had a tangle of wires in my backpack – headphones, phone charger, camera battery charger, battery pack, USB cables, and such – and a bar of soap. This apparently can show up as a very suspicious visual on the XRay machine! My backpack was taken aside, I was asked for permission to open it, it was visually inspected, and cleared. I was then thanked for cooperating, and received an apology for the extra step!

    I transited through Amsterdam airport, with almost an similar experience. The same secondary manual check of the luggage, and the same courteous treatment.

    I was traveling through Seattle airport a few days after this trip, with the exact same backpack. This time the biggest concern the screener had, was to determine if my 100ml can of deodorant met the 3oz limit or not. The rest of the contents of the bag passed unnoticed, or weren’t important.
    So I am supposed to feel more secure, because all deodorant bottles were ensured to be within the limit ?

  • TonyA_says

    I think the biggest difference is the professional and courteous treatment you get overseas (except France IMO). Here, in the USA, it is very spotty. I notice a lot of screeners shouting at each other so by the time they get to you they are already pumped up and fuming.

  • Oline Wright

    I believe what he is saying is that the possible arrests prosecutions and and lawsuits would act as a deterrent for the heavy handed practices in place now. Plus the major difference here is the Airline would be responsible for making sure the ticket holder knew the screening process to expect and the backscatter or whatever flavour of machine they have out now would have to be certified as safe by a totally independent group. I don’t need x-rays not prescribed by a doctor not one given by an inexperienced or untrained x-ray technician I do have people who have had cancer in my family so I tend to want to take care with unnecessary treatments. 

    Even if I get less from the machines than actually flying in the plane there is no reason to add more to the mix. There are less costly methods available for searches dog for instance.

  • TonyA_says

    Dogs exactly. Used extensively in foreign airports and hotels.
    Also in military installations.
    At least dogs can smell explosives (and drugs).

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    The absence of another 9/11-style attack, or even more run-of-the-mill airline high jackings in the U.S., could mean that TSA has done a bang-up job or it could simply be coincidence. 

    However, I do think that for once the “Law Of Unintended Consequences” has produced a favorable result:  Since the creation of TSA, every air traveler knows that TSA screening can requires one to allow extra time at the airport prior to departure, so everyone seems to be at the gate ahead of time, and absent flight delays, planes seem to be pulling away from the gate closer to scheduled departure time more often than in the pre-9/11.

  • judyserienagy

    This country is too big and too complex to protect easily.  TSA is doing something, albeit very expensively, to scare the bad guys and that’s about all we can do.  TSA is keeping them off planes, aren’t they?  I find the whole system incredibly annoying, but someone has to do something to TRY.  I have a new hip and a new knee, so I’ve been wanded and fondled every trip since 9/11 until the magic scanner machine came along.  Quite nice for me, but people are complaining that it invades their privacy or whatever.  What do you want, American flyers???

    I think that every person who complains about the TSA should be required to come up with a positive idea of how to protect America’s airplanes.  There’s an obvious alternative to this mindless removing of shoes and fake boobs.  Hire intelligent, well-educated people and train them to observe passengers and question the people who might be terrorists.  But no, Americans don’t want that either, do they?  So remove your jacket and your shoes, whip out that laptop, and remember the rule on liquids, because there doesn’t seem to be a workable solution to the mess we have now.