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All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely

An American friend of mine, Andrew Ian Dodge – known to several folks around here – has recently undergone a deeply unpleasant encounter with airport security types in the US, thanks to those lovely folk from the TSA. A few years back, Andrew had surgery for cancer treatment, and bears the scars of that. It seems that he suffered a lot of discomfort when a TSA character tried to pat him down, as they say. What the TSA goons may not have realised, since Andrew is not your regular stiff in a suit as he dresses more like a rocker clad in plenty of leather, is that he has some pretty weighty political connections, and will use them. There will be consequences.

I am not an expert on the pros and cons of scanner technologies, or whether they flood the body with dangerous radiation, and so on. What I do know is that this sort of outrage will always happen when certain persons, such as TSA officials, have that moment of supreme power over anyone else, as in a queue for security at a busy airport. What I suspect is different, however, between the USA and the UK is that the former country, as demonstrated by the recent successes of the Tea Party movement, has not yet entirely decided to kowtow to the conventional wisdom. So there is a decent chance, I think, that Congressmen and women might try and smack the TSA down, and hard. We can only hope. Back in the UK, there seems to be scant chance of this occurring. Our sheeplike habits are now too ingrained.

There is a good article in the Wall Street Journal on the same issue. And NickM, of Counting Cats, has an absolute blinder of a post on the subject. As he says, whatever excitements may once have attended air travel – at least the nice kind of excitements – are dead. The only people who can enjoy such travel these days are the mega-rich and politicians. As for the rest of us, we get the dubious pleasure of being felt up by the state’s functionaries.

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29 comments to All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely

  • Don’t know if you’ve been following this, but they’ve introduced new Xray machines which produce naked pictures.

    If you refuse the new machines you get a different, enhanced pat-down from normal, which included handling of the genitals.

    There’s an absolute outcry at the TSA blog. It also appears that they want to fine people up to $11,000 if they refuse both scan and enhanced pat-down and opt not to fly. One blogger has already been hit with the threat of a fine. His story is online, along with video.

  • Frank Herbert said (in Dune) something along the lines of:

    “It is not that power corrupts, but that power attracts the corruptible.”

  • JadedLibertarian

    I really hope the American’s get themselves together. I’ve been counting on them to remain freer than the UK so I have somewhere to flee!

    This whole “enhanced pat down” thing is appalling. On a recent news article they managed to find the usual slave-minded prole for the mandatory “I accept that it is necessary. I’ve got nothing to hide. It makes me feel safer” quote.

    If a pre-flight grope makes them feel safer, more power to them. But what gives them the right to encourage the enforced feeling of my nuts in the name of their comfort?

  • llamas

    1) A lot of the stories that are doing the rounds about the behaviour of Thugs Standing Around (including some supported by recordings) have a recurring theme – the absolutely stunningly-inappropriate remarks that these mouth-breathers see fit to make to citizens during the most-unpleasant parts of the screening process.

    A-I Dodge’s story is a prime example – the TSA drone finds it completely appropriate to tell a citizen and a perfect stranger that he resembles a famous pr*n star.

    I’m just trying to get my mind around the extent of the consequences that I would have had to face if I, in my past life as a LEO, had ever said such a thing to a citizen – never mind a citizen of the opposite gender. Sunfish, perhaps you would comment on the current SOA in this regard.

    As a man of a certain age, I know I need to get that DRE – but my physician doesn’t make fun of me while it’s happening. What in the world are these pondscum being trained in if they feel that this is suitable behaviour for their role?

    2) There’s an awful lot – an AWFUL lot – of anecdotal evidence to suggest that young, attractive women are being disproportionately ‘randomly’ selected for the new scanning technology. I’d sure like to see some stats covertly captured about that – if females are being scanned at a rate significantly-greater than 51%, that one single fact alone is enough to give the lie to all the stories about how TSA workers are security ‘professionals’. And that would not be open to very much debate about how these measures, unpleasant as they are, are ‘necessary’ for our security, since it would be blindingly obvious that all these tools were being used for is to facilitate simple voyuerism – which (last I checked) has no colourable connection to terrorism at all.

