TSA Culture of Humiliation & Enforcing Our Corporate Slavery?
Picture an article was cut and pasted [from here]. Click to get all links to go with article, from original source.
I recently had a bad flashback. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I was hit with a vivid memory from my time as a Transportation Security Administration officer at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was 2008, and I was conducting a bag check when three of my TSA colleagues got into an argument with a passenger at the checkpoint. Things got pretty heated.
The subject of debate? Whether mashed potatoes were a liquid or a solid.
In the end, of course, the TSA agents had the last word: Since the potatoes took the shape of their container, they were determined to be a liquid—specifically, a gel. That’s the official TSA line. “Liquids, aerosols and gels over 3.4 ounces cannot be brought through security.” The potatoes were forcibly surrendered.
If you’re anything like me, you may have thought, “Well, mashed potatoes are technically gelatinous, so…”—which sends one down the rabbit hole of bureaucratic absurdity that ends with a passenger looking a TSA officer in the eye and saying, “Do you really think my mashed potatoes are a terrorist threat?” And the officer, if he or she is just an all-around tool, saying: “Ma’am, possibly. Rules are rules.”
I’ve had a lot of flashbacks lately—nearly buried memories that have come flooding back ever since Politico Magazine published “Dear America, I Saw You Naked,” [link] my first-person account of working for the TSA and anonymously blogging about my adventures in airport security.
Another one: It’s 2010, and a passenger is trying to bring her live goldfish through security. One of my co-workers informs her that the fish can go through but the water cannot. The woman is on the verge of tears when a supervisor steps in to save the fish’s life.
And another: Working alongside a screener who always demanded that pacifiers be removed from infants’ mouths and submitted for X-ray screening before the babies and their mothers were permitted to pass through the metal detectors.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of what I now see as the life-changing experience of having my story go viral is the realization of just how much I still have left to tell about my six years at the TSA—the strange checkpoint happenings, the colorful passengers and the outrageous, real-life TSA characters.
Americans took my initial report as confirmation of what they always dreaded about a humiliating experience so many millions of them had shared. But I also realized that there was a part of the story I hadn’t fully told: about a government agency and its leaders, and how they came up with the absurd policies that turned me and my colleagues into just-following-orders Mashed Potato Police.
[READ MORE, page 2 from source]
Primary Source Confessions of an Ex-TSA Agent
By JASON HARRINGTON
Soon after the article went up on the Politico website, I sent a note to my editor marveling at the fact that I had 30 new Twitter followers, up from a grand total of 240. I’d thought my article would get passed around in government and civil-liberties circles—a curiosity story of an anonymous TSA blogger unmasking himself, and that would be it.
Little did I know that within a few hours I’d be getting an average of three emails a minute—in the middle of the night—including interview requests from Good Morning America, Today, NBC Nightly News, The Kelly File and many others. And while my 30 new followers had at first seemed like a big deal, a few days later I had more than 5,000. Stephen Colbert even joked about my story. Stephen Colbert!
I got more emails in response to the article than I had in my entire year and a half writing my blog, Taking Sense Away, even when I revealed on the blog that the “nude” scanners didn’t work and that TSA employees were making predictably awful jokes about passengers’ bodies. I got only one piece of hate mail in response to my Politico Magazine article: an anonymous message that informed me that I was a “goon” because, it said, “Once a TSA goon, always a TSA goon.”
A few people did reach out to warn me that I am almost certainly being monitored by intelligence agencies now that I have revealed myself as a critic of the TSA. “My ex-husband is now a senior executive at the NSA at Fort Meade,” one said. “The NSA will probably track you.”
I’m not sure how credible these warnings are, but after being the subject of two official government responses—in which TSA denied and downplayed the claims made on my blog and in my essay—it’s hard not to worry that I’m being watched. I’ve received so many letters making this point that I now take it for granted that my every online move is being monitored by someone, somewhere. If the truth is more banal, so be it: I’d much rather be paranoid and wrong.
Most of the responses from current and former TSA employees were just as supportive as those from the general public—and that was another surprise. Quite a few read like letters from inmates: “Hi Jason. Remember me? We worked Terminal 1 together for a year-long bid. I am so glad you made it out and are doing something interesting with your life! Patting down crotches all day was the worst, wasn’t it?”
But some TSA employees saw my essay as an attempt to smear frontline workers. They were angry that I seemed to place responsibility for the agency’s problems squarely on the shoulders of low-ranking employees, rather than focusing on upper management and underlying organizational problems.
That was the argument in the email that gave me the most pause, a note from one of my former co-workers at O’Hare: “Obviously, TSA is not my dream job,” it said. “Sometimes I go home crying. I’d love it if you wrote more about the incompetency of the managers who got their jobs because of who they know. What you did will definitely make my job harder, because who will be attacked? Every worker on the floor in a uniform. Am I angry? No. But write more. Tell about those unqualified managers who take no part in the checkpoint operation, and who humiliate their workers. I know you’ve seen it all. Tell them.”
It’s an important point, and in fact that was my goal in launching my blog while still working on the TSA payroll: to call attention to the agency’s systemic flaws, while also defending the good, hardworking members of the nearly 50,000-deep frontline TSA workforce.
The agency was the product of a panicked national moment—fertile soil for poor decision-making—and irrationality was etched into the TSA’s DNA. Like most passengers, the average screener regrets the atmosphere of “permanent emergency” that has permeated airport checkpoints since 9/11,a reactionary culture passed down from TSA leadership year after year. And yet the most common concerns among TSA screeners usually stem from organizational flaws closer to the checkpoint floor.
Jason Edward Harrington is a writer and MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @Jas0nHarringt0n.
[Read more from original source, page 2]
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