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“How Do TSA Employees Feel About Working For a Despised Agency?” (takingsenseaway.wordpress.com)
147 points by raju on Dec 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence [1]. I don't like the TSA, and I'm not friends with anyone who does, but that's because I live in a strange bubble, surrounded by academics and engineers. Most people don't have a problem with the TSA.

Here's what happened to me the last time I went through a TSA checkpoint:

I opted out. The TSA agent made a snide remark about about me being separated from my belongings, which I'd already put on the X-ray conveyor belt [2]. Then, I was forced to wait about half an hour until an agent was free [3]. There were TSA agents standing around, not doing anything, but, those people, apparently, can't do pat downs.

When an approved agent was finally free, instead of cordially walking me over to the pat down area, he shoved and body checked me to get me to move. After the perfunctory patdown, he pointed to my luggage and said I could go get it. He then stepped in front of me as I started walking towards it and gave me one last shove, away from my luggage.

So, do I like the TSA? Of course not. I have practical and philosophical objections to their process, and perhaps 20% of the time when I opt out, I'm treated like human garbage [4]. But, most people don't have any weirdo academic objections, so they go through the regular process and everything is fine, 99% of the time. Sure, they have to to the airport half an hour earlier now, but that's a small price to pay for what they see as protection from terrorists.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/tedreed/2012/08/09/surprise-gall...

[2] It's a bit like being threatened by the mafia: those are some nice things you have there. It would be such a shame if anything happened to them while you're away. This was sufficient to keep two couples, who initially decided to opt-out, from actually opting out.

[3] https://twitter.com/someben/status/274976070271377409

[4] It's like walking into a random replication of the Stanford Prison experimenter [5]. Will the guards be aggressively unpleasant? Maybe!

[5] http://www.lucifereffect.com/about_content_extensions.htm

What airport was this at? Did you report this incident to his supervisor? Did you complain when it took more than 2 minutes to get someone to do the pat down?

I've had about 20 pat downs in many different airports. I've never had to wait more than three minutes for someone and everyone has always been professional and courteous. As much as I hate the TSA and complain about them, the airport staff has been nice and helpful. In two or three cases they went out of their way to help me, beyond what I expected.

Edit: I should also add that I'm a middle class white male who looks "respectable". I'm not going to experience the discrimination some minorities may endure so take that for what it's worth.

Counterpoint: I have opted out over a dozen times at a variety of airports (RDU, SJC, SFO, BUR). I've never been treated with anything but professionalism, and I dare say, politeness. I was asked why I was opting out by the TSA officer performing my pat-down at BUR who seemed personally curious more than anything, but otherwise it's been perfunctory. I've never had to wait more than a minute or two at most.

That's been my experience, more or less. Worst I could say is that mostly they don't seem enthusiastic, and on one occasion one guy seemed annoyed that I did not understand some vague instruction about either staying put or not.

But each time they ask me if there are any sensitive areas, each time I tell them, "Yes, my nuts", and each time they been respectful of my junk.

They really could do better about keeping people with their stuff that's been passed through the X-ray machine, but overall they seem to appreciate that you want to keep an eye on it.

My experience as well. I travel a lot and never had an issue with the TSA.

When we think about statistics about support for the TSA, it's important to note that the majority of Americans don't travel by air at all in any given year.

What wasn't a surprise is that the poll appeared just before Congress has to decide TSA's budget for next year. I've seen a few other highly complimentary articles on TSA these past few days, too - all appearing all of the sudden. A little suspicious, isn't it?

I'm a bit confused: the poll was released in August. That said, the final budget negotiations for the first half of 2013 (which included the DoHS) weren't concluded until September. Is that what you mean?

Someone shoves you? That's assault. Did you think of reporting the incident or pressing charges? Serious question.

The problem with that is if you run into the wrong guy it might get you killed.

I think that seems a bit extreme. I've opted out of nearly every flight I've been on (unless crunched for time due to traffic of crazy lines or something) and I've never been treated like this, I'm not defending the TSA, I'm just saying this isn't "normal". Sometimes they'll make you stand around and wait, the shoving and the intimidation has never occurred. Making the jump to the idea that a TSA officer has a weapon, or can "issue a hit" is absurd.

edit: Also, the most shocking part of the whole ordeal is usually the looks from the OTHER people in line, like they think you're going to be killed or assaulted, or "why don't you just cooperate, it's easier". That's the part that really makes me sad.

