Child With Brittle Bone Disease Detained By TSA For An Hour

from the if-you're-going-to-be-oppressive-at-least-do-your-job-right dept

It's no secret that I don't think much of the TSA. In addition to a long list of pieces we've done on what I consider one of the most useless government agencies, there's also the more recent story I covered discussing whether or not the agency's operations have resulted in more deaths in the past decade than all the terrorism against American's combined. Still, there is some discussion over whether all of this freedom-taking and death is worth the fuzzy feeling we all suposedly get when boarding a plane, knowing that at least all of this asshat-ery is making us safer.

But then you hear the story of someone like Shelbi Walser, a twelve year old girl from Texas who suffers brittle bone disease and also apparently has to suffer with over-zealous federal employees that don't have enough common sense to fill a thimble.

Shelbi Walser, 12, has brittle bone disease, and was flying to Tampa, Fla., to receive treatment on Sunday when she was randomly selected for an explosives screening on her way through security. Tammy Daniels, Walser's mother, said that her daughter tested positive for explosives when a screener swabbed Walser's palms and fingers.

Speaking with ABC affiliate WFAA, Walser said that she has no idea how the traces of explosive got on her. “It could have come off fertilizer, because we have chickens. I could have run through something from them,” she said. “It could have just come off the ground, because I roll through everything.”

Here's the thing. Even if you believe that the threat of terrorism via explosives on airplanes is everything that the government would have you believe (and I don't), and even if you think that the methods used by the TSA can help make us safer (and I don't), we're still left with a federal agency that is given so much leeway in curtailing our liberty that they at least should get their damned jobs right. There can be such a thing as common sense in airport security, where you understand that the 12 year old Texan with brittle bone disease probably isn't going 'splode a jetliner. Certainly it seems unlikely that it would take an hour for the TSA to come to this determination.

“I am by no means undermining our safety in the air. After 9/11, by no means am I doing that,” Daniels told WFAA. “But when it comes to children, common sense is not in a textbook.”

This has always been the problem with the TSA: in the absence of common sense there is such a thing as the paralysis of bureaucracy, and when that paralysis comes to the people in the form of handbook-style security, then that's a win for the very people we're supposed to be protected against.

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Comments on “Child With Brittle Bone Disease Detained By TSA For An Hour”

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59 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Not that I want to defend the TSA...

But what exactly could they have done better? (Besides a better explosives detector?) What proof could those parents have been provided that would automatically tell them that their machine is wrong and the three people that they do not know from a monkey’s uncle are telling the truth?

I agree with Timothy that the TSA is the wrong agency, pursuing the wrong things, with the wrong methods, but the line agents don’t, (and shouldn’t) get the discretion to change any of that. Given the parameters they have to work inside, I find it pleasantly surprising that it only took an hour to clear up.

Milton Freewater says:

Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

“Given the parameters they have to work inside, I find it pleasantly surprising that it only took an hour to clear up.”

This article does not make the TSA line agents look like monsters.

My experience is that when TSA agents behave poorly, they do so with very unhappy looks on their faces. They know they’re out of line, they just don’t know what else to do. The shame is on their superiors.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

Umm, no.

If they know what they are doing is wrong, and still do it , they are most certainly to blame for their actions. Now, this is not to say that their superiors get away scot-free, far from it, as they are the ones ordering such things done, but that just makes both groups equally guilty.

As the person above notes, ‘I was just following orders’ is not a valid excuse for wrongdoing.

Jake says:

Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

Also, just a thought, but I would respectfully advise that kid’s parents to ask her some searching questions about what she and her friends might be doing in their spare time. She wouldn’t be the first child to learn an interesting fact about common brands of artificial fertiliser in Chemistry class and decide to test it out.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

It’s not as debilitating as you might think. We had a kid in junior high/high school with it and other than having casts all the time, he pretty much played normally with everyone else, including the safer sports (baseball, running and soccer, but not volleyball or football).

He lit fireworks on the 4th with us once as I was close friends with his cousin.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

Why? The presence of fertilizer is hardly that unusual, particularly with people who have livestock or garden. In the absence of any other indicators, this shouldn’t be the basis for any “searching questions” beyond, at most, “are you playing with explosives or fireworks?”

To grill a child based on just that is to tell the child that you don’t have any trust in them, and will encourage them to not trust you in return. That return trust is pretty important for keeping the child safe.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

heh, i got a better idea:
why don’t YOU do some ‘soul-searching’ (like jon stewart said of faux news, i’m sure you’ll find one) and consider if you’re an abject authoritarian who will reflexively defend any and all idiocy ’cause it is by -you know- THE Gummint! ! !
dick
1. the idiotic ‘bomb swipes’ they do give about 5 zillion semi-false positives for every ‘real’ bomb residue they detect…
2. the nitrites they test for can be there from cardboard, numbnuts; not to mention a WHOLE mess of other ‘normal’ stuff that can be false-positives…
3. handling chickens? walking nitrite dispensers, with their hot manure, i’m sure they are covered in the stuff…
4. a little grrl w/brittle bone disease is our next terrorist vector ? ? ?
you stupid shit, you drank the whole gallon of kool-aid, didn’t you ?
you’re no American, you’re an amerikan…
STFU

art guerrilla
aka ann archy
eof

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

But what exactly could they have done better?

