Abolish the TSA

Jerry Pournelle’s account of his plane trip (from “Current View” on his website):


Regarding TSA, I am told that I was certainly within my rights to write down the badge number of King68427 at Jacksonville, Florida, about 9:30 AM at the Delta concourse Monday 14 June 2004; but Sheila, the Supervisor, told me that if I did I wouldn’t be allowed to take my flight. I didn’t get Sheila’s number. She made me cross out King’s but I had memorized it and wrote it later.

What happened: before we got anywhere near TSA some gate checker to the Delta corridor gave us these long yellow TSA things, about 18" by 4". They weren’t explained, and I paid no attention. Each of us got one. I held mine with the tickets. American had stapled all three of our tickets together so I had them all, for all three of us.

When we got to the TSA belts our identification was demanded again, but not the tickets. Then I was told to start putting things in a tray, but then told not to do it, because my wife was in front of me, and she had to put all her stuff in first. I was told, rudely, that I couldn’t start yet. This in harsh tones without even the artificial politeness that they sometimes feign. I said “This is insane.” There was no reason why I couldn’t be putting stuff in one basket while my wife put her stuff in another. There was no crowd. There were plenty of baskets.

Finally I was allowed to put things in baskets. I had the yellow thing in plain view, and also the tickets. No one was interested, so I put all that in my brief case which was sent through the machine. Another basket held shoes. Another jacket and cell phone and wallets and pens. On the other side of the machine I started to collect my stuff. At this point several people started yelling.

“Who cleared this?” “Don’t touch that!” And other such things. King shouted at me about my tickets. I took them and the yellow thing out of my brief case. The yellow thing apparently was the albatross that indicated to these crackerjack government agents that we were to be victims of their attentions. King explained to some other TSA man that I had “hidden” the yellow thing although he saw me put it in the brief case, but perhaps he was so busy yelling that I shouldn’t put things in trays yet that he didn’t pay attention to what he saw.

I said I had not hidden it, I had put it away with the tickets not knowing what else to do with it. He said something else I did not hear. I said “This is insane.”

He began telling me that if I said that again he would call the police. He then called over another TSA agent and told that one that I had said this was insane and he had told me that if I said it again I would be arrested. He then said it to me again and demanded that I acknowledge that I had heard and understood. I said nothing. He called yet another over to tell him that he had told me I would be arrested if I said it again.

Eventually that storm ended because I refused to look at or talk to him.

Someone from down the line called out for Doctor Pournelle. Someone else said “Doctor?” Then we went through this undignified search, King68427 hovering in the background, with what looked to me like a smirk. I could have been mistaken. In any event he once again told someone I had “hidden” the yellow thing – which had yet to be explained to me, apparently I should have known by instinct – in my brief case. I said I had not hidden it, I put it away with the tickets because no one had told me what to do with it. When he started to say something I began writing his badge number. He stopped talking. Sheila the Supervisor rushed over to tell me I wasn’t allowed to write down the badge number and watched as I scratched through it, looking to be sure that what I had written was illegible.

That is what happened.

It reminded me a bit of the test procedures we used to test candidates back a long time ago, making up rules on the spot and generally doing things to harass them to see if they would blow up or give themselves away; but of course I wasn’t a volunteer here, I was just trying to catch an airplane. Actually I wasn’t even trying to get an airplane, just use the Delta Crown Room since we had over 2 hours to wait for the American flight (in another concourse) and American has no Ambassador’s Club in Jacksonville.

In fact when we went to the American concourse we were given more of those yellow things, so apparently our tickets were marked for special attention. This time we knew what to expect. Again they went through all out stuff by hand.

It was at the American concourse that I saw two TSA men looking at my camera and discussing it, but I do not know if it was there or at the Delta concourse that the lens got a scratch. I discovered the scratch on the second search. It seemed pointless to put in any kind of claim.


