Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My TSA Pat Down- why I opted out

I wasn't quite sure how I felt about the recent, ongoing uproar regarding the latest TSA enhanced security measures, until my trip westward this past Monday.

I definitely know that the thought of being shredded into pieces of confetti at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet in the air, my bits of flesh commingling with that of my fellow passengers, seemed to trump all the talk about feeling violated by both the backscatter body scanners and the enhanced pat downs. But I also wasn't sure what I would do when faced with a decision between being simultaneously ogled and exposed to radiation in the scanner, or being fondled by some potentially perverted TSA agent during an 'enhanced' pat down.

Since 9/11, I had always travelled metal-less (at least through the metal detectors) to avoid having to endure the 'normal' pat down, so I figured I'd probably be spared this time around as well since that strategy had always worked in the past. But several days pre-flight I still wasn't sure which route I would choose if, for some reason, I was faced with either choice. The enhanced pat down didn't sound so incredibly horrendous- although I can see why a male might feel a tad more violated than a female. A man's package, or "junk" as the "don't touch my junk" guy Jon Tyner put it, seems to be a little more available for an inadvertent or intentional copping a feel than a woman's private parts, but even so, the thought wasn't very appealing. The scanner was equally unappealing. Aside from the fact that some TSA stranger gets to see you literally buck naked, the radiation was what concerned me most.

No-one knows for sure the actual dangers of being subjected to the radiation emitted from the body scanner. TSA claims it's safe, but there are people who say there's no way to determine how dangerous it might be. In fact, board certified neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock (of The Blaylock Wellness Report), believes it's more dangerous than the Feds are willing to admit.

Blaylock says:

A group of scientists and professors from the University of California at San Francisco voiced their concern to Obama’s science and technology adviser John Holdren in a well-stated letter back in April.

The group included experts in radiation biology, biophysics, and imaging, who expressed “serious concerns” about the “dangerously high” dose of radiation to the skin.

He goes on to say:

One of the main concerns is that most of the energy from the airport scanners is concentrated on the surface of the skin and a few millimeters into the skin. Some very radiation-sensitive tissues are close to the skin — such as the testes, eyes, and circulating blood cells in the skin.

This is why defenders using such analogies as the dose being “1,000-times less than a chest X-ray” and “far less than what passengers are exposed to in-flight” are deceptive. Radiation damage depends on the volume of tissue exposed. Chest X-rays and gamma-radiation from outer space is diffused over the entire body so that the dose to the skin is extremely small. Of note, outer space radiation does increase cancer rates in passengers, pilots, and flight attendants.

We also know that certain groups of people are at a much higher risk than others. These include babies, small children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with impaired immunity (those with HIV infection, cancer patients, people with immune deficiency diseases, and people with abnormal DNA repair mechanism, just to name a few).

As someone with auto-immune issues, and having had a bunch of X-Rays this year and last, the negatives pretty much clinched it for me- I was going to 'opt out', and did. Not because there was a planned 'opt out' campaign going on for Thanksgiving travel, but because I simply did not want to be exposed to any more unnecessary radiation.


As I reached the security area, and searched for somewhere to put my carry-on baggage a TSA agent shouted that the 1st lane was available, so off came the shoes, and everything was placed in the bins, and as my bags went through the scanner I suddenly realized I was faced with my choice. I calmly explained my position to the TSA agent who tried to dissuade me from opting out by giving me a detailed explanation of what the pat down entailed, even though I assured him I was quite familiar with the procedure and to go for it. I told some agents that were standing around that I was more concerned about my baggage being safe while I was being patted down than being groped, which is when someone told me that I shouldn't have placed my baggage in the bins and sent it on through if I had planned on opting out. I told her that I had no clue that I was in the designated body scanner lane, to which she replied there were signs indicating so. I don't recall seeing anything, but you can be damn sure I am going to check on my way home. I was asked if I wanted to be patted down in private and I declined, since I figured there would be less chance of roving hands in public. So the woman had me stand with my legs apart and my arms lifted shoulder-high, and explained exactly what she was going to do, and continued to do so until she was finished. It was time consuming, but relatively painless, and I never felt physically violated. The oddest thing I encountered during the whole ordeal was the agent's fascination with the elastic waistband on my pants, her proudly returning to show me that her gloves came up clean for explosives and that I could go, and the sick, old man sitting next to me in his wheel chair that was about to be groped.

I understand the need to protect passengers from being blown to bits by terrorists, and we can thank Muslim extremists for all the mega annoyances the traveling public has had to endure since 9/11, but there has to be a better way. Besides, the backscatter scanners would have no way of detecting explosives in breast implants or in the buttocks, which is something al Qaeda is already working on, according to various sources, and pat downs wouldn't do the job either. Since, as they say, although not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims, TSA should be profiling more. We need to throw away 21st century political correctness- it has no place in the world as it is today. Of course, profiling doesn't always work either, since al Qaeda is adapting to the times. Not all terrorists these days are Middle Eastern men in their twenties to thirties, but we need to be far more proactive than we are today, and maybe we should take some lessons from Israel's El Al Airlines that actively profiles its passengers without laying a finger on them.

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