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January 30th, 2013
Freethought San Marcos: Becoming a victim of TSA’s goons

Freethought San Marcos: A column

While flying on a plane going west
My luggage lock was supposedly the best
It met all of TSA’s requirements and rules
But still they broke it looking for liquids and tools
[May be sung to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Dream (1963), or not]

Last summer, I bought new luggage that came with a Travel Sentry Lock for a trip on JetBlue, traveling from Austin to California to take our grand daughter to Disneyland.  The lock on my luggage was missing when I retrieved the bag in Long Beach.  Inside was a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Notice of Baggage Inspection, the TSA stamp on the notice so light that it is nearly impossible to read.  It appears to provide the date followed by “BW18105,” but I have no idea whether this code has any significance.

My luggage, bought three days before our trip, is a Kirkland Signature 26″ Spinner Bag with TSAOO2 stamped on its TSA-approved lock.  The lock had three cylinders, with a key hole for use by TSA.  As explained in the instructions that came with the lock, the purpose is to allow access by TSA without damaging the lock.  Nevertheless, my lock was missing when my bag arrived in Long Beach.  My wife’s identical bag and lock arrived unscathed, but it had not been inspected by TSA.

I am aware that TSA is given the job of inspecting luggage using standards not generally known to the public.  That awareness does not lessen the feelings I have had, every time my luggage has been inspected (this makes three times), that my privacy has been violated – my underwear has been rifled; my prescription drugs have been viewed; and my other possessions have been molested.  When a lock made to TSA’s specifications goes missing after an inspection, I have feelings that my government has violated my person and possessions.  The least TSA could do is replace the lock, though I am sure that would take an act of Congress for an item worth no more than $15.

I am a law-abiding senior citizen.  I don’t deserve to have my property violated and destroyed by TSA, though I know that TSA will blame the conveyor belts and take no responsibility for its actions.  But the loss of my $15 lock is insignificant when compared to TSA’s other common offenses.

Last year, we frequently read about the new TSA x-ray machines that show body parts.  To avoid exposing your body to TSA meant that you didn’t fly or you subjected yourself to genital groping by a TSA employee.  Last week, TSA announced that it was discontinuing use of these revealing machines in favor of machines that indicate suspicious areas on a diagram of a human body.  I learned first hand, however, on a flight to Oregon last fall, that these machines can’t distinguish fatty tissue from bomb-making material.  I’m usually good-humored about my fat, but I don’t like it when government employees think it is funny, which is how a TSA employee reacted to the extra adipose tissue under my arm pit.

But many travelers endure real humiliation: strip searches, breast massages, genital gropes, an accusation that a woman had a penis, exposing a 17-year old girl’s bra by pulling her top down, and other humiliating experiences, at times in front of dozens of onlookers, such as in this report:

“Mother is 89 years old, has terminal cancer, weighs 67 pounds, has a colostomy bag and English paperwork from (the) Japanese Government stating so. She speaks no English. They herded everyone through the new machine. Then they select Mother as well as Mrs. EX for extra pat down. Why? No one knows. They get separated, Mother understands nothing. Mrs. EX is not allowed to translate or assist. They call for a Chinese speaking screener, which of course is totally unhelpful. They touch this 89 year old Great Grandmother everywhere. Imagine how that feels for a Japanese citizen! The same with my wife. My goodness, these two little Japanese ladies are going home to Japan, for crying out loud. Incidentally, now they have no view of their belongings in the tray. After ten minutes of touching, groping and needless questioning, they are on their own to look for their belongings. Mrs. EX had two trays, one had her Rolex wristwatch inside. Now there is only one tray and the watch is missing! No help, no assistance, nothing. On top of it, now they have to rush to board. The two ladies are completely upset, crying.”

In a report dated December, 2010, I found this account of an incident at the Austin airport:

“When a computer malfunction caused the lines at the airport to back up and many missed their flights,  Claire Hirschkind, age 56 was one of the first to the security checkpoint.  She said that she could not go through the backscatter machine because she wears a pace maker.  TSA officials told her that she would have to get a ‘pat down’ and she agreed so long as her breasts were not touched.  TSA officers said that they would touch her breasts and when Hirschkind refused to comply she was arrested.  She says that the police pushed her to the ground, handcuffed her and then dragged her across the airport ground while she cried.”

In September, 2011, a Santa Monica, CA, woman wrote about her TSA search experience on her blog:

“Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault. . . . Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, ‘YOU RAPED ME.’ And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.”

The TSA employee hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the blog writer for $500,000, claiming defamation.  It seems that publicly reporting TSA’s abuse leads only to more problems for a citizen.  Although an almost endless stream of TSA abuse reports can be found with a web search, few elected officials have publicly voiced their opposition to this abuse.

For all of this abuse and more, I am ashamed of my government.  It appears that the terrorists did in fact win by causing our government to resort to totalitarian measures, the least of which involve the destruction of my property.  When a government agency engages in sexual assault and emotional abuse at its whim, it engages in an “egregious abuse of power,” as described by a 58-year old woman who endured an invasive body search in Birmingham, Alabama, last November.  And TSA takes no responsibility for its actions.  It even says so on its Notice of Bag Inspection and on the TSA website.  It has become a government agency that behaves no better than King George’s appointees to the colonies 250 years ago.

