Well, what do you know about this: If you bitch and moan and kick and scream about getting screened (or groped) by the TSA, you are that much more likely to get screened that much more thoroughly (or aggressively). Especially if you do it in the airport security line, where the TSA screeners can hear you.
This is not, however, because TSA screeners want to get back at you, or show you who’s boss, or go on a power trip, apparently. Apparently. It is because “arrogant complaining about airport security is one indicator Transportation Security Administration officers consider when looking for possible criminals and terrorists,” reports CNN. Which seems counterintuitive — you’d think someone wanting to do bad would keep as quiet and inconspicuous as possible, no? (And, in fact, the former director of security at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport says that “effusive praise” can be just as much a warning of malevolent intentions.)
There are some 70 “behavioral indicators” that TSA screeners use to identify “high-risk” passengers, many of which may indicate stress, fear, or deception. (None of them, reports CNN, “refer to or suggest race, religion or ethnicity.”)
But back to the bad attitude in the security line, well, honestly, who among us hasn’t felt that way? Who hasn’t expressed “contempt against airport passenger procedures”? Who doesn’t hate, or dislike, the way we have to travel now? The good news is that officials are not supposed to take one single indicator (like complaining loudly about how slow the line is going) on its own in their identification of potential terrorists. The bad news is that expressions of “arrogance” or annoyance, unlike bomb residue or concealed weapons, can hardly be measured in any quantitative way and are instead up to the opinion of the screeners. Who may have arrogant attitudes of their own.
Meanwhile, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, expressing contempt is a First Amendment right, and per the 9/11 commission’s report, none of the checkpoint supervisors on September 11 remembered the hijackers or reported anything suspicious — except in the case of failed hijacker Mohammed Atta, who was, indeed, an ass when he was told he’d have to check in again in Boston after arrival in Portland.
And so, the questions remain: Will this kind of screening actually help the TSA catch potential terrorists, or will it just breed more contempt? And…did the 6-year-old girl who got the extensive pat-down have “a bad attitude”?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2011