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Government Transportation Politics

Confessions Of an Ex-TSA Agent: Secrets Of the I.O. Room 393

Posted by timothy
from the ma'am-this-is-for-your-own-good dept.
Jason Edward Harrington has seen some of the same frustrations, misgivings, and objections that have crossed the mind of probably every commercial airline traveler who's flown over the last decade in the U.S. One difference: Harrington got to see them from the perspective of a TSA agent. His description of the realities of the job (including learning the rote responses that agents are instructed to reassure the public with) is wince-worthy and compelling. A sample makes it clear why the TSA has such famously low morale, even among Federal agencies: "I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying." It only gets worse from there.
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Confessions Of an Ex-TSA Agent: Secrets Of the I.O. Room

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @09:50PM (#46125485)

    That's not necessarily true. There are numerous fundamental phenomena which subvert the notion of democratic rule as its commonly understood, and that's excluding all the cynical drivel that people toss around.

    Here's one of the most well known of such phenomena: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow's_impossibility_theorem

  • The bird (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @10:05PM (#46125547)

    Glad to know the only two times I ever went through the scanners (I travel for work frequently) that maybe somebody did see me flipping the double bird. Even happier that the on last several dozen trips my wife and I live by the words 'opt out'. Several agents have commented to me readily while feeling me up and violating my privacy that what they were doing was completely useless. In one case I was told by an agent that he felt up the CEO of the company that makes the current machines, who refuses to use them for himself or his family.

    Time to get rid of the TSA, the only organization that can still get funding with a 0% success rate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @10:18PM (#46125625)

    Nobody would need to do that. If everybody opted out of the scanners, the same effect would be achieved. However, you'd be shocked (or maybe not, given that your premise is 100% correct) at how many Americans think the TSA in its current form is good and necessary for safe air travel. Slashdot and the like might be a circlejerk of anti-TSA sentiment, but that's absolutely not public opinion - reinforced every day by the people that choose to put up with that shit.

    In the past, I opted out 100% of the time, for three reasons: 1. I don't trust the safety of the scanners, as the test data is not public; 2. I think the scanners are overly-intrusive; and 3. I WANT that TSA morale to stay low, to have employees bitching about the 1000th guy they had to feel up that day, while doing my part to slow down the line and hope that the delays in aggregate piss people off enough to all be sick of it.

    In my old age (read: parenthood), the TSA and I have struck a compromise with some help from CBP and CBSA - we joined NEXUS and now get Pre-Check almost 100% of the time. That, to me, is a fair compromise. It's almost pre-9/11, with the theatrics minimized, and all I really gave up was data the government already had on me and my family anyway - I mean that pessimistically in the sense that it was going to be collected with or without my knowledge, and also in the factual sense that my past employment with the government resulted in far more thorough investigations than anything CBP was going to do for a trusted traveler program.

    I can live with this arrangement if TSA is relegated to "hands on" screening of high risk (actual high risk) passengers and letting the rest of us get to where we're going. The pre-check program is a step in the right direction, but I'd also argue that my existing tax dollars should cover it and people shouldn't have to pay to enroll. For something like NEXUS that's cross-border, yeah I think the $50 I paid is reasonable, but for pure domestic it needs to be part of TSA's existing budget. /incoherentrant

  • by spasm (79260) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:31PM (#46125983) Homepage

    I always opt out. And usually loudly announce it's because I'm a medical researcher and I don't think they're safe (I *am* a public health researcher; and I have no idea if they're safe - which is kind of the problem). Which sometimes results in one or two others in the line behind me suddenly opting out, much to the disgust of the TSA folks. Although I'm always polite to the TSA people themselves - like Jason Harrington, 90% of them are just there because they needed a job and don't have many other options.

  • by thunderclap (972782) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:40PM (#46126017)

    I gather you have never in your life been to a foreign country with a entirely different culture, like, say, the middle east. Yes it costs money. But then again, which would you like, you stuff, abilities, choices and opportunities or a roulette wheel spun before you were born. Depending on where it lands you could be pulling out busted toxic trash for a scrap of bread or you might have the opportunity to beat your wife because she drove your car. (You don't get a choice whether to beat her or not because if you opt to be merciful, you will be branded a heretic and killed in front of your children). Doubt me? I can post pics and lines from the religious texts.
    IN America, our homeless are richer sleeping in the water conduit tunnels below Las Vegas than the middle class of India and China who have beds and warm meals. How? Because in America we have choice. We have that choice because of a military that gets into wars to scare the ever loving hell out every other nation. Yes, we spend money on it.
    Please go try living without one. You will discover quickly that human nature still is dominate or be dominated.

