Category Archives: TSA

Space and Time Separate Opt Out Film Week, but Anti-TSA Activists Protest On

Today marks the start of Opt Out & Film Film Week, a weeklong protest aimed at convincing passengers to refuse the use of the TSA’s advanced imaging technology in our nation’s airports (opting out) and when they receive an enhanced pat-down to film the procedure. Aside from potentially overwhelming TSA checkpoints with a mass of individuals opting out across the nation, the project is aimed at raising awareness about the TSA by creating a video archive of the TSA’s hands on contact with our bodies. The hope seems to be that with  a mass of videos there will be evidence of misconduct by the TSA and increased public awareness of what these activists view as a dangerous power grab by the state.

The organizers of Opt Out & Film Week have also created fliers that can be handed out at airports for those who are unable to fly this week. The hope is that if you cannot travel you can still engage in a PR campaign in hopes of convincing people to joining the protest on their way into the airport.

In my own research I have distinguished between resistance-performances and the resistance-performative. Resistance-performances, I contend, are the automatic reactive postures taken to the State  that do little to advance resistive politics. State’s anticipate the expression of resistance and even rely on the extremes of such logics to help moderate State positions. In essence, resistance-performances can legitimate the TSA by making anti-TSA critics appear as enclaves of people branding the TSA and Nazis. In such a discursive environment building resistive politics with mainstream appeal can be difficult.

The resistance-performative, however, is based on the notion of kinesis–that certain rituals have the potential to dramatically alter current social relations. Our performatives materially engage in a breaking and remaking of society leaving customs  and practices wholly changed from what they were before. Clearly, Opt Out & Film week is engaged in a week long campaign to alter the flows of power in airport security checkpoints. The last Opt Out Week, in November 2010, was a  failure. Evidence of this failure is little change in TSA practices two years later. Assuming that Opt Out & FIlm Week will necessarily be successful would be a mistake but that does not mean the protest cannot be a success. There are a few factors, however, working against the this protest.

1) Space- Most successful protests rely on mass mobilization. Even online mobilization recognizes the power of crowds. However, the business of airports and the function of security is about metering entrance to spaces and creating senses of inclusion and exclusion. Airports are almost impossible to mass in, and the design of Opt Out & Film mobilizes the power of the crowd in their digital archives after the fact. I am curious if a sense of solidarity and momentum will be achieved by assembling often isolated acts of opting out (that may be filmed)  after the fact. After all, even if the thousands who indicate they are joining the protests do engage, their flights are divided by time and space across the nations airports and border crossings.

2- Time- The sense of isolation that occurs with space also occurs because of time. Even if activists are located in the same city, they may fly at different times on the same day or different days this week. While a week long protest is needed with the enormity of the air national infrastructure it could threaten the efficacy of the protest.

3-Class-While there are an array of reasons to be concerned about the increased surveillance of bodies by the State, and resistance to normalized acts of watching is even healthy, the embedded issues of classism in anti-TSA communities persists. I wrote about class and Opt Out & Film Week in a previous post and got a very fast response from Ashley Jessica who is the main organizer behind this protest. Her argument was that class is not a relevant factor because anyone can participate by showing up to airports and handing out fliers.

As I responded at that time, class would only be irrelevant if you live near an airport, have leisure time away from work to protest, transportation to and from the airport, and freedom from a host of other social obligations that would allow you to go and protest. One of the things I am aware of as a critical scholar is that factors like class ( race and gender as well) are never irrelevant, especially when it comes to conversations about State surveillance. A leaked recording of a stop made under New York’s “Stop and Frisk” program underscores that under racist regimes, for example, there may be more pressing issues than TSA surveillance.

While all of these would qualify as critiques of Opt Out & Film Week, my hope is that Ashley Jessica and other supports do not take them negatively. Critique is integral to social discourse. Also, none of them are meant to suggest that the protest is unable to be effective. Over the next few days it is certainly an exciting time for anti-TSA activists as they engage in the resistance-performative in airports across the nation’s air infrastructure.


