Jason Harrington, a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee, is speaking out about the screening process in American airports.
Harrington is working on a book about his time with the TSA, but on January 30 he penned a lengthy column in Politico called, “Dear America, I saw you naked — and yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.”
He wrote, “I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display.”
He continued, “I quickly discovered I was working for an agency whose morale was among the lowest in the U.S. government. In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds.”
Harrington also said that TSA employees have their own code words. Here are common TSA sayings “decoded”:
Alfalfa: TSA malespeak for an attractive female passenger.
BBC: Bogus Bag Check, or Bullshit Bag Check. What happens when a not-too-bright x-ray operator decides to call a bag search.
Opt out: A smart passenger.
Retaliatory wait time: What happens when a TSA officer doesn’t like your attitude. There are all sorts of ways a TSA officer can subtly make you wait longer to get through security, citing imaginary alarms, going “above the SOP” for “a more thorough screening,” pretending that something in your bag or on your full body image needs to be resolved—the punitive possibilities are endless, and there are many tricks in the screener’s bag.
White Shirt: A TSA employee who still believes his or her job is a matter of national security.
Harrington also said that the reasons behind “enhanced screenings” are usually just as perplexing to TSA workers as they are to travelers. He wrote, “‘Random’ security ‘plays’ were passed down from headquarters every day, or ordered by our supervisors. The enhanced screening was also triggered by SSSS stamps, which could show up on passengers’ boarding passes for any number of reasons, often reasons we would never know. But we would also sometimes pull a passenger’s bag or give a pat down because he or she was rude. We always deployed the same explanation: ‘It’s just a random search.'”
Hours after his article was published by Politico, Harrington realized that he forgot to include something in the piece. He tweeted, “One thing I left out of that Politico piece: HELL YES airport employees often drink those bottles of alcohol you surrender at the checkpoint.”
Over the past decade, a growing number of Americans have become concerned about privacy violations by the TSA. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has even called for an end to the TSA.
Harrington’s report will certainly bring issues associated with the TSA to the table for debate.