We are home, and once our tickets were switched to American and we got into the American lounge, past our second TSA strip search all was well. However, the TSA managed to scratch the lens of my camera, then insist that nothing they did could have done that. All I know is they took my brief case, I saw several of them looking at my camera (an Olympus digital) and later when it was returned not in my brief case the lens had a scratch. The supervisor said they didn’t do anything that could have done that, so therefore they didn’t do that.

This was at the concourse in Jacksonville which leads to American. There are three concourses at Jacksonville, each staffed with numerous TSA people. This makes for a lot of employment, and may explain why they choose people to be strip searched, so they can look busier. Perhaps not. I don’t really expect logic. I do know that if the purpose of all this is to make enemies for the United States they are doing it pretty well.

My knee kept setting off their metal detector in their hand search. I had to sit there in an uncomfortable position with one leg raised while the man went over it again and again. It hurt a bit. By that time I wasn’t going to say anything: over at the other concourse I had been told that if I took the badge number of the agent who was being repeatedly rude – he clearly wanted the others to know what he was doing but he had trouble getting their attention – I wouldn’t be allowed on the airplane. I admit I was intimidated. But it is never comfortable to sit with one leg raised while someone keeps running a wand over it.

They all used that artificial polite mode they’ve been trained to use, and I suspect a couple of them understand the enormity of what they are doing, but for most they are only following orders.

In any event it was during the metal detector incident that I saw others with my camera. They took everything out of my brief case. One wondered why I had three sets of earphones in it. Since he didn’t make that a direct question to me, I didn’t say anything to him. I really didn’t want to talk to them, for fear of being kept off the airplane. I did complain about the scratch on the lens, but when I was told it was impossible that they could have done that since they don’t do that, I saw no point in continuing the conversation. Clearly it it’s impossible that they could have done it, they hadn’t done it.

My wife, watching them go through her carryon, later speculated about some of the unpleasant things she might have put into the bag. I suppose that’s illegal, though.

For all the thoroughness of their pawing through both my brief case and the Number Nine rollaway (I could get away with only a shoulder bag, but that’s heavy for long trips, so I generally put the computer shoulder bag in the Number Nine bag, which then serves as a rolling barrow for both itself and the brief case) – for all the thoroughness, and their puzzlement at three sets of earphones, had I wanted to destroy the airplane and myself with it, it would have been no great trick to have carried aboard explosives and detonating equipment. I won’t go into how, but I suspect most of you can figure that out, and I am quite certain any competent engineer can: and there are many engineer graduates among the upper ranks of the terrorist organizations. There really is no way that TSA can prevent someone determined to destroy the airplane and themselves with it from doing it.

Or, for that matter, without being killed as she destroys the airplane. When we got into the airplane we found we had bulkhead seats up front. The airplane was about half loaded, and at least half the seats behind us were filled. People milled about, there was baggage in the overhead compartments. Then there was an incident that so far as I know only we witnessed: a young lady, with a big backpack containing at least two bottles of water visible through netting, came from the back of the airplane and got off, explaining to the steward that she was on the wrong airplane. I watched all this very carefully, because of course if I wanted to destroy and airplane and not be on it, I would have got on, left something in the overhead luggage, then got off; and while her backpack apparently was full, it need not have been.

She left the airplane. I decided to say nothing, because it would have resulted in clearing the airplane (and the Dallas airport?) and there was nothing about the girl to warrant any suspicion that she was anything other than a bit confused; but after all the tender attentions we had from the TSA it would have been the cream of the jest had we then been blow up in the air by time bomb…

The whole experience makes me regret that I have accepted another invitation to be guest at another convention next month. I was looking forward to going, and I will do it, but at this point I want never to be on an airplane again. If the purpose of the terrorists is to harm American business, then imposing the TSA on us to convert citizens into obedient subjects has certainly given them success.

Interrogators want to reduce prisoners to the status of dogs begging privileges, even their food and water, so that they can condition them to cooperate.

Is not the TSA accomplishing the same purpose with all the people of America?

But we were born free.

Faux-libertarians suddenly don’t like police states when they turn on them. Didn’t he support police doing racial profiling of arabs?