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Anti-TSA Opt Out Protest Planned & The Unbearable Privilege & Legitimacy of TSA Resistance

A new protest event is planned to fight the TSA’s use of whole body imagers and enhanced pat downs, however, this protest could be undermined by the privilege and access required to get into airports themselves.

Anti-TSA activist Ashley Jessica has teamed teamed up with to plan a  massive anti-TSA protest this November. The aptly titled Opt Out and Film protest is aimed at getting people en-mass to refuse the use of the TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology (including backscatter technology which some critics claim exposes passengers to harmful radiation and millimeter wave technology which Jessica claims damages passengers’ DNA). The goal of Opt Out and film day is to:

OPT OUT and FILM Week takes place November 19, 2012- November 26, 2012


They will no longer use the threat of molestation to intimidate us into going through health damaging body scanners!

We will no longer tolerate them violating our civil liberties and human rights!We will no longer allow the TSA to stick their hands down our pants and touch our private parts!Any TSA agent who chooses to violate our rights and freedoms will be put on display for the world to see!


The protest capitalizes on two tactics that have been most successful in generating popular support for those who resist the TSA. First, in general, people who opt out whole body imagers are treated with admiration by many who oppose the TSA. Moreover, the protest aims to create more people opting out than a checkpoint can handle. Second, online videos of the TSA failing to follow protocol often sparks outrage among the TSA’s critics and even among those who often ignore the administration. Thus, a comprehensive strategy to force the agency to deal with more bodies than usual and to film those encounters will likely lead to increased tempers and mistakes. All of this suggests the potential for plenty of film to capture the kind of footage that creates the  anti-TSA narratives critics prefer.
This latest resistance effort got a boost when consumer advocate Christopher Elliot threw his support behind the protest, proclaiming the opt out week as a means to “kill” the TSA’s full body scanners. In a tweet Elliot even declared that 78% of travelers would participate in such a protest.
Of course Elliot fails to mention in his post that his 78% number comes from voluntary respondents to a poll on his website and on an article hosted by Huffington Post travel. Obviously 78% of travelers would not participate in “opt-out” week and to claim so is wildly misleading.
This underscores one of the major weaknesses with opt-out type protests: mobilization. In my own research I have found that large segments of anti-TSA critics, unlike Elliot or Jessica, either do not fly or overstate their actual opposition to the TSA. Evidence of this comes from their ignorance of TSA procedures or statements proclaiming that if the TSA were to touch them they would assault the TSA (instances of assault on TSA employees are rare).  Meaning, that even if they do fly they do not adhere to their values of resistance in actual airport spaces.
Moreover, Ashley Jessica and infowar’s opt out and film week, which takes place between November 19, 2012 at 6am and November  26, 2012 at 11pm, smacks of almost unbearable privilege. The protest asks passengers to:
Fly within the United States, OPT OUT of the body scanner and have someone FILM your pat-down;
You can also opt-out of other unreasonable TSA security procedures (i.e. eye scan, drink testing inside the terminal etc.) and film what happens.
There is a clear element of class here that comes with the ability to select to fly during one of the busiest and most expensive travel times during the year, preferably not alone, to have the ability & technology to film your pat down, and to have the leisure time to risk delays as a result of one’s protest. Because airport spaces require capital as a precursor to access, protesting them is a unique activity. Thus, Jessica, Elliot, and Infowars are taking an activity of privilege and protesting it. I want to underscore that I am not suggesting that actions by the TSA do not warrant resistance because of inherent privilege in air travel. However, given that many anti-TSA advocates dismiss those who support or refuse to oppose the agency (calling them plants or slaves online) or overstate the volume of those who resist the TSA; opt out and film week is particularly susceptible to its own unbearable privilege. I am not isolated from such privilege, after all my own research on airport spaces and resistance to the TSA is absolutely open to such critiques.
Will opt out and film be successful? I don’t know. I am sure that if it occurs the TSA will dismiss it as a minor inconvenience and its supporters will triumph it as a grand success. Both citing little evidence. However, unless it becomes a grand act of resistance it will fade quickly. Any history of resistance is also a history of persistence. Airport security, like airports themselves are about the persistence of capital- to flow in a globalized world-without the commitment to opt out beyond one week what incentive will the TSA have to make any change?
For all the complaints about abuses by the TSA, why do they deserve  more attention now than the decades of complaints of abuse by State actors against the poor who rarely have consumer advocates or access to privileged activities like flying that are supposed to be free of the indignities of State violence?

