Former TSA screener: Yes, we were laughing at you

posted at 12:01 pm on January 31, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

And yes, TSA agents saw you naked, although that was not as titillating as some might presume, according to a former TSA agent who once reported anonymously from the inside. Jason Edward Harrington has gone public in a Politico Magazine essay after causing an anonymous stir at the blog Taking Sense Away. He reveals how much he hated the key aspects of his job, and how little regard his fellow TSA agents have for their more intrusive duties:

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.

Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.

The big reveal in this piece isn’t the naked pictures, or the petty retributions of pat-downs for rude passengers, or even the fact that the scanner images provided a little inspiration for amorous activity inside the secure room — thanks in part to the lack of surveillance because of the naked images being reviewed in the booth. Harrington reports openly that TSA insisted on getting the original full-body scanners after the Underwear Bomber attempt, even though they knew full well it wouldn’t prevent a terrorist attack:

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

This confirms pretty much everything we suspected about the TSA. Harrington notes that morale is lower in this agency than anywhere else in the US government, and there are good reasons for it. At least in his telling, few of the people believe in their mission, the traveling public is held in contempt, and the backscatter machines had them worried about their health at the same time TSA was telling the public that there was no health or safety issues at all. One of the terms defined in the TSA “lexicon” is “opt-out,” which refers explicitly to passengers who refuse the scanner and go for the pat-down — but TSA agents use the term to mean, “smart passenger.”

Small wonder, then, that when having to watch backscatter images of dubious use, Harrington “personally witnessed quite a bit of fooling around, in every sense of the phrase.” Why not? Again according to Harrington’s account, everyone seemed to realize that they were providing security theater rather than real security.

Of course, one reason this story is so compelling is precisely because it confirms our previous assessments of TSA, both as travelers and in overall analysis of their function. It’s still one man’s perception of the environment, albeit one man who did go to some risk to publicize these issues while still at TSA. Harrington studied writing while working at TSA, and it shows; it’s an entertaining and compelling read, and tends to reduce the skepticism we would normally apply to tales from self-described disgruntled workers.

It’s compelling enough that Congress should invite Harrington to discuss these issues in hearings, and haul some of his former superiors and fellow agents to explain themselves. If Harrington is exaggerating or making the error of applying a local experience into a global rule, a fair hearing will bear that out. But given the experiences that Americans have had with this intrusive and perplexing TSA security regime, we are owed some accountability for its performance, and an answer to the issues that Harrington raises.


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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.

The illustrates nicely how stupid every single bureaucrat is and why government should only be allowed to perform the very basic duties. This country is being run by absolute morons.

Flange on January 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

And for that one I do ‘blame George W Bush’ for creating it.

There are signs the TSA is trying to back off a little bit – more and more people are getting cleared for the precheck, for example – but it remains a bureaucratic and largely useless mess of an agency.

Drained Brain on January 31, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Uneducated animals work there…you should have always known and never subjected yourselves to those machines.

Uneducated, brutish animals work at the airport immigration services too, and are a national disgust and shame. They deter many tourists and should all be replaced and educated. They are brutish thugs, something which doesn’t happen in a single other land in the world.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Give America a raise! Stop wasting money on security theater and reduce taxes.

Dead Hand Control on January 31, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Lighters – verboten

Matches – Help yourself

BobMbx on January 31, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Muzzies can bring their soups with them but you can’t bring bottled water. Oh, I could write you thousands of little stories.

Sometimes they confiscate things they want, and freely pocket too.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:14 PM

I would suspect (quite confidently), that most government agencies function with the same level of temerity.

h a p f a t on January 31, 2014 at 12:15 PM

A recently retired pilot told me he never messed with the TSA. He said every airport had its quirky fiefdom rules and they were all basically drunk with the power they held over the general public, even over pilots.

Fallon on January 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM

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.

Reminds me of when it was discovered that you couldn’t bring nail clippers through security at LAX but you could purchase them at the convenience store inside the security zone.

There are signs up at the local airport warning that yelling at security guards are not to be yelled at because they have “rights.” Something I find ironic as I watch them violate citizens rights in the name of security. As if groping an 80-year-old woman has resulted in safer travel.

Bottom line with any of these measures- they have to be defensible as a legitimate security precaution. Much of what the TSA has been doing for the last decade is indefensible.

