On the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump derided the Transportation Security Administration as a “total disaster.” But his administration is making TSA more intrusive and abusive while its 42,000 screeners remain as incompetent as ever. New TSA screening guidelines will likely make Thanksgiving travel a disaster for legions of Americans — and the worst is yet to come. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, TSA announced more "comprehensive" pat-down procedures which the Denver airport suggested might involve “more intimate contact than before.” TSA preemptively notified local police to expect potential complaints, and plenty of travelers are howling:
*Jenna McFarlane, a 56-year old teacher and graphic designer, was traveling out of Charlotte, N.C., in April when a TSA agent repeatedly told her “to spread my legs wider” and proceeded to “touch my vagina four times with the side of her hand,” as she complained to TSA afterwards. She was selected for a vigorous patdown after an unreliable TSA test gave a false explosive alert for her carry-on baggage.
*Hollywood reporter and author Sharon Waxman complained this summer about an aggressive female TSA agent who “placed both hands around my legs and slowly — very slowly — rubbed up and down. The touching went all the way up to my groin. My private parts were touched by the edge of her hand, twice.” The TSA agent rested her hands on Waxman’s chest much longer than necessary to check for weapons. Waxman groused: “The TSA screening felt like nothing less than physical assault. If anyone other than a government officer had done anything of the kind, I would have reported it as a crime.”
*David Stavropolous complained that a TSA agent doing a search at Chicago O’Hare airport jammed his hand into Stavropolous' groin so hard that it caused bleeding and will require surgery to correct, according to Chicago's NBC station and his lawsuit against TSA.
But there is a ray of hope: TSA’s screeners may soon lose the legal immunity that has shielded all their abuses. Federal judge James Cacheris okayed a lawsuit by Captain James Linlor, an airline pilot, who complained that a TSA agent at Washington Dulles International Airport “rammed his hands into (his) genitals ... and subsequently laughed.”
TSA asked the court to dismiss Linlor’s case because, instead of suing, he could have phoned in his complaint to the TSA Contact Center. TSA also insisted that its screener deserved legal immunity even if he did pummel Linlor’s private parts. The judge scoffed at the government’s inference that “a reasonable federal officer would be surprised to learn that gratuitously striking an individual in the groin while searching them violates the Fourth Amendment.” The case is proceeding.
Federal groping-on-steroids is not making flying safer. In June, KMSP-TV in Minneapolis reported that a TSA Headquarters Evaluation Team succeeded 95% of the time in smuggling weapons and mock bombs past airport screeners. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general notified Congress that TSA screeners and equipment had recently failed to detect mock threats "in the ballpark" of 80% of the time, ABC News reported this month. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., declared that TSA is “broken badly.”
TSA has never bothered examining whether its tactics actually protect the public. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in September that “TSA does not measure deterrence (impact) for any of its aviation security countermeasures.” Instead, the agency imposes burden after burden upon American travelers based on hunches.
Other Trump policies could soon blight millions of Americans’ travel plans. Starting Jan. 22, TSA may reject drivers’ licenses from many states that fail to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005 (formerly one of the Tea Party’s most hated edicts). Travelers without passports from New York, Michigan, Illinois and other states could be barred from flying domestically, according to information on a DHS website.
Previous TSA intrusion — even its strip-search scanners — are chump change compared to the agency’s next anti-privacy bombshell. The Electronic Frontier Foundation warned Nov. 9 that TSA plans to use facial recognition systems to track travelers through airports after extracting far more biometric data from them. Such a regime could also easily be deployed in public places throughout the nation. If that happens, the feds could quickly identify every person who shows up to #Resist.
If Donald Trump had to pass through a typical TSA gauntlet twice a week, the agency would not survive his Twitter onslaught. For 16 years, Washington bureaucrats and political appointees have promised to reform TSA so that it will cease being a farce and a menace. After too many failed fixes, it is time to follow the lead of Canada and European nations and privatize airport security.
James Bovard, author of Attention Deficit Democracy, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard
Reprinted with author's permission from USAToday.