Flying With Fish
November 18, 2010
In the past few weeks since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implemented its new “enhanced” pat down procedures there has been considerable backlash from the traveling public. This backlash has been loud and angry … but what is not heard or seen in the media is the quiet resentment of this new policy within the TSA.
A few days ago I contacted 20 TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO) to ask their opinions of the new “enhanced” pat downs. Of the 20 I reached out to, 17 responded. All 17 who responded are at airports where the new “enhanced” pat down is in place … and the responses were all the same, that front line TSOs do not like the new pat downs and that they do not want to perform them. I expected most to not like the pat downs … but what I didn’t expect was that all 17 mentioned their morale being broken down.
Each of the 17 TSA TSOs that responded to me detailed their personal discomfort in conducting the new pat downs, with more than one stating that it is likely they are more uncomfortable performing the pat down than passengers are receiving them.
Some comments from these TSOs include:
“It is not comfortable to come to work knowing full well that my hands will be feeling another man’s private parts, their butt, their inner thigh. Even worse is having to try and feel inside the flab rolls of obese passengers and we seem to get a lot of obese passengers!”Aside from the issue of TSA TSOs being required to physically touch passengers in places they do not want to be touching them during the ‘enhanced’ pat down, morale is decreasing for front line TSOs, due in part to an increase in verbal abuse. Each of the 17 TSOs who responded to me detailed a new level of verbal abuse they are experiencing at work.
“Do you think I want to go to work and place my hands between women’s legs and touch their breasts for a few hours? For starters, I am attracted to men, not women and if I was attracted to women, it would not be the large number of passengers I handle daily that have a problem understanding what personal hygiene is.”
“Yesterday a passenger told me to keep my hands off his penis or he’d scream. Is this how a 40 year old man in business attire acts? He’ll scream? My 3 year old can get away with saying he’ll scream, but a 40 something business man? I am a professional doing my job, whether I agree with this current policy or not, I am doing my job. I do not want to be here all day touching penises.”
“Being a TSO means often being verbally abused, you let the comments roll off and check the next person, however when a woman refuses the scanner then comes to me and tells me that she feels like I am molesting her, that is beyond verbal abuse. I asked the woman if she thought I like touching other women all day and she told me that I probably did or I wouldn’t be with the TSA. I just want to tell these people that I feel disgusted feeling other peoples private parts, but I cannot because I am a professional.”
“I was asked by some guy if I got excited touching scrotums at the airport and if it gave me a power thrill. I felt like vomiting when he asked that. This is not a turn on for me to touch me; it is in fact a huge turn off. There is a big difference between how I pat passengers down and a molester molesting people.”
The TSA has experienced a high level of turnover since its inception, however its turnover rate has decreased recently. With this decrease in morale, caused directly by a change in TSA policy, it is likely to begin experiencing a higher than average turnover again … which will further decrease the effectiveness of airport security.
Some comments from these 17 TSOs include:
“Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me, said in my presence as I patted passengers down. These comments are painful and demoralizing, one day is bad enough, but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments. If something doesn’t change in the next two weeks I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.”There are multiple sides to every story, and I think the point of view of those on the front lines of the TSA, those required to carry on the policy and procedures created by the TSA, are an import part of this story. I think those organizing efforts to change the TSA’s policy should also consider the impact to the TSA TSOs.
“I come to work to do my job. It is not up to me to decide policy, it is up to me to carry out my duties as dictated by the Transportation Security Administration. When a person stands in front of me and calls me a pervert or accuses me of molesting them it is disheartening. People fail to understand that neither of us are happy about the intrusive pat down I am carrying out. I am polite, I am professional and while someone may not like what I have to carry out, they came to me because they choose not to utilize the alternative and less invasive method of security at my airport.”
“I served a tour in Afghanistan followed by a tour in Iraq. I have been hardened by war and in the past week I am slowly being broken by the constant diatribe of hateful comments being lobbed at me. While many just see a uniform with gloves feeling them for concealed items I am a person, I am a person who has feelings. I am a person who has served this country. I am a person who wants to continue serving his country. The constant run of hateful comments while I perform my job will break me down faster and harder than anything I encountered while in combat in the Army.”
“Do people know what a Nazi is? One can’t describe me as a Nazi because I am following a security procedure of designed to find prohibited items on a passenger’s body. A Nazi is someone with hatred and ignorance in their hearts, a person who carried out actions of execution and extermination of those based on their religion, origins or sexual preferences. I work to make travel safer, even if I do not agree with the current security procedures. Further more, I am Jewish and a TSA Transportation Security Officer, an American Patriot and to call me a Nazi is an offense beyond all other offenses.”
Rather than dehumanize the TSA TSOs, work with them, understand their views and opinions and work together to change the current TSA policies.
