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Taking Sense Away: Confessions of a Former TSA Screener 354

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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:48PM (#42352287)

    They're great against lions too. When is the last time you've heard of a lion attack at a terminal?

    We're wasting over $8,000,000,000 per year on them when we could be spending it on other things. That's 42% of NASA's current budget. Add it up over 11 years, that's a boatload of cash.

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

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:54PM (#42352345)

    I keep asking if this is so true then why does every nationality and US state that has stricter gun laws have a lower rate of gun death?

    No one has ever answered me.

    It's a correlation that is hard to get around, but as usual people on that side of the debate ignore the facts.

  • 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 CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @04:59PM (#42352413) Homepage Journal

    Because the evidence, say, from Japan, that an almost complete prohibition of firearms will make the murder rate very low.

    Right - because as we all know, correlation == causation.

    That, or there's a whole fuck-ton of other factors you're discounting, because they don't mesh with your anti-gun agenda.

  • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:01PM (#42352447) Homepage

    I believe it's a coping mechanism. See, people love power, but they hate responsibility. So life is mostly a game of musical chairs / random shuffling of the deck in the attempt to better your position -> does your new job have more power, and less responsibility? Then you win. Does it have less power and more responsibility? Then you lose.

    By crying out to their government to 'make those things we don't like' illegal, they place the future responsibility for any failures firmly on their government's back. We all know that the government can't be everywhere, at all times, but that doesn't prevent some people for blaming it for not being so. So, in this case, the power to be f*cking idiots is retained by the people, while the responsibility for their actions is left to their government. A wonderful recipe full of fail.

    Think of it as being a war between individual responsibility versus group responsibility. In the former, all power is retained by the individual, but also all responsibility. In the latter, many people here have worked on group projects before? How many would do so again? The point being, in any group, some members will work harder, others will slack. The person representing the group may have more power than others, or less so; responsibility for group actions may be placed on the whole group, or just one person. Being in a group means, typically, giving up some of your power, but, as I pointed out earlier, can be considered a win if more responsibility is offloaded onto others than the power lost.

    Of course, modern society, as you have seen, can be a little insane here. There are people out there, earning $7 / hour, on whom all the responsibility for a business is placed, while there are some earning $100,000 / hour, with no responsibility save getting dressed in the morning.

    That and, for some odd reason, a fair portion of the human race seems completely unaware that inside each of them is a MacGuyver, that, when pressed into a corner, occasionally pops out to do 'uncertain' things. 'Tis easier to wash a cat than convince a creative human not to strike back at their aggressors, real or imagined.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:01PM (#42352453)

    The reason people don't answer you is because it's a narrowly-focused leading question designed to produce only one possible rational response, when the rest of us know that in the real world, the issues are decidedly more complex than how you are seeing them.

    Translation: you are part of the problem.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> 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...

  • Re:Modern Shunning (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:04PM (#42352485)

    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 Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:06PM (#42352505) [] 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.
  • 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.
  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:08PM (#42352523)

    I would say that is basic statistics.

    Eg, the rate of vehicular related deaths among 3rd world, uncontacted jungle villages is amazingly low. It doesn't mean they are safer drivers, it means nobody drives, so nobody dies while driving.

    It's like saying there is no disease, and no starvation on mars. Of course there isn't, nobody lives there. It doesn't mean mars is a utopian paradise.

    Rather than looking myopically at "gun related deaths", you should look at overall "deaths by violent crime".

    The percentage of those deaths via firearms is a function of availability. The rate of deaths overall by violent crimes is what you are really looking for.

    But it doesn't sound as sensational when you say "sure, your chances of being killed in a violent crime are 3x higher, but your chances of being shot are nearly nonexistent!", instead of "almost nobody gets shot here!"

    The question to ask is not "do less people get shot", the question to ask is "is there less overall violent crime?"

    (This is especially important whe you consider that part of the ascribed deterrent effect [if it exists], is the implication that violent criminals will themselves be more likely to BE shot. As such, if said violent criminals *are* being shot, they will contribute to the "gun related deaths" statistic.)

  • by BigSlowTarget ( 325940 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:08PM (#42352525) Journal

    [citation required] DC has gun laws but a high homicide rate. North Dakota has few laws but a low one. I know Mexico has strict laws that simply don't work.

    The reasonable question I would ask is "What is the complete impact of stricter gun laws on crime." You then need to decide what mix of gun deaths, crime, cost, laws and civil liberties you want to go with. Just saying gun death rate reduction is the only acceptable goal is not a reasonable way to consider the whole question.

  • by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:09PM (#42352537)
    historically, the Founding Fathers put the 2nd Amendment into the Constitution so that if the government was not taking care of the people they could rise up like the American Colonists did against the British.
  • 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.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:17PM (#42352601) Homepage

    Because the evidence, say, from Japan, is that an almost complete prohibition of firearms and a very low murder rate are not mutually exclusive.


    Or did Japan used to have a high murder rate until they took away the guns?