As stated common sense.
OK so they have a positive hit on a machine now what? Unfortunately it seems those involved were incapable of using common sense and looking at the girl making a determination that she didn’t pose a risk in less than an hour. It should have taken 5 minutes max.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Not that I want to defend the TSA...

What could they have done? They could have searched her, and then thought logically:

“Well, she may have traces of explosives on her hands, but she’s not carrying explosives, so she’s not a threat to this flight. She may have swallowed explosives and a detonator, but if she’s that smart and well-prepared she probably would have washed her hands. So there’s no evidence that she’s any kind of threat, so let her through.”

Anonymous Coward says:

What percentage of passengers do they do this random explosives screening on?

Screening 10%, for example, of people randomly (and I suspect they screen very few for explosives) is not going to deter a suicide attack (and bringing explosives onto an airplane is almost certainly a suicide attack.) What is this supposed to do, stop 1 out of 10 attacks? Security through blind luck? Do they think the terrorists say to themselves, “Yeah, we’d try to bring down that plane, but there’s a 10% chance we’d be caught, so we aren’t going to try”?

Screen everyone, or screen suspicious people, or don’t bother. For crying out loud, even if the frail 12 year old girl WAS carrying an explosive, what’s more likely: that she’d have explosive materials on her hands, or that someone ELSE made the explosives and planted them in her carry-on?

Anonymous Coward says:

You never can tell with children. When a child explodes it isn’t pretty. Normally it only happens after consuming large quantities of C12H22O11 also known as sucrose. The good news is that the explosion can be contained but the aftermath can be messy situation. Be thankful that the TSA has certified the child to be safe for air travel.

sniperdoc (profile) says:

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Except when you have a case of a 20 y/o that runs through an elementary school/kindergarten and shoots up 26 human beings, and was later found to have a disease that makes it impossible for him to sense pain… no emotional trauma there at all, right?

When will people make up their minds…? Do we want people to be checked or not? Someone with a vendetta couldn’t have possibly told the 12 y/o to handle possible explosives, right?

Quit proselytizing. and get a write a real article. No wonder TD is a useless news service full of a**ho… I mean opinions.

IrishDaze (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

+1

I’m surprised no one else brought this up sooner than you did. I’m also surprised that yours is the ONLY reference to this concept, throughout the entire comments section, as I write this.

The most common false positive on the TSA’s explosives test is GLYCERIN. You know, a prime ingredient in many common soaps and lotions?

Believe it or not, because one of the things the TSA tests for is nitroglycerin, freaking HAND LOTION tests positive for explosives so often that the screeners actually SAY, “It’s probably just hand lotion.”

But still ….. Test positive, and you’ve TESTED POSITIVE. Period.

Austin (profile) says:

What has this gotten us?

I know a lot of people, when defending the TSA, like to make the point that we haven’t been hit domestically since 9/11 so “it must be working” but here’s a better question: How many terrorists has the TSA stopped in the past 11 years?

The TSA has the 4th largest budget in the entire federal government (it’s part of DHS, which is actually second, but if you break down exactly how much of DHS’s budget is TSA, it’s 4th) and has cost the constantly-failing airline industry equally as much as it has cost taxpayers directly. Over the past 11 years, there has been 1 new TSA job for every 4 jobs lost by the airlines, so it’s a net job loss too. Add to all this insult the probably millions of people who are dying of cancer as we speak from the damn body scanners, and the true “cost” of the TSA is incredibly high.

So what has this all bought us? Has the TSA stopped one single terrorist in the past 11 years?

I know the FBI has stopped a few (and pretended to stop many more) and I know the passengers, not the TSA, stopped that shoe bomber guy. Hell, the flight attendants stopped a guy trying to shoot someone on SouthWest several years ago. Yet, for all this talk of stopping terrorists, has the TSA stopped any at all? Even one?

Or perhaps the more appropriate question is in order: has it stopped more deaths at the hands of terrorists than it has caused through the body scanners? Has it saved more lives than it has all-but-destroyed through the overly invasive pat-downs and cavity searches? Has it caused more terrorists to miss their would-be flight than it has stopped people from making it to important meetings, holidays, or even people trying to reach dead or dying family members halfway across the country?

I’m willing to bet the answer is no. In fact, I’m willing to risk flying cross-country on a non-TSA-secured plane the rest of my life to prove it.

After all, the flight attendant has a better chance of saving me anyway.

Rekrul says:

This has always been the problem with the TSA: in the absence of common sense there is such a thing as the paralysis of bureaucracy, and when that paralysis comes to the people in the form of handbook-style security, then that’s a win for the very people we’re supposed to be protected against.

Common sense is dead.

I remember a few years ago reading about an older woman who received a jury duty notice in the mail. She called up the courthouse and told them that she was exempt because of her age. They asked if she had filed the necessary paperwork and she told them that she did. They asked when she filed it and she told them that she did it the year before. They told her that was the problem, she had to file it every year! Apparently they want to make sure that nobody is getting younger…

Wally (profile) says:

It's not the TSA as a whole...just the Texas branch...