TSA agents are public servants, serving the public; they are not serving the country in a military capacity. And just because they are issued government badges does not mean they are entitled to ignore the constitutional rights of other U.S. citizens.Some Comments on the Article:
Government employees should not be exempt from actions prohibited by the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA), which applies to the U.S. military. According to the U.S. Northern Command: The PCA generally prohibits U.S. military personnel from direct participation in law enforcement activities. Some of those law enforcement activities would include interdicting vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; conducting surveillance, searches, pursuit and seizures; or making arrests on behalf of civilian law enforcement authorities. Prohibiting direct military involvement in law enforcement is in keeping with long-standing U.S. law and policy limiting the military’s role in domestic affairs.
Fellow citizens, beware of the U.S. Northern Command:
U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was established Oct. 1, 2002 to provide command and control of Department of Defense (DOD) homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities. USNORTHCOM defends America's homeland — protecting our people, national power, and freedom of action.
the Department of Homeland Security, established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (taking advantage of an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before by never letting a serious crisis, 9/11, go to waste):
Title I - Department of Homeland Security
Sec. 101. Executive Department; Mission
- (a) Establishment. - "There is established a Department of Homeland Security, as an executive department of the United States within the meaning of title 5, United States Code.
- (b) Mission
- (1) In General. - The primary mission of the Department is to
- (A) prevent terrorist attacks within the United States;
- (B) reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism; and
- (C) minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States."
[From the Homeland Security Act of 2002]"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." - Rahm Emanuel, November 21, 2008
GA, November 18th, 2010In the U.S., the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is in force, and it allows persecution or imprisonment of any person who is identified as an ‘illegally fighting enemy’ by the executive authorities and extends to immigrants from any country not at war with the U.S. They are persecuted like “enemies” not based on some evidence but because they were labeled so by the governmental agencies. No foreign governments have protested against this law which is of international importance. - Olga Chetverikova, Final Stage in the ‘Global Control’ Strategy, Global Research, April 23, 2009
Work with them? This is their CHOSEN profession … reading those comments about serving their country in the role of a TSO makes me want to puke (the guy who served in Afghanistan excluded). They are a tool and are allowing themselves to be used as one. Don’t like it? Walk out – that will add pressure to the Federal Govt to stop this nonsense. I’m all for that.
And since they seem to be confused – yes they are absolutely molesting the passenger when they put their hands between that passengers legs and on their breasts. The definition of molest is to harass or assault sexually. They are also abusing the passenger as that definition is mistreat: treat badly.
Professionalism doesn’t replace the fact that they are doing something that not even a law enforcement officer is allowed to do, especially without clear suspicion of any unlawful behavior. That they are doing this by rote and because something might be somewhere is just sad, disgusting and goes against every tenet on which this country was built.
Carl, November 18th, 2010
Isn’t the real conclusion that the TSA’s process and strategy are misguided and ineffective. Perhaps the TSO’s are just as much victims as are travelers, but that does not mean travelers should not protest when the TSA policies are invasive and misguided – and perhaps TSOs can help to change the system by making their views known.
John, November 18th, 2010
Thanks for continuing to report all sides of the story. I’m not a big fan of the security theater, but taking it out on the front line officers who have to carry out the policy enacted by someone else who sits in an office all day is like blaming the clerk at the gas station for the price of the gas. Perhaps it’s time to start communicating to the people further up the line of command that we believe that their needs to be security but that we would like it to be reasonable and proactive instead of intrusive and reactive.
Jason, November 18th, 2010
TSA agent: “Do people know what a Nazi is?”
German citizen in the early 1940s: “I’m not doing anything terrible. I’m just working at a train station where they’re loading passengers on these trains, bound for who knows where. I don’t hate them. I’m just doing my job. If I don’t do it, I could get in trouble. I have a family to feed. I’m serving my country.”
“I’m just following orders” is not a defense for being complicit in violating the rights of your fellow human beings.
Jeff Allen, November 18th, 2010
It’s really nice to see this other side of the story. But what really warmed my heart reading this is that 100% of the people you talked to are feeling the heat. That means 100% of their bosses are feeling it, and that the traveling public will eventually get the change they want and deserve. This is too big to stop and the wave is going to crush the TSA.
It is time to stop Security Theater. I have faith in Americans that they will calmly and bravely step up and recover their lost rights.
Grizz, November 18th, 2010
Just because they are “just doing their job” doesn’t mean it is not their fault. I know it is next to impossible to find a new job these days, but I would rather move back in with my parents than have to do a job where I am expected to violate other people.
Non-American, November 18th, 2010
I feel some sympathy for the TSO’s, but ultimately it is their choice to work there. This is not a question of “but someone needs to do it”. This is theatre, pure and simple.