Happy Nomad on January 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM

It’s compelling enough that Congress should invite Harrington to discuss these issues in hearings, and haul some of his former superiors and fellow agents to explain themselves. If Harrington is exaggerating or making the error of applying a local experience into a global rule, a fair hearing will bear that out. But given the experiences that Americans have had with this intrusive and perplexing TSA security regime, we are owed some accountability for its performance, and an answer to the issues that Harrington raises.

And once the hearings are complete, regardless of the result, it’s past time to privatize airport security screenings. The TSA is just one more example that government / public sector is not the best or most efficient environment to do anything important or critical.

Athos on January 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM

It’s compelling enough that Congress should invite Harrington to discuss these issues in hearings, and haul some of his former superiors and fellow agents to explain themselves.

…and do what?…what have all these “hearings” done in the last few years?

KOOLAID2 on January 31, 2014 at 12:19 PM

If I can’t drive there, I don’t go. Period.

I refuse to be sexually assaulted by the TSA.

Meople on January 31, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I unwittingly got a 4″ locking folding knife through in Philly, in my jacket’s breast pocket. On the unlikely assumption that the Chicago TSA was more competent than their Philly colleagues, I to tossed it before returning.

It was not an easy decision. I miss that li’l knife…

Akzed on January 31, 2014 at 12:22 PM

“The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.”
Hey, a lot of big government socialist made a nice profit on those!

Gingey on January 31, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Is that pronounced “Rape-a-scan”? Just wondering.

iwasbornwithit on January 31, 2014 at 12:23 PM

“The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.”
Hey, a lot of big government socialist made a nice profit on those!

Gingey on January 31, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Including Michael Chertoff, who went to Rapiscan after leaving as Secretary of Homeland Security.

iwasbornwithit on January 31, 2014 at 12:26 PM

We’re all porn stars now! :-D

Punchenko on January 31, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Logical consequence of the power of big government operating for our “own good”. It’s abominable.

/hell is living in slavery to others

Paul-Cincy on January 31, 2014 at 12:27 PM

That’s OK. Lots of us laugh at them, too, just not to their faces.

Christien on January 31, 2014 at 12:32 PM

I would really love to see what Dana Loesch has to say about this article.

myiq2xu on January 31, 2014 at 12:34 PM

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.

“I don’t think I want a pilot having a gun!”

-Cokie Roberts on the Sam & Cokenose show

And then there was the story Boortz related from the air marshal, the TSA agent told him the gun was OK but confiscated his nail clippers on his keyring.

Lanceman on January 31, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Remember when the Peter King-like hawks were telling us we were aiding the terrorists by opposing the TSA scans?

aryeung on January 31, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Just softening up the public for government security control every where…

albill on January 31, 2014 at 12:38 PM

OT, kind of – a good land ruined by the fascist sozi scumhag in charge there.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Uneducated animals work there…you should have always known and never subjected yourselves to those machines.

Uneducated, brutish animals work at the airport immigration services too, and are a national disgust and shame. They deter many tourists and should all be replaced and educated. They are brutish thugs, something which doesn’t happen in a single other land in the world.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Hey, how come Democrats always get the gravy government jobs?!
Explains alot really. Like why the private citizenry is regarded as cattle. We’ll know we’ve reached “cockroach” status when we’ve been disarmed to the point DHS can openly carrying machetes.

onomo on January 31, 2014 at 12:45 PM

It’s compelling enough that Congress should invite Harrington to discuss these issues in hearings, and haul some of his former superiors and fellow agents to explain themselves.

The same Congress creatures that are being paid cash by the manufacturers of those machines?

The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

From the link…

Needless to say, the technology is big business, and the two companies that supply the scanners to the TSA, L-3 Communications and Rapiscan Systems, have a record of using high-powered political operatives and lobbyists to influence lawmakers. A number of other companies also are vying for future government contracts.

L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of machines to the TSA, has spent $4.3 million on lobbying the federal government thus far this year…

Rapiscan, which has sold $41.2 million worth of body scanners to the TSA, has spent $221,500 on lobbying the federal government. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff worked briefly last year as a consultant for Rapiscan

An official with L-3 Communications told FoxNews.com that the company reported nearly $16 billion in revenues in 2009 and that most of its lobbying money is spent on defense and service branches.

Asking the same people who are making money from this to investigate the lobbyists filling their pockets doesn’t sound like a plan that will work well.

sharrukin on January 31, 2014 at 12:50 PM

I would really love to see what Dana Loesch has to say about this article.

myiq2xu on January 31, 2014 at 12:34 PM

How ironic. Apparently, the TSA agents running the scanners were thinking along those same lines, ergo
“I would really love to see what Dana Loesch has…”

My collie says:

That’s not the same, CC, and you know it.

Sorry, collie. I just couldn’t resist.

CyberCipher on January 31, 2014 at 12:51 PM

I would really love to see what Dana Loesch has to say about this article.

myiq2xu on January 31, 2014 at 12:34 PM

.
HANG yeah !……. she’s already committed for tonight, to an interview/visit she had with the “Tedster”, out at his ranch.

But may be she’ll make some time for it, today.

listens2glenn on January 31, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Lanceman on January 31, 2014 at 12:36 PM

I’m reminded of the time that the TSA agents at Bob Hope Airport confiscated my 1″ diameter ‘monkey-fist’ knot on my keychain, saying it could be used as a weapon, while not only ignoring 3″ long keys that could be used as a weapon, but a swiss army knife in my laptop case.

The TSA is so indicative of the vapidity of government – it’s all about the appearances of security / doing something as opposed to actually solving the problems or protecting the people.

Athos on January 31, 2014 at 1:04 PM

And this crap will continue until the general public finally wises up AND REFUSES TO FLY!

Then Congress will finally get off it’s dead damned ass and DO SOMETHING.

GarandFan on January 31, 2014 at 1:09 PM

There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.

And act on them he did.

These are the kind of people who would load you on trains to the ovens if given half a chance.

CurtZHP on January 31, 2014 at 1:12 PM

I am proud to say that I have never been through one of those machines.

And I never will.

I do feel sad for those that are forced through them whether for business or leisure trips. I would be outraged but apparently there isn’t enough to shut it all down.

RDE2010 on January 31, 2014 at 1:18 PM

“The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.”
Hey, a lot of big government socialist made a nice profit on those!

Gingey on January 31, 2014 at 12:22 PM

…those people that “bundle” money for JugEars…have to get the money… from somewhere!
…you don’t think anyone is interested what a $50,000 machine really costs the taxpayers…do you?

KOOLAID2 on January 31, 2014 at 1:23 PM

I don’t fly anymore because of the TSA. I don’t much like being treated like a criminal for simply getting on a plane to visit family or friends in CA. I drive everywhere now.

jawkneemusic on January 31, 2014 at 1:36 PM

I am proud to say that I have never been through one of those machines.

And I never will.

I do feel sad for those that are forced through them whether for business or leisure trips. I would be outraged but apparently there isn’t enough to shut it all down.

RDE2010 on January 31, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Me too. I’ve only flown twice since they were installed and both times I got lucky. They let me threw both times without the scanners or a pat down. I did have to endure the shoe and belt removal though and was questioned about a guitar I chose to carry on.

jawkneemusic on January 31, 2014 at 1:37 PM

Didn’t that skeleton in a skin suite Michael Chertoff have interest in the company that provided these machines? More cronyism.

jawkneemusic on January 31, 2014 at 1:38 PM

And for that one I do ‘blame George W Bush’ for creating it.

There are signs the TSA is trying to back off a little bit – more and more people are getting cleared for the precheck, for example – but it remains a bureaucratic and largely useless mess of an agency.

Drained Brain on January 31, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Security screeners after 9/11 were inevitable. It was the Dems who insisted, absolutely insisted that they be federal employees.

I still blame Bush for caving, though. But he did at least leave us an out, since the same legislation authorizing the TSA has some provision for local airports replacing them with their own security.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 31, 2014 at 1:48 PM

I’m no fan of the TSA, by any stretch of the imagination. However,why should we take the word of a disgruntled ex-low-level functionary of the TSA as being authoritative? It’s like calling somebody who spent a couple of years flipping burgers for Burger King an expert on the fast food industry, or somehow qualified to discuss Burger King’s marketing during his tenure as a burger flipper.

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed

How did he know this, from his perch at the bottom of the totem pole? Because somebody told him? Because of his silly anecdotes about his slacker former associates? That’s not terribly convincing.

What makes him think that he is qualified to evaluate the efficacy of TSA policy? Is there anything in his background to suggest that he might have the necessary expertise?

Frankly, this Harrington guy seems like schmuck to me. He hated his job, and thought that he was too good for it. Fair enough, I suppose. Then he gets busted for trying to use his position as a government employee to pass himself off as an expert on airport security to get his letter to the NYT published, which is a clear violation of the terms of his employment. (Would the NYT have published his letter had it not been for his claim that he worked for the TSA?) And now, as an ex-employee, he is still shooting off his mouth, aggrandizing himself, trying to sell his little book.

