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Taking Sense Away: Confessions of a Former TSA Screener 354

Posted by timothy
from the why-do-they-hate-america? dept.
OverTheGeicoE writes "TSA gets discussed on Slashdot from time to time, usually negatively. Have you ever wondered about the TSA screeners' perspective? Taking Sense Away is a blog, allegedly written by a former TSA screener, offering insider perspectives on TSA topics. For example, there's the Insider's TSA Dictionary, whose entries are frequently about the code screeners use to discuss attractive female passengers (like 'Code Red,' 'Fanny Pack,' and 'Hotel Bravo'). Another posting explains what goes on in private screening rooms, which the author claims is nothing compared to screener conduct in backscatter image operator rooms. Apparently what happens in the IO room stays in the IO room. Today's posting covers how TSA employees feel about working for 'a despised agency'. For many the answer is that they hate working for 'the laughing stock of America's security apparatus,' try to hide that they work for TSA, and want to transfer almost anywhere else ASAP."
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Taking Sense Away: Confessions of a Former TSA Screener

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  • by Philotomy (1635267) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:43PM (#42352253)
    I'm pleased to hear that at least some of the people working for the TSA are ashamed. They should be.
    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:03PM (#42352471)

      Unfortunately, though, the people who are ashamed are for the most part not really in any position to do anything about it. They're the low-paid extras hired to act in the security theater, not the playwright, production company, or theater owner...

      • by whoever57 (658626) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:36PM (#42352791) Journal

        The airlines need to address this. They have the resources.

        I suspect that the beancounters in airlines are the ultimate cause of the financial issues of US airlines. Travelling by air has become much less pleasant than it was, what with the lack of food, extra fees, less legroom, etc.. On a recent trip to Asia, it was clear that the standard of service on Asian airlines is much better: hot food provided free on short flights, baggage limits applied loosely, more attentive flight attendants, etc..

        I think that the beancounters think that the unpleasantness from security and all the other nickel and dime changes affect travellers on all airlines equally, which is true, but the real problem is that the number of air travellers has dropped. Perhaps if travelling by air were more pleasant, more people would travel.

        The airlines should lobby to make security less intrusive and focus on real threats, followed by providing better service on-board.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Air flight in the US is too cheap.

          Pre 9-11 airline were in charge of security. It was a failure of the private sector.

          • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Thursday December 20, 2012 @10:14PM (#42355349) Homepage

            Air flight in the US is too cheap.

            This exactly. It's a free market, and the market gets what it wants - cheap airfare. Too cheap, really - the airlines operate on razor-thin margins, can't pay their indirect costs (pensions, maintenance on aging airplanes) and keep going bankrupt to shed costs. The majority of us consumers get the cheap fares we want, but we pay the collateral cost of terrible service. (Southwest is the exception that proves the rule - they're always profitable, even on low fares, but have only a single aircraft fleet to maintain and are staunchly anti-union so they pay lower salaries/benefits. And I would argue that their service is still pretty crappy, even if they smile more while handing you the tiny bag of pretzels.)

            This being a free market, you can pay more and get better service, by flying first class. But these days, the majority of flyers in the first class cabin (occasionally including me) are there because we're frequent flyers, not because we paid for it.So at least in the US, first class doesn't bring in enough revenue to justify the type of service you get in first class on Cathay, Lufthansa, etc.

            So I think the bottom line is that the terrible quality of a flying experience in the US today is a direct result of the market getting what it wants. Everything else is an unintended but natural consequence.

        • by jandersen (462034)

          Travelling by air has become much less pleasant than it was,...

          Oh yes, hasn't it just. I remember a couple of years ago I was going to Beijing, from London. I always choose the cheapest flight, so this time it was Aeroflot - yes, THAT Aeroflot - and then the weather turned bad (almost an inch of snow, woooo, but that is enough to cause major disruptions in UK). My flight was cancelled, and when I finally got on the way, it was on an Aeroflot plane apparently built in the sixties.

          And that is where it turned weird: it was miles better than any modern airline. Leather on

      • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:31PM (#42353287)

        Okay, I know it's called Security Theatre, but lets try to keep it to car analogies around here, please.

