Why Professionalism Is Essential: TSA Edition

The man behind the curtain is pointing and laughing....

The man behind the curtain is pointing and laughing….

Taking Sense Away is a fascinating blog operated by a former TSA screener. It is essential reading for air travelers, libertarians, critics of the TSA and anyone else interested in the strange, often infuriating  airport security procedures that have evolved since the events of 9/11/2001. His perspectives are not universally accurate in all cases (he reminds us frequently), but it can’t make air travelers happy to read the following, which he recently revealed as part of his answer to an inquiry from a reader about the unseen aspects of screening:

“Now, the I.O. Room (the image operator room, where your nude images are viewed at airports that still use the backscatter x-ray full body scanners), that, my friend, is a whole different story. In the image analysis room, no one is permitted to leave or enter without ample warning (part of TSA’s promise to the public that officers “would never see the passenger whose nude image they just viewed,” although I did occasionally witness this being violated, see Confession #1) and, like the private screening room, recording devices of any kind are prohibited. So in summation: what you have are one to two to three TSA officers locked in a room, viewing nude passenger images, with a guarantee that no one can barge in on them, and that no surveillance cameras can legally be present.

“Just use your imagination on the stories among TSA officers of what has gone on in the I.O. room. Personally, in the I.O. room, I witnessed light sexual play among officers, a lot of e-cigarette vaping, and a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images,  dear passengers.  Things like this are what happens (at the very least) when you put people who are often fresh out of high school or a GED program (although there are actually a few TSA screeners with PhDs, which I guess is sad on so, so many levels) with minimal training and even less professionalism, into the position of being in charge of analyzing nude images of people in a hermetically sealed room.”

Nice, huh?

I am sure this doesn’t exactly bowl anyone over with shock. Still, it confirms the basis of the widespread distrust of the TSA and its screeners, in a visceral and disturbing way: the screening system is unprofessional. If we were told, for example, that doctors at a prestigious hospital habitually diddle with the genitals of helpless patients under anesthetic in anticipation of surgery, that would be a good reason to avoid that hospital in the future. If we learned, similarly, that the employees of a particular funeral home liked to dress bodies in funny hats and costumes while they were being embalmed—just for laughs—that funeral home would be in serious trouble. Such conduct is not only objectively offensive, unethical and illegal, but also of signature significance: members of a profession who behave like this cannot be trusted in any other respect. They have rejected basic standards of professionalism, which are practices that engender the public’s trust by exemplifying seriousness, competence, dedication to the public good, and respect for those being served. Professionalism shows that workers care about integrity, quality, performance and reputation, that what they do is more than “just a job.” Conduct such as that described on Taking Sense Away, in contrast, shows a deficit in all of these qualities.

The screeners’ defense, I assume, would be the ratioanalization, “No harm, no foul.” This is the timeless refrain of sloppy, bored workers everywhere: “Hey, as long as the job gets done, whose business is it if we have a little fun?” That is precisely the problem, however: such conduct shows that the job isn’t getting done right, which means that in a predictable number of cases, the job won’t be done at all. Screeners looking at passengers’ naughty bits for possible punchlines aren’t giving their full attention to exploding underwear, but worse than that is the fact that they are displaying disrespect for the air travelers who have placed their lives in their hands and have been compelled to surrender some of their liberty and dignity in the process. Under such circumstances, professionalism isn’t just desirable and appropriate, but essential. Without it, trust is neither warranted nor possible, and if the TSA’s screeners cannot be trusted, the security system cannot be trusted either.

Just as customer service representatives have their interaction with customers taped for review, the screeners in the I.O. room should know that every word they utter while examining vulnerable images of passengers will be recorded and checked by supervisors later. I know screeening is a tedious, soul-killing job, but a lack of professionalism involving life and death responsibilities is intolerable. The fact that it has been allowed to persist at all tells us that it is not merely low-paid screeners “fresh out of high school or a GED program” who lack professional standards, but their supervisors and management as well.


Pointer: Daily Mail

Source and Graphic: Taking Sense Away

5 thoughts on “Why Professionalism Is Essential: TSA Edition

  1. Whenever I think of the TSA, I remember a flight my husband and I took from Syracuse to Hawaii and back. My husband forgot to remove a folding knife he has that clips to his wallet. When we went through screening (both times), his knife went undetected but my portable DVD player was swabbed and tested for (I believe) explosives. It’s amazing that our luggage went through the detector, as did we, and out belongings were searched, but a knife, which was coming into the plane cabin, was totally undetected.
    Leaving from Syracuse, my husband didn’t realize he had the knife until he gathered his pocket items after going through security. On the way home, leaving from Honolulu, he figured since it was missed once, it was likely to be missed again and he didn’t want to throw it away. Again, it was missed by TSA workers.

  2. I have long said that TSA is more interested in the appearance of security than actual security. Of all the new things they started doing since the agency was formed (we were going through metal detectors and having carry-ons X-rayed before 9/11) I’m hard-pressed to think of anything they’ve done that’s more effective than reinforcing the cockpit doors.


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