Right. Complaining about a TSA agent (who isn't law enforcement) shoving you is going to get you killed. Hyperbole like this helps no one.

You should even be able to complain about being assaulted by people who are law enforcement without fear of fatal retribution.

I was talking about if it escalates to the police being called. Would you have us believe there have been no mysterious deaths of people after being taken into police custody? Note I am not saying you are likely to die, I am saying it can and has happened.

But what did the poll say? Liking an agency and thinking its effective are two different things.

It's like asking: is abstinence effective for preventing stds? And then inferring that people prefer abstinence to condoms.

Liking an agency and thinking its effective are two different things.

Efficacy isn't as useful as how an issue plays on the emotions of voters.

You say that 99% of the time it's fine. If you go through the back scatter thingy, I'd say that 99% is a hopeful assumption. They are likely unsafe, and some small subset of people scanned may end up quite sick.

Are you making this up, ill-informed or do you not understand physics and radiation? I do not mean this as offensively as it will ultimately be read, so apologies

These scanners exposé you to less than 1/200th the radiation dose of a standard plane flight, and between 1/200th and 1/400th of a standard chest X-ray.

Yes, ionising radiation can cause cancer. But your chance of getting cancer anyway is 1 in 2.4.

I have no love of excessive security measures, and I personally don't think that we should ever unnecessarily cause people to be exposed to radiation, especially when other methods can do the same job without radiation, and even moreso when the efficacy of the scanners is unproven.

But I have a particular dislike of the psychogenic claims that arise around technologies that posit to do this or that, when the action of the machine or technology in question is noninvasive and especially when the action is not substantively different from normal daily exposures that every human receives anyway


standard CXR 2.4x background radiation

Backscatter Imaging 6-7% of a days background radiation (0.25 microsiverts per 'scan =1.5hrs @ background radiation or 2 minutes of an airplane at altitude)

Abdo CT: 2.7 years BG radiation

- http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219970.php

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_X-ray

Would you take your same condescending tone against the 4 UCSF medical school professors who raised concerns about the backscatter x-rays? [1]

Their contention is that the argument that the backscatter x-rays are 1/200th of the dose you get from cosmic radiation on a flight is invalid, as the backscatter x-ray is specifically designed to direct the radiation to a very thin layer of surface tissue, whereas cosmic radiation is distributed throughout the entire body.

Yes, these professors were refuted by other UCSF radiology professors [2], but the science will not be settled until an independent study is conducted of the machines given the context of their potential for misuse and mis-calibration by individuals who are not radiology technicians.

So if you don't want your comment to come off as offensive, perhaps it would be wise to not start off with "Are you making this up, ill-informed or do you not understand physics and radiation?"

[1] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ost...

[2] http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/11/tsa_scanner_cont...

Thanks for chiming in matey, I take it you're a contrarian?

You pretty much back up my point. People who don't know the science should not comment in alarmist tones about it.

Fearmongering generally does more harm than good. In this case it seems like everyone hates the TSA, hates the full body scanners, objects to being dosed with radiation, and so psychogenic illnesses are claimed to be caused by the machine.

So the claims are false, the machines work like they're supposed to, it's just no one wants them there so hurdles are placed in the way of their implementation. Hurdles that are false.

I don't disagree that we should look further into the use, especially as I say above because there are other methods that do not use ionising radiation that seem to be just as effective

So yes, I would take the same attitude to the 3 UCSF Med school professors, just as I have to the world-famous neurosurgeon who told me as we microwaved our food in between surgeries that I had to 'wait for 3 seconds after it finishes or else the rays escape and can increase your risk for cancer' or the former head of the AMA who said during a lecture that 'there is a study that shows that homeopathy is active against cancer' with no supporting evidence. Position and title generally only qualify a person to make comments in a specific domain, as those 3 professors discovered when they got smacked down by the radiologists.

