'Are Any Parts of Your Body Sore?' Asks the Man From TSA

Reagan National, 6:40 a.m. today. I opt-out of the humiliating back-scatter machine and ask for a pat-down. Once again, the TSA officers eye me suspiciously. "Wait here," one says. I wait, and wait some more. One obvious technique the TSA is using to funnel passengers through the back-scatter imager is to waste their time -- many people can't afford to wait five minutes for a pat-down, and will exchange the humiliation of the Federal Dick-Measurer for a speedier trip through security.

Eventually, I'm called over for my pat-down. "Do you want to do this privately?" he asks. "No, right here in the middle of the airport is fine," I say.

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"The guidelines have changed, just to warn you. We now have to run our hands through your groin until we meet --"

"Resistance. Yes, I know," I say.

"Are any parts of your body sore?" he asks. 

"No," I say, instantly regretting that I didn't say, "Yes. My groin. Very sore."  Next time.

He feels me up. "Could you widen your stance, please?" he asks.

"Hey, I'm not in the United States Senate!" I say, widening my stance.

His search is fairly half-hearted. He spends more time stroking the back of my tie than he spends between my legs.

I ask, "Do a lot of people opt-out?"

"No, not many."

"People are cows," I say.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean they'll do whatever the federal government tells them to do," I say.

"How come you don't go through the machine?" he asks me.

I give him several more answers than he expected:
1) I prefer to limit my exposure to radiation, which the back-scatter imager produces;
2) I don't think this new technology will stop terrorism;
3) I find the idea of the government taking pictures of my genitalia a discomfiting invasion of privacy;
4) I find the specific pose a person is forced to take inside the machine -- hands up, as in a mugging -- particularly debasing.

"Okay," he says, "have a nice flight." 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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