An author and antiwar-activist friend of mine from Alaska, Rob Mulford, had a distressing time with the Transportation Safety Administration at the airport recently. Here's the letter he wrote me:
I thought that you might find what happened to me at Fairbanks International Airport yesterday morning interesting.
I was on my way to Colorado to meet with underground coal miners that I had worked with 35 years ago to gather stories for a book that I am writing and then on to Las Vegas a week later to stand trial for my part in the Shut Down Creech action of last March.
As I often do, I brought my passport as a second form of ID. I handed it to the TSA agent at the gate out of convenience because I was carrying it in my sport coat pocket along with my boarding pass. When I stepped into the body scanner a TSA agent told me to step out and wait because they had to calibrate it, and I complied. After the calibration I passed through the body scanner and was asked to step off to the side by another TSA officer. He told me that my computer had set off their bomb detector. A TSA officer frisked me in public while another went through my computer bag, camera bag, and wallet, taking everything out and wiping it down to "test for explosives". They told me that other items of mine were suspect and that my computer tripped their bomb detector again. I asked the agent, "what was detected?" He replied, "I can not tell you."
They put my computer through the x-ray three times and my other items twice. Afterwards I was led into a locked room where another TSA agent did a more intense job of frisking me including feeling my genitals. Altogether they held me for over twenty minutes before releasing me. While waiting to be officially groped again, I asked one of the younger TSA officers, "Are you old enough to remember when people traveling had rights?" I told another that they were humiliating me. He replied, "This isn't humiliation." I guess that I was supposed to feel thankful for their fine effort to make the Reich more secure. Salus publica suprema lex, you know.
To say the obvious, there was no way that anything that I owned had any traces of explosive material. The only things attached to my computer were two stickers. One said, "No Justice, No Peace - Martin Luther King Jr." The other was a Smokey the Bear 20th Anniversary sticker.
I suspect that my passport, which has a RFID chip embedded in it, triggered some kind of hidden reader. I've seen these demonstrated at one of the military conferences that I attended.
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When the plane got airborne I opened Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Peace Is Every Step" to a page that I had just previously randomly placed a bookmark. The chapter was entitled "Mindfulness of Anger". Hanh advised, "When anger is born in us, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can accept that energy in order to transform it into another kind of energy." I'm choosing love. That will do just fine.
We will not be silent,
It is not a laughing matter, of course, and a clear indication of trouble. Sorry you got harassed. I'm a frequent flier-- not so much the last couple of years, just two trips to Europe this year, I'm driving from Mississippi to Halifax NS in four days-- and I can assure you on various points that the TSA is not perfect. It screws up big time every day.
On one occasion in 2013 I went through TSA with my guitar case, heading to Cincinnati to play a blues festival there. Arriving at my hotel room to dress before sound check, I happened to go in my guitar case to get a couple of harps. What should I find but a half full pint mason jar of moonshine some fan had given me at a gig two days before, and I had forgotten it was still in the case!
TSA had allowed a clear liquid in a bottle larger than three ounces in a resealable quart plastic bag through the Memphis X-ray machine! Upon leaving from the Cincinnati airport I saw a TSA three-striper supervisor sitting alone in the smoking lounge, and told her all about it, hoping to help her do her job better, and also to hear the perspective of a supervisor when she was informed that her security organization had had a breach.
Clearly embarrassed, she just said, "once in awhile, things just get through." I didn't want to press her too hard as to what things tended to avoid detection in their highly technological security system. I know that one particular metal does not trip the machines.
TSA, believe it or not, is pretty benign. I actually have friends, even musical fans, who wear its uniform! Now, I've been an activist since 1971, and have repeatedly found myself in situations involving American law enforcement/investigative organizations. However, after all that, it still shocked me when this happened. I realized permanently, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the American security apparatus is a facade, there to keep people in line not to "protect" them:
In 2007 I was returning from Europe through Detroit, and as I was off the plane and was heading down to Border Control, I realized that my passport was gone, it had slipped out of my pocket while I was sleeping because I never even got up to pee.
I informed Border Patrol of this, and they sent a Northwest Air employee back up to the plane to go and look for my passport. When she returned, she said there was no passport.
So that means someone not authorized to possess it has taken it, then, my passport is not lost, it's stolen, I said. Border Patrol told me not to worry about it. I would be allowed back in the country anyway.
They sent me on to Customs, which also said I shouldn't worry about it, this happens all the time(!!) All I had to do was file a Form D-62 and some other form and if I paid for expedited service I should have a replacement in a couple of weeks.
One doesn't often want to question US security officials in the blunt terms in which I continued. But I had nothing to lose, I figured.
"But my passport has been stolen, aren't you going to report it to the State Department? What if somebody commits a terrorist act and leaves my passport at the scene, who's going to get blamed for it?"
The Customs men were unconcerned, even affable, and eventually gave me a number at the State Department where I could report my stolen passport. But they again repeated that I shouldn't worry, just send in the forms, I could find them at the Post Office.
In another week I had sent in the forms to the appropriate address and I called the number, where, after I explained that my passport had been stolen, the woman asked me if I had sent in my forms. I told her I had, but that I was reporting a stolen piece of State Department property that could be used as part of crime, and didn't she think that was serious enough to be investigated?
She told me that until the forms were received, the passport wasn't even officially missing (even though this was the third federal agency I had tried to report it to). She echoed Customs when she said that people lose their passports all the time.
I persisted: "this one was stolen off a plane by someone not authorized to have it."
"Just send the forms," she replied. I thanked her and hung up. I received my new passport in less than two weeks. At least the USPS is doing a real job eagerly and efficiently.
I guess our security rests on having the right forms filled out and sent in, lol! Our tax dollars at work...