If people want to believe weird and wacky things, that's fine. If those things contravene the known laws of physics, then either there must be some spectacular evidence, at which point I will believe anything, or it simply isn't true.

Yes, your tone is offensive. I work with radiation emitting equipment daily. I am forced by regulation to ensure the equipment is safe and operated safely. Checks and stops are in place. This is the way it should be, and I am pleased my industry behaves this way. Backscatter imaging safety is unproven and falls outside the ALARA principle. You you quoting dose figures misses the point, background radiation is a whole body dose, CT abdo, is an abdo dose (mostly), back scatter imaging is to the skin only. What's the difference? Who knows, no decent testing done.

I apologise for the offensive tone, I ran afoul of some variant of Poe's law. That is not an excuse, discourse should be more civil than that.

you make the claim They are likely unsafe, and some small subset of people scanned may end up quite sick.

But there is still no evidence from what you are saying. I felt, in another variation of Poe's law, that you were in fact making a claim re backscatter for people claiming sickness after moving through one. In the same manner that people claim that they can detect wifi signals and it makes them sick, or fluoride in the water is making them sick, or just why are there rainbows in our water these days?

Quoting figures I feel is even more relevant - if you are giving someone 1/200th of a CXR, you can't claim that the CXR is only penetrating the internal organs - some fraction, perhaps 1/200th (maybe less) is going to be absorbed by the skin too, because, as you would well know, that is how X-rays work.

The fact we have greater penetration at the higher energies used for a CXR or other diagnostic imaging does not rule out using the comparison to Backscatter X-rays. In fact, it can be used to validate it.

Please note again that I am not suggesting that these machines should be rolled out everywhere and that we should have to use them, because I think it's a stupid security measure.

Thanks for the response, and I agree with you by and large. Regarding the exact skin dosage (something the medical field goes to great lengths to minimise), the jury is out as far as i can tell, as testing of the equipment has been miminal. I wouldn't be that surprised if backscatter imaging did turn out to be safe, my problem with the technology is that it is basically untested and has not had its safety validated via independent large scale testing. With any health related screening test (especially one imposed on a massive population) there is a high bar set for causing minimal harm, as there should be. With backscatter screening there appears to be no decent safety checks, poorly qualified screeners, and worst of all, minimal/no evidence that the screening test catches any of the problems it's supposed to. I see it as a pointless radiation dose.

> When an approved agent was finally free, instead of cordially walking me over to the pat down area, he shoved and body checked me to get me to move. After the perfunctory patdown, he pointed to my luggage and said I could go get it. He then stepped in front of me as I started walking towards it and gave me one last shove, away from my luggage.

Sounds like you're describing the dystopian future we read about and see in movies.

For some people, jobs are hard to come by, I would wager the majority of TSA screeners do not have any better paying options, so to criticize them for being a part of a faulty system, or to paint them as being "from a sixth grade mentality", or "trying to get employed with border patrol asap" when they are just trying to provide for themselves and their families, who may not have better options, is pretty unfair.

To criticize the people at the top, that may be fair argument. But for the higher ups and policy makers in the TSA, don't forget the old adage: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it"

>For some people, jobs are hard to come by, I would wager the majority of TSA screeners do not have any better paying options, so to criticize them for being a part of a faulty system, or to paint them as being "from a sixth grade mentality", or "trying to get employed with border patrol asap" when they are just trying to provide for themselves and their families, who may not have better options, is pretty unfair.

I don't think so. It's very valid to criticize someone who works for a morally corrupt, unneeded and socially harmful agency, no matter the reason. Your argument is basically a sophisticated "but think of the children!!11oneone" appeal to emotion, ie not a valid argument.

If there aren't any better job options (which I highly doubt), then it's another gigantic fucking failure of the government that needs to be fixed ASAP.

> Your argument is basically a sophisticated "but think of the children!!11oneone" appeal to emotion, ie not a valid argument.

No. Criticising someone for engaging in lawful employment because you think that job is immoral is fine, but don't pretend there are no valid arguments for having that legal job.

> If there aren't any better job options (which I highly doubt),

We could have a look at job ads for TSA, and the requirements of the job, and then have a look for similar jobs; and then somehow find out how many people are applying for those jobs.

