Why does the TSA hate children?

Coming on the heels of the story about the TSA’s aggressive handling of a four-year old child, we now have an even worse case of an aggressive pat-down given to a seven-year old girl with cerebral palsy who uses crutches, resulting in the family missing their flight. Add to this the charges of stealing, and the TSA is well on its way to becoming the most hated agency of the government.

Perhaps if the two children had been carrying large amounts of cocaine, they would have been whisked through.

Columnist and blogger Amy Alkon describes her own ghastly experience with the TSA Here’s part of her story (Thanks to Norm):

On March 31, 2011, at the TSA checkpoint in LAX’s Terminal 6, I found that I had no choice but to get the pat-down. Tears welled in my eyes – for how we’ve allowed the Constitution to be torn up at the airport door and because I was powerless to stop a total stranger from groping my breasts and genitals as a condition of normal, ordinary business travel.

I can hold back the tears … hang tough … but as I was made to “assume the position” on a rubber mat like a criminal, I thought fast. I decided that these TSA “officers” violating our Fourth Amendment rights, searching us without reasonable suspicion we’ve committed a crime, do not deserve our quiet compliance. I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out as the agent groped me. And then it happened: She jammed the side of her latex-gloved hand up into my genitals. Four times, with only the fabric of my pants as a barrier. I was shocked – utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there.

Powerless to stop her, but not to vigorously protest what she had done to me, I yelled afterward, “YOU RAPED ME.” I later blogged about it, naming her and urging others to name the agents who grope them (a constitutional violation even when done according to TSA procedure, which the search of me was not). We need to make it as uncomfortable as possible to earn a living violating our rights.

Alkon says that when she wrote about it, a lawyer for the TSA agent threatened her with a suit for $500,000. She did not back down and got her own lawyer to fight back and has not heard from the agent’s lawyers again. The letters can be seen here.

Alkon says that the real goal of TSA screening may not be safety.

The TSA’s main accomplishment seems to be obedience training for the American public – priming us to be docile (and even polite) about giving up our civil liberties. The TSA not only violates our Fourth Amendment rights but also has posted signs effectively eradicating our First Amendment right to speak out about it. One such sign, in Denver International Airport, offers the vague warning that “verbal abuse” of agents will “not be tolerated.” Travelers are left to wonder whether it’s “verbal abuse” to inform the TSA agent probing their testicles that this isn’t making us safer, or are they only in trouble if they throw in an obscenity? Not surprisingly, few seem willing to speak out and risk arrest.

She has a suggestion for how to fight back.

I believe I’ve found a less risky, more impactful way to protest, and it’s through sobbing. I’m calling on American women to follow my lead at TSA checkpoints: Opt for the pat-down, and sob your guts out.

Think about the power of it – in airports across America every day, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters sobbing throughout their government-administered sexual molestation. As the 18th-century economist Adam Smith noted, sympathy for others is a potent human motivator.

While large numbers of crying women and children may generate sympathy I don’t think it will change things. After all, there is nothing more sympathetic than small children with disabilities, but even outrages perpetrated against them don’t generate sufficient anger.

The problem is that all of us are seen as mere peons, disposable members of the national security state, who can be harassed, arrested, thrown in jail, have our civil liberties denied, and now even killed by agents of the government, all justified by the ‘war on terror’. What may create change is if several close relatives of prominent members of the oligarchy are at the receiving end of this treatment, causing the media start to make a big stink.


  1. Mr Ed says

    I just got back from two weeks traveling China and I noticed a slight difference in security. When our group was flying out of Xi’an two security officers were hovering by our group when we were checking in. Once the last person got their boarding pass the security officer went up to our guide and offered to set up a separate security line for us. Security was similar to the US magnetometer, wanding and a minimal pat down of passengers and x-ray of luggage. The big difference was attitude. If you forgot a bottle of water in your pack they politely pointed it out and let you throw it away with out treating you like a criminal.

    When people are being nice and polite to you you naturally want to be nice to them and the whole procedure goes that much smoother.

  2. Mano Singham says

    I am told that there are extra security measures taken by other countries just for flights to the US, at the demand of the US government. Even then, the requirements are less. In the UK, they did not ask me to take off my shoes, for example to enter the general boarding area. But at the gate, as we were boarding the plane to get to the US, we had another screening.

    I wonder what the measures are like for people in those countries who are not flying to the US.

  3. Kevin says

    Is there a way to make empathy trump fear? Does it have to involve someone close to or to the person in order for them to become outraged by the violation of privacy? Is the path to point out that this fear isn’t making us safer?

  4. Henry Gale says

    I think the point that the person in the article is making is perhaps this isn’t about making us safer. Maybe its about training us to be docile sheep. Keep your head down, do as your told, and you’ll get through the line ok.

    Speak up or challenge authority and you’re going to have a hassle to deal with at the very least.

  5. Kevin says

    When I went through Hong Kong (<6 months ago), the attitude is much more lax. It's almost like they know that it is security theater and are simply doing it to keep flights going to the U.S. They 'search' backpacks by opening up the zipper on some of the compartments and looking inside. Oh, you have boxes lining the bottom of the main compartment, no need to look at/open those…It's funny how I feel safer in Chinese than US airports.

