My $256 Picture of the TSA

Coming to grips with harassment from government “security”

Both the invasiveness of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees and the willingness of people to tolerate such humiliating treatment continue to astound me. Last week, as I zigzagged across the United States, I had to deal with these employees more times than I care to remember. One occasion stood out, though, and led to an epiphany that bears considering—as I explained in the final segment of last week’s show.

Listen here or below (11 minutes):


After a particularly uncomfortable full-body pat down at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport—I opt out of the Rapiscan—I decided to take a picture or two to document what these busybodies were imposing on innocent people (one being on the left). Apparently they do not take kindly to transparency, however. Although I’d already uploaded the image, they decided to detain me for approximately 40 minutes, just enough to be sure that I would miss my flight.

Since I had a connection to make on another airline, I ended up having to buy a new flight, which cost me $256. (Don’t get me started on the myriad of taxes that also make air travel substantially more expensive than it need be.) Along with the annoyance at having to sit and wait for 40 minutes, this cost brought a reality to bear: TSA employees have more power than you at the airport and can make your life difficult. If you want to make a statement and engage in confrontations with them, as noble as that may seem, expect to come off second best. This is the case regardless of the fact that they are in direct violation of the United States Constitution and that you’re less likely to die of a terrorist attack than you are to be struck by lightning.

South Park did a priceless episode, “Mind if I Touch Your Balls, Sir?” in which they showed the absurdity of the TSA. (NB: It’s South Park.) And perhaps at some point enough people in the United States will oppose their activities. In the meantime, there are other countries where you are not subject to TSA-style treatment, and I mentioned Ecuador as one such expat haven. However, so long as you are in the United States, one does well to consider whether the goal is getting from point A to B with the least amount of hassle or mounting a protest.

David Galland of Casey Research addressed this predicament in a great essay, “What Does Liberty Really Mean to You?” Although I’d read it before, this latest experience cemented it in my mind.

It would be my strong preference to come and go without the charade and indignity of transportation security instituted by most nations these days… But, unlike some prominent [champions of liberty], I don’t make the mistake of conflating transiting airports with protesting against the inanity of transport security…

If I wanted to mount a protest against TSA, I would do it in an organized fashion. Say, by arranging for a large and loud demonstration at whatever passes for TSA’s headquarters, making sure that the media was there to provide coverage. I certainly wouldn’t do it ad hoc without media present, on a day when I actually needed to travel from point A to point B.

Fergus Hodgson About Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is an economic consultant, financial editor, athlete, and traveler. He holds degrees in economics, finance, and political science from the United States and New Zealand, and he has lived in eight countries. Follow @FergHodgson.


  1. The Stateless Man says:

    Likewise, Nicole. I don’t claim to be an expert on what these machines give off, but I’d rather not take it in on a frequent basis. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. BillFisher says:

    Out of the 600 million passengers screened annually, TSA receives calls from about 750,000 of them, TSA claims only 8 percent of those calls consist of complaints about TSA service but GAO estimates that the number of complaints is at least 400,000 when those made to airports, airlines and other venues are included.
    What are the options when there is no complaint venue or means of recourse for abuses or crimes by screeners except through TSA? There are laws to protect citizens from abuses by police for a reason and the same standards should be applied to TSA.
    Maybe TSA can explain how keeping a known pedophile, Thomas Harkin, working at Philadelphia airport six months after he was exposed is keeping our skies safe. Or how pulling the dress off of a 17 year old on a church trip and exposing her breasts to her classmates and everyone at the checkpoint is protecting her?
    Maybe TSA will explain how having over a dozen screeners smuggling drugs and guns through our airports in the past 24 months is essential to airport security or why 103 TSA workers arrested in the last 24 months including 15 arrested for child sex crimes, 29 for theft, 12 for smuggling and one for murder is acceptable.
    In October TSA screener, Paul Magnuson, was arrested for raping a young boy he was mentoring. An ABC sting operation in September resulted in the arrest of TSA screener Andy Ramirez who stole the iPad from an Orlando checkpoint. One week earlier, TSA screener at Ft. Lauderdale, Andrew Smeal, was arrested for child pornography. He had been hired by TSA a month before while he was under investigation by the FBI. Clearly TSA is not properly investigating employees.
    There were no airline attacks between 2002 and 2010 and TSA didn’t grope children, strip search elderly women or take nude photos of people.. After eleven years TSA hasn’t caught one terrorist or even identified one legitimate attempt.
    There have been no attacks on bridges, buildings, public events or shopping malls and TSA isn’t near any of those so their value at airports is doubtful at best.
    TSA needs to be replaced with something that actually works before their corruption and incompetence results in a tragedy.

    • honestcomrade says:

            “Maybe TSA will explain how having over a dozen screeners smuggling drugs and guns through our airports in the past 24 months is essential to airport security or why 103 TSA workers arrested in the last 24 months including 15 arrested for child sex crimes, 29 for theft, 12 for smuggling and one for murder is acceptable.”
      From where did you pull those numbers? Would Love to give it a read…

      • BillFisher says:

        @honestcomrade  @BillFisher Located at under Master Lists. One includes story background and the other is a list of incidents and source links to original story.
        Also GAO has a list of over 400 reported crimes by TSA screeners over the past 5 years.