And we don't know the churn rate of TSA. Perhaps people take work there and leave after 3 months because they realise it's "evil" or a waste of money or whatever.

> don't pretend there are no valid arguments for having that legal job.

Is anybody? A valid argument for having a job does not place an individual above criticism.

I empathize with the people who have no other choice but to work for the TSA, that is a shitty place to be in life, but I reserve the right to at the same time criticize their job and them for doing it.

The extension of your argument (and I have seen this said here many times before) is basically that we should not criticize Rhinoceros hunters because said hunters may just be trying to etch out a place for themselves and their starving family in this world. Yeah, it would suck to be in that position, but hunting Rhinos is still reprehensible. I understand why they do it, but I cannot condone it and I cannot withhold my criticism.

This kind of argument can lead us to very bad place. People that work for the mob breaking people's kneecaps if they refuse to pay probably don't have better paying options too. But that doesn't excuse them. Participating in immoral activity for money isn't any better than doing it just because you are evil. Actually, I would venture to guess overwhelming majority of evil is done just because it puts food on someone's table. That does not excuse the ones who is doing it. Everyone who is participating in it shares the blame. And so does everyone who votes for it, too.

This sounds like a "just doing our duty" argument.

If you work for the TSA you're not just contributing to the problem, you are the problem.

I don't think it is quite a Superior Orders defense, but it certainly does seem morally equivalent to me. "I did it for my starving family" and "I did it because my commanding officer would shoot me otherwise" are probably pretty related (some regimes do their best to blur the line between these), but I feel there should be another name for it.

If anything, the "commanding officer would shoot me" defense is greater than "I did it for my starving family". In the first case, you know for certain that you and your family will die if you don't do what you're told. In the latter, your family may be uncomfortable but it's highly unlikely for anyone living in America to actually starve.

What makes this more damning is any TSA employee made a conscious choice to do morally reprehensible work. They had a choice. No one forced them to do their job.

In this light, the TSA employees come off as more morally bankrupt than military officers that had a gun to their head. They choose to be active agents in destroying society in trade for their own comfort.

I'm quite wary of blaming employees for the perceived faults of their employers. Too much of our economy depends on morally debatable activity for me to be comfortable tossing around the "what you do for a living is bad for America" line willy-nilly.

For example, here on HN people seem very cool with the advertising industry. But I remember in engineering school, the popular refrain was that advertisers and marketing people were leaches sucking out the marrow of American industry. Yet, lots of engineers now happily work for companies in bed with the advertising industry. If you work for Facebook, you work for a company that depends heavily on an industry (advertising) that exists mostly because of government granted monopolies (trademarks), and whose business model depends on getting teenagers (who aren't competent to enter into contracts and don't really understand the ramifications) to give away their personal information in order for advertisers to try and sell them things they don't need. I think you can make a credible argument that what Facebook and similar companies do is morally objectionable, and that "I'm just doing my job" is no excuse for people who work in Silicon Valley figuring out how to maximally exploit these kids.

But I don't really want to go there (glass houses, etc). I think there is too much complexity in the underlying moral calculus for it to be reasonable to go there.

It looks like other people have already gone there; you're just pointing out that the viewpoint they have stated is not applicable just to the TSA. That seems like a valid observation to me.

TSA Budget in 2011: $8.1 Billion [1] US air travelers in 2011: 730 million [2]

Cost per screening $11.09

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_Security_Adminis...

[2] http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/number-air-passengers-increase...

Your second link doesn't show the total number of US air travelers, only passengers on US airlines. There are also non-US airlines serving the US. I'm not saying that this makes a very big difference, but it probably brings down the cost per screening to something around $10.

Edit: Found this number: "803.5 million scheduled passengers" From: http://www.travelpulse.com/dot-reports-17-percent-increase-i...

2nd Edit: Your first source already shows that "Aviation Security" only makes up 71% of the TSA budget, so that brings the cost per screening down further.

The cost is a little higher than that, because many passengers don't fly non-stop--they may take two flights though a hub, for example, but there's only been one screening.

