NY Times: With Hair Pat-Downs, Complaints of Racial Bias

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Mike, Aug 16, 2011.

  1. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    You could be right, I am not privvy to all of the intel we get. I used to carry tons of stuff in the collar of my uni when we were hot or on patrol in Haiti - not explosives, but weapons and tools of all sorts. TSA is the ONLY place that I have seen collars routinely checked while entering. You may say that many of the possible threats are not likely to materialize, but the Trojan horse only had to work once to change history. We could argue that there are/aren't people out there trying to do harm to aviation all day. There is a ton of evidence for both sides of that argument, the bigger question is what is the tipping point on security? I don't think we are there yet, but the question shouldn't be how far can we go as an organization without serious pushback from the public - on the contrary, it should be how do we do the core mission assigned and provide the best security while causing the least amount of problems for the passengers.
  2. @Rugape -- I appreciate your thoughtful response to my question. I agree, your pregnant lady-nuke plant scenario is a sensible thing for a security team to consider, far-fetched as it may be, because it forces armed employees to consider the ethical ramifications of using deadly force. But besides the problems other have mentioned, it seems to me that these sort of searches become more and more offensive because they're being largely carried out by an unskilled, poorly-trained, low-paid, ethically-challenged workforce unable to make judgement calls about whether a hand search is warranted. Hence, we hear about bald men getting the hair pat, faces and necks being patted instead of visually inspected, bare arms patted, and little girls in skin tight clothes getting the full monty patdown.

    I'm also concerned that you mentioned you don't search body cavities because you don't have the technology. How about the fact that they are unreasonable, offensive, and socially unacceptable as routine administrative searches?
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  3. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    When I was doing patdowns and bag checks as a TSO/LTSO, complaining passengers never bothered me. You disagree with what is going on, you have a right to voice that displeasure, and the TSOs have a duty to perform the job and be professional. Personally I found that most of the "complainers" were actually pretty decent folks that merely disagreed with what was going on. We had a guy that used to come through on a regular basis, and it was a lot like what you describe you doing - he came in, was selected for additional screening, and during the entire process he would keep up a litany of how much he hated this, and how it was wrong, and on and on. After about a month of patting him down 2 times a week, I went on break and he bought me a coffee and we talked for a bit, for him it was not personal against the TSOs doing the patdown, he had a problem with the policy. I can understand that, I really can, because there are some policies that I do not like. Bottom line the TSOs should simply focus on doing the job, and engage you as much as needed - by now they sshould realize that they are not going ot change your mind, but the quicker they do what they are supposed to, the quicker you are on your way to do what you need to do, and the quicker they can move on to the next duty they have. I have never understood TSOs (LTSO/STSO a bit different situation) that wanted to argue with passengers when they make comments about things or complain about the process... I mean, what do they think they are going to accomplish? Change your mind? Not likely. Make a scene? What purpose does that serve other than drama for the TSO? Show the passenger that you have power? Get real, we are screening folks for WEI getting on planes, not LEOs or FAMs, get over yourself. So what does the TSO stand to gain? Absolutely nothing but more time lost, more ill will from the other passengers, and less efficiency as a checkpoint. Just not worth it. Shut up, let the passenger say what they will, finish the job and get on with the rest of the day.
  4. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    The scenario was exactly that, a question posed in a stressful situation (those inspections were a ringer) to make you think about whether you could kill a pregnant lady, or at least give the correct answer under stress.

    I can only speak of the workforce that I have experience with, and we are a fairly well put together group here at GSO. I have seen tons more positive comment cards here than negative. From my experience the employees are well versed in the SOP, and most when they have a question, simply stop and ask someone else for clarification.

    I hear and read tons of comments about things being done that I can simply not wrap my mind around - patting down bare arms? Patting the hair of someone with short or thinned hair that can easily be cleared by simply looking at it? Patting down a face? What in the wide wide world of sports is a-goin' on here? I can't comment on those incidents because I was not there. Analytically, I can guess that those are possibly a result of :

    1. A new employee that is still learning the finer points
    2. Someone that was nervous and not paying attention
    3. Someone that has no clue what they are doing.

    We are well trained, cohesive group at my airport, and we seem to be a ton more polite than many other airports (at least based on the comments from many of the well-traveled passengers coming through). Other airports, I can't really comment on past my own experiences. I would love to be able to go to different airports in civvies and grade them on the different aspects of the process - you know, professionalism, customer interaction, politeness, attention to detail and how the checkpoint flows, etc... But my wife would kill me for leaving her alone with two vicious lick dogs and a white cat that meows just to hear his own voice.

    Please do not take this personally, but I only made the statement about cavity searches as a description of what is out there, not as a social/moral statement. I write quite a bit online, but I try to keep most of my core beliefs to myself, and offer basic opinion and facts here.