    3) Get rid of them. All of them. Let the airlines deploy whatever security they consider necessary to protect their aircraft – which (if you read the back of the ticket) has a value considerably greater than what they will have to pay out to surviving families in the event of a terrorist attack (hint – what is ‘zero’, Alex?) In less than a decade, this agency has gone from being merely a make-work program for the apparently-otherwise-unemployable to a massive and entirely-ineffective government leviathan that actively eats out our substance and ruins our lives for no positive effect on security at all. They are the agency that will forever be looking for their car keys under the street light. The terrorists run in some new and ever-more-unbelievable threat about once a year (check your calendars) and then sit back as this bunch of chuckleheads jerks like a puppet on the end of their string – more checks, more machines, we have to check you shoes, we have to check your skivvies, no more printer cartridges, confiscate those nail clippers!

    If they actually ever try again to bring down a passenger aircraft – and I mean actually try, as in “they want to succeed”, not try as in “let’s see what amazing over-reaction we can make the TSA do this time!”, I predict that it will not involve the passengers at all, and probably not even the airport. As we’ve discussed here before, there are 101 ways to put a passenger airline on the ground for less than $5000 that would not even require anyone to set foot upon an airport.

    There’s about 2 million air passengers in the US each day. Lets’ say that each passenger, on average, has to give up 30 minutes of his or her life to satisfy this security opera. That’s a million hours of citizens’s time wasted every day – more than an entire average lifetime, every day. The TSA is destroying lives at the rate of 400 persons-worth a year. In the 9 years of their existence, they have destroyed more lives than were lost on 9/11, and they have signally failed every time any sort of terrorist threat was actually presented to them. Why would we continue to put up with them?



  • Laird

    The WSJ article you linked is over a year old; things are worse now by at least an order of magnitude. But people are starting to take notice, especially since Matt Drudge began making this something of a cause célèbre a few weeks ago. The proper response is that this is a clear violation of our 4th Amendment rights against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. No rational person can plausibly argue that random patdowns and electronic strip searches are in any way “reasonable”, let alone rationally related to the end which they are (ostensibly) intended to serve. Even the politicians are starting to climb aboard; one recently raised the 4th Amendment issue in Congress. It’s about time.

    Massive lawsuits are needed here, filed by everybody subject to such unaccepable treatment. Even better would be an injunction against these new procedures. Surely there’s a federal judge somewhere with the courage to do what’s right.

    And then we need to call for the firing of Janet Napolitano (head of Homeland Security) and John Pistole (head of the TSA). Napolitano is a clueless party hack (she’s not intelligent enough to be called an “idealogue”), totally out of her depth and completely incompetent for her job. (Which, of course, makes her a perfect choice for the Obama administration.) But Pistole is simply an arrogant prick. Both have to go.

    And finally, as individuals we need to ostracise anyone who works for this corrupt agency. Sure, they’re “just doing their job”, and jobs are hard to come by in this economy, but anyone who would permit himself to be used in that manner clearly wants to be. Anyone with a shred of integrity would have resigned by now on principle. So whoever is still there deserves whatever social opprobrium we can heap on them. These are despicable people, deserving of no sympathy whatever.

  • Laird

    Also, what llamas said.

  • I was amused that people still think its an either/or situation. In fact I was scanned then had the “advanced patdown”, the snide remark and scar squeeze was added fun.

    I did an interview today with a Baltimore station who apologised to me on behalf of the city.

    This ain’t over for me, that is for sure.

  • Laird

    I certainly hope it’s not over, Andrew. Pile it on!

    And let me add my apology on behalf of my country, too. (Hey, if Obama can run around the world “apologizing” for imagined historical slights, surely I can apologize for a real one!)

  • llamas

    A-I Dodge – I too am sorry that this happened to you.

    In fact, I’m sorry for all the poor souls who are having to take one for the societal team in order to put a stop to this lunacy. While not wishing to minimise what happened to you, the same and worse appears to be SOP for this ship-of-fools.