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Initial Conclusions on Public Resistance to the TSA

This serves as a quasi research update. The current dissertation chapter I am working on studies public resistance to the TSA by tracking public and official discourse about videos passengers have shot of their screening process. You can see an example of one such video here. In this video a women claims to have been detained by the TSA, and forced to miss her flight because of her attitude towards the TSA. I have yet to assess the veracity of this video.

One important trend among the videos in my study is that many of them claim in captions, blogs, and stories to show malfeasance on the part of the TSA while there was none or there was inappropriate actions taken by both agents and the passenger. I point this out because as stories of the heavy handed TSA circulate; critiques of the agency must be grounded in actual policy disagreements and agent malfeasance, not a mythos of rumored misdeeds. For example, a widely circulated video claims to show a young child being strip searched by the TSA at Salt Lake City International Airport. In reality, the child’s father took of the child’s shirt in an attempt to expedite the process. I am, by no means, trying to buffer the TSA from criticism, but my research points to a pernicious degree to which videos of this type are often said to show one thing even when they mean another. That said, a number of videos and stories exist that document instances of questionable actions by the TSA.

I offer seven preliminary conclusions based on what my research has found so far. This reads as some tough-love for TSA critics. Please do not assume I am fawning for the TSA, I have much to say to them as well.

1. The larger issue with TSA critics is that they argue privatization is the solution. Why is corporate surveillance preferred to State?

An undercurrent within critiques of the TSA is a specifically anti-government anti-big brother sentiment. Given the TSA’s techniques of surveillance (I discuss their surveillance technology in my dissertation’s previous chapter and their rituals and performances of surveillance in the next chapter), concern over surveillance is not unfounded. However, while I freely admit state surveillance is problematic I cannot accept that corporate surveillance is necessarily a better outcome. First, even in places where the TSA is using private companies to perform security screenings they use the same procedures as the TSA. Nothing has changed and it is unlikely that most consumers or the government would want to relax security restrictions any time soon. Second, a profit motive adds alternative drives for monitoring and data collection. These are different from the state’s desire to watch our bodies but are nonetheless disconcerting.

2. Absent a successful legal challenge, what would motivate Congress to dismantle the TSA?

This issue comes down to a basic burden of proof. The TSA has a remarkable safety record. How do we know that? We don’t. As long as the agency can show an effective record in securing our air infrastructure without large scale resistance from political moderates there is little political will to change the TSA’s mandate. Additionally, many assert the TSA is unconstitutional. While there are legal challenges underway, critics must become more nuanced than to claim it is unconstitutional because I say so. Knowing your rights is absolutely critical, but knowing them as the law defines them is more important than how you think the law ought to define them.

3. Those who call everything the TSA does security theater ignore the agency’s ability to cope with real threats & post 9/11 innovations.

Since 9/11 airport security has undergone a massive change in it techniques for securing our air transportation infrastructure. That said, the TSA is not an impenetrable wall of security and critics have taken to calling its efforts security theater to claim it is more about creating the appearance of security than actual security. I offer a more substantive critique of this in my research, not that I wholly dismiss it but I offer an alternative read. That said, some techniques that have been added post 9/11 may offer more advantages to the screening process. That does not make them inherently good, but it does mean critics need to be more nuanced than it is all security theater. Also, that does not mean the TSA should have unlimited fiat. The conversation must cease to be all or nothing.