    I have a theoretical question for you as a way of continuing the discussion on that moral issue. If there were a scanner available that scans external and internal, was a passive scanner, with no health risks, and does not present an image unless there is an alarm on something designated as a dangerous item (think WEI), what would your opinion be on it? It would essentially render patdowns a non situation unless it were for finding an item as identified above. There were no health concerns because it does not emit, it simply reads existing emanations. It readily identifies what is causing the alarm in a specific way (i.e. C-4, pistol, knife, carbon knife, etc - not an area of the body per se, but a specific item in a specific location. (this is entirely theoretical, because if there is a scanner out there like it in development, let me know so I can get in on the ground floor).

    Edit to add my thanks for your kind words! Sorry was caught up in responding and forgot basic good manners Pheobe...
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  5. RB

    RB Founding Member

    How far TSA can go seems to be the core value of John S. Pistole. He even said so much when discussing the "Enhanced Pat Down".
  6. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    I read that just a little bit different, in that he understands that there is a point of diminishing returns, and the discussion at some level needs to be what is that point. I can't speak for him, and would never do so in the first place, but the way I read the series of statements was a bit more along the lines of he understands that there is a point where there is a line. I do think that the Administrator is more committed to a professional workforce, with introduction of some of the programs and the way we seem to be moving, professionalism seems to be a re-occuring theme in what is put out. That can only be good, as it will force more of the bad apples out or at least make it more difficult for them to continue. Policy is the big question, and with the intro of risk based screening, it seems we are attempting to move away from the cookie cutter approach in some basic fashion. how well it will work remains to be seen, but interacting with the passengers that stand out more (similar to the Israeli style) could be a positive first step. I don't think the populace at large would tolerate the full monte Israeli style well at all, we are simply not geared towards it - we haven't lived under the same conditions with the same attitude. However, something like this that is Israeli light (if you will), may be a positive step. I like moving away from the cookie cutter style, it gives more people the ability to not be screened at a high level, and focuses the resources on more "likely" candidates, but it is not without challenges, and it will not be perfect.
  7. AngryMiller

    AngryMiller Original Member

    Had all of them:

    Bare arms? Wear short sleeved shirts even in winter and been patted down on them by TSOs. This I suspect is due to a feeble attempt at getting glycerin residue on the gloves so it triggers a response on the spectrometer.
    Face? Had face patted down as well.

    You wonder why some of us take issue with the way we are screened by TSA employees. Unfortunately, I rarely find professionalism on the part of TSA when flying. When it is found I thank the TSO employee who exhibits it.
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  8. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    I do not have a problem with you taking issue with TSOs that are unprofessional - on the contrary, that is exactly what should happen and is the reason I post links for folks to file complaints. The only time I have a problem is when folks try to lump all TSOs together under the same banner - and I understand that is usually how it works for any organization, but I take exception because of the professionalism I see here. I want those that are bad apples - gone, period. We don't need them and being unprofessional is usually just the tip of the iceberg. I certainly appreciate it when someone thanks us, or even just acknowledges the fact that we were "better than the TSOs at airport XXXX".
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  9. AngryMiller

    AngryMiller Original Member

    I've discussed with the professionals incidents at other airports and nearly universally get a gasp as a response.

    We agree on getting rid of the bad apples in TSA and I don't care if they sit in the chair Pistole currently sits or if they are a new hire coming in on their first day of work.
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  10. Cartoon Peril

    Cartoon Peril Original Member

    The issue isn't bad apples, those are present in every human occupation, endeavor or enterprise. If a physician molests a patient, or a lawyer steals a client's money, there are well-established avenues of recourse, with heavy consequences should the professional be found in violation.

    There are no such avenues for travellers affected by TSA's "bad apples", and indeed, the entire environment is such as to discourage such recourse, for example, the identity of the "bad apple" will often be unknown, the traveller will often be in a strange city, the traveller will have been taken by surprise, the traveller may and often has been alone without witnesses.
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  11. Doober

    Doober Original Member

    I believe the TSA has reached its limit as far as public acceptance is concerned; the push-back is taking place now and is why we are seeting ATR and the "trusted traveler" program (which I believe will be a fail). People are simply tired of being treated as potential terrorists by the TSA.

    TSA needs to stop searching for every little thing that could get through - screeners are looking for so much that they are missing items - not that those items would be much of a threat to the aircraft.

    TSA needs to realize that if a plot makes it to the airport, it's too late. As Kip said, the only terrorist the TSA is going to catch is the stupid one. The stupid one in all likelihood is not going to bring down a plane. That's not to say, however, that some damage could not be done.
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  12. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    There is little doubt in my mind that both will be "fail"s.

    Elitism such as trusted traveler just isn't the American way when is sponsored by the government.

