After pointlessly groping countless Americans, the TSA is keeping a secret watchlist of those who fight back

LA Times – by Jim Bovard

“I need a witness!” exclaimed the security screener at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Because I had forgotten to remove my belt before going through a scanner, he explained, I must undergo an “enhanced patdown.” I told him that if he jammed his hand into my groin, I’d file a formal complaint. So he summoned his supervisor to keep an eye on the proceedings.

I thought of this exchange last week when the New York Times revealed that the Transportation Security Administration has created a secret watchlist for troublesome passengers. The TSA justified the list by saying that its screeners were assaulted 34 times last year, but did not release any details about the alleged assaults.

Naturally, the TSA’s official definition of troublemaking goes well beyond punching its officers. According to a confidential memo, any behavior that is “offensive and without legal justification” can land a traveler on the list, as can any “challenges to the safe and effective completion of screening.” Anyone who has ever “loitered” near a checkpoint could also make the list. So could any woman who pushes a screener’s hands away from her breasts.

The memo would be more accurate if it stated that anyone who fails to unquestioningly submit to all the TSA’s demands would be found guilty of insubordination. As an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Hugh Handeyside, told the Washington Post, the policy gives the agency wide latitude to “blacklist people arbitrarily and essentially punish them for asserting their rights.” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) expressed similar worry. “I am concerned about the civil-liberty implications of such a list,” she said.

The watchlist would seem less perilous if the TSA were not one of most incompetent agencies on Earth. After a series of undercover tests at multiple airports across the country, the Department of Homeland Security concluded last year that TSA officers and equipment had failed to detect mock threats roughly 80% of the time. (In Minneapolis, an undercover team succeeded in smuggling weapons and mock bombs past airport screeners 95% of the time.) An earlier DHS investigation found the TSA utterly unable to detect weapons, fake explosives and other contraband, regardless of how extensive its pat-downs were.

According to the TSA, travelers can take consolation in the certainty that its agents will never assault them. But Americans have filed thousands of complaints that suggest otherwise, claiming screeners used excessive force or inappropriately touched them. How many have been fired as a result? It’s hard to say: When I asked the TSA, they told me to file a Freedom of Information Act request.

One ongoing court case is showcasing the TSA’s prerogatives. Airplane captain James Linlor was traveling through Dulles Airport in 2016 when he suffered a brutal patdown that left him requiring surgery. A TSA video shows that the patdown was proceeding normally, if somewhat aggressively, until the TSA agent, without warning, administered what appeared to be a karate chop to the captain’s testicles.

Linlor sued, claiming that the TSA violated his rights with an unconstitutional and unreasonable search. In a hearing last year, a lawyer for the Department of Justice argued that there’s no law “establishing a specific degree of permissible intrusiveness of a security screening pat down,” and that, since there’s no law, Americans should have no legal recourse. Federal Judge James Cacheris scoffed at the government’s “oratorical calisthenics.” The case is now before an appeals court.

The TSA has a long history of intimidation. In 2002, it created a system of fines to penalize travelers with bad attitudes, charging up to $1,500 for any alleged “nonphysical interference.” This included any “situation that in any way would interfere with the screener and his or her ability to continue to work or interfere with their ability to do their jobs,” according to a spokeswoman. The TSA failed to specify exactly how much groveling was necessary and eventually abandoned the regime of fines.

If I have not yet made the TSA watchlist, it’s not for a lack of trying. The agency’s former chief, John Pistole, once claimed a 2014 article I wrote was “misleading, inaccurate and unfairly disparages the dedicated (TSA) workforce.” The following year, after I endured a patdown in Portland, Ore., that nearly turned my private parts into a pancake, I raised hell in USA Today and elsewhere.

I filed a complaint after the Reagan airport incident, in part because the TSA confiscated a cigar cutter — even though its website explicitly states that cigar cutters are permitted in carry-on luggage. Did TSA screeners fear I would break into the cockpit and circumcise the pilot?

The TSA’s latest anti-privacy charade is yet more evidence that the agency should be done away with. After pointlessly groping countless Americans, the TSA has no excuse for groping more.

Jim Bovard is the author of numerous books, including “Attention Deficit Democracy” and “Lost Rights.”

5 thoughts on “After pointlessly groping countless Americans, the TSA is keeping a secret watchlist of those who fight back

  1. You would not believe what I had to go through while going through the TSA grope point at the Las vegas terminal to catch a flight to visit my brother Henry recently.

    Both, going through the machine, then the porno pat down. They made me pull my shorts all the way up to my chest so the porn director could get a better grip.

    I couldn’t believe it. Everybody was staring at me while I was making this porno film for the TSA.

    They picked me out of about 50 of us standing in line. They told me it was because the machine found something in my pocket.

    That something in my pocket was a wad of cash I didn’t want to get ripped off. All they had to do was ask to see it.
    I almost told them to fk off, but I didn’t want to ruin my trip.

    At this point I spent too much money to screw things up.

    1. My mom had a bad time flying out of Las Vegas airport a couple years ago. My mom is a sweet little country girl in her early sixties and she was harassed and threatened by a tall fat TSA thug woman that said she was going to “splatter” my mom all over the wall if she did not follow her instructions exactly. My mom was crying and scared and vowed never to go to Las Vegas again, and she hasn’t.

  2. “Did TSA screeners fear I would break into the cockpit and circumcise the pilot?”

    Hahaha! Maybe only if the pilot was Jewish.

  3. I volunteer for the full pat down, no radiation machine for me. I stand proudly almost naked engaging all who hang their head in shame. An occasional soft moan or sigh of pleasure helps to shame these closet perverts.

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