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Tag: O’hare

Former TSA Officer Tells of ‘Pained Relationship with Government Security’

By Jason Edward Harrington
The Week

My pained relationship with government security started in 2007. I needed a job to help pay my way through college in Chicago, and the Transportation Security Administration’s callback, for a job as a security officer at O’Hare International Airport, was the first one I received. It was just a temporary thing, I told myself — side income for a year or two as I worked toward a degree in creative writing. It wasn’t like a recession would come along and lock me into the job or anything.

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. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots — the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.

Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group — a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

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.

Until 2010 (just after the TSA standard operating procedure manual was accidentally leaked to the public), all TSA officers worked with a secret list that many of us taped to the back of our TSA badges for easy reference: the Selectee Passport List. It consisted of 12 nations that automatically triggered enhanced passenger screening. The training department drilled us on the selectee countries so regularly that I had memorized them, like a little poem:

Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan
Iraq, Iran, Yemen
and Cuba,
Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan
People’s Republic of North Korea

People holding passports from the selectee countries were automatically pulled aside for full-body pat downs and had their luggage examined with a fine-toothed comb. The selectee list was purely political, of course, with diplomacy playing its role as always: There was no Saudi Arabia or Pakistan on a list of states historically known to harbor, aid, and abet terrorists. Besides, my co-workers at the airport didn’t know Algeria from a medical condition, we rarely came across Cubanos, and no one’s ever seen a North Korean passport that didn’t include the words “Kim Jong.” So it was mostly the Middle Easterners who got the special screening.

Most of us knew the directives were questionable, but orders were orders. And in practice, officers with common sense were able to cut corners on the most absurd rules, provided supervisors or managers weren’t looking.

Then a man tried to destroy a plane with an underwear bomb, and everything changed.

To read more click here.

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