The TSA -- Dangerously extra-legal organization

(is that a word?)

I would have put this in Great Debates, but it seems unlikely anyone would take up the other side of the debate. But it seems to important for MPSIMS or IMHO.

Here’s a link:

Here are some quotes:

I mean… oh come on! This is the kind of thing that people a hundred years from now will point to, saying “How could they not have known it was coming?”


Am I remembering correctly that you’re the poster who’s married to a TSA agent and who argued for pages and pages that their training and professionalism made it unlikely that they’d laugh at a passenger they were searching?

Yes, that was me (though you’ve mischaracterized my position–though for all that not as badly as most discussing it with me in that thread did).


Why did that thread die Frylock? I thought it was interesting.

IANAlawyer, but my understanding is that this differs from stopping people on the street in at least one major way. When you purchase an airline ticket you are agreeing to submit to security procedures that the airline and government deem necessary to ensure the flight is safe from hijacking, bombing, etc.

There are only so many choices authorities have. They can seach and question everyone, or they can do it randomly, or they can do it with some discretion. The discretion is troubling, because certainly it can lead to discriminatory behavior. OTOH, with some safeguards to prevent abuse, it is probably the best choice IMO.

But don’t ask me about the question of keeping the criteria secret. I’m still thinking about that one. There is a certain degree of sense to not publishing a list of suspicious behaviors that can get you searched. OTOH, I have no real trust or expectation that Homeland Security and TSA will develop the list in an entirely professional and evenhanded manner.

If these screening techniques would keep Naomi Campbell off of my plane, I have zero problems with it.

I think you whooshed me. Does Naomi have a nipple ring or something?

As long as it isn’t on racial grounds, I really have to say that I don’t know what the major objection is. My behavior and disposition in the airport screening line isn’t something in which I feel a strong expectation of privacy.

The problem has nothing to do with privacy, but with what criteria they’ll use when deciding whether you need an extra anal probe. Ever looked nervous, angry or annoyed in an airport?

Anecdote (pre-09/11): One time I was flying home to see family. It was early, Continental had cancelled my flight for some reason, and I had to stand in a long (long, long) line to get my ticket moved to a flight on United, so I wasn’t in the mood for games. When I finally got to the counter, I got a rude, unhelpful bitch with a major 'tude, and I didn’t try too hard to hide my irritation.

After a heaping helping of attitude, she told me that something “suspicious” came up (couldn’t tell me what, natch), and I’d have to have some extra screening on my bag. The hell? I had a round-trip ticket - and didn’t even pay cash for it, I was staying on vacation for a week, and I had a suitcase big enough for a week’s trip. Uh-huh. Presumably it was suspicious for me to be annoyed by a rude, unhelpful twat.

Of course, that was pre-09/11; I’m sure it would be a lot more than extra screening on my baggage these days.

I honestly have no idea what you mean by this (though I suspect, whatever it is, you are asserting it sarcastically). Could you clarify what your position is?

You are mischaracterizing his position, as he said. I didn’t agree with his actual position either, but it was certainly never that because of their training and professionalism they’d never do that. It was that the culture took itself so seriously, believing so much in the coolness and importance of its own roles, that he believed open mockery of clients wouldn’t be typical. He was absolutely never saying that this was because they were too good for it but just that it didn’t fit the kind of assholes he was familiar with in that job, basically. Again, I still disagree with him but it was always clear that he didn’t mean it wasn’t possible because the agents were too well trained.

She was recently arrested at Heathrow for spitting on a cop. Maybe he asked her a question.

Why would TSA even think about publishing it’s observation techniques?

IMO, the most successful intelligence and anti-terrorism operations are ones you never hear about. Only the failures are known. And not even all of them.

I have a strong conspiracy-theoretic streak, which I generally keep under wraps and tied up in my mental basement, for good epistemological reasons.

