TSA's Clever New Security Protocol: Nosy Questions About Your Vacation


How I spent my summer vacation …

If you're under the impression that the Transportation Security Administration tweaks its security procedures in order to fine-tune to a humiliating level of intrusiveness while carefully avoiding even accidentally achieving anything in the way of improved security, you're probably only partially correct. In fact, it pursues that goal within the constraints of its other institutional imperative: avoiding embarrassing high-level officials. Being accused of presiding over an agency that lazily engages in racial profiling, as the TSA recently was in the pages of the New York Times, is embarrassing. So those highly trained security professionals are retraining, refocusing, and now they're really, really interested in learning about your summer vacation.

Over at the ACLU's Blog of Rights, Devon Chaffee writes of her most recent experience passing through airport security in Burlington, Vermont:

The agent then turned to me with grin that was a bit perky for even my taste given the early hour.  "So where are you folks off to?" he energetically inquired. 

I like to think that I'm a friendly person, so I answered him, expecting a brief innocuous exchange about the Washington DC heat and the scourge of Capitol Hill gridlock. Instead, the agent responded to my answer with a barrage of questions about where in Vermont we had stayed, how long we had traveled, and why we had traveled there. I could feel a suspicious expression involuntarily creep across my face. The New Englander inside me was screaming "you don't know this person from a hole in the wall and you certainly don't want to divulge to him the details of your family vacation!" And yet it seemed that the more discomfort I expressed, the more persistent the agent's questioning became, following us down the line, grilling me unrelentingly about our vacation plans and baggage status.

Chafffee's experience, as she notes, was almost certainly a re-geared version of the "behavior detection" that resulted in charges of racial profiling at Logan Airport in Boston. People  clumsy enough to interpret "behavior detection" as "tackle the brown folks" are guaranteed, once redirected, to think that behaving like a sweaty stalker in a corner bar is a cleverly subtle approach to ferreting out evil-doers.

Yeah. Traveling is just becoming more fun every day.

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  1. You’ll be sorry when they arrest Sheikh Yamouni Makir, evil terrorist mastermind, after cleverly tripping him up with questions about his vacation (“so, which wife are you visiting on this trip, sheikh?”)

    1. His associates, Sheihk Yabhouti and Sheikh Ratl Enroul, are still at large.

      1. I think Sheikh Yabhouti was also featured on a Frank Zappa album. The guy gets around.

  2. Force the agents to view a lengthy slideshow of your vacation photos.

  3. So, if you tell them it’s None. Of. Their. Fucking. Business., what would they do?

    1. “Ask” you to ‘please step over here, sir or madam’.
      And you thought you were going to make that connection to the next flight? Ha and ha.

  4. Sounds like border security are training them. When I go back and forth from Canada, those are he same questions I get from both sides.

    1. It also sounds like an article about El Al security and their questions.

    2. Fucking Canuk border fags tried that on me once on a red eye up to Toronto, thinking they could trip me up by asking me 3 times, “how many bags did you pack”. On the third time, I simply said 1, just like the two other times I replied one bag, and held up my middle finger to illustrate the number in a language he could comprehend.

      Suffice to say, getting out of customs took an additional hour. I’m pretty confident that if I was some diaper headed dirt person, I would have simply been allowed to waltz right in.

      1. I would love your wit at my next party. Do you charge?

  5. Certain states in recent history (and even today) restrict the travel of the citizens by fiat. Seems ours will do so by bureaucratic nosiness. And I have a feeling that ‘none of your business’ is going to lead to further discomfort.

    1. I predict an explosion in the charter flight business.

      1. I’ve chartered twice over the last two years, and it was an absolute pleasure. But it’s damned expensive, especially for distances requiring jet aircraft.
        Of course, none of our ‘public servants’ have to suffer TSA, nor do those like Buffett claiming he doesn’t pay enough tax.
        Hey Warren! Get a TSA grope and tell us how much more we should pay for the privilege!

        1. This. If you’re lucky enough to find some peeps to split the cost, it’s absolutely a must-do.

        2. Rand Paul begs to differ.

          The Smurfs even got Kissinger a while back. It’s like some demented Sugarfree slash fiction.

      2. “..an explosion…”


    2. Once they get those tracking things in all our cars, there will be no avoiding the travel police.

  6. When the internal Border Patrol checkpoint dicks ask me where I’m headed I smile and respond with whatever cardinal direction the road is heading, usually “East”.The usual reaction is a smile or chuckle. I once asked how the dog could smell someone’s citizenship and immigration status. They were less amused.

