TSA: All That is Wrong With America

Curtis Robert Burns, also known as “Blogger Bob,” the Tokyo Rose of the TSA, responded publicly—and petulantly—to Amy Alkon’s post questioning TSA thugs concealing their identities from the traveling public (which I wrote about here and Greenfield riffed on here).

As usual, TSA’s response to criticism is that they did everything “by the book.” What Burns and his fellow authoritarians are unable to comprehend is that this is not a defense of the conduct, but an indictment of the book. 

Alkon and Greenfield have both replied to Burns’s response.

Some might be concerned about TSA’s flack’s reaction to criticism, but in my view it’s encouraging to see TSA (in a post vetted by Public Affairs) going on tilt.

And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

-Nicholas Klein

(Because Mr. Burns so often crows about TSA marijuana seizures, it’s a shame that the web-published investigation of his marijuana-smoking past has disappeared into the fog. How did he accomplish that?)

In comments on Burns’s post, anonymous people, purportedly TSA employees, shared their views. A few samples (errors as in originals):

Ms. Alkon,
You may not realize it but we are in fact looking for one or more terrorists. If you happen to know that they all decided to stay home today…then by all means please continue disrupting our checkpoint. If you have no idea who they are or what thier plans are for today , then please stop making thier possible plans that much easier by causing disruptions and distractions which may keep us from saving people’s lives today. You are not boarding your own aircraft, you are sharing it with hundreds of others and I am sure the hundreds of others want our attention focused where it belongs, not on you. – Name withheld because Ms. Alkon doesn’t undestand how to be respectful. 

Trope 1: “We are saving people’s lives. You’re aiding terrorists. So shut up.”

First, if the premise—”we are saving people’s lives”—were true, the conclusion—”so be a good little citizen, lie back, and enjoy it”—would not follow. Saving people’s lives does not justify mistreating them. There has to be some sort of cost-benefit analysis. This country was founded on that cost-benefit analysis: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The founders so strongly believed that freedom was worth great danger that they signed the suicide pact of the Declaration of Independence: And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Second, even if the majority of passengers disagreed with Alkon and me, even if disruptions and distractions might keep TSA “from saving people’s lives today” (I reject that premise, but even if), that’s not a good reason for Alkon not to engage in civil disobedience. The mob is seldom right—in this case the mob is both wrong and arithmetically challenged—and Alkon is entitled to take every lawful measure, including civil disobedience, to bring about change.

If something is worth saying, it’s worth signing your name to. There are few exceptions to this rule, and none of them apply to government employees defending their employer. Alkon’s opinion counts; if her critics would come out from the shadows, their opinions might count too. They would not, if they’re based on the Popular Math that has us shoveling money at TSA, count for much, but they might count for something.

(Incidentally, why are we paying to provide anonymous TSA employees a forum to defend their agency?)

Third, TSA isn’t saving lives. It’s killing us—more than a hundred of us so far, and that’s nothing compared to the toll that could be inflicted if bad guys started attacking security lines—soft targets created by TSA.

Finally, I’m sure Alkon does “undestand how to be respectful,” but the respect of the public is not something TSA or its employees are entitled to demand, and it is not something TSA or its employees have earned. “Respectful” is seldom an appropriate attitude when dealing with evil. 

So if you knew a known terrorist was flying the same day you are, would you expect TSA to allow the terrorist to be secure in his/her papers, effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures?.

This is the problem with travelers’ like yourself; consumed with your rights, you do not see the bigger picture. You do not know if a terrorist or someone who wants to disrupt our transportation systems’ is flying the same day you are. By the way, if you pay attention to the signs posted before you enter a screening checkpoint, they state you will undergo screening before you enter it. When you enter the checkpoint, you are consenting to undergo screening. So if you do not want to be screened, do not enter the checkpoint.

If you feel so violated then don’t fly, take a train…oh by the way, security checks passengers’ on trains too so you might feel violated there also. Maybe you should complain to the private screening departments that check you on cruise ships, trains, entering federal buildings, entering court houses, shopping malls, sports games, I guess they all refer to Mein Kampf and Mao’s Little Red Book too correct? 

Trope 2: “You’re protecting bad people.” 

Yes. That’s the point of the Fourth Amendment: because we don’t trust the government to know who is bad and who isn’t, we give bad people a little privacy to preserve our own privacy. In fact, it’s arguably the entire point of America: we are willing to accept that bad people will have the same freedom as us, and that sometimes they will use that freedom to do bad things to us. There is no “bigger picture.”

