In the latest example of absolute insanity from the TSA and the way in which it conducts airport searches, "Patrick Smith," a pseudonymous pilot who writes about airline topics for Salon, tells the story of a ridiculous TSA encounter he had while flying as a passenger
. It happened because Smith didn't put all his liquids into a ziploc plastic baggy, as required. He apparently never does this and rarely has problems (I've also found that I've never been stopped when I fail to produce the plastic baggy). However, this time he did. But it wasn't just that the TSA called him out for this, it was what happened after he obliged and put the liquids in a plastic bag:
My carry-on goes through the scanner and comes out the other side. One of the guards squints at his monitor, then shoots me a hostile look. What's this, no plastic baggie? He pulls my luggage aside, opens it, and asks me to repack my liquids and gels "the right way."
I do as he wants. When I'm finished, I hand him the baggie so he can run the items through again.
To my surprise, he won't take them. "No," he says. "Just put them in your suitcase and go."
"Just put them in your suitcase and go."
I look at him for a minute. Apparently my having to repack them was a punishment exercise? All right, fine. Lesson learned, I unzip the approved, one-quart zip-top bag, and begin to dump the containers back into my toiletries kit.
"No!" interjects the guard. "Leave them in the plastic!"
"You have to leave them in the plastic bag!"
"But I'm already through the checkpoint. You already screened them."
He shrugs. "They need to stay in the bag."
"No they don't."
"Yes they do."
"They need to stay in the bag. You should know better."
Smith does a good job highlighting the absurdity of all of this and pointing out, of course, that the guard is wrong
. But later in the post he really keys in on the scary point of all of this: we've trained the TSA to look for unbagged liquids, rather than explosives
. And they're doing that successfully:
Are we looking for liquids, or are we looking for explosives? A search for the former is not a de facto search for the latter. Not the way we've been doing it. Steve Elson tells the story of a test in which TSA screeners are presented with a suitcase containing a mock explosive device with a water bottle nestled next to it. They ferret out the water, of course, while the bomb goes sailing through.
It's yet another case of where security theater is actually making us less safe
. We've set up these rules that don't really help protect anyone, and yet the TSA folks are taught to follow the rules, rather than look for anyone actually looking to cause harm on an airplane.