  • Modern Shunning (Score:3, Informative)

    by resistant (221968) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:45PM (#42352263) Homepage Journal
    One wonders what would happen if an ad-hoc, "name and shame" reputation network were to identify TSA agents everywhere they went. It's easy to imagine the near-universal environment of hate stares, extreme rudeness and occasional violence from victims of the TSA's Orwellian tactics putting direct pressure on TSA employees themselves to drastically reform their arrogant policies.
    • Re:Modern Shunning (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wSLACKWAREorf.net minus distro> on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:51PM (#42352319)

      One wonders what would happen if an ad-hoc, "name and shame" reputation network were to identify TSA agents everywhere they went. It's easy to imagine the near-universal environment of hate stares, extreme rudeness and occasional violence from victims of the TSA's Orwellian tactics putting direct pressure on TSA employees themselves to drastically reform their arrogant policies.

      That will just weed out the thin-skinned ones and leave the psychopathic "I love the TSA!" types. The ones who relish the power given to them. And being named just makes them "famous" and even prouder.

      It's just like police officers - it's easy to say "we need to increase the number of officers by 50", but quite a lot harder to actually do so (finding the right people is very difficult, and it's a rather thankless job that doesn't pay that well for the risks). So the good people don't generally go into policing, and since you need 50 officers, you lower the bar of entry until the bottom-of-the-barrel folks get in. Which is what we have now - people who'll gladly violate your privacy and screw you over because they've got the power to do so.

      The more rational among them say "screw it" and quit, leaving a position open for someone else who wants to be "powerful" to join the ranks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Exactly. It'd be a self-reinforcing death spiral, and the people who would pay the price would be everybody else.

        It'd be like if everybody believes politics to be a dishonest mud trough, we'd just end up with a bunch of greedy pigs who like to wallow in it.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      You would probably be charged with a federal crime for threatening a federal employee.

      As Tlhlngan says, it would just further the selection pressure to bad people. It's like scientists who go and work for banks as quants. you basically lose your science credibility, but fuck it you get easily double the pay, so you don't care anymore. And you could make the same argument about banks 'you work as one of those greedy bastards? Ewwww...' and yet they wear their MBAs Business consultant and financial manag

      • by khallow (566160)

        It's like scientists who go and work for banks as quants. you basically lose your science credibility, but fuck it you get easily double the pay, so you don't care anymore.

        Why would they lose their science credibility? Productive applications of scientific ideas should be the primary basis for science credibility not hiding in an ivory tower. And yes, I'm not a big fan of science for science's sake.

        Sure, I'm aware that a lot of these businesses hire people for the prestige of the degree not the knowledge or experience that the employee might have to offer. But colleges often operate that way as well.

        And you could make the same argument about banks 'you work as one of those greedy bastards? Ewwww...' and yet they wear their MBAs Business consultant and financial manager titles with pride, oblivious to how stupid they look to anyone with a brain.

        Reminds me of just about everywhere I've ever worked, including several un

    • Re:Modern Shunning (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:07PM (#42352507)
      If you want to harass someone, get to the root cause: the politicians who created the TSA and who approve, even demand, its invasive practices. Blaming the TSA employee for the abusive system is like blaming a hospital orderly for the high costs of health care.
      • Re:Modern Shunning (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kinkozmasta (1140561) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:53PM (#42352953)

        Blaming the TSA employee for the abusive system is like blaming a hospital orderly for the high costs of health care.

        This is not an appropriate analogy at all. Regardless of the cost and efficiency of healthcare, the hospital orderly is still trying to help you. The same is not true for the TSA employee. They, as individuals, have made a choice to take a job that they know in advance will be violating your rights. While I agree that we should also be blaming, writing and harassing the politicians who implemented these programs in the first place, but the TSA employees should not be immune from any criticism and grief that comes their way..

        • by Ritchie70 (860516)

          It varies a lot.

          I don't really travel that much, but I have encountered TSA two or four times a year for most years since they've existed.

          Some are friendly and as helpful as they are allowed to be. Others are clearly just tired of their job but doing it. Just like any other job.

          If you read the blog in the summary, the author talks about letting little stuff go (and thereby breaking the rules) when it makes no sense. Like not confiscating the swiss army knife in the airline pilot's bag, or making up excuses

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        So you believe "befehl ist befehl"?

        Signing up to work for the TSA, is supporting that system. With no employees it would not function.

