The TSA Holiday Blues

(photo credit: TSA)

James Fallows is one of the least rufflable people I know -- and yet, this cryptic criticism of TSA people-handling made it into one of his posts a couple of days ago (the update at the bottom of the piece). 

Jim writes:

Update, from the boarding area: Some day I would like TSA Administrator John Pistole to go through security at Dulles, with no one knowing who he is. I have a couple of officers I'll introduce him to; I've memorized their names, including Officer O... today.

Today while being frisked myself I saw a spectacle that made me embarrassed for my country: it involved a disabled child, in a stroller and with a feeding tube attached, who appeared to be about three years old and from India. But I digress. Season's Greetings, even to the TSA!

I hope the TSA Administrator and his team really do read this admonition from Fallows -- and my reposting of it.  I realize that there are many great TSA staff who treat those they are managing with respect and courtesy -- but some do not.  Some are on serious power trips and remind me a bit too much of those prison guards in the famous Stanford study, who intoxicated with their superiority became seriously abusive.

I have a long list of TSA grievances -- ranging from the rudeness of TSA staff when I choose to be "frisked" rather than going through the hands up, x-ray machine to the "enforced freeze in your place" command that often happens at LAX Airport in Los Angeles when everyone is ordered not to move and stand -- often for five minutes or more.  This seems to be an infringement on my liberty of movement and have thought about filing a complaint on TSA's extensive complaints page.

What Fallows writes about the young disabled child, most likely from India, is a scene I have seen far too often at airports around the US.  I too feel an urge to walk up to these people who have in every case been innocent of whatever suspicions TSA had of them and apologize for the behavior of that officer and for our country.  This isn't to say that one can't investigate security threats -- even when they are young or very old people -- but the TSA officials I have seen demonstrate no humor, no generosity of spirit, no courtesy and respect to those they are putting through extra security hoops.

Bottom line is that I hope TSA Administrator John Pistole takes Fallows' challenge and goes through a high traffic TSA checkpoint without his badge, perhaps wearing some grungy clothes and sunglasses, and checks out the demeanor and attitude of his employees.

It's not fun.  The TSA brigades I see who seem uninterested in the welfare or needs of travelers remind me of what we used to think security types in the former Soviet Union were like -- unresponsive to citizens.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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