4. Critics can’t claim the TSA violates their constitutional rights & demand the agency violate the Equal Protection clause.

Again, the TSA’s actions are not unconstitutional simply because you say so. I am fully sympathetic that most frustrations with the TSA begin with a simple premise: I pose no risk to this flight so why should I face any added scrutiny? However, your knowledge that you pose no risk and the TSA’s appraisal of you are two very different things. Moreover, many critics argue for implementing racial profiling. Not only does this violate the equal protection clause (note the irony for angst about constitutional violations) but it ignores the insurgent and adaptable tactics of terrorism as a technique for violence making.

5. Both critics & the TSA must cope with the fact that threats innovate, thus children, the elderly, etc become attractive means for terror.

This may seem redundant with the previous point, however, the people and means by which threats are brought to airports and aircraft are malleable. This is why profiling is ineffective.

6. While criticizing the TSA critics need to, at some point, address the number of weapons routinely found at checkpoints. Threats persist.

I am fascinated by the number of reports of handguns found by the TSA each week. You should follow @TSAblogteam on twitter if you don’t already. While the strange items they find attract the most attention, the number of weapons they find as a matter of course is surprising. While there is an argument to be made that these can be found without enhanced pat downs and whole body imaging technology, or without the TSA altogether, something is driving the desire to arm the friendly skies. As a side not, I am not saying guns are inherently bad.

7. We need robust discourse about the TSA across our society and it’s value in securing our transportation infrastructure.

We are just passing the ten-year anniversary mark for many airports ramping up their TSA operations. TSA security has become a fixture in contemporary American airports and they largely dictate how we fly. The conversation about the TSA has been largely driven by official PR work, a scattering of news stories dictated by that PR work and by legitimate issues within the TSA, and by a great many critics who trend towards the hyperbolic rather than the substantive.

A polarized debate driven by the issues I have identified above is rather unproductive. For example, those who argue that the TSA is “proudly molesting grandma’s & little kids since super-lez napolatino took office” delegitimize resistance. Aside from the personal attacks and the hate speech. I point to this tweet in particular because of the continued, and perplexing, argument that the TSA is associated somehow with advancing a homosexual agenda (See here & here). Whatever that argument means. Critics of the TSA need to engage with the agency in less hostile, personal, and hyperbolic ways that make use of material harms and congressional channels. Such efforts can maximize passenger angst and moderate dissatisfaction over fringe anti-state assumptions and hostile rhetoric.

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TSA Agent Nabbed in Child Porn Sting, Fear of TSA Increases

Consumerist, owned by Consumer Reports, keeps a healthy eye on the TSA and picked up this story by the Boston Herald that a TSA Agent was among the 55 individuals caught in a child pornography sting. Consumerist reports:

The Transportation Security Administration keeps getting hit with scandal after scandal — from thieving agents to employees with ridiculous demands, or those who leave creepy notes in passengers’ bags. And now, in an even ickier development, a TSA agent who worked at Boston’s Logan International Airport has been nabbed as part of a sweeping child pornography crackdown.

Now this entire issue is somewhat ridiculous, I say that because the TSA is being spotlighted while the employment status of the other 54 people arrested has not been released. Thus, it is easy to see how this story plays into TSA paranoia while others being charged could have had more direct and regular contact with children and the general public. That said there is some interesting material to explore here.

This article is fascinating for its link into the inherent anti-TSA paranoia propagated across the web. There are two tones of criticism of the TSA present in this story: one useful and the other that contributes to the ongoing conspiratorial rhetoric against the TSA.