      • It is hard to "demand" invasive practices if you can not find any one will to do them. Furthermore, as to the idea that the wrong employees will be the ones who stay, I say let them then sew the TSA for every time their employees get out of line. We the people have the power to fix this problem, but we are too cowardly and affraid of our own government. :(
  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:45PM (#42352269) Homepage Journal

    for the TSA. It's the only job he's ever been able to hold down.

    He's stupid and lazy, but at least he's arrogant. Almost killed my cousin, his wife, by convincing her that chiropractic should replace her insulin.

    He's fiercely proud of the TSA.

  • Not that unpopular (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:49PM (#42352297) Homepage Journal

    For as much as the technolibertarian parts of the geek community loves to rage against the TSA, they're not actually that unpopular with the general public. There's some good poll data on this.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Broadly speaking I think the public understands there's a role for a TSA. They just think the TSA as implemented actually does that on top of all of the stupid things they do, rather than being almost exclusive a collection of stupid things.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      There's some good poll data on this.

      You can get a poll to show anything depending on whom you ask.

    • by berashith (222128) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:12PM (#42352571)

      Just because the general public is rather stupid, does not mean they are right.

    • Windows
      Prime-Time TV
      Justin Beiber

      I'll take "why popularity is a bad metric for anything other than popularity" for 100, Alex...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858)

      There's some good poll data on this.

      No.

      Such.

      Thing.

      "Poll Data" == "The opinions of the small handful of pre-selected individuals residing in a particular geographic who have a landline phone and are home to answer it at 1 PM on a weekday."

      That's not even accounting for the weaselly way they word poll questionnaires.

  • by dryriver (1010635) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:58PM (#42352391)
    ... America wakes up to the fact that measures like intrusive TSA screenings are all about keeping the ordinary American scared of "bad guys", and not about improving security tangibly. There are many countries around the world that don't have the equivalent of the "TSA", yet manage to get through year after year without a major incident. Americans, however, are not supposed to wake up, ever. That's what you get when a handful of ill intentioned lobbyists and gatekeepers control virtually the entire media, most large corporations, and a lot of the government decisions and lawmaking in a country.
  • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:59PM (#42352405)

    While I understand that people have to feed their families and need a job, the people working at the TSA employees get no sympathy from me. Yes, you have every right to hate your job and still do it. But if you are in a "service" industry (or more generally, where you interact with a large number of people), you shouldn't do a shitty job just because you hate it. Most TSA people seem to try the experience unpleasant for passengers. And with a myriad of changing rules, they don't seem to grasp that people will make mistakes. Even a slight deviation from routine gets you the "deluxe" treatment (like the woman carrying a bottle with breast milk being held up for hours).

    Case in point - I got a belt that has an buckle that can be removed because I got tired of pulling my belt on and off each time I flew. And I have been through the all types of scanners without a problem in most airports. But one day a new type of scanner seems to have a problem with just the belt "blocking" the view. So rather than just make me remove the whole belt and pass through, they need to do a pat-down that takes much longer. BTW, what happens if my trousers fall down because I need to keep my hands on my head while being scanned? Do I need to register on some type of list somewhere?

    No matter how bad a day a waiter is having, he shouldn't spit on food. And TSA employees should treat people like people, not like a piece of meat on a slaughter line.

    • by Mitreya (579078) <mitreyaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:23PM (#42353203)

      No matter how bad a day a waiter is having, he shouldn't spit on food. And TSA employees should treat people like people, not like a piece of meat on a slaughter line.

      There is a crucial difference in these two examples

      If I caught a waiter spitting in someone's food, I could have them fired or worse. Good luck holding a TSA representative responsible for anything, even if they did something bad. It's like you would complain about the waiter spitting in your food, the restaurant association would review your complaint and then inform you that such behavior aligns with restaurant's official policy. And if you press the issue, you could get fined/arrested or even put on the "no eat" list.

      If you allow people to behave badly without fear of punishment, you should expect that they will. In part because the people who are attracted to such positions will be more prone to perpetrating abuse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:02PM (#42352459)

    "TSA gets discussed on Slashdot from time to time, ALWAYS negatively..."

    Ftfy. The TSA is always discussed negatively here -- and rightfully so. Take the entire body of evidence as to TSA's effectiveness and procedures, then toss in a million or so anecdotes about TSA's harassment & sheer stupidity, and no wonder they are so looked down on.