“But then you hear the story of someone like Shelbi Walser, a twelve year old girl from Texas who suffers brittle bone disease and also apparently has to suffer with over-zealous federal employees that don’t have enough common sense to fill a thimble.”

It should be noted that this is Texas…a state known for not understanding any disabilities what so ever…and should not represent the TSA as a whole.

Bri (profile) says:

I got off a plane at LAX and went to my connect flight, but not before stopping at a vendor to buy a soda. I then walked up to the line to get onto the plane and opened the soda and took a swig. Right before I got on to the plane I was pulled aside.
TSA: “Mam, we need to check your drink for explosives.”
Me: “What?!?! I just bought this here!”
Thank god the TSA has the forethought to check their own already screened drinks for explosives after people have had a drink. It made me feel so much safer when I got onto the plane.

Anonymous Coward says:

Common Sense?

I’m no expert, but it seems to me that “common sense” is that given the choice between passenger A, a 12 year old kid in a wheelchair with a major disease, and passenger B, a 12 year old kid in perfect health, everything else being equal, I would think that the person with the major disease was more likely to commit suicide…

So many comments are saying it is common sense that the kid didn’t have explosives… But it seems to me that someone in more misery is more likely to decide to choose that path.

Unless they mean that any 12 year old wouldn’t carry explosives? But Palestinians have shown that even kids that age have carried bombs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Common Sense?

Yep, you have no words. You have nothing beyond “12 year old diseased kid, therefore innocent!”.

I agree that the residue tests are poor. But if the TSA is using that test, and it turns up positive, them saying “oh it’s just a 12 year old in a wheelchair, ignore the positive result” would be the stupidest thing ever. (Of course, being the TSA, then maybe we should expect that…)

Ninja (profile) says:

I’m not sure if I know what brittle bone is but I’ll assume it’s some sort of x-men power. So it is obviously another yellow journalism piece from Mikey Terrorist Masnick trying to criticize yet another good job from the TSA. It is obvious that they applied temporary power suppression mechanisms to avoid the girl from using her power in the plane bringing it down from the skies.

Ahem. We need Hank McCoy here.

Opinionated (profile) says:

This definitely makes me feel safer, knowing that the TSA scanned a 12 year old for explosives!! “Hmmmm, let’s see, who do we choose as a random candidate today? Oh yes, that child is a good one, she won’t complain or give us a hard time like an adult would!” Makes perfect sense to me! We have more chance of getting killed by a gun weilding psycho going about our every day lives than by being blown up in an airplane! We need to focus more on how to keep innocent children and adults safe on the ground!! Just saying!

Donna H says:

My 10 yr old daughter was “frisked” and tested for explosives because she had a shirt on with metal decorations on it and when she went through the new electronic scanners it showed a big area on the front of her chest. Hmmm..the same area where the metal decorations were! They were as gruff and curt with her as they are with an adult and she started freaking out because they were like “come with me, miss”. It was insane. I had on MIssMe Jeans which notoriously have metal buttons and deocrations, “bling” some may call it, and they had to do the same for me. They are just a ridiculous mess……….

Gregg says:

Poor QA crashes more planes

More planes crash from poor quality maintenance due to budget cuts and funds being diverted to security than planes being destroyed by Terrorists or Criminals.

Change the design of the plane, so that passengers can not access the cockpit.

Since 2004 I have quit flying and also quit traveling to the US. As security is excessive, intrusive and humiliating and then there is the Border Cop’s roulette method of ruining some ones travel experience.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Poor QA crashes more planes

Change the design of the plane, so that passengers can not access the cockpit.

They took the even simpler expedient of just locking the cockpit door. No hostiles have gotten into the cockpit of a plane in-flight since then. Most of the rest of their actions are security theater, but that was a good (and obvious) idea.

trrll (profile) says:

Sorry, but this doesn’t make much sense. How, specifically, were the TSA agents expected to know whether the child actually had brittle bone disease without relying on possibly false assertions by the child’s parents? Try to break a bone and see if it snaps? From the point of view of statistics, random screenings make a lot of sense. If there is any category of person that terrorists could be sure would never be screened, chances are they would figure out how to sneak a terrorist on board in that guise. Moreover, having some fraction of individuals screened randomly produces statistical “noise” that disguises the criteria used for targeted screening, making it harder for terrorists to figure out what those criteria might be in order to evade them.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How would the TSA be expected to know the kid had brittle bone disease?

Quite possibly when a) She told them, b) Texas is not known for accommodating disabilities (look at the workers’ compensation laws), c)The wheel chair she was in which seems to automatically paint a target for bigots, d) It was painfully obvious to the general public, e) It’s Texas…

Andre says:

Not that I want to defend the TSA: 2nd

“There can be such a thing as common sense in airport security, where you understand that the 12 year old Texan with brittle bone disease probably isn’t going ‘splode a jetliner.”

Very easy to say when you are not responsible for the lives of potentially hundreds of people if an event defies probability.

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