The Boston Herald notes:

Periodic arrests of TSA agents on sex charges across the nation have fueled criticism of the agency’s screening of its own employees, tasked with patting down the traveling public and keeping the airways safe. At least two other TSA officers assigned to Logan have faced sex charges in the past two years. Sex charges against others have been reported in Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and other states

While, The Boston Herald fails to establish any basis for knowing if this case, and these other periodic cases, when contextualized among the 50,000 TSA officers who have regular contact with the public. It is nonetheless important to consider the standards, or lack thereof, used in hiring and training TSA employees. Given my own research into the TSA’s use of pat-downs and performances of bodily contact, it does suggest that for jobs that regularly require rituals of bodies in contact more clarity of hiring standards could be needed. That said, it would be mistaken to assume that more stringent hiring standards would have automatically precluded this person from being hired by the TSA.

Having said there are legitimate concerns, the standard anti-TSA talking points come in full force in the comments section of the two publications. For example, “Cowboyesfan” wonders “Could looking at the porno scanners all day long have caused this?” “Toadboy65” offers a cogent explanations, “What kind of people do you expect to apply for a job where you are required to fondle people of all ages all day…” and an anonymous poster at the Herald asked “Was he strip searched like all the good TSAs do to the flying public?”

While ignorant internet comments are nothing new (understatement of the decade), discourse of this type shows the disconnect between public discussions of the TSA and the actual TSA itself. As long as this gap persists and the public is lodged in a paranoid vision of the TSA as a mass of pedophiles desiring to see and feel nude bodies, constructive criticism of the agency is unlikely to emerge.

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Deconstructing Arguments of Resistance Towards the #TSA [Updatedx2]

Consumerist is reportating that the TSA is attempting to caution media outlets and bloggers from covering this story altogether. They report:

“I received an email from the TSA saying they would ‘strongly caution’ me against covering the story. They say you’re a man that “clearly has an agenda” and should ‘not be aided by the mainstream media.'”

Unpacking these two claims we can see the TSA is going about making a valid point in a very problematic way. As my original post argues vigorously the creator of the video does “clearly has an agenda,” an anti-tsa agenda at that. However, strongly cautioning against disseminating this story is an attempt to chill the free reporting of news (this seems to qualify as news especially if the loophole exists) and continues a strategy of dead silence that will only embolden the conspiratorial logic and rhetoric of the TSA’s critics.

Moreover, the TSA is making the wrong play here. The should address the potential loophole, offer a solution (even if this takes time), and address the video’s creator’s agenda as part of their response. While in general it is bad form for a government agency to go after a private citizen, in this case the invective in the video is full of so much off topic and unsourced editorializing that the TSA’s silence is in part driving the viral nature of the story.

To be clear, no response will shake the anti-TSA fervor of the TSA’s ardent critics, represented in this artifact. However, trying to chill the press from covering it widens the audience susceptible to the conspiracy’s logic and is a strategic blunder for the TSA.


The TSA has publicly responded stating:

For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field…With all that said, it is one layer of our 20 layers of security (Behavior Detection, Explosives Detection Canines, Federal Air Marshals, , etc.) and is not a machine that has all the tools we need in one handy device. We’ve never claimed it’s the end all be all.

It is clear that this is a pretty typical non-response. Citing security reasons they cannot say if this method is able to circumvent whole body imagers. As a result there is no actual confirmation of if the gap in security exists. That said, their emphasis on layered security does emphasize the voracious fetish with whole body imagers by anti-TSA critics is detrimental to a holistic conversation about security in the United States.


Disclosure: I am currently writing my doctoral dissertation on the TSA and I cover many aspects of the TSA and one of my dissertation chapters focuses on public resistance to the TSA. As such, I perk up when a video claiming to beat the TSA or to resist the TSA begins to go viral on the internet.

Last night I came across this video purporting to have found a way to beat the whole body imagers used by the TSA to screen passengers, employees, and some visitors to our nations airports.

I am fascinated by this video’s schizoid representation of anti-TSA discourse. On the one hand, if the video’s purported flaw in both backscatter and millimeter wave technology is accurate then it could pose an enormous security risk to the nation’s air infrastructure. That said, his videos of clearing security offer no actual evidence since the videos do not show him actually carrying the device through (admittedly an almost impossible video to get). Thus, as someone concerned about the types of security used this make me nervous as a researcher, traveler, and taxpayer.

