The Worst Touchy Feely TSA Stories of the Week

Sasha Brown-Worsham

As we head into the busiest travel weekend of the year, the TSA pat-down and screening policy continues to horrify many around the country.

Last week, I came back to the United States after two weeks in Israel. Their security was more efficient and safer than anything we have here.

The past week has been full of stories of abuse at the hands (not the wands, mind you) of the TSA. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Soaked by urine: A man in Orlando had his urostomy bag broken during a sceening causing urine to leak out of the bladder cancer survivor's bag and onto his pants.

I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me," said the passenger, Thomas Sawyer. "Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants. They never apologized. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark. I am totally appalled by the fact that agents that are performing these pat-downs have so little concern for people with medical conditions."

  • Gynecologist exams: For some, the pat downs feel more like a visit to the doctor than like a routine safety check. A woman from ABC News said a TSA agent reached into her underwear. The search was against protocols and "never" should have happened, said TSA Administrator John Pistole to Good Morning America, but the fact remains that it happened. 

"The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around," the woman said. "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate."

  • Demeaning breast cancer survivors: A woman in Charlotte (a flight attendant) was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a routine pat down.
  • Children being touched: This little boy was forced to remove his shirt during a TSA screening. And, of course, who could forget this awful story about the 3-year-old whose teddy bear caused her to get an aggressive pat down during which she screamed and fought?
  • Sexual assault: A woman flying through Dayton, Ohio is alleging that a TSA agent sexually assaulted her by not telling her that she was going to feel her vagina and buttocks.

Are we really safer because we are giving up our dignity and liberty? How does subjecting ourselves to these searches actually make us safer?

In short, it doesn't. The TSA says it does, of course.

"What it comes down to is that balance that we've been talking about," Pistole said. Obviously great concern over anybody who has felt like they have not been treated properly or have had something embarrassing like that happen. But, Pistole said, the bottom line is, "How can we make sure that we don't have an Abdulmutallab, an Underwear Bomber, who opts-out and then [is] not given a thorough pat-down, and have the non-metallic bomb on him that can cause catastrophic harm and kill hundreds of people in the air and perhaps people on the ground?"

Of course, the next obvious question is this: what happens when we foil a plot to conceal a bomb inside a body cavity? Will the TSA be asking us to get nude, spread our cheeks, and bend over? Will that make us safer?

Reactive screening is not the answer. But hiring qualified TSA agents who can ask questions, assess behavior, and yes, even profile (not just racially) people getting on planes will make us safer.

On Sunday night, my family and I went to Ben-Gurion airport, arguably the "safest airport in the world," where the safest airline in the world (El-Al) operates.

We allowed three hours for security (as is recommended), stood in a long line immediately upon entering the airport, and were asked a series of questions that seemed random. After 10 minutes of questioning, we were allowed to proceed to check-in. Our bags were color-tagged depending on that initial screening. It was efficient and highly effective. Eventually we went through security, where we didn't have to remove shoes or suffer the various indignities so many have complained about in the past week.

Twelve hours later, we stepped off the plane at JFK and had to go back through American security. After setting the alarm off twice, my 64-year-old father was subjected to the most humiliating pat down I have ever witnessed complete with cupping his genitals and patting his bum (several times). After taking his money, parading it around in public, and openly groping him for 18 minutes, they told him he could go onto his flight, but only after they took down his information.

Our story looks tame compared to the ones I have heard in the past week. By allowing this, we are all just acting like scared sheep who are willing to give up basic liberties for a facade of "safety," and none of us are really very secure at all.

What do you think of the TSA?


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