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:18PM (#42352605) Homepage

    Maybe it's just that the people in states with high levels of general crime/gangs/drug culture are the ones demanding the right to own's not surprising there are more murders in those states.

    correlation != causation

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:19PM (#42352615)

    Many people don't realize how valuable a trait arrogance is. Sounding self-confident despite not knowing anything will get you far in life.

  • by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:21PM (#42352627)

    I can see why the answers are favorable, they don't ask the right questions.

    Do you think that the TSA has gone overboard and needs to scale back some of their policies?

    Do you approve of having a nude image of yourself displayed for complete strangers?

    Do you think that the TSA's policies on liquids is irrational?


    You ask

    How effective do you think the TSA's procedures are at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes?

    Well, they are effective, but that is not the issue. The procedures that the Israeli use are more effective, but less intrusive.

    It's like there is a complaint about bullshit in McDonald's burgers, so they put out a poll that asks about how fast you get your burger, and since no one can complain about the speed they get their burger the poll results are positive.

    The issue is we need to get the bullshit out of the TSA, what they scored positively in the polls doesn't need to change, what needs to change is what was not asked in the polls.

  • by Entropy98 ( 1340659 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:25PM (#42352675) Homepage

    Japan also has a suicide rate 2-3x times higher than the US. It's a different culture, if you gave everyone in the US a katana I doubt we'd have a seppuku epidemic.

    A big part of our high murder rate is the drug war. You can try and take away everything besides rocks and pointy sticks (and fail miserably) but the drug dealers will keep killing each other. Nothing besides complete legalization is going to end it.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:50PM (#42352927)

    You actually think TSA's procedures are effective at preventing terrorism? The same way that having a magic rock can protect you from tigers?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:53PM (#42352947)

    That and, for some odd reason, a fair portion of the human race seems completely unaware that inside each of them is a MacGuyver, that, when pressed into a corner, occasionally pops out to do 'uncertain' things. 'Tis easier to wash a cat than convince a creative human not to strike back at their aggressors, real or imagined.

    Aha, someone finally argued it (not that I read every possible post). Pistols are a weapon of convenience, and a fairly low collateral one at that. If those were not available, some would use bows, crossbows, throwing knives, shivs, multitools, or just a carefully thrown rock. However, they might also use chlorine gas, fuel air explosives, difficult to extinguish incendiaries, anthrax, or other weapons with even less precision.

    Blaming an act on the tool chosen is laziness, and the one thing humans have gotten VERY good at over the centuries is learning what things can kill eachother quickly or brutally. Looking at my desk, I think a stickynote is the only thing that I can not determine how to use as a debilitating/deadly weapon, and that's probably a lapse in imagination more than a trait of the stickynote.

  • 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 cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:54PM (#42352961) Homepage Journal

    Off the top of my head, how culture views human life, availability of help for mental distress (ie if someone feels they're going to do something dangerous, can they actually get help without being treated like a murderer), society's view of the mentally ill (will they see you as someone responsible enough to get help for a disease, or 'get this fucking crazy away from me'), how pervasive classism is, quality of life, number of people living in poverty, how poor that poverty actually is, etc.

    That's true.

    Aside from peoples' rants on here about not being 'free health care in the US for mental problems'....if the person has any sanity left, they do NOT want to seek mental health.

    Talk about a serious blot on your record. It can keep you out of many jobs that you might need. Forget a security clearance....but even shy of that, likely hits you on insurance rates, if you can get a loan, etc.

    Even if you get better, or it was something temporary....if you ever had to be treated for mental health issues, that shit will follow you around for the rest of your life, just like being branded a sex offender will do.

    Except the damages and discrimination will be a little more covert.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:55PM (#42352969)

    I keep asking if this is so true then why does every nationality and US state that has stricter gun laws have a lower rate of gun death?

    No one has ever answered me.

    One: it's a meaningless question. It's not the gun deaths that matter; it's the total deaths. If you reduce guns deaths by 2,000 but knife deaths rise by 2,000, you haven't gained anything.

    Two: It's not true. Jamaica has much tougher gun control than the US. It also has a gun death rate almost five times the US's.

    There's your answer.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:57PM (#42352993)

    The founders believed that the citizenry had to be able to protect themselves against their own government. I don't think they would care whether that was done with stone axes and primitive bows and arrows are with x-ray lasers and particle beams. They would certainly believe that if the government had it the citizenry should be able to have it too.

  • by Shagg ( 99693 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:57PM (#42352995)

    Rather than looking myopically at "gun related deaths", you should look at overall "deaths by violent crime".

    I'm sorry, but intelligence has no place in a debate about gun control.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Thursday December 20, 2012 @05:57PM (#42352997)

    And keep in mind that the readily available firearms at the time were single-shot muzzleload rifles.

    And keep in mind that muzzleloaders were the only firearms available to the government too. I will give up my assault rifle when the government gives up theirs.

  • by Samalie ( 1016193 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:10PM (#42353093)

    This is a fucking retarded argument.

    Please...rise up against the government. I dares ya.