Second, as a rhetorical critic I am deeply suspicious of the numerous non-sequeters made throughout the video that draw on a dangerous conspiratorial rhetoric surrounding the TSA and do little to engage the TSA on policy terms they are likely to respond to. To provide some analysis lets move through a transcript of the claims he makes.

Lets move paragraph by paragraph here:

I’m publishing this video because I want the world to know how much danger the American Transportation Security Administration is putting all us all in with their haste to deploy the expensive, invasive nude body scanner program. When the machines came out, we were told that the invasion on our privacy, doses of radiation, and trashing of our Constitution were necessary because the old metal detectors weren’t good enough. That “non-metallic explosives” were a threat, even though no one has boarded a plane in the US with any type of explosive in nearly 40 years. But while America was testing these devices, Rafi Sela, who ran security for Ben Gurion airport in Israel, which is known for being one of the most secure airports in the world, was quoted saying he could “overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to take down a Boeing 747,” and Ben Gurion therefore refused to buy scanners. The US ignored this warning, and Mr. Sela never publicly explained his statement. But it stuck with me.

We have two issue at work here: First in terms of rhetorical framing by calling them nude body scanners (yes they see underneath your clothes and can make out anatomical detail, but this description is just as much a rhetorical trope as calling them whole body imagers) we can see clear political motivation at work that undermines the credibility of the entire effort. A motive based on despising the TSA is apparent and a desire to expose them is manifested far before concern for safety.

Second, Mr Sela’s lack of explanation, while alarming, is not enough on its own. It neglects innovation in the software and attempts to prove the situation with a negative-an absence of evidence as proof of a flaw. We have reason to be suspect already.

As a scientist, engineer, and frequent traveler, as well as the first person to sue the TSA when they rolled out the scanners as primary in Nov. 2010, I studied and learned about both kinds of scanners currently in use by the TSA. Here are several images produced by TSA nude body scanners. You’ll see that the search victim is drawn with light colors and placed on a black background in both images. In these samples, the individuals are concealing metallic objects that you can see as a black shape on their light figure. Again that’s light figure, black background, and BLACK threat items. Yes that’s right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same color as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection.

First, his appeal “As a scientist, engineer, and frequent traveler, as well as the first person to sue the TSA when they rolled out the scanners as primary in Nov. 2010, I studied and learned about both kinds of scanners currently in use by the TSA” is of no consequence at face value. As Ben Goldacre reminds us, especially in science, appeals to authority are the weakest forms of credibility. What kind of scientist? What kind of engineer? How frequently do you travel? This may all be relevant, but it is used here to suppose credibility without substantiation. It may all be relevant but the discourse lacks credibility because too much is left unsaid.

Second, the analysis of the images and the use of a negative background is fascinating and the moment where the video is useful. I am interested to know if this is a software or hardware issue with the machines and if this flaw can be addressed procedurally or not. Here the showing and telling is enough to spark concern.

It can’t possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they?

Alas, he falls back to a snide tone instead of critical discourse. As a litigant I am sure calling the agency you are suing stupid will help your case (See what I did there?). Besides there is a difference between stupid and calculated risk. The point is, vocal critics of the TSA in the face of enormously powerful arguments against agency actions often choose the lowest forms of argumentation to make their points. We will see more evidence of that later.

Unfortunately, they can, and they are. To put it to the test, I bought a sewing kit from the dollar store, broke out my 8th grade home ec skills, and sewed a pocket directly on the side of a shirt. Then I took a random metallic object, in this case a heavy metal carrying case that would easily alarm any of the “old” metal detectors, and walked through a backscatter x-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. On video, of course. While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket. My camera gets placed on the conveyer belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

Maybe a fluke? Ok, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimeter wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in. With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.