  7. Very small airports have much less TSA presence than the larger ones. And if you connect from one of them to a hub, you are already through security. On the other hand, with way fewer passengers, the TSA personnel there have more time per passenger for petty annoyances.

    I travel by airplane very infrequently; any thoughts from more frequent travelers on whether size of airport makes a difference?

    1. The lower volume of regional airports does correspond to a reduced TSA presence. However, I’m not sure if the goon / passenger ration is better or worse, and the goons I’ve seen at the regional ones seem a lot more interested in you.

      1. Wow, I refuse to believe that I typed “ration” and yet there it is.

    2. I’m from the ATL. All other airports are “small”.In my experience TSA are worse at backwater airports that like to think they are big and important such as MSP.

    3. Des Moines Airport, middle of the week. Two people going through the line, ten TSA agents, plus a police officer eating a donut.

    4. oldtimer| 8.23.12 @ 9:44PM |#
      “I travel by airplane very infrequently; any thoughts from more frequent travelers on whether size of airport makes a difference?”

      If there’s no tower, there’s no TSA. Walk to the plane, get in and take off.

      1. I have flown like this, and it’s great. There’s an airline I’ve flown on a few times that does business like this. “Yeah, just come on out to the airport, we take off every hour on the half-hour…well, not at 12:30, because the pilot is eating lunch. But maybe at 12:30, if he feels like it. If you’re coming in on the train that gets in at ten after the hour, let us know and we’ll hold the flight a few minutes.”

        It’s far more enjoyable than flying a major airline, and more reliable too.

    5. Very small airports have much less TSA presence than the larger ones

      I got rapey-scanned in one of these airports recently at 6 AM on a sunday when there were like 5 people(okay, maybe closer to 50) in the airport total. It also detected something that would cause them to pat down that area, oh wait, it was my ticket which was in my hand which was above my head.

    6. My small-airport TSA experience has been far better than my large-airport ones. Specifically I’m thinking about Harrisburg, PA; Louisville; Paducah, KY; Key West; versus O’Hare, Midway, LAX, San Francisco, Atlanta.

      TSA at the small ones in my experience has smiled, been understanding of forgetting to take off your watch, less interested in measuring the size of my travel shampoo bottle, etc.

  8. I actually can’t wait until I next fly and the TSA agent starts asking me questions about what I did or am going to do at my point of origin or destination.

    My answer:

    You know, hangin’ out, high-fivin’, knuckle-bumpin’ and sayin’ “woohoo” to the llladies…

  9. OT: HBO sucks. I have shitty hotel satellite TV with no decent channels but 3 or 4 HBOs.The Newsroom is always on one of them. There is some other show on I can’t watch because Laura Dern is looking harsh and reminding me of my own mortality. She was so cute in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Smooth Talk.

    1. Newsrooom is turning out to be a dark time for HBO. But they redeem themselves with every rerun of Game of Thrones.

      Also, they have the documentary Veep which is one of the best shows on TV. So buck up, young man, it hasn’t gone completely black. I’ve been told things are usually darkest before they go completely black anyway.

      1. I saw the first few episodes “On Demand” a couple of weeks ago. Its surprisingly good. The characterization for JLD is well done – like Tony Soprano you want to like her despite her being a really horrible person inside. You can believe that her character is a politician, whatever good she wants to do is subordinated to staying in office and she will throw anyone, *anyone* under the bus to do so.

        1. I thought Veep was meh for the first couple of episodes, then it started cracking me up. There was one episode where my wife asked if Larry David was involved; we were both rolling like it was Curb.

  10. Asking questions about where you are going is normal. Customs have been doing this for decades. But the perky fake-friendly bit is downright creepy though. Just ask the questions and move on to the next passenger.

    1. Customs has been doing this. Customs. People who are concerned with who might be entering the country.

      Guys… guys asking me what my business is and what I plan to do there when I’m travelling between Seattle and Spokane haven’t been doing this for years.

      In fact, there’s this quaint old movie called Hunt for Red October where Sam Neill and Sean Connery are talking about what life will be like in the United States. Neill waxes on about his dream to travel around the country, and wonders if they’ll let him do it.

      Sean Connery imagines that they’ll let him go and live anywhere he wants.

      Neill inquires, “No papers?”

      Connery responds, “No papers.”

      Quaint old notion ain’t it?

      1. Can you imagine a rule that said “only ask destination questions from those who are traveling outside the country. Don’t worry about anyone who is flying to Spokane”.

        Yeah, it would be awesome cool if we had a real anarcho society where everyone just got along and shit. But that ain’t this society.

