Profiling: Just Do It!

I don't travel by air much these days.  Since the destruction of the twin towers and the loss of thousands of American lives on September 11th, our government's security policies have become increasingly bizarre and burdensome.   Lately, they are supposedly making an attempt at "concessions" to the American flying public by relaxing TSA regulations on shoes, little kids, and diapered adults.  They are still a long way from being reasonable.

On a recent trip, I actually felt blessed to pass through SEATAC airport's security, enduring nothing more than a metal detector on my way to a family reunion.  I commented to my husband, "My, they really are ratcheting it back."  A few months before, the TSA had swiped my hands to see if I had traces of explosive chemicals on my fingertips, and then I was required to walk through a body scanner.  Our most recent trip out of Seattle required running only two laptop computers through the x-ray machine -- but we were still required to remove shoes, jackets, belts, and pocket change.

Our return trip was a much different story.

Blithely unaware of what was in store for me, I stood in the security line at the Salt Lake City airport thinking that maybe we could resume traveling like we used to.  Upon entering the circuitous maze of humanity waiting to thread their way through security, I saw cheerful signs stamped with those new barcodes you can snap with your smart phone -- the ones that provide more information about TSA regulations.  Most of them concerned children and bottled water, which we ditched before entering the line.  (Our twenty-something son eventually caught up to us.)

Stepping up to the first checkpoint, the TSA agent seemed friendly enough as she looked over my ID and boarding pass.  Following the drill, we shucked our shoes, then unloaded our pockets and laptops.  Additionally, my father-in-law had given me an heirloom photo album, which I packed in an extra carry-on with some clothes wrapped around it for protection.

Dumping all our gear onto the conveyor belt, we began our trip through TSA's newest gauntlet.  This time, however, I was not able to forego the body scanner, as I had in Seattle.  I wondered if there was some kind of sign invisibly inked on my forehead saying, "Take me!  You missed me last time."

Calmly, I went through the body scanner, though secretly I was tempted to do something obscene.  Previously, my husband had dryly warned me, "You have a great figure, but please don't make me bail you out the hoosegow."  So, grudgingly, I waited for my dose of radiation and the all-clear from the agent.  Thinking that was the end of it (how silly of me!), I stepped toward the conveyor belt to pick up my belongings.  Another TSA employee stepped in front of me and wanted to ferret through my snow-white hair looking for God knows what.  I asked her if I needed to be de-loused before I could fly, too.  She just scowled and said, "You can go."

Turning back to the conveyor belt, my husband had just stepped through the body scanner and was hitching up his pants, replacing his belt, when another of the numerous busybody TSA agents grabbed the photo album as it came out of the x-ray machine and said, "Is this yours?"  Nodding, I said, "Yes. It is an old photo album."

His response: "The x-ray shows something in there that we can't identify."  

For pity's sake, is this the best Obama can do to create jobs -- training a federal harassment squad that can't even identify photo paper?

The agent grabbed my carry-on and directed me to collect my shoes and other possessions from the conveyor belt -- then asked me to follow him.  I thought, Oh no -- he's probably got a "hands-on" body search in mind.  My stomach churned.

Walking me beyond the conveyor belt, the agent set my carry-on on a metal table and unzipped the top, saying, "I have to see what's inside."  Thinking he wanted me to take the photo album out of the bag, I reached over and started to unpack it.  His reaction was quick.  Glaring menacingly, he sharply said, "Don't touch it!" and snatched it out of reach.  With that, he picked up a wand attached to an electronic contraption that looked like a Geiger counter and proceeded to shove it into the bag, going all around the sides of the photo album.  Satisfied that I was not carrying anything dangerous, he zipped it up and handed it back to me without further comment.

Dejected, realizing my dream of going to England was diminishing, I turned to my husband and said, "Please, let's go home."  As we were riding the escalator up to the next level, I spied a prophetic sign.  Paraphrasing, it said, The TSA has the authority to inspect baggage anywhere on the concourses.  Figuring it was probably just an idle threat, we headed for the gate.  On the way, I bought a new bottle of water to take on my flight home.

The pièce de résistance came when, rounding the corner, we found our flight boarding.  Stepping up to our assigned positions, we waited.  Out of the crowd, another TSA agent appeared, singled me out, and demanded to inspect my newly acquired bottled water.  The safety seal had not yet been broken.  I protested, saying, "I just bought it around the corner at the newsstand, and I have already been through security."

He responded, "I know.  Open it!"  I saw that he was holding a slip of litmus-like paper and a bottle of chemicals with a dropper top.

Complying, I asked, "Are you going to put something in it?"  I shoved it at him and said, "Here, just take it."

"No.  Just open it," he said, and he proceeded to hold the slip of paper over the open neck of the bottle for several seconds.  Then he applied a drop of chemical to the paper.  Authoritatively, he reported, "There are no gases in the bottle.  It is safe."

Incredulity crept over me as he wandered down the line to accost another fellow passenger.  Then full-out anger descended upon me.  The woman in front of me grinned and said, "You don't look like a terrorist."

Of course I don't.  I am a patriotic American citizen, sixty years of age, with an ever-growing attitude about the intrusive, insensitive nature of our government.  None of this makes sense, nor does it appear to make us safer.

My English ancestors came to America in the 17th century to escape the tyranny of religious and governmental oppression.  More of them came in the 19th century for the promise of freedom.  It's time to stop the harassment and do what the Israeli government does -- namely, profile.  Are you listening, Homeland Security?  The American people are tired, and we will not put up with this nonsense much longer.  This is the land of the free and home of the brave.  Stand up, America, and tell your representatives enough is enough.

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