  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:41PM (#46126031)

    I can live with this arrangement if TSA is relegated to "hands on" screening of high risk (actual high risk) passengers and letting the rest of us get to where we're going. The pre-check program is a step in the right direction,

    I'm pretty sure this is exactly the response the government is banking on.

    "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal unless a classified government algorithm determines otherwise"

    From a security perspective the security of a system is only as good as its weakest link and the feedback channel afforded to potential adversaries in obtaining pre-check status is such an enormously ridiculous concept I find it hard to believe anyone who thinks groping + irradiation is necessary for security would have any difficulty with a conclusion that TSA is grossly negligent for implementation of pre-check.

  • by rts008 (812749) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @12:05AM (#46126141) Journal

    So, your saying that Senator Obama was responsible for the formation and implementing the TSA when Bush jr. was the President?

    Hint for the uninformed:
    The TSA was put in place by a Republican George Bush jr., during the first of his two terms in office.

    I marked you foe NOT because I'm an Oama fan, but because I see you as too stupid to even describe in words, and because of the whole TSA, PATRIOT Act, DHS, and all of the other unconstitutional crap turning me fiercely anti-Republican.

    Bush jr. and company all need to be lined up against the wall and shot for the traitors they are.
    And while we're at it, Obama and co. can join them for not correcting this crap.

  • by BlueStrat (756137) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @12:53AM (#46126319)

    Oh, and a related set of facts I thought I should mention, just for safety and the odd chance's sake.

    Discharging a firearm in an aircraft may not be likely to cause dangerous and immediate cabin depressurization, but there's still a ton of vital stuff that keeps you flying (and landing minus large fireball and crater!) that doesn't play well with getting shot up.

    It's a bad idea, period. Unless lives are at stake, don't do it.

    That being said, if you're on an aircraft and some surreal turn of events happens to cause you or someone else you have influence over to absolutely *have to* discharge a firearm while flying in an airliner, try to avoid lines of fire that intersect the wings/engines (and the fuel tanks they contain, although a small-caliber round is unlikely to cause a fire/explosion/sudden fuel loss), the cockpit area (obviously), directly aft through the tail (avionics/autopilot/comms/cabin air pressure pumps/etc) and down through the deck you're standing on (more avionics/flight control/comm/nav/etc, fuel tanks, and landing gear).

    Avoid the instinct to consider "down" (cabin deck) a safe default direction for discharging a firearm purposefully or accidentally in an aircraft cabin. If anything, "up" (cabin ceiling) would be preferable.

    Of course, avoid windows. Easy one to remember for most Slashdotters. :)

    Exact locations will vary by aircraft make/model/etc, but that's a pretty good general rule-of-thumb layout.

    Again, if there's any choice, do not discharge any firearm in an aircraft in flight. Too easy to fall down go BOO000OOM!

    Strat

  • by Zynder (2773551) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @12:53AM (#46126321)
    In Tennessee it is different if you're poor. I was a young single parent who was jobless. I go down to the welfare office to sign up for Tenncare and my son who was 3 at the time was enrolled at once, no questions asked. I, however, was denied Tenncare. I had absolutely zero medical bills at the time. I mention that because the lady told me that if I wanted to get Tenncare, I would need to go out and rack up approximately $16k in medical bills that I couldn't pay and THEN Tenncare would take me. What the hell kind of policy is that? I wanted Tenncare so that if something bad did go down I could manage to scrape by but the State actually advocated for me to go do irresponsible and illogical things. We do take care of our kids though at least. In that regard, there are 2 separate kinds of healthcare.
  • by BlueStrat (756137) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @01:21AM (#46126407)

    Airliner environmental control systems move literally tons of air.

    Spot on.

    Airliner cabin seals are nowhere near 100% even when the airliner is paint-still-drying new. Cabin air pressurization systems and their pumps are designed with many times the capacity they would normally need. They are beasts. That's why even dozens of bullet holes wouldn't cause a dangerous cabin pressure problem.

    Most people would be shocked at how poor the cabin seals actually are on the aircraft they fly on, and how much cabin pressure depends on the pumps keeping up with cabin seal losses.

    Strat

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @02:57AM (#46126733)

    That's nothing. Flying through San Diego, I almost shit my pants when I realized I had a container of black powder in my backpack. They stopped me and searched my bag (later learned it was because of the electric razor) and they did one of those bomb swipes with the little pads. They cleared me and I walked on through...

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @05:24AM (#46127077) Homepage Journal

    The US government needs to learn a few more lessons on building roads. If you would inform us of the aspects of roadbuilding in the US that impress you, maybe some of us could disillusion you.

