Ah, the TSA

So I’ve been spending a great deal of time at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website, in the wake of the “fluids on a plane” incident. My philosophy has always been that in order to defeat the enemy, you must know the enemy, and this had led me to read through a wide assortment of TSA guidelines in order to better understand what the hell is going on in the world. It’s a pretty strange world out there, kids, as anyone who has flown recently knows.

Hell, the last time I went on a plane I made the mistake of wearing clogs with steel rivets and I cooled my heels in a high security room for quite some time while three TSA workers dismantled my Danskos. Those were good shoes, too, damnit, and then I had to run through the fucking Cleveland airport at warp speed with the heels flapping like the mouths of gossiping harridans.

The TSA is pretty hip. They must have someone on staff who reads blogs and follows major news stories, because I notice there’s always a rapid response to negative reporting. For example, earlier in the week a number of news sources reported that the technology we use to scan for explosives in things like shoes isn’t actually very effective. The TSA countered with a feature on how they respond to ieds. Most airports now support their x-ray machines with swab detection devices, which have a very high false-positive rate.

I also stumbled across (via BoingBoing), an article on service animals. I’ve taken animals through security before, although never in a post September 11 environment, and I remember wondering how, exactly, animals are screened. Service animals add another layer of difficulty, thanks to the requirements of their owners. It must be an intense thing to be blind, going through security with your dog, even though the TSA claims to train its employees in the proper methods for dealing with service animals. The TSA sounds fairly thorough, although they ignore an obvious point–in a country where animals are viewed as objects, why not make an entire animal an ied, through the use of swallowed or implanted explosives?

Indeed, what about the use of yourself as an ied? I mean I hate to be giving the TSA any ideas here, but a number of people wear implanted medical devices, which carry documentation. “Oh, that’s just my pacemaker,” says the right wing fundamentalist on the way to bomb a plane full of gays. “Great,” says the TSA officer. How do you counter the threat of internally carried ieds seriously?

At dinner the other night, we were talking about the recent changes in airport security, and one of my companions made a good point, one which I firmly agree with: we are letting the terrorists win. They have come to govern our lives on all levels–someone, somewhere, is very happy about the state of terror American keeps its civilians in.

Estimated cost of lost time due to security-related airport delays is in the billions. If I was a terrorist, I’d be mighty proud of that kind of impact on the American economy–that’s no small potatoes. Especially when you consider that I am more likely to be hit by lighting tomorrow than I am to die in a terrorist attack. Yet I don’t see the American government investing millions of dollars in anti-lightning efforts. The US government is not good at prioritizing the use of funds–funds raised from the tax dollars of the beleaguered middle classes.

I’ve lived in a lot of places all over the world, some of which were/are heavily victimized by terrorists. And I have never seen anything like the United States.

I’ve been around police forces that carry automatic weapons and ask you for your papers–I’ve snuck my way across borders into places I shouldn’t have been. Hell, I’ve even talked with radical extremists who had committed acts of terror such as kidnapping. I was on a flight that was hijacked, and I’ve been on trains and boats that have been stopped to root out terrorists. And it was scary: I’m not going to deny that. But there was also an air of business as usual about it, a sense of “let’s not let the little fuckers disrupt us any more than we have to.”

Most of the countries I have been which have heavy security precautions utilize highly trained, confident, polite police forces. I’ve never felt fear in approaching or being approached by these men and women, even though they might seem very intimidating in their camouflage and gloves and huge guns. They are there to do a job, and they do it calmly and with respect. In the United States, I’m scared shitless of these kids who are poorly trained, living in a culture of fear, waving around very very dangerous weapons.

Our security methods are not effective or efficient–they are transparent and easy to manipulate, tweak, and learn. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to get through airport security when it’s all on display out in the open-style. If frequent fliers can learn how to subvert the system, don’t you think terrorists can too?

The terrorists are winning if we live in a world where every day is a day of new fears and worries. They are winning when we sit at airports for hours waiting to clear incompetant security checks. I’ve been in high security airports which actually get bombed on a daily basis and I’ve always passed through security with a minimum of fuss, thanks to a high level of efficiency. We all work together, yes, and we all make some sacrifices for the greater good, but more importantly things get done.

It’s reasonable to take precautions–it’s not reasonable to live in a bubble. The systems we use for tracking threats are useless–for example, I, an entirely harmless academic, am listed as a security threat on the FBI red flag list, which means that going through airport security for me is a nightmare. Once I made the mistake of talking in Arabic with a friend while in line for the x-ray: never again, I say. When people are flagged for having the same name as someone else, when figures in power are exempt from screening, when we must arrive three hours early for a domestic flight: the terrorists have won.

And we’re ‘mericans, damn it. Fuck the terrorists! We shouldn’t be such pussies, letting them towelheads win, man. So fight back. Don’t live in fear. Tell the TSA to stuff their travel tips where the sun don’t shine, because you’re taking the train–you’ve got people to see and places to go. We all know that I’m not all rah-rah go America, but I am rah-rah go public freedoms, and I see a severe abridgement being suffered by the citizens of this country because you are allowing the government to manipulate you. Let’s all get on the red flag list. They can’t detain us all, right?