But when that streak does take a look at stuff like this, it thinks it’s obvious that people are basically being buttered up for the advent of a much more explicitly totalitarian administration of government. By that I mean, they’re being made used to the idea, okay with the idea, willing to put up with it, even to approve of it. By “this idea” I mean a totalitarian kind of government organization, in particular in this case, the idea of a group with far reaching powers, secret methods, able to interrupt anyone’s business indefinitely, with impunity, with neither prior nor posterior justification. Its obvious how such a system could be misused, and would be the kind a totalitarian administration would like to see in place. To be clear, I don’t claim we’re there, I claim that the kind of thing I posted in the OP is exactly the kind of thing that would be pointed to by future generations as “obvious” signs of a movement toward totalitarianism should such a move be made.

So, I’m not being sarcastic, but I am giving voice to a way of thinking I don’t generally engage in publicly.

Don’t know why exactly. Probably the causal explanation has something to do with that other thread in the Pit I was in about the TSA. A rational explanation? Who knows.

Notice how I hedge the claim in the long paragraph above, though. Makes it not completely stupid. :wink: (But also not very contentful.)


Here’s the strange thing: I would actually be more comfortable with this kind of thing if it were completely secret such that Joe Q Public had no idea it was going on.

Shouldn’t I think that would be even worse? No, because my problem isn’t so much with the surveillance, as with the notion of getting people used to and accepting of surveillance techniques which can appear to them only to be arbitrary.

If there were some super-secret organization doing this kind of thing, that would be one thing. And it could be misused, of course–and probably, eventually, would be misused–but the necessity for secrecy would itself narrow the scope of potential abuses. But going public with this kind of thing widens the scope for abuse, and tends to make the public acquiesce to this, over time seeing it as normal and in general unobjectionable.

Making sense to anyone?


If you’re asking why I (largely) dropped out of it, it’s because I felt like I had said everything I could say, and saying any more would only contribute to the (inaccurate, but understandable given certain necessities of the medium) impression that I was somehow being very strident and insistent and exaggeratedly certain about my position and the need to argue it to death.


The words you are saying make sense, and you may have a point about gradual desensitization to police state techniques, but I believe you are fundamentally wrong when you say that secrecy would improve matters one whit. The history of “super-secrecy” limiting the abuses of said super-secret organizations does not look good, and IMO we already have far too many insidious, politically motivated behaviors covered up under the false banner of “national security”.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to apply a scopolamine patch behind my ear, as someone’s dizzying shift has left me with vertigo.

This is, of course, really hard to discuss empirically by the nature of the subject under discussion. But I would think that if the organization needed to maintain secrecy–was really serious about doing so–then it couldn’t just go around doing things to people willy-nilly, (not as willy-nilly as it could if it were a public organization operating amongst a desensitized population) because enough of that kind of thing and their existence would become common knowledge even if unofficially unacknowledged. (See neighbors go “missing” enough times and you start to realize what’s going on…)

There’s no contradiction, and really not even a tension if you think about it carefully, between what I said in the other thread and what I’m saying here.


Hm… you know, now that you’ve explained yourself, despite all your hedges, I find myself actually kind of agreeing with you. (And I have almost no conspiracy-theoretic streak). Not so much that this is a deliberate attempt at “buttering up”, but that it achieves that effect and is symptomatic of a trend which is likely to continue disturbingly further, even if that is not anyone’s explicit goal right now.

Oh please. He wasn’t claiming that they were like the Palace guards who were (historically) not to show emotion, but that they simple ‘wouldn’t’ laugh at a passenger, that the giggling the person heard was them laughing at something else. Doesn’t really matter if you call it “the culture” of the job, what you’re referring to is a standard of professional conduct. I simply found it quite odd that in the one thread, he had difficulty believing that TSA employees would step out of the strict bounds of the “culture” of their professional behavior, and in this thread seems to be quite ready to believe that their professional behavior might actually include things that aren’t so ok.

For my part, I believe that any human is flawed, and that’s why I’m much happier w/systems of checks and balances.