I don’t like the TSA, and I certainly don’t like the body scanners. However, I’m not going to indulge in confirmation bias in buying into what this Harrington character is peddling just because it might jibe with my preconceptions of the TSA. IMO, Harrington is a slightly less slimy (and significantly less criminal) version of Snowden.

ghostwriter on January 31, 2014 at 1:51 PM

ghostwriter on January 31, 2014 at 1:51 PM

Perhaps because, as Ed said, it confirms what we already new and assumed about the TSA.

jawkneemusic on January 31, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Touch and Squeeze Agency.

Othniel on January 31, 2014 at 2:05 PM

I am going to use my last FF miles next month, and then that’s it.

After a “full molest” for the crime of having metallic threads in my sweater, I’m done.

Suck it, airlines.

PattyJ on January 31, 2014 at 2:06 PM

worked for AMR, could be in the plane in hangar, ride it to gate, then have to go through tsa to fly out.
I had more access then they did yet had to play the game. was a real PITA when I needed to go back and forth multiple times.
its all eyewash, does nothing.
locking a door would have prevented 911.

dmacleo on January 31, 2014 at 2:13 PM

I drive everywhere now.

For now.

– Your Betters in Government

Cicero43 on January 31, 2014 at 2:14 PM

This country is being run by absolute morons.

Flange on January 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Presumably the country is run “by the people”. How many votes did 0gabe get? By extension, you just called 53% of voters, morons. I agree!

freedomfirst on January 31, 2014 at 2:18 PM

For anyone at risk of losing personal property during a pat-down:

Ask for a receipt for the item. Those lazy f*@ks will just throw whatever it is back in your bag and wave you through.

Maddie on January 31, 2014 at 2:47 PM

As a Marine, my brother and his comrades boarded chartered jets to fly to Iraq.
They were carrying M4s and 9mms, if I recall.
But they were not allowed to take nail clippers, nor pocket knives aboard.
Because terrorist threat, or something.

True story.

orangemtl on January 31, 2014 at 2:52 PM

The illustrates nicely how stupid every single bureaucrat is and why government should only be allowed to perform the very basic duties. This country is being run by absolute morons.

Flange on January 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Absolutely true! And the emphasized portion puts an exclamation point on it!

csdeven on January 31, 2014 at 2:52 PM

There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.

And act on them he did.

These are the kind of people who would load you on trains to the ovens if given half a chance.

CurtZHP on January 31, 2014 at 1:12 PM

Agreed. Shades of The Game: Who Goes Nazi? on Ace of Spades HQ. If it came down to it, my bet is that TSA would go full Nazi.

jix on January 31, 2014 at 2:54 PM

The scanner debacle had more to do with cronyism than with security. Chertoff and other Bush cronies, and I bet Democrat cronies as well, had a vested interest in deploying the scanners.

FloatingRock on January 31, 2014 at 3:06 PM

I’m reminded of the time that the TSA agents at Bob Hope Airport confiscated my 1″ diameter ‘monkey-fist’ knot on my keychain, saying it could be used as a weapon, while not only ignoring 3″ long keys that could be used as a weapon, but a swiss army knife in my laptop case.

The TSA is so indicative of the vapidity of government – it’s all about the appearances of security / doing something as opposed to actually solving the problems or protecting the people.

Athos on January 31, 2014 at 1:04 PM

They tend to ‘confiscate’ things that they want for themselves. I never surrender anything without breaking or damaging it first. If it’s some kind of liquid, put the bottle in one garbage can and the lid in another.

slickwillie2001 on January 31, 2014 at 4:06 PM

They are brutish thugs, something which doesn’t happen in a single other land in the world.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:12 PM

You certainly haven’t traveled to some of the lands that I have, then. Of course, those countries weren’t particularly free, either.

GWB on January 31, 2014 at 4:14 PM

we are owed some accountability for its performance, and an answer to the issues that Harrington raises.

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth… ;)

free on January 31, 2014 at 4:19 PM

In the immortal words of Dennis Green “They are who we thought they were and we let ‘em off the hook!”

Texas Zombie on January 31, 2014 at 5:02 PM

sad

the TSA hires are people who cannot get a job at McDonalds

they are too pathetic to be laughed at

ploome on January 31, 2014 at 6:14 PM