However, if you assume one screening per flight, and a one-way flight cost of $200, that's 5% of the flight's cost.

As TSA employees only make $12-15 an hour, I presume that most of that cost goes into paying for expensive screening machines and bomb-detection sensors, but that's pure speculation.

Well, you have a whole bureaucracy on top of the TSA employees that you actually see at the airport. I'd expect that consumes a bunch of our money too.

Not counting the opportunity cost of what those 58,0000 employees could be doing elsewhere in the economy, not to mention the tax money out doing real work.

Don't forget the passengers waiting in line. Suppose each person being screened waits 15 minutes, and makes $5 per hour at their job. That would be one billion dollars in lost productivity per year.

Interestingly, given that the US has a fifteen trillion dollar economy, that's only 0.006% (or 6e-05) of U.S. GDP. I suspect that the economic cost of an successful terrorist attack on a U.S. aircraft would cost the U.S. economy more than one part in fifteen thousand.

> I suspect that the economic cost of an successful terrorist attack on a U.S. aircraft would cost the U.S. economy more than one part in fifteen thousand.

Now include the probability of such an event actually taking place, and the probability that the TSA could prevent it...

A comet strike would cause many trillions of dollars worth of damages. How much money are we spending right now on a pea-shooter based comet defense system?

> pea-shooter based comet defense system?

I'm pretty sure the state of art of this field is deep core drilling (as of 1998, anyway)

The point isn't "pea shooter" as a description of state of the art, but of its effectiveness. There's nothing we have available to us in technology that would be able to divert a mass-extinction class meteor (or even just a really-bad-day meteor) on short notice. Given a decade or more we might be able to launch a mission to moderately divert an orbit, but at very high expense.

It's the cost-to-effectiveness ratio I believe TSA is being compared.

Except the TSA hasn't prevented anything that would have been a successful terrorist attack.

It's hard to say. By quickly adapting to new threats (like the shoe, underwear, and printer cartridge bombers) the TSA may be keeping terrorist attack technologies in a perpetual "alpha" state--unable to be refined past v0 to the point where they can work effectively and reliably.

But that doesn't mean that we can stop checking for the old attack vectors. For example, the TSA has never found a bomb in checked bags, and thus has never "prevented" a bomb attack. Does that mean we should stop screening checked bags for bombs? No. Lockerbie has shown that this attack vector is effective. The fact that they do screen bags for bombs so well has prevented attacks from even being contemplated in the first place, much less attempted.

Would a plain old bombing really do those trillions of dollars of damage? A hijacking is what has the potential to cause massively disproportionate damage, and that is a solved problem (Not solved by the TSA though...).

Even so, let us imagine some alternate universe where non-TSA security adaptations have not solved hijackings... The measures the TSA has taken to prevent hijackings would not. Why don't they work? Well, what happens to you if the TSA finds the pairing knife you accidentally left in your carry on? They take it, throw it in a bin, and wave you through. The only thing a prospective terrorists is out is a knife and a plane ticket. Given their abysmal false negative rate, he will eventually succeed.

The TSA pretends to make us safe from yesterday's ploy. In reality they don't even do that. (To be clear, we are safe, but with no thanks to them.)

To be clear, it looks like there are two different questions being conflated here. The first is whether the TSA's procedures would help a prevent 9/11-style hijackings. I think everyone agrees that the TSA doesn't add much value in the single hijacker case, simply because passengers can probably overpower a single hijacker.

If the number of hijackers increases to, say, a dozen, then perhaps the TSA might help here, because a dozen men in the front of the plane armed with sufficient weapons might be able to hold off the rest of the cabin, and getting a sufficient number of serious weapons (and door-openers) though security might be too risky to make such an attack worthwhile. After all, a dozen terrorists might be more profitably used elsewhere.

The second question is whether the TSA's more onerous policies, like use of full-body scanners and bans on liquids, prevent fatal bombings of airliners (not hijackings). Clearly terrorists are not only interested in using planes as weapons, but simply causing them to crash by, say, detonating a bomb from the restroom. Here I postulate that the TSA may be doing some good by preventing terrorists from refining any one technology, but that's only one theory.

> The second question is whether the TSA's more onerous policies, like use of full-body scanners and bans on liquids, prevent fatal bombings of airliners (not hijackings).

The thing most people don't know is that the reaction of Acetone and Hydrogen Peroxide produces nothing but heat. If mixed in the bathroom out of the smell of anybody, it can be left in a bottle and looking like pure water. It will slowly crystallize acetone peroxide as the reaction occurs. Given enough time - like a 7 hour flight - you could have sufficient quantities of highly reactive acetone peroxide crystals that would likely go off at the slightest movement even while still in a liquid. So screw the bathroom, it's under any seat in any backpack.

Most people think of the anarchist cookbook method that uses an acid to form it, which works in creating DADP or TATP which are the more stable variants. However they require a lot of ice, and still take a lot of time anyway.

Even a water bottle full of the mixture would produce a sizeable amount of explosive (assuming using 30% hydrogen peroxide). The fucked up thing being I can grab a can of acetone and a can of hydrogen peroxide (wood stain remover) at home depot for under $20.

The only question is how do you get it in? Boil a bottle of water and you can pop the lid off it without breaking the seal, keep that in boiling water, refill the bottle with what you want, take the lid out and push it back over, when its cooled it looks like new. I've gone to enough concerts to know how to sneak a bottle of rum in.

I really wouldn't want to be on the plane when a guy was allowed to mix together two 1L water bottles to make almost a lb of primary explosives that detonate with almost twice the force of TNT.

> Boil a bottle of water and you can pop the lid off it without breaking the seal, keep that in boiling water, refill the bottle with what you want, take the lid out and push it back over, when its cooled it looks like new.

Make sure to label it "saline solution" and claim it as a medically necessary fluid (or any of the other numerous exempt fluids and gels) so that you can go over the 3.4fl oz limit. Hell, just call it your "enema solution". What TSA agent would look too closely at that?

If you want to do some sort of worth calculation on the TSA using cost of a terrorist attack, then you have to break it down by attack type. Damage done by the attack and probability of success both must be considered. Binary liquid bomb attacks are extraordinarily unlikely, extraordinarily hard to do successfully, and cause relatively little damage.

Terrorists are interested in airplanes for two reasons: they can be hijacked to great effectiveness (not anymore), and they know we react irrationally to threats to airplanes (this is what we should seek to fix). With both of these fixed, the threat terrorists pose to airplanes would be no more notable than the threat they pose to any other modestly sized group of people.

Re: a dozen terrorists with sufficient weapons/tools

Even assuming they could get these weapons/tools past pre-9/11 security, which is very doubtful, the chances of it working out the way they wanted are still absurdly small. What pilot would not fly the plane straight into the ground if the locked cockpit door was actually being breached? People know that hijackings are not survivable anymore. You are either killed or someone sits on a terrorists for a few hours, there aren't any other outcomes.

A dozen men with weapons sufficient to hold off an entire plane can do plenty of damage on the ground, and they don't even need to walk through a metal detector to do it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks Why bother having a chance to kill a few hundred people on a plane when you can do the same on the ground?

Yet we don't see either being attempted...

Frankly, all of these threat scenarios are fantasies.

I think it was over 2 years ago but a guy on reddit pointed out that terrorists would obviously target the weakest link. He said something on the lines that instead of trying to hijack airplanes they'd just go blow up some mall or something. If my memory serves me well, I think they put a tracker on him for that comment.

Here's the comment in question - http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ciiag/so_if_my_de...

Actually this whole thread actually is relevant - http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ciiag/so_if_my_de...

[Edit - They put a tracker on his friend, not him]

Oh yeah, I remember that. I assume I'm already on plenty of watchlists for being moderately vocal about thinking the entire situation is bullshit. Maybe it's time I look under my car again.

The funny thing is I'm neither American nor in the USA, but I'm sure they've still got some intel on me (since USCIS does legally have my records anyway).

You need to also factor in the cost of Homeland Security.

As it is, we have a surplus in our labor force, so I suspect the opportunity cost is minor, and outweighed by the benefits of having 58,000 jobs. Of course, I suspect that those jobs do not justify the opportunity cost of their paycheck.

