Submitted by Bruce R. McCain
I soon sat down with my coffee cup in the large waiting area in Concourse C, listening to beautiful live piano music as planes took off on runway 10R outside the window behind me. What I witnessed next was both sad and surreal, but left me seething nonetheless. To my left a frail elderly man in a wheelchair was pulled over for the invasive pat down search. It took two male TSA agents to lift this near invalid man onto his feet where they held him in place as a third TSA agent wearing blue gloves ran his hands all over the helpless old man’s body, including into his crotch from both sides. At the same time on my right, an equally elderly woman using a walker got the same treatment from female TSA agents. I don’t know if these two aged travelers were husband and wife or I was merely witnessing a bizarre coincidence.
Over the next hour and a half I saw dozens of persons pulled aside and groped by TSA agents who have been trained to law enforcement standards. In my 26 years with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, I performed, witnessed and supervised enough pat down searches to appreciate the TSA technique. The TSA agents use a modified pat down search almost indistinguishable from what any arrested person would face on the hood of a patrol car or when booked into jail. In fact, I was struck by the haunting similarity between current TSA search procedures and jail booking:
Shoes, watch and belt removed? Check.
Pockets empty and all personal property on the counter? Check.
Spread legs and arms and do not move while searched? Check.
Gloved hands running over back, front, under arms, up and down inner thighs to groin? Check.
There are some differences in the TSA search, such as not searching the sole soles of the person’s feet or hair. The TSA agents also search the crotch from the front while kneeling, a position which would get one arrested on 82nd Ave. But that technique on the street or in jail exposes the searching officer to having his or her ears boxed or worse.
As I watched these government agents do their work, I also noticed that none of those Americans I saw searched remotely fit the profile of those who attacked us on 9/11 or have been terrorizing the world ever since. Sorry, did I say “Profile?” I apologize for mentioning the Alternative That Shall Not Be Named. The Obama administration apparently has no idea who was responsible for 9/11 or who present the single greatest threat to America and the West today. To the Obama TSA, an 85-year old Oregonian in a wheel chair traveling to visit his grandchildren presents exactly the same threat as does the 19-year old Yemini on a student visa taking flying lessons. The Obama TSA refuses to acknowledge or admit there is a different threat risk between the two. Therefore to avoid targeting those most likely to harm us, we are all treated as inmates in waiting.
Thankfully, my plane arrived safely in San Diego without being hijacked by a gang of octogenarians storming the cockpit yielding Polident brushes sharpened into knives.
While in San Diego I took in both a college football game and an NFL game, both played at Qualcomm Stadium. For the college game, we simply walked into the stadium without so much a head nod from the red jacketed Elite event staff. Two days later, the same Elite employees subjected every person entering Qualcomm to a half-hearted TSA type search.
I was pulled aside by a young man who told me to hold my arms straight out while he searched me. His search was so pitiful that when he thanked me I refused to put my arms down. Instead I told him his search wasn’t very good and asked him if he wanted me to show him how to do it correctly. He nervously smiled as I soon had four or five Elite red jackets moving in. I smiled back and told the young man had he bothered to check my left coat pocket he would have found the sandwich I pulled out. The Elite staff all nervously laughed and urged me to get moving because searching the 68,452 fans in attendance cannot wait for idle chatter. The sham of attempting to frisk that many people accomplishes nothing, especially since theoretically I could have smuggled anything into that same stadium two nights earlier under the nose of the same rent-a-TSA event staff.
My journey’s final leg brought me to the hallowed ground of American travelers – San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, home airport of John “Don’t Touch My Junk” Tyner. Unlike PDX, San Diego’s airport has the full body scan machines. Everyone must pass through the scanner, which requires you to hold your hands overhead and remain motionless for the six-second radiation bombardment. After passing through the scanner, you must remain stationary on a pair of yellow foot prints until the back-room peep show clears you to proceed.