    I will bet good money that the video of this incident has been accidentally erased and the shift logs showing who was working that day have been – misplaced.



  • llamas: “There’s about 2 million air passengers in the US each day. Lets’ say that each passenger, on average, has to give up 30 minutes of his or her life to satisfy this security opera. That’s a million hours of citizens’s time wasted every day – more than an entire average lifetime, every day. ”

    Same as all the other bureaucratic requirements from filling in your income tax return on down. The bureaucrats NEVER worry about how long all this takes cumulatively.

    I call these things “little murders”. In the end, our time is all any of us has.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Any bill to eliminate or even limit the TSA can be vetoed by Comrade Commisar Ogabe. However the newly elected House can simply not fund the Transportmittel SturmAbteilung.

  • Verity

    A British paper reported yesterday that a little girl of (IIRC) five, shouted at an airport security employee, “Stop touching me!!!”

    She was not frog-marched away, and the entire airport put under alert and planes grounded, I assume because of her age and angry parents. Those aged 18 and above should not employ this tactic. Passivity and respect for authority is what gets you on the plane.

  • Dishman

    I flew yesterday.

    They made me go through the special scanners.

    Afterwards, there was a large man with gloves waiting to shove his hands down my pants.

    I would have puked on him if he’d touched me.

    I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I really don’t like being touched most of the time anyway. Under adverse conditions, it’s very, very bad.

    What the hell is this country coming to?

  • Rob Berbank

    I’m steering away from flying at the moment but it’s bound to happen sooner or later. I’ve already decided that if offered the scanner, I’ll opt for the enhanced pat-down. I don’t have anything against nudity and I really don’t want my junk handled but damned if I’ll let them take the easy option.

  • Elaine

    I have a question about these procedures. What happens if a person cannot raise both hands above his head? My family and I are thinking about visiting relative in the US next year, some of whom are getting on. I have a nephew who cannot raise his left arm or open his left hand fully. Also, because his whole left side is affected he is unable to stand still without aid. He is a teenager and I know if he is subjected to these assults it will ruin the whole trip for him. Is there a procedure in place for people like him? I do not want to see him humiliated.

  • llamas

    Elaine – there was a time when I have said ‘don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’ But, given the horror stories that have come out of the woodwork the last few weeks, and the things I have seen & heard about myself, I can’t say that anymore.

    I’m sure that many TSA employees are good people only trying to do a tough job the best they can. But it’s becoming very clear that many of them are not like that, and the typically- and increasingly-sclerotic nature of their organization tends to make them worse – not better.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if your relative is traumatized by the TSA, to almost any extent you can imagine. The stories about the ways that they abuse and humiliate the handicapped are too many, and too consistent.

    Sorry to be the one that says the nasty truth.



  • Laird

    “I’m sure that many TSA employees are good people only trying to do a tough job the best they can.”

    Sorry, llamas, but I call “bullsh*t” on that. Anyone who works for today’s TSA is, by definition, not a “good person.” Any truly “good people” would have already resigned in protest. All that’s left there is authoritan thugs who enjoy wielding unfettered power over helpless travellers. Apologizing for them only makes you an enabler.

  • Elaine

    Thanks Llamas. We’ll have to look at other arrangements. One cousin in Washington state has suggested that we meet in Canada at another relative’s hometown. It’s a shame that we have to protect our youngsters in this way. This could be the last chance for the older relatives to meet the kids and spouses of those of us in the UK.

  • Rob Fisher’s link is a must-see (and spread).

  • Alasdair

    2 things spring to mind …

    First – if this is such a Good Idea, then those who are part of the Legislative and Executive Branches – ALL of them – should mandatorily be subject to the full set of procedures … let the TSA have discretion as to how to ‘randomly’ select, but the government employees and government officials should not be able to opt out of the full intrusive searches … (I have to wonder if requiring TSA personnel to ‘do’ Madam Pelosi might not be unConstitutionally cruel and unusual, however) …

    Second – when the TSA folk arrive for work, or come back after lunch, they should have to go through the same fully-intrusive processing – after all, if they aren’t carefully searched, how can we be sure they haven’t passed the bomb-making stuff to one of the passengers heading for the plane ?

