TSA to My Mother-in-Law: 'There's an Anomaly in the Crotch Area'

Okay, I now have definitive proof that al Qaeda has actually won. It hasn't achieved the dissolution of the United States, or succeeded in murdering millions of Americans, or  re-established the Caliphate, but it has caused our government to debase itself in the name of security. To wit:

My mother-in-law was traveling home to Rhode Island from Washington Reagan airport this past Tuesday night when, passing through the TSA naked-porno machine, she triggered an alarm.

 A bit of background before I continue: My mother-in-law, though youthful in outlook and an all-around very attractive person, is also 79-years-old,  4'11" if she's lucky, and weighs about 110 pounds. She was in Washington to visit her grandchildren, and to lobby the Rhode Island congressional delegation as part of the American Library Association's National Library Legislative Day. She is not a threatening person, in appearance or demeanor. I don't know this for sure, but I think she was probably carrying a library tote bag of some sort -- or perhaps it was an NPR tote bag -- as she approached the security checkpoint. A general rule: terrorists don't carry tote bags.

She entered the machine and struck the humiliating pose one is forced to strike -- hands up, as in an armed robbery -- and then walked out, when she was asked by a TSA agent, in a voice loud enough for several people to hear, "Are you wearing a sanitary napkin?"

Remember, she's 79.

My mother-in-law answered, "No. Why do you ask?"
 
The TSA agent responded: "Well, are you wearing anything else down there?"

Yes, "down there."

She said no, at which point, the friend with whom she was traveling, also a not-young volunteer library advocate, came over and asked if there was a problem.

The TSA agent said, again, in full voice, "There's an anomaly in the crotch area."

This is, of course, a painful post for me to write. Like most normal American men, I don't want to see the words "my mother-in-law" and "crotch area" in the same paragraph. But let me go on anyway.

My mother-in-law said, "As far as I know I don't have any anomalies in the crotch area."

The TSA agent told her she would have to go through the scanner again. She demurred, saying she didn't like the machine very much. The agent told her she could opt for a pat-down. My mother-in-law refused to be frisked, figuring, correctly, that "they were going to pat-down my crotch area. I mean, there wasn't an anomaly in the chest area."

So she went through the scanner again. Of course, this time -- one minute later -- the TSA found no "anomalies," and she was free to go.

The experience left her flummoxed, however. "What did they think I was, a lady underpants bomber?"

I asked her if she felt  embarrassed by the manner in which the TSA treated her.

"I'm not embarrassed," she said. "I just think they're stupid and their machinery is defective and they should learn to whisper when they're talking about my crotch, or anyone's crotch."

The question is, How did it come to pass that the federal government takes official and invasive interest in the "crotch areas" of 79-year-old grandmothers? Have we just gone crazy?

UPDATE: I missed this crotch-related TSA story when it first came out earlier this week:

A freshman Republican from Texas says the TSA got a little too friendly during a recent pat-down in San Antonio -- leading to an exchange where the congressman and the TSA agent wanted each other arrested for assault.

Last week, a TSA agent at San Antonio International Airport patted down Francisco "Quico" Canseco, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee.  The agent, Canseco told POLITICO, was so aggressive in his pat-down that Canseco ended up batting the agent's hand away.

"As he was moving up my leg, he moved his hand aggressively up to my crotch and he hurt me," Canseco said.  "The natural reaction is when someone goes for your crotch and it hurts, you're going to pull back -- and my right arm came down and moved away his hand briskly."

That's when the agent stopped the whole process, Canseco said.

"As I moved his hand away, he claims, 'I've been assaulted, I've been assaulted,'" he said.

The agent then called the police over and asked them to arrest the lawmaker.

"I told him, 'Hey, I'm the guy who was assaulted,'" Canseco said.

It took 20 minutes for police to untangle the spat, but no charges were filed and no citations were issued.

But the story doesn't end there, Canseco said. Earlier this week, he was patted down again in San Antonio.
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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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