Every Time I Try to Get Out...

... they keep pulling me back in. More on the TSA / Security Theater front.

1) From a reader in China -- where, as it can't be said often enough, dissidents are locked up but normal travelers are spared America's new "enhanced" search -- this account and (unauthorized camera-phone) picture from the Beijing Capital airport:

>>I'm not sure if you have visited Beijing recently. [JF: It's been four months.] Well just now I was flying back to Shenzhen for the 3rd time in about 6 weeks and I have to say that there's something very unique and professional about the security staff. First of all there are so many of them. They are young and they seem happy to be there they seem to have personalities and they seem to like each other. They work well together. It's impressive to watch. It's unique to Beijing the other airports in China are more military style. This month I've been in many us and eu airports as well as HK this is by far the best for the security even though they rescanned my bag twice.<<

I am generally a skeptic on the "ooh! China is so great and we're falling so far behind!" front. But this account is worth noting. Camera phone pic below:

2) Thanks to many for this sign from OlegVolk:


3) From numerous readers, reminders of this real-world case, just last year, of the danger William Vambenepe had speculated about: software errors exposing people to far higher doses of radiation than anyone intended, or was aware of until long after the damage was done.

4) Fair-minded, fact-driven, and reportorial as we always are, Jeffrey Goldberg and I have sent in requests for a "let's hear the other side" interview with John Pistole, the head of TSA; and I've tried to reach the agency's famously upbeat "Blogger Bob," in hopes of a back-and-forth on questions about the new procedures. (Blogger Bob tends to refer to criticisms of any tactic with, "it just makes good security sense.") So far no luck on either front.
After the jump, an account from a man who has recently had prostate surgery, about the pat-down drill.

5) From a frequent flyer in the South:

>>I am a frequent flier travelling out of Richmond, VA. We have the new backscatter machines and everyone is required to go through them. When they were installing them I was going through the line and one of the TSA agents gruffly told me to take my belt off. It was never a problem before in the metal detector, and I said so. He said "take it off. Now." I asked why and he said they want everyone to get used to removing their belts for the new machines they were installing. I said that I would rather everyone get used to not having to be strip searched in order to travel.

You can opt out, which I did several times at first, but then I gave in because it is too time consuming. Initially I was opting out because I had recently had prostate surgery and was wearing an absorbent pad, so having to explain that to them was not something I looked forward to. I'm sure they could see it with the X-ray, but could not tell from a pat down. Now that I don't need the pad, I just go through the machine and get on with it.

The main problem for me is the extra time required to get everyone to remove shoes, belts, and empty their pockets completely. I could see these machines being used as secondary screening if there was "probable cause", but not as a replacement for the metal detectors.

I know a lot of people get worked up over the person running the machine seeing them essentially naked. I do think this is an invasion of privacy, and is not really effective. (But at the same time, next time you are in the airport, look around. Aren't you glad all those people traveling are wearing clothes? Seeing 98% of them naked would require lots of eye bleach. That screening job should get extra pay.)

I understand the anger at the machines and the whole security theater. It is a waste of time and energy, and should be based on threat, not just bulk screening. In my case, I have no choice. My job requires travel, typically 2 to 4 airports each week. Not flying is not an option, and getting pissy with the TSA agents will just get me busted. I have to do this for several more years to be able to retire, so I have to go with the flow.<<<

I have to fly from Boston to DC tomorrow, but I am doing it in a way that leaves me confident of avoiding the strip-search machine, the pat-down, or even the metal detector or the requirement to turn my cell phone off before take off. I will the resolution to that puzzler to the imagination.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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