  • Good ideas, it would be fun to see how fast TSA got slapped down if they fondled the “junk” of a Senator or two.

  • jsallison

    At one time I enjoyed flying. When TSA sprouted up like fungus in a fecal field the distance I was willing to drive instead of flying increased dramatically. As I live as close to dead center of the continental US as to make no difference there is pretty much no where within these bounds that I will suffer the kabuki theater of the TSA. I also inform the local airport authority everytime I have cause to travel, that, once again, I refuse to be treated like a potential jihadi. And after 20yrs in the military, they can kiss it.

  • Rwolf

    Could TSA Black Ball Americans Using All Forms Of Public Transportation?

    A song titled, TSA Boots Are Going To Walk All Over You, might make a great sequel to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Going To Walk All Over You.”

    TSA’s mistreatment, humiliation and general abrasive handling of Americans at airports, may be a portent to Americans (next) getting a Boot in their face if they refuse to be stripped searched, molested or x-rayed before boarding—any form of public transportation; bus, train, cruse ship. It is obvious TSA intends to extend its reach beyond airports; that TSA will blackball Americans from using other forms of public transportation, including preventing Citizens from driving beyond highway checkpoints, for alleged security reasons. TSA appears headed toward shutting down Americans’ Right To Travel Freely in their own Country.

    The Nazis used national emergency as a premise to repeatedly target, search and detain Germans boarding or taking trains considered political dissidents or morally unfit; Citizens were intentionally delayed by police/military so they would be late or miss work. As a result many Citizens lost there jobs and could not survive.

    TSA’s physical searches of air passengers’ private body parts, is intimidating passengers to submit to x-rays scans. Continued Low Radiation Exposure is Accumulative and believed to cause Cancer. Americans need to draw a line in the sand; Boycott airlines: that would get TSA’s attention and stockholders of airlines. Meanwhile, not just pilots and flight attendants, “ordinary air passengers” should also be afforded privacy when physically searched at public airports.

    The government intends to invade your bedroom. The government purchased hundreds’ of X-Ray Vans that will travel our streets without warrants, x-ray scan, see Americans naked when walking, standing, riding their bike and may—retain your scan-photos.

    Government/police will use x-ray vans to peer though Citizens’ homes and vehicles, exposing Americans and their families to radiation; government will view Citizens in their bedrooms. Americans need to ask Obama if independent studies were conducted to determine if Citizens could develop Cancer, if (repeatedly bombarded) by police X-ray scans. It is expected government/police with or without a warrant, will repeatedly X-ray scan a person of interest, in his or her home.

    Obama’s X-Ray Vans can ALSO be used by the military or police to secure perimeters to control civil unrest and instances of revolt, to screen and stop Citizens carrying guns, cameras; any item. Does Obama expect Americans to revolt?

  • Simon Jester

    Via Tom Kyte’s blog, I see that New Jersey may be going to ban the scanners and the frisks.

  • It’s a stupid approach:


    Shows how ineffective it has been. Although the TSA has provided employment to wanted child rapists.

    But it is the undermining of a cultural attitude to liberty that is it’s biggest fault.

  • Sunfish

    From elsewhere in your blogroll:

    Oh, the poor delicate little flowers! Oh, the huge manatee!

    Every TSA person I’ve ever met has had some delusions of being a cop, if only they could find a department with sufficiently-low hiring standards.

    Part of being a cop means that people will say not-nice things to and about you. You can trust me on this part. Want to wear blue poly-blend clothes and tell people to move along because there’s nothing to see here? They need to just plain butch the f*** up.

    Poor widdle baby don’t wike the mean man who said bad words? I’m so sorry to hear that. I mean, I can’t bear to live in such a word that people fired from the Wendy’s to make room for illegal aliens who get to exercise their authoriah (which we must respect!) have to exist in such a hostile working environment.

    Oh, the inanity!

  • Kim du Toit

    Seen on a T-shirt at the airport recently:

    “While you’re down there: Suck My Dick.”