Confessions of TSA agent: They laugh at us, but it’s not funny

You’ve had this sneaking sensation all along, haven’t you? That those security machines at airports don’t really do any good? That someone might be looking at naked X-rays of you and laughing? That a whole lot of money has been wasted on technology that doesn’t work, and that the best and the brightest experts are not staffing security checkpoints?

The blogger who has anonymously run “Taking Sense Away,” which chronicled life as a TSA agent,”came out” today in a riveting piece on Politico. Really, you should stop what you are doing and read what Jason Edward Harrington wrote — if you can get through the anger you will feel at the incredible absurdity of it all. In case you are busy, here are some quick highlights.

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Agents laughed at us. A lot. “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. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area.”

Or, had sex while they were supposed to be watching for bad guys: The screening room “I.O. room” offered a lot of privacy.Officers who were dating often conspired to get assigned to the I.O. room at the same time, where they analyzed the nude images with one eye apiece, at best.”

TSA agents hate taking our stuff away: “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.”

Bad guys can hide things from agents, even in those massive new X-ray machines:Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.” This time wasting is endemic to the operating procedure it seems, my friends recommended getting a decent carry on backpack to try and avoid the dreaded TSA gaze, you might want to check out Backpacks Global if you feel the same way.


The best training for a terrorist is to get a job with TSA. TSA doesn’t keep very good track of who it hires. One co-worker discovered his background check had been delayed four years. Also, Harrington wasn’t exactly qualified to protect American lives from terrorists when he took the job. “I had just returned to Chicago to finish my bachelor’s degree after a two-year stint in Florida. I needed a job to help pay my way through school, and the TSA’s call-back 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.”

This is the latest in a long string of embarrassing stories about the TSA, like this one from December, “Seven Reasons TSA Security Sucks.”

Really, it’s time to end the charade, or as Bruce Schneier calls it, the “security theater.”

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About Bob Sullivan 1589 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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