        1. Can you imagine a world where asking those questions actually does anything useful?

          It’d be real cool if we lived in place where you could trip up a terrorist simply by asking him where he’s going and shit. But this ain’t that world.

        2. Can you imagine a society where people are secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized?

          Nah, I can’t either.

        3. Can you imagine a rule that said “only ask destination questions from those who are traveling outside the country. Don’t worry about anyone who is flying to Spokane”.

          And I further have to point out that this is some weapons fucking grade retard, right here.

          Weapons. Grade.

          My ticket says I’m going to Spokane.

          That’s all the boys in periwinkle need to know. It’s right there. On the fucking ticket. Spokane.

          They have no right, no purpose and no reason to know with whom I’m staying, where, how long I’ll be and what I’ll be doing while I’m there. Because 4th amendment.

          So yes, don’t worry about anyone going to Spokane. Because none of your business.

    2. Brandybuck| 8.23.12 @ 10:22PM |#
      “Asking questions about where you are going is normal….”

      Yes, in the USSR, Cuba, and other places I can think of.
      Are you suggesting because it’s ‘normal’ in dictatorships, it’s just fine here?

      1. it’s normal at heathrow, in israel, and in costa rica, because in all three of those places they asked me. my buddy had 2 (illegal) iguanas stuffed in his board bag coming back from costa rica. i of course had nothing and got searched. he sauntered through – lizard gate.

        1. It’s normal in Heathrow and Israel when you’re flying internationally and going through customs. It’s not normal when I’m flying to Duluth or North Platte from Fresno.

          I get that question when I travel into Canada from the U.S. I expect it there. Despite there being absolutely no functional or operational reason for it, they ask it. And I answer it.

          I will not be answering it when some asshat in a periwinkle uniform asks me when I’m making a domestic flight.

          1. yes, i apologize. this is correct, and my comment was irrelevant since i am comparing apples and oranges

            i stand corrected. my bad

  11. ha, ha.

    stupid gringos

    you gringo maricones will put up with anything

    1. La Verdad? Si. Si. La Verdad.

  12. I been asked similar questions flying out of Schiphol before.

  13. Whenever I’ve wanted to take a day off of work, my tactic has always been to tell the inquiring sec that I have a little dysentery that needs to be shaken and stirred. They never inquire any further than that.

    I would take a similar tact with these gents. What do I plan to do when I get there? Having experimental penis reduction surgery. Uhm . . .

    1. Been drinking, Killaz?

      1. Quite the opposite. I have eight of these in the fridge I can’t touch until the boys come over tomorrow night. They are so damn good. They haunt my every thought.

        1. The first review says it all:

          This ale is black, and it quickly eats up any attempt color throws at it, only in the outer edges of its deathly grasp can you faintly detect a simple shade of red escaping. This beast is trapped by a thick billowy cloud of bubbles, tan in color and very tempting, like the sirens of old as described to me by Homer?and they bring friends, many friends to lure you into their depth (good lacing). If you’ve been to hell and back, then you certainly recognize the odor of sulfur (hops, hops and more hops all mixed in with some dark fruit and citrus aromas here and there). If you’ve ever eaten Eskimo Pussy then this beast will fair no different, among the best tastes in the world. Simply delightful for a hophead; relatively light bodied for this brewer, but the hops are present and do not disappoint. The roasted barley is fresh and its bite is mild and only gives you a hint of the alcohol it contains. The citrus flavors you feel when it first hits you are quickly transformed into a lasting and lingering burnt hops aftertaste. This is a very good ale!

        2. only 8? And what will everyone else be drinking?

          1. Ha! That’s their problem.
            22oz bottles. There are two other hops heads in the group so I’m sure they’ll be some exchanging going on. The others are just pitiful. Miller Light, Coors, etc. Yuck!

            1. Guy in front of me tonight bought 2 corona and 2 becks. I bet his friends think he’s worldly.\

              1. Twenty years ago that would have been me.

        3. They are so damn good. They haunt my every thought.

          The boys or the things in the fridge?

          1. zing!

          2. Don’t get me wrong, Robber Bear is cute as a button but I’m allergic to penis and even mistreat my own.

        4. stone is the shit. I nearly wet my pants once they put the IPA on tap down at my watering hole.

  14. I haven’t flown in years, but I’d like to think that, should a cheery smurf approach me and begin chatting me up, I’d hand him my family’s bags along with a fiver and thank him for his assistance.

    1. Always make sure to comment on their perrywinkle uniforms.

  15. Lovely. The next time I fly, it’s going to take every ounce of restraint I have not to respond to questions about my vacation with some variation of “hookers and blow”.

