Guest post by Jerry Nelson
As an American freelance writer living the expat life in South America, I frequently have to travel internationally. Most often my flights take me to Peru, Colombia or maybe Europe. Occasionally, I have to go to America.
Flights into America can be nightmares. Line up to get off the plane. Line up to collect luggage. Line up for airport security and manhandling by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.
My next scheduled trip to America is in October. Since it’s been five years, I contacted a friend who used to work for the TSA and asked him some questions. I wanted to find out had the agency changed? What would the screeners do in a bona fide emergency and well, anything else he ought to tell me.
I sat down with a former TSA worker to get an explanation of what life is like inside the hated organization.
It’s not easy to be a federal officer. To join the FBI, CIA or DEA, a four-year degree is needed in addition to professional qualifications and experience. Even if a person doesn’t have the time to collect all the required experience and knowledge, they can still try to join the TSA.
Screeners with the TSA aren’t cops. They’re not even law enforcement. But once a person works with the TSA for a few years, they can qualify for the “interchange agreement” with the Department of Homeland Security and their chances of going to work for one of the alphabet agencies is improved.
My contact, Javin O’brien, applied to join the TSA since he noticed it was the shortest reasonable route to a job as a federal law enforcement officer.
“I applied because, for people without any real job experience, they were the only federal agency that would take me on. There aren’t any real requirements to join — just a year of security experience or a high school diploma.”
Since a person can’t learn freedom, someone could drop out of high school, spend a year guarding McDonald’s at the local mall and then be ‘qualified’ to join the thick-in-the-middle blue line. Despite a sky-high turnover rate, Javin ended up staying with the agency for over ten years.
No One Cares About The Weapons That Made 9/11 Happen
Remember when the TSA made the big announcement they would allow persons to bring tiny pocket knives on planes? The small-blades fans had a precious few weeks before the TSA changed its mind and reinstated the ban. According to Javin, TSA upper management shifted a lot of emphasis from policing those tiny blades.
“They wanted us to look more for larger things which could bring a plane down,” said Javin.
‘Larger things’ including explosives, for instance, sounds reasonable, but Javin made a valid point.
“9/11 happened because of guys with box cutters. Those still get past the security checkpoints like clockwork,” Javin said.
Most of the scanning of carry-on luggage is by machine. The machines are programed to find things like firearms and explosives. The machines also have test programs which occasionally quiz the operator. What happens when a worker would fail?
If the employee misses three items, they head back to remedial training.
The workers often overlook knives as they’re focused on not missing one of the built-in tests. The machine ignores box cutters, but try to bring an alarm clock and wire collection through and the passenger will be flagged.
While the device’s software has gotten better at detecting potential threats, the training received hasn’t improved. One indicator of a lack of improved training is the continuation of racial profiling. However, Javin says the worst profiling has nothing to do with race.
“I witness detection officers who would take an attractive woman to the side under the guise of a ‘reasonable suspicion’ to search her carry-on, and possibly do a body search through the scanner.”
Javin isn’t the only one bringing this problem up. Multiple females have alleged the TSA targets them for ‘inspection.’ One female passenger said the inspection came after an agent commented on her figure.
The accusations fall in with the fact that TSA requires no experience and the people typically hired are twenty-somethings who don’t understand privacy.
One question I still have is one that no one has been able to answer, including Javin.
If the TSA screening finds something suspicious in a bag at the security checkpoint — and it’s an obvious threat — then what? If the person is a terrorist, he’s not going to put his hands up in defeat. What does the TSA do? If a bomb is found, what next?
So far, no one has had an answer to that question.
A former head of airport security for Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport asked the same question at the 2015 National TSA Conference in Texas
He didn’t get an answer either.