    Yet another anecdote: in August, I was told I'd have to go through a backscatter or be patted down. I _politely_ said no, I'll opt for the patdown. The fifty-something TSA rent-a-cop (Keystone Kop?), in a half-assed attempt at condescension, "explained" to me that "this machine is not harmful, it uses millimeter wave technology that is the same technology in your cell phone -- it's just as safe as your cell phone." I resisted calling him a dumb fuck, and I _politely_ said that I'll opt for the patdown. He became aggressive and persisted with his bullshit reasoning, and I _politely_ said based on what I've read, I'll opt for the patdown. The dumb fuck yelled at me "WELL EVERYTHING YOU READ IS WRONG!" I know, I know, whilst in the presence of a TSA rent-a-cop I was wrong to say that I actually read. So there you have it, slashdotters, I have solid evidence that everything we've read --and I suppose written-- is WRONG. That fascist fuck will be head of TSA some day. And the patdown is a memory I will always cherish!

      Guess who's avoiding airports and instead driving from CO to PA this holiday

  • by Dan667 (564390) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:06PM (#42352505)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lives_of_Others [wikipedia.org] This is what the US is working to. I hope making tsa employees miserable will push things back the other way. We use to make fun of communists and their "show me your papers" paranoia.
  • If god had meant for man to fly then he wouldn't have created the assholes in the TSA, the thieving baggage handlers, bogus chinese airplane parts and overbooking. I have no desire to ever travel more than 1000 miles from home and I can drive that far in a day. To hell with air travel. I hope they all crash and burn in desolate areas.

    • The thing is, flying remains the safest way to travel. You are more likely to die in a car crash than by all airplane incidents combined. Trains are next up on the list of safe ways to travel. Cars are near the bottom of the list, next to "bushwacking through a rainforest."

      It also helps that flying is faster than other forms of transportation, at least over long distances. That is why the TSA gets away with their program. If you had to go through TSA-style procedures to drive a car, so many people w
  • by mk1004 (2488060) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:43PM (#42352873)
    And what are the chances that the TSA will now require current and future employees to sign a contract stating that they can never divulge the inner workings of the TSA? A transparent government organization such as the TSA will, of course, want to keep its stellar reputation intact.
  • by erp_consultant (2614861) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:09PM (#42353081)

    That quote by Rahm Emanuel will go down in infamy. It's probably the most brutally honest thing I've ever heard a politician say. And it's exactly why the TSA exists. Post 9/11 much of the American people were in a state of fear - fear stoked by the US government and the media. They WANT you to be afraid so that they can create agencies like the TSA. The TSA is not about guarding against "terrorism" - it's about gaining further control over the American people. Just like the Patriot Act.

    Have you ever taken a good look at any of those TSA agents? I mean really taken a look at them? The one's I've seen have this glazed over look that only Federal Government employees seem to possess. That emotionless, heartless, I-don't-give-a-shit, 1,000 mile stare. Want a local version? Try your DMV office. I'm sure you can find plenty there as well. Must be a training ground for TSA drones.

    I suspect that very few people actually want to work for the TSA. Some of them probably think I'll just do this for a while and then I'll get a real job. But they get sucked in and before you know it you've got the 1,000 mile stare too. Getting out of public sector was the best move I ever made.

  • by TheNinjaroach (878876) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:14PM (#42353119)
    This blog is well written and funny. I've been laughing at my desk for a good 15 minutes now, I plan to finish this thing off before I head home.
  • by sglow (465483) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @09:26PM (#42354921)

    I just think it's awesome that Bruce Schneier got a nod in the TSA dictionary:

    Bruce Schneiered: (V, ints) When a passenger uses logic in order to confound and perplex an officer into submission. Ex: “A TSA officer took my Swiss army knife, but let my scissors go. I then asked him wouldn’t it be more dangerous if I were to make my scissors into two blades, or to go into the bathroom on the secure side and sharpen my grandmother’s walking stick with one of the scissor blades into a terror spear. Then after I pointed out that all of our bodies contain a lot more than 3.4 ounces of liquids, the TSA guy got all pissed and asked me if I wanted to fly today. I totally Schneirered his ass.”

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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