  3. trueglobalnews says:

    Sorry but you are stupid. They can’t detain you. They need to call a police officer and even then he has to have a reasonable doubt that you are committing a crime so he can detain you.
    The fact that you obeyed like a little slave, doesn’t mean they have power.

    • @trueglobalnews Such gentle words you use. They had a police officer on the scene within seconds, so technically he was the one detaining me. If you think my decision not to get into a physical confrontation with a police officer makes me a “little slave,” you’re welcome.

  4. TravEller1 says:

    Many years ago I realised that one of the recruitment criteria for TSA and similar security staff in other countries is the thickness of their muscles. Particularly the one between their ears.
    I have learned to go with the flow, regardless of how ridiculous, intrusive or inane their demands were. It simply wasn’t worth missing the flight, although that did happen once. It was really pleasant last month to go through Myanmar airports without removing belts or shoes or displaying laptops and liquids; but it was back to reality in Bangkok where the lady in front of me had the duty-free liquor she had just purchased confiscated at the gate-lounge security.
    Cheers, Alan

  5. Totenglocke says:

    See, people keep missing the most obvious way to get rid of the TSA.  We’ve known for decades that the airlines in the US are always on the verge of bankruptcy – a simple boycott of any non-business related travel would crush the airlines very quickly (a month or two, maybe up to six months).  Then it would be an issue of giving a very large and very unpopular bailout to the airlines to keep things as they are, or get rid of the very unpopular TSA and end the boycott.
    I truly do not understand people who continue to fly in the US without being forced to for business reasons.

  6. My guns are loaded. I bought more rounds of hollow point bullets than DHS! Just kidding. What kind of self-respecting person would work for the TSA? Don’t these people have any pride in themselves? If I were them, I would kill myself for being such a pathetic loser. I would repeatedly walk through the naked body scanner until I died of radiation poison. They’re a bunch of blood sucking leaches that deprive people of basic rights – protection from illegal search and seizure – disgusting. Gut maggots, with no guts!

  7. Yourkiddingright says:

    BillFisher The reason TSA hasn’t “caught” any terrorist is because the screening system is working.  Terrorist are trying to find other methods to attack our homeland.  Everyone wants numbers and stats to say the systems working, how about EXACTLY what you said ” There were no airline attacks between 2002 and 2010″  Why do think that is the case, because TSA screening doesn’t work?  Research how many loaded firearms have been discovered at the checkpoints, how many inert devices devices discovered ( you don’t know they’re inert until investigated), anyone of those items could have easily turned tragic “IF” TSA didn’t catch them.

    • BillFisher says:

      @YourkiddingrightBillFisherProve it. The fact that there were no attacks similar to 9/11 is not
      conditional on TSA. You are attempting to prove a negative is false
      logic. besides, they didn’t grope children, strip search women and shove
      us into x-ray naked scanners between 2002 and late 2010 and there were
      no attacks then either, so how do you reason that dichotomy?
      can no more prove that TSA has prevented an attack than you can prove
      that my lucky rock hasn’t been the reason. There have been no attacks on
      stadiums, shopping malls or other public events and TSA isn’t at any of

      The cockpit doors have been reinforced and passengers
      now know to take action. TSA’s role is not drug and gun interdiction.
      Most of the guns confiscated were from people who had a license to carry
      the gun and were perfectly legal until they stepped into the security
      line. They posed no more threat than they do on the street or concourse
      and I for one don’t want to spend $8 billion a year to pay perverts,
      pedophiles and criminals to search American citizens simply trying to
      attend a business meeting.
      You are clearly a TSA employee or
      shill so I suggest you slither back under your rock and not try to spout
      your poorly reasoned propaganda in a forum frequented by intelligent
      and educated people. You are way over matched.

  8. I’m heading back to Canada from Ecuador for 10 days at the end of May. All my previous trips (the last one was 2.5 years ago) have involved going through Miami or Houston. This time, I’m flying to Panama City, and then directly to Toronto, bypassing the TSA totally.
    I have no interest in being fondled (maybe if she was cute, but I have yet to see a cute TSA employee), and even less interest in meekly allowing the TSA to do what it says it has the authority to do.
    The only real power anyone has these days is the power to spend money on the things they want (although even that is being stripped away). So I’m voting by refusing to spend any money in the US, and refusing to spend any money on US-based airlines.
    I’ve vowed not to enter the US again until things are a little freer there. I may be dead from old age (I’m 57) before that happens. That means missing some interesting conferences and meetings, but so be it. I’ll watch by webinar where available, or miss out.
    For those of you stuck with flying domestically in the US, I feel sorry for you. I recommend that you get out now, before you have even fewer liberties.

  9. BillFisher says:

    honestcomradeGo to TSA Scandals / TSA Worker Crimes.
    I can post the  names and media sources for the 15 child sex crimes as a list here  if you doubt that this is true,

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