Tuesday, November 16, 2010
TSA: Dumb and Now Dumber at San Diego?
I'm old enough to know that Satan does not exist, but stupidity roams shrieking over the landscape with evident impunity. As Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid," I might add, nor can you exorcise it.
That said, my jaw still dropped seeing a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper this morning that the TSA official who runs the TSA's operations at San Diego International Airport has "opened an investigation" into John Tyner, the software engineer who declined to submit to a full body-patdown (including what some screener called a "groin check") and ran into a major hassle when he decided instead to chuck the flight and leave the airport last Saturday morning.
Now, I often wonder why some (most, I would say) airports have TSA staffs that are professional, courteous and well-trained, while others seem to go out of their way to employ humps. The TSA chief at any individual airport -- who reports to Washington -- is the one responsible for the performance of the TSA employees on his watch. Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office at San Diego, is such a person.
Now, anyone who listens to the full recording of Mr. Tyner's 30-minute Kafkaesque encounter knows that Tyner, while he was certainly considered a pain in the ass by the screeners who were trying to get him to accept the patdown, behaved calmly and in a civil manner. Faced with the patdown, he decided instead to cancel his trip and leave the airport.
Here's what should have been said:
TSA Agent: "OK, sir, that's your choice. Have a nice day." (sotto voce: "And don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out of the terminal."
Instead, like the worst sort of small town cops, the TSA at San Diego kept hassling him as he tried to leave. Tyner recorded the whole thing. In the terminal, where he was escorted after the checkpoint standoff, Tyner made it clear that he had given the screeners all of his personal information, which he had, and that he did not understand why the officer now detaining him insisted on having him repeat the same information, as the officer said, "for your benefit."
Tyner: "For my benefit? I think we're done. My benefit has been achieved."
Officer: "Actually, sir, we're not, no sir. I'm trying to give you some mitigating factors in your favor."
Tyner: "Mitigating? Meaning what? ... I would like to leave --"
Officer: "I understand that--"
Tyner: "Can I leave?"
Officer: "What I'm asking you to do is cooperate with me ... You want to be non-cooperative with me as well."
Tyner: "You're preventing me from leaving the airport."
At this point, the officer informed Tyner that he was subject to a civil lawsuit, with an $11,000 fine, for ... well, for whatever.
As we all know, the Tyner story went viral online. People are flat-out furious about it, along with the other fury being directed at the TSA>
At this point, the TSA -- already being beaten like a rented mule in public opinion -- had one smart move. Address the issue: Why was Tyner detained and questioned long after he departed the checkpoint? Why was he threatened?
Instead, the TSA at San Diego doubled down on a very, very bad bet. The San Diego TSA chief, Aguilar, actually called a press conference to announce further harassment of Tyner.
Certainly, one would think, this was a matter of Aguilar cowboying it on his own.
He certainly did not clear that bone-headed move with Washington.