Thursday, May 19, 2011

The TSA Fiasco

I'm a blue-eyed, fair-skinned, middle-aged (sigh) woman. I carry a military ID. I work in the defense industry, I pay my taxes, I donate to charity, I support my country, and other than a slight lead foot, I am a law-abiding citizen. I don't wear a burka, a hijab, an abaya, or a turban. I'm married to a man who used to fly the leader of the free world.

I was also a "selectee" courtesy of Janet Napolitano's TSA. I was bitten by the SSSS of death.

On a recent flight to New Hampshire, that terrorist hotspot, my husband was unable to check me in online; this was a bit disturbing, but we weren't really concerned, although I was curious enough to do a little online research into why I would be prevented from online check-in. I'm glad I did, because at least I was prepared for the intrusive and crass groping to which I was subjected.

When we arrived at the airport (BWI, for those who pay attention to these things), my husband checked me in at the gate, and sure enough, my boarding pass was printed with the dreaded "SSSS" indicating that I was one of Big Sis's chosen few. When we proceeded to the security line, an agent took my ID and my boarding pass, circled the wretched SSSS in red Sharpie, and called immediately for a supervisor. Obviously, I was a danger to myself and others.

I was escorted past all the other poor barefoot schmoes, right to the front of the line, where a beady-eyed fat man ensured that I removed my shoes, my jewelry, and my husband's flight jacket under his watchful guidance. I was then escorted to the naked body scanner, where I stood obediently on the painted feet, posed gracefully, sucked in my stomach, and told the greasy hairball TSA agent to make sure that his boys in the back didn't laugh at my vulnerable middle-aged nude body. I'm sure that had a lot of impact.

As if the nudie scanner couldn't identify my underwires and my IUD, I was then escorted forward to another set of painted feet, where a twenty-ish female agent awaited me. She asked me to face my belongings, where yet another agent was rifling through them, asking me if I minded if he searched them. A little late, I thought, since he already had his dickbeaters elbow-deep in my handbag, but I acceded with dignity.

Meanwhile, the young female agent began to explain what she was going to do, and that she was going to give me the "enhanced pat down." It was at this point that I began to wonder if this was somehow punitive--if Janet Napolitano knew I had called her a butch and an incompetent assclown on Twitter. By the end of the trip, I was convinced of it.

The young female agent began the pat-down, and I tried to maintain a sense of humor, even when she touched me in those places where only my husband and my gynecologist should be so familiar. At least she didn't look as though she was having any more fun than I was. She asked me if I wanted a private screening, to which I replied, not for the last time that weekend, "No, I think that everyone needs to see what you're doing and how you're violating my rights."

As I was subjected to a public molestation, my belongings were subjected to a thorough search, and swabbed in every orifice. I objected only when the wand was carelessly shoved into my camera bag, and the agent immediately apologized and afterward was very careful with my precious Canon.

At long last, after an involuntary search that violated at least one Constitutional Amendment and decades of case law, as well as the sanctity of my person and my things, and which exceeded even the Terry v. Ohio precedent, I was released to put my clothing and belongings aright, and the world was safe from yet another middle-aged, white, female blogger.

If you thought that would be the end of this story, you'd be wrong.

Three days later, when my husband and I tried to check in for our return flight from Manchester, NH, that hotbed of Islamic extremism, I was once again...a selectee. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not attempt to maintain any pretence that you live in a free country, or that you are afforded constitutional protection that prohibits agents of the federal government from subjecting you to unreasonable searches.

My experience in Manchester was worse. First, it appears as though TSA in Manchester (MHT, for those who are still paying attention) has few, if any, standards when it comes to hiring agents. The first agent who accosted me was a morbidly obese, toothless, unkempt, unwashed shitbag who was wringing his hands with unholy glee at the idea that he might be about to take part in an Important Moment. He went so far as to shout down the line of put-upon travelers at my husband, who was...less than thrilled...to be so addressed. I did, at that moment, nearly lose patience with the process. However, to get home, I had to submit. They had control of the access point to my means of conveyance.

Another search: the agent felt my breasts,my cleavage, my bottom, and my labia majora through my jeans. She pulled my pants away from my body, running her hands around the inside of my waistband, fingertips skimming my mons pubis and the crack of my ass. Meanwhile, the twenty-something kid rifling through my purse went so far as to thumb through every page of the novel I was planning to read. Dangerous, that Nora Roberts.

(A side note to Big Sis--if you want Americans to take the TSA seriously, to respect them, it would help to institute some standards of dress, personal hygiene, and behavior. Believe me, a rotund 4'11" 400-pound woman waddling around the security checkpoint does NOT make anyone feel more secure. A toothless, wretched, reeking, morbidly obese male with dubious personal hygiene and reprehensible manners does not imbue travelers with respect for the service he provides to our nation. If I had children, I would have fought to the death to keep him from touching any of them.)

The TSA employs blatant intimidation; the procedure is demeaning, it is meant to belittle, to embarrass, to cow, and to humiliate the passenger into abject obedience. It is an obtrusive, flagrant violation of one's civil rights. Even the convicted felon is afforded more protection than the innocent traveler. Terry, at least, requires the government agent to have a reasonable suspicion that one might be involved in criminal activity. The TSA needs none.

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