While I carried the metal case empty, by one with mal-intent, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous 7 gram rocks of cocaine. With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. It’s important to note that any metal object of any size can use this technique. …and I don’t urge you to try to bring contraband through security, as the nude body scanners often have false positives: so while the metal on your side might get through, a button on your shirt or a sweaty armpit might “look suspicious” and earn you a pat down anyway.

Here we get his experiment, that offers compelling evidence and should come with an even more strident don’t try this at home warning. The video could have been shortened to this point and a solicitation for comment, but alas, it continues devolving into fairly normalized anti-TSA rhetoric.

Now, I’m sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it’s beyond belief that the terrorists haven’t already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us. It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety: anything to force Americans to give up our liberty to the federal government and our tax dollars to companies that are in bed with that government. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud, which should come as no surprise after the Fast & Furious scandal that sent thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels and cost a Customs and Border Patrol agent his life. THIS is a disgrace. So let’s fix this problem — now — before the terrorists take this opportunity to hurt us: the TSA must immediately end the nude body scanner program, and return to the tried-and-true metal detectors that actually work, and work without invading our privacy, as well as implement better solutions for non-metallic explosives, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and trace detection machines.

First, we have a straw person argument at the top. He offers a direct idea of how the TSA responds allowing him to define the argumentative terrain before the TSA responds (its unlikely they will do so-I have reached out to their blog team for comment).

Second, he reads sets of desires into the TSA that are wholly unsubstantiated:
(1) arrogantly decided to disregard our safety (As opposed to safety being a complex and impossible mandate)
(2) anything to force Americans to give up our liberty to the federal government (The TSA was not the initiating actor it was created and given a mandate)
(3)The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud, which should come as no surprise after the Fast & Furious scandal that sent thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels and cost a Customs and Border Patrol agent his life. (There is not enough evidence to deem the program a fraud. Can this vulnerability be sealed? It is evidence irrefutable? What does the TSA have to do with Fast & Furious?-Non-sequitor? On this point we can see extremely poor and paranoid reasoning patterns coming to play.

Last, he makes the claim “the TSA must immediately end the nude body scanner program, and return to the tried-and-true metal detectors that actually work, and work without invading our privacy, as well as implement better solutions for non-metallic explosives, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and trace detection machines” Aside from his demands going nowhere, his mistake is to assume that metal detectors are tried and true, they are not and routinely provide inadequate security. Moreover, trace machines are less efficient than whole body imagers. A massive use of bomb-sniffing dogs is compelling and possibly an interesting layer to consider, but he offers no evidence of their feasibility at massive passenger screening locations.

My point in all of this is not to shame a vocal critic of the TSA. I think we need more vocal critics of the TSA. However, I do believe that when folks take to the public screen to criticize the TSA they need to make clearer arguments that rests less on recycled conspiratorial rhetoric and focuses more on evidence-based discussion of the gaps between the TSA’s mandate to secure the nation’s air infrastructure and its potential shortcomings. Those arguments are likely to be publicly persuasive. Otherwise, the argumentative patters above are too easily dismissed and unlikely to gain the mainstream traction needed to alter public discourse about the TSA.

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TSA Baggage Check-October 26, 2011


Busy week in TSA land as the TSA blog takes on Internet rumors and an inappropriate note left in a passenger’s bag makes a buzz online.

First, a TSA exercise got a few folks thinking the TSA was setting up roadside check points in Tennessee. The TSA says that was not the case.

Second, a loaded gun fell from a piece of checked luggage prompting rapid criticism of the agency. The TSA responded saying that they do not look for weapons in checked luggage they only screen for explosives. The LA Times has the story.

Last, when an agent found a sex toy in a checked bag they wrote “Get your freak on girl” on the “Notice of Inspection.” The agency has since found the offending agent, saying “The handwritten note was highly inappropriate and unprofessional, and TSA has zero tolerance for this type of behavior.” The agency says disciplinary action has been taken.


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