These pat-downs are worse for the women, children, and yes even men who have been victims of sexual abuse.
America, the TSA is violating your civil liberties. Stand up and fight the good fight.
Mike, November 18th, 2010
Work with them? Because they’re uncomfortable when they blatantly violate my 4th Amendment rights? Sorry, but no.
Jack, November 18th, 2010
“…but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments…”
Well, I guess you should have stayed in school.
Oops… I missed this part.
“I am serving my country”
THE PUNCHLINE! HA! Serving your country??? Who do you think you are? A soldier? A police officer? A fire fighter even?
Paul, David November 18th, 2010
Last time I was in Washington D.C. I stopped by to see the Bill of Rights before it is abolished completely. None of these screening procedures can prevent a terrorist attack. It might catch a few amateurs, but it doesn’t take much for “professionals” to get around these procedures. It does teach law abiding citizens to give up their constitutional rights for a false sense of safety. It’s just one small step towards accepting a police state.
Maria, November 18th, 2010
Fish, thank you for posting this.
To be honest, I’ve never understood the urge to lash out at the low level grunt with vitriol. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in both fast food and later in IT support so I’ve taken my fair share of nasty, horrid abuse by people who feel they are somehow ‘better’ than me and that I am somehow not a human because of my job or their frustration. I really do sympathize with the front line agents, but ….
I hope the pressure and stress finaly wakes people up much higher, that we do NOT have security, what we have, as so many people involved with security are saying, is security theater. I hope this happens but I suspect it won’t. And I suspect that another lapse in security is what TPTB are waiting for.
My experiance with TSA has been a mild to an unpleasant experience. They tend to be people who are unfamiliar with technology and gadgets, who are allowed little room to employ common sense, or to focus on human behaviors. As such, I don’t respect them. And in return they know this and don’t respect us. It’s a feedback of sorts. The tension and aggravation level s are already high.
I travel from Atlanta a lot. I have not had “shocking” things happen to me but I’ve heard agents call passengers idiots for not knowing which line to use (yes, I filed a complaint.) I’ve seen agents push people, ignore questions, respond rudely, and threaten people that they won’t by flying and will be pulled out of line if they don’t hurry up or because they took a bin from the wrong pile. My outsider experiance tells me this agency is mismanaged, poorly trained, and frankly, lucky.
I’ll be flying in December and I want to find a way to humanely show my feelings of violation and frustration. How do you suggest we do so during the process itself?
Peter Shankman, November 18th, 2010
I will bitch about the TSA until I’m blue in the face. I’ll talk to anyone who will listen about the stupidity of the TSA policies, and the horrible things they do in the name of security theater.
I WON’T yell at or insult an employee. While I don’t agree with their chosen profession, it’d be like yelling at your cab driver because he’s stuck in traffic.
Karma is real. Want to bitch? Call your Senators.
Does part of me think the employees could find another job? Sure. But you know what? Maybe there’s more to their situation I don’t know about – So it’s not my place to complain about THEM.
But the idiots in Washington making completely inept and BS policies? I’ll rant till they shove a magnetometer up my butt. (Which I believe is in the 2011 SOP.)
mela, November 18th, 2010
As a lawyer, I clearly believe that they are two sides to every issue, every argument; however, I find it difficult to discuss the new TSA measures because I become so violently angry at the clear violation of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure.
This policy allows TSOs to “pat down” (which is an absurd bastardization of the term in this case) American citizens, assumed under the law to be innocent of any crime, in ways that a police officer is not allowed to touch a suspect in the face of probable cause of evidence of a crime. That is blatantly unconstitutional and every citizen should protest if they believe in the tenets of rights this country was founded upon.
Of course I can understand that the TSOs are frustrated and typically don’t enjoy “patting down” passengers that object to the scan.
That being said, TSOs are TSOs as willful employees and if they so greatly object to the TSAs policies, they should not be working for the TSA. The Nazi analogy is dead on – not every German citizen under the Third Reich was a Nazi, just as I’m sure that not every TSO agrees with the policy, but the fact of the matter is that in both cases these individuals are tacitly agreeing to the objectionable policies under the guise of “serving my country” and “its my job.”
Violating a private citizen’s right against an unreasonable search and seizure is NOT your job.
TSO employees need to put their money where their mouth is — if they feel that performing these pat downs is objectionable and abhorrent, then they need to STOP doing it. Don’t tell me how much you dislike violating my privacy rights, SHOW me.
And I’m not even going to get into the potentiality for TSOs enjoyment of this pat down procedure. Of course I realize that the TSO that would enjoy this is rare, but I have no doubt that some exist.
TSOs — you are violating the rights of your fellow citizens. If you believe in the Constitution, stop. I think losing a job is a far lesser sacrifice than that of our forefathers who died fighting for these rights against the British Empire.