Per TSA policy, if you refuse to go through the nudity scanner as did John Tyner, you will be subjected to the blue glove crotch grope. I opted for the scanner, as did every passenger I saw in my immediate group of travelers. I silently chuckled to myself as I thought of the TSA agent sitting in front of the virtual peep show looking not only at my current physique but at all of those ordinary people passing continuously through the electronic strip search. My momentary empathy for the back room TSA agent quickly evaporated as I recalled the recent incident that galvanized the nation and which occurred at the very spot I was standing in my stocking feet.
John Tyner’s now infamous “Don’t Touch My Junk” battle cry was actually part of a more serious and sobering exchange between Tyner and a TSA supervisor at the scene. Once Tyner threatened to have the TSA agent searching him arrested for sexual assault, events caught on Tyner’s cell phone video turned surreal.
A TSA supervisor re-explained the groin check process to Tyner then adds, "If you're not comfortable with that, we can escort you back out and you don't have to fly today."
Tyner responded "OK, I don't understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying."
"This is not considered a sexual assault," replied the supervisor.
"It would be if you were not the government," said Tyner.
"By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights," countered the TSA supervisor.
"I think the government took them away after 9/11," said Tyner.
"OK," said the TSA supervisor.
This brief but telling exchange between John Tyner and the government agent lays out the policy framework for not only airport searches but the government’s rationale to expand these searches into every aspect of public life. When the TSA supervisor told Tyner that he “gave up a lot of rights” by purchasing a plane ticket, he was correct to a point. Persons who do not want to fly can be spared these invasive searches by taking alternative transportation. But there is nothing preventing the government from instituting these exact same procedures for domestic rail travel or on every local public transportation system.
Moreover, there is nothing preventing these same invasive procedures from being implemented at locations where less aggressive measures are already in place. Every court house in Oregon has a security plan designed to prevent the introduction of weapons into the facility. In Multnomah County, visitors entering the court house place their belongings on an airport-type X-ray machine while they walk through a metal detector. If metal is detected, a person may be subjected to a hand-held wand, but the person is not physically searched – at least not yet.
Bomb threats at court houses are nothing new. Therefore to prevent explosive devices as well as firearms and knives from entering our court houses, how long will it be before everyone entering the court house will be subject to either the full body scan or the full body hand search? From the government’s point of view, there is no distinction between an airport or court house, since the goal is to prevent firearms, sharp objects and explosive devices from entering both. City Hall could be next, using exactly the same rationale. In Portland’s case, Mayor Sam Adams would likely reassure citizens that the hand searches are not that invasive by volunteering to undergo as many as he can while personally demonstrating the technique on the first five 17-year old males entering the building.
Americans expect and demand reasonable and effective security measures to protect us from our enemies. Like many Americans, I know who attacked us on 9/11 and with whom we have been at war ever since. But in a bizarre fulfillment of a 1970’s quote from the cartoon strip Pogo, the Obama TSA’s policy is, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
When Americans recall John Tyner, they should not dwell on the bumper sticker catch phrase, but instead on the government agent’s declaration that Tyner “gave up a lot of rights” when he chose to travel by air within the boundaries of the United States. Under the Constitution, not every search by the government is prohibited, only those determined to be unreasonable.
Whether the TSA nudity scanners and hand searches of every person violates the 4th amendment will be tested in court, unless remedied by Congress or a new administration in 2012. Until then, Americans must ask themselves under what other circumstances are they willing to conditionally “give up a lot of rights” to a government that insists exam gloves and radiation are really for our own good – especially since we don’t know how many sleeper cell terrorists are already in place at a nursing home near you.
Bruce R. McCain is a former Sheriff's captain and attorney in private practice in Portland, Oregon. He is an outspoken politico looking at the inner workings of Portland, Multnomah County as well as Oregon state politics. He writes for The Northwest Connection and has appeared on local and national media and is an active participant at VictoriaTaft.com