The TSA is more than useless. Going shoeless in an airport is fucking disgusting. I have lost 3 nailclippers to “security.” What the hell am I going to do with a 2" nail clipper?

Give the pilots a manicure?

The whole “shoe thing” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, I’m aware that somebody tried the shoe bomb trick. But when last flew in the US, people wearing sneakers were exempt from having to take off their shoes. If I were a terrorist intent on making a shoe bomb, I’m sure I could put one together using a sneaker.

Yes, all the silly TSA rules have an easy, or at least feasible, dodge for someone willing to put in a little planning and preparation. Hence, the TSA is spending public tax dollars to harass the public with only the most marginal of improvements in security. As someone who has to travel for business, I can’t express to you how much the TSA delights me.

I was able to “sneak” a 32 oz cup of ice tea through the extra-demeaning detail wanding session. I could’ve had a lot of very dangerous things in that cup. But he did wand my baseball hat. Idiots.

It’s a federal job. It’s not like they can get fired from it.

The TSA has got to go.


The TSA will not go away, will not be held accountable, will continue exceeding the budget and headcount set by Congress and provide its illusion of security.

Not that I can recall, at least in the sense you’re talking about. Pournelle is hardly a faux-libertarian. An occasional curmedgeon, yes. I’m always somewhat amused at people who dismiss him as ‘that sci-fi writer’ or ‘that computer columnist’ who are ignorant of his background in politics and strategic doctrine.

One of the things America is very bad at is security. After being free for so long, its not surprising that they have little idea how to increase security and decrease freedom. I personally feel they should bring in advisors from other countries, but they are probably too arrogant for that, and feel it would jeopardize natural security. Idiots.

Just as with everything else, through experience they will improve. Think of the TSA as an untrained infant, born of a clumsy passioned tryst. It will grow and it will learn. Give it time.

The TSA is used as a strawman by the “pro-freedom” Americans. They point to the TSA and say “Aha… the TSA must go! It all must go!”.

However, the NEED for things like the TSA is not addressed by these “pro-freedom” Americans. Thus they seem naive.

The TSA is a clumsy infant learning how to walk. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“Pro-freedom” American: Clumsy Infant my ass! The TSA is Satan! It must be destroyed! {Yaarrghhh!} (battle cry).

Not that I can recall, at least in the sense you’re talking about. Pournelle is hardly a faux-libertarian. An occasional curmedgeon, yes. I’m always somewhat amused at people who dismiss him as ‘that sci-fi writer’ or ‘that computer columnist’ who are ignorant of his background in politics and strategic doctrine.[/quote]

Pretty sure he did, but I can’t find proof online, so never mind.

But what do you mean, “his background in politics and strategic doctrine?” Did he join the council on foreign relations when I wasn’t looking?

I find it extremely difficult to imagine a better example of the fundamental soundness of Mark Twain’s advice about arguing with fools than this post.

Why hasn’t the TSA been abolished already?

I didn’t realize this was a zombie thread until I reached the second line of the Koontz post and had to check who the author was.

WOAH. Of all the TSA-threads to resurrect you pick this?

I was merrily reading along thinking it was a new thread and then - BLAMMO - a Koontz-post.

What on earth did you search for to find this? We’ve had several TSA-threads the last few years.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am currently doing some consulting-type work for a community college, and I’ve dealt with a lot of students face-to-face in the past few months here. On average, the word “moron” is perhaps too kind to describe the general intellectual capacity I’ve encountered.

And as I like to remind my colleagues, “Remember that these kids are our future. Our future burger flippers, our future yard mowers, and our future Transportation Safety Administration employees.”

Because Bush is still in office. Maybe Kerry-Edwards can boot him. Here’s hoping.

Pournelle is a Goldwater/Reagan conservative. He’s always hated the TSA. Edit: Sigh, 2004. Sigh.

Thank God this turned out to be true!

That’s less an ‘abolish the TSA’ story than it is an ‘abolish all human life’ story.