    1. Why isn’t that the iron clad answer? Stayed at the airport Hilton. Got there asleep and don’t know what it looks like. Met entertainer at bar and never left room. I am using this story even if i am interviewed in front of my family.

  16. If you don’t like it, take a bus

  17. i realize im not the first to ask this, but how come TSA doesn’t take a page from, for example, el al and how the israelis do it.

    those guys face a WAY MORE prevalent “terra threat”, and yet they do their shit pretty streamlined and way less annoyingly etc. than TSA does.

    from what little (admittedly) i understand of their MO, i guess a lot of what they do would not pass constitutional muster in the US?

    but the RAPE-A-SCAN does apparently?

    1. Somehow we got it in our collective minds that profiling == racism. But profiling is the best way to do this. Yeah sure, that little old blue haired lady trying to smuggle four ounces of hand lotion on board the plane might, MIGHT, MIIIIIGHT…, be a terrorist. But I don’t think so. Stick to the guys that look nervous, or too smooth, etc.

      1. man, that’s a can of worms i don’t feel like poppin open “(again), but of course there is nothing wrong with profiling qua profiling.

        the original thing in new jersey (that spurred the racial profiling investigation, that after the fact was imo debunked by heather mcdonald) came from a report the feds released to the cops along the new jersey drug corridor that outlined common characteristics of the drug transporters profile such as

        rental cars

        driven 5 miles below the speed limit

        etc. etc. there were a whole bunch of criteria, but it all got blown into the “racial profiling ” mess at which point it was all about damage control, not truth

        at the height of the racial profiling mania i remember i was with a homicide detective when he got a call on his cell cause one of our guys just shot somebody

        he was totally relieved – it was a white guy.

        because he knew he could just investigate the case without all the racial crap that gets assumed anytime a “person of color” gets shot by the cops.

        1. when i was workign meth labs and stuff, you at least knew your chances of having to shoot a black guy were infinitessimally tiny. out of the dozens of labs i have been in and tons of people i have encountered with meth, i have never seen a black guy in a meth lab (associated with its manufacture) and never seen one in possession of it. sure, SOME black guys do meth, but if anybody profiles, it’s THAT drug.

          when people were wanking about the racism of the crack v. powder cocaine sentencing disparity, they largely ignored the whole “meth is evil ” hysteria at least did not in any way, shape or form target blacks. for whatever reasons, THAt drug profiles potential users

  18. “Whenever I’ve wanted to take a day off of work, my tactic has always been to tell the inquiring sec that I have a little dysentery that needs to be shaken and stirred. They never inquire any further than that.”

    the prior PD i worked for would ask WHAT you were sick with. that was blatantly illegal btw.

    they can require a dr’s note if you are out more than whatever prescribed time is designated by contract etc. but it’s a blatant violation of an employee’s civil rights to ask them what they are sick with.

    they did it anyways. they would hang you out to dry if they even had the remotest suspicion you violated somebody’s rights, but they had NO problems violating an officer’s rights.

    this is the same agency that put a VIDEO camera in the LOCKER room to try to do a theft sting (left a $20 bill on a bench in the men’s locker room)

    they saw no problem with this?

    it was such sweet revenge, when i go hired by my (current PD i have been with for 15 yrs) and when i called in sick and they asked me with what, i politely told them “none of your business” which caused a minor little shit storm, and man was it worth it.

    they would also send officers to an officers HOUSE sometimes when they called in sick to see if they were home. seriously.

    1. It’s why most companies give you time off days instead, so you don’t need an excuse, just take a day off.

      1. yea, we had this discussion. i certainly think there are advantages to it

        we have sick leave, vacation leave and comp time

        the first can be built up as much as you can. iow, there is no upper limit. iirc, vacation time has a ceiling where you can;t go beyond a certain # iirc but i could be wrong

        we are limited to maxing out at 60 hrs of comp, which would take 40 hrs of OT to build

        i think our benefits are very generous and if anything TOO generous. i;m not complaining

        except for there is one thing that is insane

        if we get injured line of duty, it comes out of “special sick leave” not OUR sick leave, which makes sense. they can’t burn our sick leave for a line of duty injury

        however the first three days of a line of duty injury must come from personal sick leave. THEN, the SSL kicks in.

        this incentivizes people to milk the injury. you take 3 days off after a suspect hurts you, and you lose 3 days of leave.

        you take another 2 weeks off nursing your injuries and you still only lost those 3 days

        that’s retarded.