    ATR has already been labeled a flop where it has been evaluated ahead of deployment. TSA's currently deployment of ATR is an attempt to counter the bad PR from their earlier flops, which also resulted from deployment of technology that wasn't ready for prime time.
  13. And thank you for the very civil discussion!

    I've been thinking about this theoretical scanner you've proposed. I suppose, like anything, it would depend on how well it is deployed, and how effective the staff is at using it. As far as the external, I think I would be for it if it was smart enough to alarm only on known threats (guns, knives, etc.) with good accuracy, and to disregard standard human anomalies like sanitary napkins, back patches, and minutia in pockets. I might even be okay with it identifying large unknown anomalies that aren't consistent with normal human behavior if the resolution process was truly discreet and dignified with a visual inspection option in reasonable circumstances. Such a smart machine could perhaps be able to clear things like prostheses and ostomy bags without a hand search, which would be a big improvement. But I would also insist that it would not be programmed to identify drugs and other non-WEI contraband, unless it was, like, a huge brick of something taped to somebody's stomach, because that would fall into the large unknown anomaly category.

    As far as the internal, though, I'm skeptical. First, because I think body cavities should not be part of an administrative search, without exception. Second, assuming it has less than a 100% accuracy rate on detecting known threats, how would that resolution process work? People routinely carry a number of benign, but possibly strange looking items in their body cavities -- assorted feminine hygiene products, birth control devices, suppositories, even sex toys. I don't think people should have to explain to a clerk what they've got in their body cavities -- there's no way in which that's not a violation of privacy. And if there's probable cause to suspect they have something sinister in there, it should be handled by an LEO.

    But in thinking about this, I've realize that no airplanes have fallen out of the sky as the result of something hidden in a body cavity. Not saying they couldn't, but they haven't, and if it was a credible threat, you would think they would have. So I'm increasingly skeptical about the need to search for such small items in hair, waistbands, etc. But I admit, I'm just a chick on the internet, I don't have intel on that one.
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  14. @Rugape -- Something else I realized I should respond to is your concern that I cast the entire TSA workforce as unskilled, poorly-trained, and ethically-challenged. I was trying to be careful not to fall into the insult category (smurfs, pizza boxes, etc.) because I do believe you that things run well at your airport. I've never heard any substantial complaints out of my home airport, either. I was trying to aim my comment not at the entire class of screeners, but at the position of screener -- it doesn't seem to me that your employer (DHS, TSA, whoever is ultimately in charge of designing the position) takes the position of screener very seriously. Much of what I know about TSA's training and management comes from reading Homeland Security Theater, and while LAX might be an extreme example of bad management, the larger approach of the agency is apparent in things like computer click-through training (I forget the name of that kind of training, and I'm looking for a good link but can't find one ATM). Four days of BDO junk science training is another example. The position of screener is treated like a basic administration position, when it's a rather serious hands-on (literally) job heavy in customer service, discretion, ethics, human behavior, psychology, science, public safety, public policy, even anatomy and physiology. As the searches get more and more intrusive and questionable, this problem becomes bigger and bigger, as we see more and more screeners unwilling or unable to use their judgement as to whether an intrusive search is necessary, and, possibly even worse, going through the motions of the search without paying attention to what they're doing (like patting down bare arms -- a screener doing this is patting down for the sake of patting down, not in search of concealed WEI).

    You and your local colleagues are, I think, a credit to yourselves, in spite of the larger institution of the TSA. And it's rather difficult for the flying public to patronize only the good airports, like we can with doctors, or phone companies. We can't vet the screeners who touch us, or even pick and choose one that doesn't give off a creepy vibe. If I get abused in PHX or SEA, knowing your airport across the country is much better doesn't do me much good.
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  15. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    Excellent responses. I agree that the system would have to identify the differences (just to clear the air, I have no information on such a device, but engaging in random discussions about wants and such is fun and informative) between mundane items and the regular assortment of sundry items we all carry in our pockets. As to the internal, it is a viable way to carry damaging items, as well as implanting items - not a high probability, like shoes, everyone knows we check the shoes now. I wish that someone (somewhere) would develop a system that was passive (MMW is close, but there is an emission from most of those systems), that would alleviate the health issues of any kind. I wish this system could scan for specific signatures, meaning that when an item determined to be a threat to the plane or those on it is deteced, there is no question - you know what that item is and the generalized location on the person (internal or external). That would free up the patting down of tons of people, health questions and even what the machine is alarming on (I really don't ask for much do I?). The contact process after one of those items is identified, the LEOs would handle the clearance or further proceedings.

    I think these things are credible threats, but highly unlikely. Just like the shoe bomb was higly unlikely but credible when he tried to set it off. Most people don't know all of the facts surrounding it and that water is what actually kept him from detonating, the passengers subdued him after several attempts to light the fuse assembly. Just because something is not of a high likelihood, does not render it not credible.

