Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm sure I'm on the No Fly List now.

The original version of this entry is posted at Rolling Doughnut. I think it's relevant here, too. I've trimmed out the meta references.


I flew to Buffalo this morning. Everything was fine until I reached the security checkpoint at Dulles. A TSA employee approached me with a strange device strapped to his arm. Allow me to roughly quote our conversation:

TSA: We're testing a new device that scans for liquid explosives. Do you mind if I scan your bag? It will only take about 20 seconds.

Me: Do I have a choice? Can I say no?

TSA: Yes.

Me: Then I'm saying no.

First things first. I worded my question with the same careful consideration TSA - all law enforcement, really - used to craft theirs. If they could search my bag just because, they would've demanded rather than asked. I've watched enough episodes of Cops to be wise to the game. Anyway, I already knew the answer to my question. But initially playing dumb makes sense because authority has a tendency to get mean after realizing it's been out-smarted. Also, it's more fun.

After I said "no", the TSA employee walked away. I watched as he returned to the security desk rather than moving on to people behind me and began a conversation I could not hear. I knew what it was, though, because our national security-at-all-costs mindset is so predictable. I also saw what happened in front of me. I reached the front of the line and handed my boarding pass and ID to the next TSA employee. He eyed me a moment too long, then looked at my ID. He carried this on for several cycles, apparently trying to stare me into submission. Another TSA employee had also stepped in front of the line and held everything up. Crisis management with manufactured crisis.

The TSA employee with my boarding pass and ID handed them back. I stepped forward and another TSA employee, flanked by two more employees, motioned me aside from the other passengers and away from the metal detectors. The two extraneous individuals stood behind her, one looking over each shoulder. Our conversation:

TSA 1: Sir, is there a reason you refused the scan of your bags when we asked?

Me: Yes. I asked if I had a choice. He said yes. So I said no. I don't see how that gives you a reason to pull me aside now.

TSA 2: You do understand why we do this?

Me: I have rights. I'm exercising them. Are we done?

TSA 1: Yes.

I proceeded through security with no more trouble, which was a nice surprise. Still, the TSA's policy approach to security is clear. Submit. Don't question. Stand up for your rights, or even mere logic, and we will make your life hell, even if it's only in this inconvenience. You don't want another 9/11, do you? But who feels better knowing that the full attention of at least seven TSA employees focused on one man exercising his rights? That's nothing more than security theater.

Update: I just opened my checked bag. Everything had been searched thoroughly and haphazardly, or perhaps maliciously. My toiletries bag was unzipped, a pocket in my suitcase was unzipped, and the car charger case was unzipped. All three were zipped when I finished packing my suitcase this morning. And my clothes were stuffed back in.