Alkon is “consumed with her rights” because those rights are what make America America. Take away those rights, and America is no longer.

Trope 3: “If you don’t want to be screened, don’t fly.”

That’s not a choice the American people should have to make. See “by the book,” above.

The security at federal buildings is actually an argument against TSA. Federal buildings and courthouses take security precautions that are much less onerous—show ID, have your bag and laptop x-rayed, and pass through the magnetometer—than TSA’s scope-or-grope. 

You people do realize that screeners wear a nameplate with their last name, right? In what scenario would you need their full name? The badge people are talking about being backwards is the airport ID. This does have the screener’s full name on it but why would u need it???  

Trope 4: “Trust us.”

In what scenario would they need my full name? I’m clearly not going to hijack or down an airplane. I’m just a guy minding my own business. I’ll give you my last name, and you let me on the plane, okay? No? Why? Because they don’t know me, and don’t have any reason to trust me any more than anyone else.

The People have no reason to trust TSA employees, and we have no reason to trust TSA’s “by the book” discipline of its own employees. When we have been wronged, we should know who has wronged us. We should be able to tell the police who has assaulted our children. We should be able to do background checks to find out what sort of misfits are pawing our belongings. We should be able to tell the world.

I recognize that this won’t be a popular view in the TSA breakroom: you are doing everything you can to avoid accountability. Accountability is no fun. You wouldn’t have taken this stupid job if you knew that Alkon might be publishing your name.

Precisely.

Finally:

I would love to see all of you with such contempt for the TSA put on a plane with someone who announced the intention of blowing it up (not real but you wouldn’t know that).

I bet after you all peed your pants,and said your prayers, you would all have a better appreciation of the TSA 

This argument doesn’t make any sense: our reaction to someone announcing his intention to blow up our plane would (and should) be the same with or without TSA. Nobody is going to say to the purported bomber, “I know that you don’t have a bomb because you went through the TSA line.” I’m not going to feel any differently about that announcement after passing through TSA’s security theatre than I would have in 1987. The best that can be said for TSA is that it wasn’t responsible for 9/11. 

It may be that the commenter is just preaching to his little choir—people who already believe that TSA doesn’t suck, and don’t see the tautology.

But, since comments on the TSA Blog are moderated, I suspect that this nonsense resulted from an edit of a “I would love to see all of you with such contempt for the TSA put on a plane with someone who had the intention of blowing it up” comment.

“After you all peed your pants and said your prayers” is the anonymous commenter’s projection. He thinks that’s how people respond to the threat of death, because that’s how he would respond. But not everyone has his unclear conscience. Many of us are at peace with the world and our place in it. I hope that someday, after he has left TSA and found honest work, the commenter will find that sort of peace as well.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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7 Responses to TSA: All That is Wrong With America

  1. John David Galt says:

    If I were on a plane with someone who announced he’s going to blow it up, I would sure hope I hadn’t gone through TSA screening, because TSA will much more likely have successfully taken away my weapon than the bad guy’s.

    As far as cops hiding their identities: No sympathy at all. If you hide your identity it means you know perfectly well you’re up to no good. If you had a spine you’d quit and get an honorable job.

    (And to any judges out there: we desperately need a precident that says a cop who hides his face, nametag or badge number gives up his right not to be resisted, since he has made it impossible to employ the legal system against him and every wrong must have a remedy.)

  2. Mike Paar says:

    Happy Holidays, Mark. Here’s what I wish to give you for Xmas: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Airport-arrestee-Odd-watch-was-art-4050590.php

  3. BL1Y says:

    I have to disagree with your characterization of the Fourth Amendment. We don’t give bad guys rights to make sure that we protect our own rights. We give bad guys rights because even bad guys are human beings.

  4. Mark Draughn says:

    “I would love to see all of you with such contempt for the TSA put on a plane with someone who announced the intention of blowing it up (not real but you wouldn’t know that).
    “I bet after you all peed your pants,and said your prayers, you would all have a better appreciation of the TSA.”

    And I would love to see an irate passenger who’s tired of TSA harassment pull a gun and threaten to blow your head off (not real but you wouldn’t know that). I bet after you all peed your pants, and said your prayers, you would all have a better appreciation of the restraint shown by Amy Alkon.

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