    While we are wishing for things, can I get the winning lottery ticket numberes too?:D
  16. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    Another great post, and I realize that all of the experiences you have with TSA (and by extension those of your friends and family and even famous people you relate to or follow) color opinion and set expectations. Even the folks on here that I argue with or go back and forth with are not going to have all positive or negative experiences in the airports. I have had the discussions with JKH over at "that other place" (to quote Mike) about how the majority of experiences in the checkpoints are probably neutral or tolerable, with a percentage at each end for good and bad. The problem (or good thing depending on your POV) is that only the bad experiences generate media and blogosphere traffic (and even some of the videos and stories were actually a neutral experience posted by someone not necessarily involved in the event). Another problem is that one bad experience can wipe out 10 years of steadfast and professional service in the blink of an eye. I dislike blanket statements (even though I use them myself some times), and try to take each experience for what it is. I have flown a few times and the service I get at my airport is always good, the service I have gotten at others has not always been good. Many passengers have the reverse experience, they fly out of their airport and have crappy service every single time they leave home, and then they hit one of the "good" airports where a neutral experience is suddenly a fantastic display of professionalism by comparative standards.

    I communicate with a pretty good sized network of TSA employees nationwide, and the thing I keep preaching is accountability and professionalism. I may not have much of an impact, but I am going to beat that drum until I break it or retire. The only way for positive change to come is if enough people keep beating that same drum (I do it internally, along with quite a few others actually), and folks like you and the other members here beat it externally (admittedly, some of our fellow posters beat the drum harder than others). I think that some positive changes are on the way, Pistole has begun a Professional standards group, and has been looking at ways to change the screening from the cookie cutter approach we currently have to a more "tailored" style. Not all of the changes will be positive, and I think it is going to take some time to sort out the kinks and write the policies right, but I personally think some positive changes are coming. Of course, I could be wrong, it wouldn't be the first time in my life, and would definitely not be the last, but I think some good things are coming over the next couple of years.

    Same offer to you that everyone else gets, if you make your way through GSO, give me a PM and I will try to work it out where we can at least talk for a few minutes, maybe even go get a coffee.
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  17. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    I would love to see anything that helps the organization purge bad apples. I agree that there are always going to be a couple here and there, it is simply the law of averages catching up to us, but I would love to see more of the ones that need to go, go.
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  18. Cartoon Peril

    Cartoon Peril Original Member

    In other threads I have suggested the creation of a TSA Passenger Ombudsman office. Ideally be in a completely different chain of command, reporting directly to the DHS Secretary and to Congress. Additionally, one could set up local citizen's advisory committees for each airport, tet some prominent local leaders, maybe a retired judge or two to serve, and this could make recommendations both to the local office and to headquarters. Seems like something like this could be set up with no compromise of security at all. Actually, I believe it would increase security because it would help improve the trust relationship between the agency and the public, and it is only that trust in the end which permits any kind of security at all.
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  19. KrazyKat

    KrazyKat Original Member

    What is that T-shirt phrase, 'you're mistaking me for someone who gives a ----' or something to that effect?

    Mr. Peril, you have fallen into the trap of presuming logic and good intent. The only logical reason for the organization to create a system as you describe is to vent public outrage. If there was a genuine desire for good customer service, then there wouldn't be a good ol' boy sole-source contract to a private firm to off-put the public when they complain. At present, I believe anyone complaining of sexual assault, as I did, would still get a form letter without a point of contact for follow-up.

    If a benign organization genuinely wants to have good customer service they would do as you describe. Indeed there are probably other earnest people in the organization, like Rugape, who suggest these very things. And what would result would be a kinder, gentler TSA.

    Customer service does not necessarily mean democratic policy setting. But it does mean respecting the traveling public. Here is the respect for the traveling public on setting security policy:

    Here is what it took to get an investigation of my complaint by a non-TSA party: letters from Senators and the Justice Department.

    Here is what John Pistole himself did when directly and personally addressing the complaints of rape crisis leaders who said the pat-downs were intolerable to rape-victims: put up a webpage on what to expect. Now you can hand a card to someone saying I have (fill in the blank), and then get patted-down. There is no respect. There is no trust.

    Bad organizations are not monolithic. There are good people who try to do the best they can with what's in front of them. I worked that way for a while. But please do not mistake those good people with their organization. There are bad apples, and then there are badly diseased trees. Although I live in clear-cut country, I'll say only that massive pruning is in order.
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  20. Cartoon Peril

    Cartoon Peril Original Member

    In my defense, I can only say that I was once a supporter of TSA, and seems to me that some value may yet remain in the organization. Elsewhere on this site I have posted my ideas for an effective AND respectful security system (these two elements are not opposed but complementary). Among other things, I recommended that every theft from passengers be prosecuted as a federal felony.
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