    For starters, our interstate highway system is demonstrably unsafe, compared the Autobahn. Have you ever noticed that nothing separates oncoming traffic? It has been pointed out to me that the Germans have double guard rails separating oncoming traffic. What do we have? A grass filled median. I have observed vehicles going out of control, and rolling, flying, coasting, skidding, or otherwise finding their way into the oncoming lanes. In view of the physical laws of nature, it is safer to hit ANYTHING other than oncoming vehicle. Steel guard rails, concrete dividers, trees, bridge abutments, ANYTHING.

    There are a large number of places in the United States where the engineers flubbed. Dead Man's Curve, in Cleveland Ohio has lots of optical warnings that the curve is unsafe at speeds over 35 mph - but they seem to fail, as year after year, idiot manage to wipe out in that curve.

    Bridges in various places during rainstorms become very unsafe. The crown of the road, couple with the incline of the road surface when it meets the incline of the approach ramp often just dams water up on the road way. I have hydroplaned fully loaded tractor trailers in these areas, while driving the posted speed limit or less. If I can float 80,000 pounds, you can rest assured that you will float your 3,000 pound personal vehicle in these areas.

    Lighting. I have rather sensitive eyes. As I age, they are becoming more sensitive to bright lights at night. I can be blinded by lights pretty easily. Truck stops, restaurants, and other businesses often put very bright lights near the highway to attract attention. Billboards often have bright lights that are aimed improperly, so that they shine into motorist's eyes. The cops themselves are on a quest to find the brightest possible lights to mount on their patrol cars. I was very literally blinded as I came around a curve in Memphis late one night, by a police car stopped at the scene of an accident. Only luck, or the hand of God, prevented me from running into the survivors and the emergency workers.

    Speed limits? Those are set by politicians, for the purpose of extracting revenues from the motoring public. When Eisenhower specced the interstate, it was intended that the interstate sustain 80 mph traffic. The human body has physiological reactions to traveling. On an open highway, with little to look at, the sound, vibrations, and general motions of the vehicle tends to lull people into relaxation and sleep at speeds around 55 mph. At speeds approaching 80 mph, everything about the vehicle tends to key the occupants into full alertness. Except for known unsafe areas, the interstates would be much SAFER with higher speed limits.

    I'm sorry, but we are merely mediocre road builders. Leaving the interstate highway system behind, the US Highway system gets worse. State and local highways are oftentimes abysmal failures.

    We CAN actually build superb highways. We have the technology, we have the knowhow, we have the materials, and we have the money to do so. We simply choose not to. Any movement to force the issue will be defeated by politicians. The courts will side with the politicians, because they love their cash cow. America will not be building any incredible highway systems in our lifetimes.

  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @06:44AM (#46127287)

    I opt out of the body scanners when I fly alone.

    I opted out once when I flew with my wife and kids. The guy that patted me down informed me that they always waved through families with young kids. I haven't been patted down since.

    I guess terrorists don't fly with young kids. And young kids can't be trained to carry bomb materials.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @10:21AM (#46127905)

    I call BS on much of your post.

    For starters, our interstate highway system is demonstrably unsafe, compared the Autobahn. Have you ever noticed that nothing separates oncoming traffic? It has been pointed out to me that the Germans have double guard rails separating oncoming traffic. What do we have? A grass filled median.

    Umm, on many of the highways I drive on in the U.S., when the oncoming traffic is placed closer (without a significant median), there are guardrails. If it's even closer, there's a concrete or double concrete barrier. You can argue that maybe we need more barriers, but engineers clearly use these solutions in many places in the U.S. when conditions warrant it.

    I have hydroplaned fully loaded tractor trailers in these areas, while driving the posted speed limit or less.

    In heavy enough rain, you can hydroplane. News at 11.

    There's something called "adjust your driving to conditions." You simply can't always go the posted speed limit in heavy rain. Yes, there are places where the road is not ideal and water channels or pools happen in heavy rain. Those sorts of places exist in Germany and in Europe in general too. The U.S. is HUGE, and sometimes engineers don't predict things quite right over literally millions of miles of roadways. But your assumption that you should be able to just travel the speed limit without ever hydroplaning -- I don't think that's reasonable. (The size of your vehicle also won't make this impossible: heavy aircraft have been known to hydroplane, which is the reason many airports have adopted grooves on runways.)

    Speed limits? Those are set by politicians, for the purpose of extracting revenues from the motoring public. When Eisenhower specced the interstate, it was intended that the interstate sustain 80 mph traffic.

    Sure, if we want to move troops rapidly across the country, which was part of the rationale for the interstate system.

    For normal traffic, there's no need to travel at 80 mph. In fact, it reduces gas mileage usually to go significantly above 55 or so, because air resistance increases much more rapidly and you have to fight that at high speeds.