    Your converted .223 to full-auto will hold you out against the US Military for...wait, who the fuck are we kidding? You'd be dead before you saw someone to shoot at.

    Realistically, if someone wants you dead....actually dead...its the same thing. One legally-purchased .50 sniper rifle and you're a corpse before you even hear the report of the weapon. Shit, I bust your window, set off your alarm, and wait crouched in the window till I see you. One shot, blam, you're dead without ever laying eyes on your attacker.

    Its as much security theatre as the TSA.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:12PM (#42353105)

    Actually it's pretty easy to say it. They have never thwarted an attack. Ever. Their fancy imaging machines don't actually work to detect explosives. Or really much of anything else. Certainly no better than a metal detector. There is nothing they are doing now that would stop a terrorist with an IQ above 60.

    The only procedures in place now that would have thwarted the 9/11 plot are the locked and presumably reinforced cockpit doors, the realization of the passengers that if they cooperate they will just die anyway (no more highjackings), and maybe the occassional air marshal or armed pilot.

    If the TSA were effective you would be seeing alternative targets attacked. Suicide bombs in the security lines themselves. Buses. Trains. Shopping malls. Sporting events. Nuclear reactors. Water supplies. Subways during rush hour. Possibly simultaneously. There are lots of targets other than aviation that could have been attacked if the terrorists wanted to and found aviation too difficult now.

    None of that has happened because there just aren't any serious terrorists targeting the US at the moment. If you do the research you'll find that what is called "Al Queda" may not even actually exist. It was just a small number of guys who were pissed off at the US. Most of them either died in the 9/11 attacks or feel that 9/11 was sufficient payback and more attacks are not a priority at the moment. Who knows. All we know is that for whatever reason no terrorist organizations have targeted the US since 9/11. Keep in mind that there weren't many before 9/11 either.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:23PM (#42353197)

    Fidel Castro overthrew Batista with only a small group of armed men. They were able to accomplish that because there were mass defections from the pro-Batista military.

    I have no doubt that a sufficiently well prepared group could overthrow the US government. People have this idea that you need F-16s and bombers. You don't. The US government is unlikely to drop bombs on its own cities and towns or even drive tanks through the city streets. Most of the combat would be guys with rifles against guys with rifles. Whoever had more guys with guns would probably win.

    But all of this is beside the point. Overthrowing the government was not the only reason the Founders wanted a well-armed citizenry or citizen-soldiers like the MInutemen. It is to defend ourselves and preserve our freedom for any reason at all. It might be a government that has gone full-1984 or it might be a particular branch of the government enforcing some new law. It could be some circumstance that neither of us could even imagine at the moment. The details don't matter because the principle is the same. Self-defense with whatever the standard weapons are at the time is a basic human right. Only a government afraid of its own citizens would try to deny that right.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @06:50PM (#42353449)

    Its also important to extrapolate out the number of gun related homocides that can't be (grossly) lumped in with "self defense" (this is not an endorsement, btw) situations.

    Eg, crook with crowbar breaks into house, homeowner shoots and kills him. The crook is a gun related homocide statistic.

    If overall violent crime is high, and firearm ownership is high, barring a social taboo, the number of persons being shot will also be comparably high. (If for no other reason, violent criminals are being shot.)

    If anything, the guns per homocide value having such a wide spread is fairly indicative that gun ownership/availability is not the primary controlling variable.

    Not saying the USA and our criminal statistics are in any way "a good thing", just that gun ownership and availability is only a contributing factor to the larger problem, which is overall greater criminality.

    Eg, "sensible people" + guns == only slight change in shootings.

    "Violent criminally minded people" (like americans) + guns == exagerated change in shootings.

    Curbing violent behaviors would be the primary variable to influence for the greatest reduction in homocides, including gun related.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Thursday December 20, 2012 @09:23PM (#42354889) Homepage Journal

    Imagine if traffic cops were allowed to write the traffic laws.

    That's where we are with the TSA. We need to separate threat assessment from implementation, or else the people who want to build their budgets and bureaucratic empires will "identify" hijacking dangers from nutrias and demand $250K each to buy magic anti-nutria rocks from companies that pay them "consulting" fees.

  • 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 oobayly ( 1056050 ) on Friday December 21, 2012 @04:34AM (#42357321)

    Because the number weren't quite so easy to get - gun ownership is divided up by Northern Ireland, England & Wales and the Scotland whereas crime isn't. Done very quickly, so there could be some errors:

    Northern Ireland: 21.9 guns/100
    England & Wales: 6.2 guns/100
    Scotland: 5.5 guns/100

    NI: 1,810,900
    E&W: 53,013,000
    S: 5,295,000

    Total number of guns in the UK: c.3,974,618
    Total population of the UK: c.60,118,900 (actual number is about 63 million, so I'm missing some people somehow)

    So we get 6.62k about guns /100k

    Finally, we get from this that the UK has about 165 guns per gun homicide, so basically we need almost 7 times as many guns to create a gun homicide than the US.

    Maybe you guys should try using sarcasm and witty put downs instead of killing each other when you get grumpy. </sarcasm>

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun