Final Ethics Verdict on TSA’s Feel-Up Pat-down

I was flying this week, and the security procedures were smoother than ever. Now I am certain that my molestation at check points last year was unethical, and have sufficient evidence to conclude that it was based on government incompetence and willful disregard for my comfort, dignity, and rights.  I am also wondering, more than ever, if the ardent, supposedly liberal defenders of the indefensible feel-up pat-downs have learned anything about the dangers of blind government obeisance and partisan loyalty. I hope so.

The saga so far:

1. In November of  2010, I happened to be traveling when the Obama Administration’s Transportation Security Administration suddenly, and without warning, changed the pat-down procedures for air travelers who set off the alarm at security gates. I always set off the alarm, thanks to one man-made hip, and was accustomed to being wanded and patted-down. I was not prepared to have my scrotum hand-mashed, however, and I, like many fellow air travelers, politicians and critics, protested about the timing, the intrusion, and most of all, the government’s apparent conviction that there was no limit to the indignities it could force on citizens in the interest of “security”— or in other words, “We let a known risk for terrorism get on board a plane where he tried to set off an underwear bomb, because we are incompetent, and we decree that you, dear citizens, have to suffer for it.”

2. Astonishingly, many in the media and the public came to the defense of the TSA, lecturing those, like me, who were looking forward to perpetual sexual molestation in order to pursue their business, to suck it up and stop whining, because our indignity was secondary to public safety. This annoyed me no end, because a) these same individuals, or many of them, had screamed that the Patriot Act was an outrageous incursion on our rights, security be damned, for imposing such horrors as reviews of personal library check-outs;  b) their argument that there was something unpatriotic about objecting when the government, without warning or explanation, quite literally tries to get in your pants was creepy and ominous in its passivity to abuse of power; c) it wasn’t their testicles being massaged. I suggested that the apologists for the TSA were naive, hypocrites, Obama-can-do-no-wrong groupies, non-flyers, or some unholy combination of the four.

3. I posted some questions for the supporters of my continuing molestation. To the extent that they answered at all, the answer was “This is necessary.” That would, of course, also resolve the Fourth Amendment issue, which prohibits “unreasonable searches.”

4. Then, in December, I noticed that the agents at the gate had modified their procedures considerably. The process was not pleasant, but clearly an effort was being made to minimize intimate touching. I wrote:

“…All the bitching, you see, worked. I’m sure the new version of the pat-down won’t satisfy the critics that compare it to rape, and it won’t end calls, including mine, for rational discretion and limited profiling. Still, the fact that angry and vocal complaints from travelers, bloggers, columnists, prominent figures, civil libertarians and conservatives persuaded the Transportation Security Administration, whose initial reaction to them was to shrug and say, “Tough noogies! We’ll do what we damn choose,” to alter its procedures so quickly demonstrates how critical is for citizens to follow their instincts, voice their outrage when they feel mistreated by the government, and refuse to back down just because would-be Big Brothers in government agencies order them to. In this democracy, there is a duty to bitch. Make the government accountable; don’t let it get away with lazy, half-thought out, inconsiderate measures that make us the victims of their arrogance and incompetence. When America stops bitching, or the government stops paying attention when it bitches, all is lost.

“To all those editorial staffs, liberal columnists (don’t ask me why so many liberals defended the feel-up pat-downs; you won’t like the answer), and Obama officials who said, either literally or in effect, “Shut up and stop whining!,” I say: You were wrong. And you owe us an apology.”

Now I have more insight, based on my most recent trip that required several TSA encounters. Finally, the full body scan devices are available at most airports; these eliminate the need for someone like me to go through the traditional gate at all, and there is no need for the pat-down unless they are unavailable. I was given one pat-down in four flights, a far cry from what I was subjected to in November or even December, and I asked the agent about it. “Oh, we had no idea what we were doing back then,” he said. “We were rushed through training, and were far too aggressive. We didn’t have to go that far to check out people for undergarment explosives, so we changed the procedure.”

I see. So, by definition, that search procedure that involved man-handling my scotum wasn’t reasonable, and wasn’t necessary.

It took almost a full year after the attempted bombing on Thanksgiving of 2009 for the TSA to devise a new screening procedure. Why did it take so long, if this was critical enough to preventing attacks that agents were trained to attack my private parts? Why wasn’t this announced and explained to the public in advance? Why couldn’t the TSA wait until the full-body scanners were widely available, if they were willing to delay a year before changing the pat-down methods?

The inescapable conclusion is that abusing travelers was the path of least resistance, the mark of an arrogant government. And a troubling number of citizens, primarily liberals, were willing to give that government the benefit of the doubt when it came to submitting (or making others submit, always an easier thing to excuse) to unreasonable government searches, a violation of the Bill of Rights. The government, meanwhile, delayed and dithered. Then, realizing that the holidays were coming and a second underwear bombing attempt on Thanksgiving would be even harder for Janet Napolitano to get away with dismissing by saying, “The system worked,” rushed a procedure into place, with no fair notice to passengers.

I will no doubt risk partisan furor by observing that this sequence—dither, rush into a half-baked policy, encounter justified criticism, and then back-track—is not an isolated instance for the Obama administration, but a pattern. I would characterize that pattern, but go ahead. You do it.

As for my friends and the rest who defended the original procedure based on the “reasonable and necessary” argument, I hope they have learned that when it comes to infringing on the privacy, dignity and rights of American citizens, the government does not deserve the “benefit of the doubt.”

3 thoughts on “Final Ethics Verdict on TSA’s Feel-Up Pat-down

  1. I will no doubt risk partisan furor by observing that this sequence—dither, rush into a half-baked policy, encounter justified criticism, and then back-track—is not an isolated instance for the Obama administration, but a pattern. I would characterize that pattern, but go ahead. You do it.

    Funny, I see more complaints about the delibrate way the Obama administration acts: DADT, DOMA, Iran, Libya, healthcare.

  2. Jack,
    While it’s clear that, on the whole, liberals tended to favor the searches while, on the whole, conservatives did not; nothing about this debate really falls within the “left/right” dichotomy as I see it. And while I realize you weren’t responsible for characterizing the debate this way (nor did you suggest they were synonymous), I worry that using “liberals” interchangeably with “supporters” in this context is akin to the way people confuse the words “Arab” and “Muslim.” While most liberals might be TSA supporters, most TSA Supporters might not necessarily be liberals. Moreover, even if “most” are, the fact that “some” aren’t still makes the term a bit of a mischaracterization.


    • Actually, I meant to suggest that liberal/progressives who supported this did so betraying their tradition, and it was a pro-Democratic Administration bias that shows a lack of integrity. There is NOTHING right/left about it. I would argue that anti-Obama conservatives were also acting out of bias, but at least they came out in the right place.

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