    2. i politely told them “none of your business”

      We all still laugh about the time I told a cop, “none of your business.”

    3. While I agree that the employer has no business asking you what you are sick with I’m not exactly sure how it is a violation of your rights.

      I suppose you might be referring to contractually negotiated rights and not constitutional, human, or natural rights which might be an accurate way of describing it but it would make more sense to say “is in violation of the contract”. It is not in any way a violation of any other form of right however.

      Now putting a camera into the locker room has been determined to be a violation of your Constitutional rights and I’m really not cure what they would hope to obtain by that little sting as a $20 bill left unattended like that in a common space would not realistically be theft because it would be impossible to determine to whom it belonged and by their leaving it behind in a common area (the bench as opposed to their locker) could reasonably be seen as abandoning it. I suppose an argument could be made that morally you had a duty to try and find that bills rightful owner but I think you’d have a REALLY hard time showing a legal duty to do so.

      Further I’m not a lawyer and I’m pretty sure I could beat any case they built off of that as entrapment anyway.

  19. They’re asking questions that people have a right not to answer,” says Mike German, senior policy counsel at the ACLU. “It’s nobody’s business ? and certainly not the government’s business ? where you’re traveling and why.”

    So far, only 48 travelers out of about 132,000 who have been questioned here at Logan have refused to answer the questions, and instead their carry-on bags were physically searched.

    “If they refuse to answer, we (still) let them catch their flight,” says Ed Freni, Logan’s aviation director

    You fucking bet your bippy you let them catch their flight. Because despite what kind of new world order we’re living in, this new ‘chat-down’ system will not catch a single fucking terrorist, and it’s a flagrant violation of the 4th amendment.

    Yippee, I finally found something the TSA does that I will tell them, in no uncertain terms, that I will not be complying with, and now could you please let me past your periwinkle-clad ass so I can get my flight.

    1. instead their carry-on bags were physically searched.

      This is why I like to travel with skid marked underwear sitting at the top of my bag.

      1. I once had a great experience, some time in early 2002, if I remember right. For some reason the TSA drones decided they needed to look through the pockets of my coat. I had a bad cold that day, so the pockets were full of wet, mucus-y tissues. I have never seen anybody lose interest in a search so fast.

  20. And here’s the academic idiot who developed the SPOT program for the TSA. His retard is so breathtaking, I’ll post it without further comment:

    Ekman says people’s noses don’t grow if they’re lying. However, he says, they give off clues beyond facial expressions when they’re lying or have hostile intentions. Physical tics from head to toe can emerge, he says.

    “Concealment looks like concealment,” says Ekman, a consultant on the Fox TV show Lie to Me.

  21. The TSA employee must be made to feel extremely uncomfortable holding on to these jobs.

    They need to be shunned in the grocery store. Their spouses and kids need to be excluded from neighborhood and school activities.

    They need to be told to their face, when they’re out of uniform and trying to be like the rest of us, to go screw themselves.

    They need to be treated like pedophiles with leprosy, syphilis and constant flatulence.

    1. That’s unfair. The majority of TSA agents don’t have leprosy.

  22. I’ve got some experience with this, both the questions about your name and travel plans.

    In some airports, if you refuse to answer they’ll hassle you and grope you and search your stuff like Sherlock Holmes looking for a tick.

    In others, they’ll chastise you and threaten you, but if you stand your ground they’ll eventually let you go through with no problem.

    It’s also very easy to lie, but that’s not any fun.

    Lying about the name game is a bit harder. If you give them a fake name – even if your boarding pass and ID match – they’ll kick you out and threaten to have you arrested.

    My problem with the name game isn’t that it’s necessarily invasive, it’s that it’s an unnecessary nose in the tent that has no other purpose but to demand compliance.

  23. In 1931, Groucho Marx came back to New York from a trip to Europe. When customs gave him a questionnaire he filled it out in the following manner:

    NAME: Julius H. Marx
    ADDRESS: 21 Lincoln Rd., Great Neck, L.I.
    BORN: Yes
    HAIR: Not much
    OCCUPATION: Smuggler

    Groucho would probably have a field day with the TSA.

  24. “I spent the summer using your mother as a toilet. Go hose her off.”

  25. One of my friends from high school works TSA at Burlington’s airport. Don’t actually have anything to add though, besides the fact that he says it’s boring as fuck and that I’ve flown out of there before. It’s super tiny.

  26. I will try this one and report back later:

    “I am going to attend GLMAC: Gay and Lesbian Muslim Attorney’s Conference.”

    This should push all the non-profiling, non-discriminating, fear-of-lawsuits buttons.

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