TSA’s behavior reflects the attitude of a despotic government, which already has access to my emails, my phone records, my phone conversations, and my financial transactions.  After writing about this publicly, I could well be placed on some special TSA list that will assure heightened scrutiny and harassment whenever I fly (which, fortunately, is seldom).

This is not the America that was falsely described to me in public school.  It is not the land of the free, because we have no recourse for such treatment.  It is the land of goons – those hired to terrorize or harm others – who, at their whim, abuse powerless citizens.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.

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12 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Becoming a victim of TSA’s goons

  1. I guess I am lucky. I have had nothing but excellent experiences with the TSA personnel at airports in Austin, Denver, Madison and Juneau. I’ve flown twice with our infant daughter, once she was about 8 months old, the other time a year old. I was incredibly nervous flying with a baby and everything that entails including extra bags, diapers, milk, snacks, entertainment, and medicine, not to mention a stroller. Both times the security staff were helpful, courteous and even encouraging towards the big family trip. The were sweet towards my daughter and polite towards myself and my wife.

    I keep hearing horror stories, but i’ve yet to experience any myself. If anything, I’ve had quite the opposite experience. I have hair past my shoulder and a big bushy beard so if they were profiling I’m pretty sure i’d have been tagged as well.

  2. “Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.”
    Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials

    I will not subject myself nor my family to needless radiation exposure nor TSA molestation. My family and I will not be flying until the TSA changes these procedures.

  3. I was also a victim of a TSA sexual assault. A screener at BWI put a metal detecting wand up my skirt and shoved it inside my body, lodging my underwear inside of me. This disgusting action is classified by the FBI’s definition as rape because rape includes “penetration, however slight, by a foreign object”. After the TSA raped me, I followed up with numerous complaints and only got a response after my congressman Ben Cardin demanded an answer.

    Basically, the TSA said that things like this happen and that “although your genital area was violated”, the screener “followed established protocol”. That is, TSA knows their screeners are raping women at the checkpoint, and they do not intend to change any of their procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  4. Excellent column — thank you.
    But please pardon a quibble. TSA is far, far worse than anything King George III ever even considered doing. Anyone hoping to molest all passengers boarding a ship in the 1760’s or ’70’s would have been instantly horsewhipped and hanged — by the King’s own officers.

  5. Quit your crying. The stupid shall be punished. When I fly I don’t lock my luggage, I wear sandals with no belt, and I leave my ego at the door. A small price to pay to keep the wolf at bay.

  6. Oh well put Marco. I especially appreciate your sentiment about the stupid being punished – I could not agree more: stupidity will very likely take us to some places we probably don’t want to go.

    Since you are obviously so clear on this sort of thing I would really love hearing from you about which of our Constitutional freedoms we should abolish in the name of so-called safety. Please enlighten the rest of us. There are wolves out there around every corner and we need folks like you to lead us to our fenced in pens. Keep up the good work.

  7. I was a founding member Mr. Mann so I have risen a few steps up the bureaucracy by now, lucky us. RIght now I am pushing for mandatory drug testing and full body cavity searches for anyone who wants to travel outside of their neighborhood. I really think I stand a chance at making this happen too! No price is too high for security here in the land of the Free Time!

    I’m also really anxious to try and figure out a way to combine national security with reality television. I believe near infinite opportunities lie in that direction for keeping us both safe and sated. Such forward thinking really makes more sense than blindly adhering to some archaic document like the Bill of Rights crafted, what, 500 years ago? Please.

    PS: I would avoid the name-calling sir. You might end up on the no-fly list.

  8. Have sme people here forgotten that we are still at war with terror? Do some people want to make it easier for terror to get weapons and bombs aboard airliners for the sake of convenience and privacy ? So it appears.

  9. Yes, terrorist are still at war with us, and they wear the blue TSA shirt.

    TSA does not provide security. Just watch a shift change. TSA employees and their bags sail right through security with no bag check or body scan or metal detector – just like in the recent bond movie. Who watches the watchman? TSA is supposed to do background checks on its workforce, but they can and do grant waivers to convicted criminals. Worried about islamic extremists? TSA isn’t. They are an equal oportunity employer, and don’t discriminate on the basis of religion. Just because a person is on a no fly list doesn’t mean he can’t work for the TSA (on the ground, of course.)

    We know from congressional reports we can’t count on TSA’s intelligence, machines or screeners to catch threats. According to Congressman John Mica, the failure rates are “off the charts”.

    What can we count on the with the TSA? Theft, abuse, and assault; denial of any wrongdoing, and a vindictive attitude towards passengers, especially women.

    In spite of all the passengers it has abused, the property it has damaged, destroyed, or stolen, TSA still believes it is doing a great job. It wants the public to think so too. It wants to be appreciated for the job it is doing. They believe they are not the problem – you are!

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