    As for why speed limits are what they are, I'm sure there are SOME places in the U.S. where they are politically motivated... corruption is everywhere.

    But in general terms, speed limits are set for (1) safety reasons across a broad variety of road conditions, and (2) to increase traffic throughput to maximum levels. Yes, on a dry road on a perfectly clear day, you may be able to go 90 mph down a country road, but add in cross traffic, pedestrians, and any sort of weather, and maybe 40 or 45 mph is safer. A lot of times, people don't realize that proximity to residences or other issues requires a consideration of lower speeds for safety.

    Most people also don't realize the necessity and rationale for (2), though, which often plays a role for highway limits.... particularly in cities and high-traffic areas. Believe it or not, you can actually often put more cars through a stretch of road at 45 mph than 80 mph, particularly if there are lots of merges, on/off ramps, other random traffic issues and curves, etc. Merges, lane endings, on/off ramps, etc. require a lot of fast reactions to keep traffic moving. At 80 mph, people overcorrect, and a chain of brake lights can rapidly create a traffic "wave" that snarls traffic for a half hour. If everyone is traveling at 45, it might be easier for those merges, etc. to happen... you can actually increase traffic throughput this way, which is why many cities have adopted flexible speed limits on highways during rush hour.

    The human body has physiological reactions to traveling. On an open highway, with little to look at, the sound, vibrations, and general motions of the vehicle tends to lull people into relaxation and sleep at speeds around 55 mph. At speeds approaching 80 mph, everyt

  • by mishehu (712452) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @11:32AM (#46128249)

    I call BS on much of your post.

    I can smell plenty of it coming from your post as well.

    Umm, on many of the highways I drive on in the U.S., when the oncoming traffic is placed closer (without a significant median), there are guardrails. If it's even closer, there's a concrete or double concrete barrier. You can argue that maybe we need more barriers, but engineers clearly use these solutions in many places in the U.S. when conditions warrant it.

    There are *vast* stretches of highway that are just as the GP described them - completely and without any barriers other than the median. Apparently you have driven on a select few roads in this country. I've driven many very long distance trips, and about the only region I have yet to drive through is the PacNorthwest.

    There's something called "adjust your driving to conditions." You simply can't always go the posted speed limit in heavy rain.

    Thanks, Captain Obvious. I think the GP already stated "while driving the posted speed limit or less". I've hydroplaned at speeds of 15 mph in extremely heavy flow on I-35 near Dallas. Do you think either I or the GP continued to drive at that speed?

    For normal traffic, there's no need to travel at 80 mph. In fact, it reduces gas mileage usually to go significantly above 55 or so, because air resistance increases much more rapidly and you have to fight that at high speeds.

    Cite your sources for this often repeated tripe. My own MPG continues to rise until it peaks when my speed exceeds 110 mph. Most any car that I've owned (and none of them were your big honking pointless SUVs or any other sort of passenger truck) continued to increase in performance up to at least 80 mph. Even in the case of a Toyota Prius, the efficiency won't peak until approximately 75 mph. This statistic that you quote is a relic of the 1970's oil embargo years and the types of cars typically driven at that time. I somehow doubt it even applies to diesel big rigs these days either.

    As for why speed limits are what they are, I'm sure there are SOME places in the U.S. where they are politically motivated... corruption is everywhere.

    Probably a non-trivial number. Remember, there are many places where the police will harass and/or arrest a private citizen who visibly warns drivers that they are approaching a speed trap. If safety was the real motivation, then the police would not harass people like this. But instead it's about the money.

    The human body has physiological reactions to traveling. On an open highway, with little to look at, the sound, vibrations, and general motions of the vehicle tends to lull people into relaxation and sleep at speeds around 55 mph. At speeds approaching 80 mph, everything about the vehicle tends to key the occupants into full alertness. Except for known unsafe areas, the interstates would be much SAFER with higher speed limits.

    What the heck are you talking about? Citation needed. Maybe in cars from 25 years ago or in your giant truck.

    To the best of my knowledge, the increase in speed limit in TX over the years did not see a significant increase in accidents or fatalities. There are plenty of roads with posted limits as high as 80 and I think even SH 130 toll has 85 even.

    In most modern cars, putting the cruise control on at high speeds will result in people relaxing... it doesn't matter whether you're going 55 or 65 or 80.

    Citation please.

    In any case, even if there were some minor benefit in terms of alertness at 80 mph, it would largely be trumped by the vast increases of kinetic energy that happen as you go faster at high speeds -- which means a subsequent significantly greater time and effort to stop safely... or greater energy thrown into collision s

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