Hmmm? With a unemployment rate at ~8% why would you factor that in?

Because that 8% is bullshit propaganda and things are actually much worse?

How on earth does one calculate unemployment? On social welfare cheque? Easy. Medical doctor forced to work as a taxi driver for 4 days a week as he/she can't get work as a doctor 5 days a week? Student who wants holiday work but can't find it? Stay at home mother who had a child a few years earlier as the plan to work for 2 years then have a child didn't work out as there was no work? Not so easy.

Your examples and much more have been swept under the rug of "Not In The Workforce". The more people you disregard, the lower your unemployment percentage becomes.

*Slightly non work-safe image at the top of the linked page (full body scans of men and women).

Also, one category of TSA agents not mentioned in this piece: Those who seem to revel in the public's disdain because they can easily make a traveler's life hell if the mood strikes them. For example, the agents in this breast milk incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XhnZlmLGK8

Any job that grants authority over other people probably attracts this type of employee.

What kind of country do we live in where a link to images that are taken by the government of its own citizens have to be labeled "NSFW?"

It's surreal.

Although the police may take photographs of murder victims, it is generally not appropriate to view mutilated bodies while at work (unless you're a cop, etc).

I do think it is a bit silly to want to call the pictures from the scanner NSFW, because they're clearly in the context of speaking about the TSA rather than for any prurient reasons. If I wanted to see fuzzy outlines of genitals, I'd grab a pencil and sketch them myself.

Well, anywhere with a nationalized pornography network would qualify, though that might well be nowhere. Some places with a nationalized health service could qualify...

Although patients generally have the choice of treatment and can usually opt out of parts of their care if they want - travelers have to be screened if they want travel.

I wasn't at all saying "nationalized health care is precisely as bad as invasive TSA screening." I was solely playing with how the parent comment was worded.

>>"Any job that grants authority over other people probably attracts this type of employee"

Ah, but is it the employee seeks out this position because they are predisposed to exert control over others, or do they exert control because of the position they are put in, ala the stanford prison experiment[1] (situational attribution v. dispositional attribution)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

Does it really make a difference? The two are indistinguishable from the POV of the victim.

I've seen this article to be 100% correct in practice. There's a small minority of agents, who when I opt out, laugh and say "yeah, I don't blame you, I wouldn't go through these either." There's a majority who are simply trying to do whatever they can do reduce conflict without getting in trouble. And there's a small population of middle management douchebags that are trying their best to use their tiny bit of authority as a club to bludgeon the public and tell people what to do. These people make the experience miserable, because they tend to be the equivalent of "shift leaders" on the floor.

Overall, what TSA does is a huge waste of money. It's a lot to spend for security theater.

They probably feel better about what people think about them than traffic wardens feel about public attitude towards them.

You can bet more people dispise traffic wardens than they do TSA, though as a non driver I like them.

I have also dealt with the TSA when I traveled to America and it was a fast, most plesant experience. Not everybody has a bad experience with them, they just don't do massive blogs about there experience oddly enough. Though I was not impressed with British Airways at all, but thats another topic.

But if you remove them and one plane has a problem as there was not enough checks and you can bet everybody will demand that the TSA is brought back. If you remove traffic wardens and one car gets parked illegaly then you can bet there would not be a sudden demand from the public to reinstate them. With that think of the traffic wardens and say hello, they are people as well. Though most think you are some kind of crazy for even saying hello to them as they have a installed fear of all members of the public due to intereactions with angry drivers. With that they see all people as angry drivers out to linch them; So the TSA has a long way to go to be truely dispised. More a case of misunderstood and apprecieated in some regards, but that often gets overlooked by the cry's of foul.


"But if you remove them and one plane has a problem as there was not enough checks and you can bet everybody will demand that the TSA is brought back."

This is a phenomenon that can be seen in other areas too, particularly technology. I fully expect an uproar the first time a robotic car kills a family, no matter how much safer robotic cars are statistically.

It is ultimately combination of two problems I think: the inability to deal with unlikely events rationally, and the strong desire to see someone in control and responsible. How do we fix these problems? Beats me. Education is tiring and ineffective, it's statistics vs emotion.