  6. Sunny says

    The TSA is a good example of how a small amount of power in the hands of ordinary people brings out their authoritarian impulses. I once got a stare down simply for ending up in the wrong line.

    One often hears the claim that the terrorists have been defeated. In fact it is we who have lost our basic freedoms. I hope I never have to return to the United States in my life again.

  7. Kevin says

    I’m fully aware that it isn’t making us safer. I’m asking why more people aren’t against this and how to correct this. Is it because their or their spouse’s civil liberties haven’t been violated yet? Do they (however falsely) think that this is serving a greater purpose (i.e. safety)? Speaking out doesn’t need to happen at the airport, so I’m not sure if that is the reason more aren’t speaking out. It’s not like the authorities are cracking down on speaking out on this issue outside of airports.

    Also, if I had to put a motive behind the program, it would be economic. These machines benefit manufacturers, which is big business. There is nothing more politicians like than big business. The manufacturers make these machines and have to sell them somewhere. They have successfully sold them to the government for the use in airports and are now marketing them for other purposes: subways, highways, trains, etc. For the company, this is good business. For the politician, this is an ally for re-election.

  8. Dianne says

    It’s not that they hate children: they hate everyone. TSA employees are paid about twice minimum wage to enforce arcane rules that they don’t have any power to change, and spend their days getting yelled at. On the other hand, they do have a large amount of arbitrary, unsupervised authority over passengers in the security line. It’s a perfect set up for corruption: no one is double checking them so the risk of letting through people with cocaine is pretty low (what passenger is going to take the risk of getting harassed by questioning their behavior?), they aren’t paid enough in either money or prestige to reduce temptation. Nor do they risk much by engaging in petty harassment: the rules back them, for the most part, if they decide to strip search a 90 year old or separate a 4 year old from her family. The argument, “Better to traumatize a 4 year old than have a plane explode” resonates with a lot of Americans.

  9. Dunc says

    Yeah, it’s like somebody took both the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment and thought, “How can we combine these to create the most inescapably fucked-up situation possible?”

  10. iknklast says

    The fear factor has been so trumped up since 9/11, most Americans seem willing to passively give up their civil liberties in the illusion that it makes us all “safer”. I had friends who wistfully talked about men with machine guns on the streets when they visited Israel; these men, they said, would jump out and point their machine gun at you if you so much as stopped to talk to a child on the street, to talk to anyone. I don’t know if their story was real or not, since I haven’t been to Israel. What I do know is how horrified I felt that these friends wanted to see the same thing here. And these were my liberal friends! The conservatives? They want to BE the ones with the machine guns.

    We’ve turned into a security-obsessed society, but we haven’t gained any additional security, only lost liberties.

  11. Dianne says

    I had friends who wistfully talked about men with machine guns on the streets when they visited Israel;

    I don’t know if it’s true of Israel either, having never visited there, but it is true of New York City subways. Men with machine guns all over the place. I’ve never seen how a bunch of men (and/or women) standing around with guns, which are strictly offensive weapons, could possibly make one safer, but there they are. (Or at least were. I’ve moved away from NYC since and don’t know if they kept it up or not.)

  12. smrnda says

    I feel that the only freedoms that matter to the US government are the economic liberties of the wealthy; the rest of us are just serfs to be pissed and shit on and our feelings and opinions don’t count. Who cares if travelers are traumatized by aggressive groping? I mean, I’m sure people who have been raped or otherwise sexually victimized travel by air, and this is exposing these vulnerable people to behavior that can in no way be justified against a citizen with rights and that can cause significant harm. Plus, citizens deserve input into the measures our government takes to ‘protect’ us – it shouldn’t be there call but ours as to what should be done at airports. I would argue that the government has not proven that these measures are necessary or the most effective.

    The basic lesson is that nothing is private anymore, not even our genitals if the government seems to have some compelling interest ( to them) that goes against our bodily autonomy. Wow, I just realized that the previous sentence would work for all the anti-contraception nonsense too.

    Not that the international scene is any better, but maybe we should start appealing to things like the UN declaration on human rights and ask the international community to come to our aid against our own government.

  13. Scott says

    I think the only way things will change is when people stop flying in large numbers. Then it will affect the airline industry and they will start arguing for changes. What I find really mind-boggling is that I ride the train to work everyday, and it is packed with people in the morning and afternoon, but where is the security there? I could get on the train with anything. Occasionally the police are there, but they always seem to be just hassling riders who don’t have the proper tickets (and those riders seem always to be black). If they’re going to check planes, they need to check trains and buses, too.

  14. Dianne says

    I’ve cut down on the amount I fly, partly because of the security theater, but mostly because that’s where about 90% of my carbon production occurs. I’d love to cut down further, but the trains in the US are less than perfectly efficient and taking one across country is prohibitively expensive in time.

  15. Tim says

    I agree with Keith. I refuse to fly with my family. My kids are teens, and I still refuse to subject them to the TSA. I’ll drive before I fly.

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