The kinds of people that take these jobs generally lack power over their personal lives and seem to enjoy abusing the power they have in their professional lives. Like traffic cops, prison guards, IRS auditors, and others in similar fields, I think many of these people actually revel in being hated and in many cases that mentality contributes to the behavior. It's cyclical.

You could substitute any number of employers in there, it's not just the TSA that's despised. Tax collectors, politicians, financial analysts that nearly bring down the US economy, traffic cops, the list goes on.

I don't concern myself too much with empathizing with TSA employees, it seems like an odd thing to do. There are more important things to worry about in this world.

There's one difference with many of these examples: unlike experiencing a mean TSA officer going through security you can get someone to help you (family member, attorney), or request another representative. If you don't like your pat-down officer at the airport you would have extreme difficulty in requesting another persons assists you.

One of the reasons we hate the TSA so much is that you lose all control between the gates. If things go badly for you you must comply regardless or face genuine time-sensitive consequences.

That's not so much an answer to the question as a rant against the TSA. I've asked one something like that once and she said she was just glad to have a stable job. I have a feeling that's the answer for most of them.

Geeks love to hate the TSA. I travel a LOT - all year - and I find the TSA to be professional and cordial in carrying out their job, more so than any similar agency I've dealt with in other countries.

Some TSA policies are ridiculous, but hardly a reason to waste time to "despise" them. If the TSA were the worst the government can throw at us, the country would be in much better shape.

Walking through new fancy scanner with nothing unusual on my person? Several complaints on the display and I'm groped as they make sure I'm not smuggling whatever.

Carry-on full of hand-soldered electronics and military hardware? Completely ignored.

I really appreciate how they're spending billions of our money. HEY - GUYS TRYING TO FIX THE BUDGET: I THINK I FOUND SOMETHING YOU CAN CUT!

I saw a girl walk through security with an open water bottle in the side pocket of her backpack. She was foreign too, so it's even a little more surprising nobody noticed it.

We really need to subject congressmen and congresswomen to these searches. They should not be exempt.

My guess is that is the only way the problem gets taken care of quickly.

Not sure if you've ever flown on a private jet but you just drive up to it, there is no TSA or security measures in place, you literally take your car onto the tarmac and walk onto a jet, it's marvelous.

With that said I don't know how many of these congressmen/women travel via mass commuter air transit (RFK died in a private jet, Sen. Ted Stevens died in a private plane, etc.) but I'm willing to bet a large majority of them don't, and therefore don't get to encounter the standard procedure or are ushered through unabated. Imagine some geek in a blue shirt telling John McCain he has to take off his shoes and belt to come though the check point... very unlikely.

There's a bit of a false equivalency between JFK Junior's private jet (RFK was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan) and Ted Stevens' death aboard an Alaska bush plane. Small propeller planes are not an uncommon way to travel in Alaska since much of the state is still wilderness.

On a less important note:

"you literally take your car onto the tarmac and walk onto a jet, it's marvelous"

Wait, do you just leave your car parked at the tarmac for the whole trip?

I'd imagine most people able to afford a private jet (or to let a friend borrow it or whatever) can similarly afford some sort of valet service. That, or maybe there's some sort of parking space right by (or even inside?) the hangar for the private jet where you could leave the car. I'm a bit curious now too as to standard protocol on it.

Company provided a car to pick up and drop us off, I'm not sure what the parking situation would be otherwise.

They are mostly not exempt, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11...

The exception are the rare members travelling with a security detail, i.e. when the security detail is armed.

Not badly enough, apparently.

There are other despised professions.

Journalists (at least in the UK); politicians (especially when voting wage rises for them and wage cuts for nurses); estate agents (US realtors, not sure if the US feels the same way); and bailiffs.

TSA employee is probably low wage with minimal entry requirements, so it's a good thing that people without work are taking work.

It's lousy for them that the only thing available is for an agency of dubious effectiveness and vast expense.

Maybe they console themselves by thinking that at least it beats working for the IRS? :-)

Seriously, "despised" is a bit of a strong word... inconvenient sure, despised probably not, for most people at least.

Any time I hear about polls being used as "evidence"


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