SPOT on

In an attempt to fill the dead time between, you know, 9:30am and 6pm, I was reading deep into the news because, once you get past Obama, Iran, and whatever else has hit the fan, you can really ferret out some good shit. Man dies trying to save 1999 Dodge pickup, for example. Or the ever-entertaining piece on cannibalism. I want to remake Citizen Cane – you give me the pictures and I’ll give you the ritualistic rape-murder-cannibalism! Maybe re-title it Citizen Murdoch.

One news story that jumped out, since I recently survived a couple of transatlantic flights through Newark with Continental (which is about as comfortable and reliable as train surfing), is that the TSA has employed specially trained “behavior-detection” officers using something called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique).

With this training, the knuckle-dragging sub-humans working for the TSA – a group of people whose badges are sewed onto their shirts because, presumably, they can’t be trusted with real badges lest they poke an eye out – walk around saying hello to you. They then use their keen powers of observation to deduce your affiliation (that would be Us or Them, in Bush-speak) based on “microfacial expressions.” Those are defined as “flashes of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflect emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt.”

I suppose the thinking is that when you ask a professional terrorist with a tremendous amount of financial backing and a fanatical belief in his cause how he’s doing, then he’ll crack and start blubbering.

There’s one fatal flaw in all of this: Everybody looks on TSA employees with contempt and anger. And if one of those fuckers actually showed a shred of human emotion and decency by asking me how I was, I’d go for surprise and fear. So I hope SPOT allows for the embittered hatred on all of our faces after we stand in line for hours just so some foul, dead-eyed, poorly educated monster in stretch pants can take a cursory look at our passport and let every white man and pretty girl through without a second thought. All al-Qaida need do is strap a bomb to a 19 year old blonde with a bright smile and she can probably board Air Force One as far as the TSA is concerned.

Anyone who has traveled outside the US knows that security in our airports is roughly on par with the most rural airfields in Eastern Europe and Africa. I’m not even sure if the metal detectors are turned on. The nice metal plate in my head sets off metal detectors in every country except for the US. Once, at National fucking airport in DC, I was waved past the metal detector. This was in 07, flying down to Atlanta. Broken, they said. And the line in front of and behind me received the same free pass.

Flying National to Toronto to London and back in 2002, I routinely set off the metal detectors because the response to 9/11 was to turn everything up so high it picked up your fillings, and the TSA folks at National were so tuned out they just shrugged me through. I even got an apology from one of them about the high settings. Thanks, would you hold my rifle while I tie my shoe?

This SPOT thing has been going on since January of 2006 and, according to the TSA, 70,000 people have been singled out by it, resulting in 600 to 700 arrests “on a variety of charges.” None of those charges are terrorist related, by the way. Drugs, outstanding warrants…

Now I understand why they all have sew-on badges. This is an organization that prides itself on a less than 1% success rate. Come on people – let’s be a team! Let’s go for the 1%! I wish my office was like that – just work for one hour each year and spend the rest of the time dully staring over everyone’s head and lapsing right to defensiveness if someone says hello. Do not take that attitude with me sir! I am just doing my job! I have to check your ID!

That’s probably my favorite overheard TSA exchange. Of course, it was the guy in front of me with his family, so I had to wait for the dust to settle. He made the mistake of actually speaking, saying, “I guess you want to see my ID,” in what I consider a neutral voice. And the TSA gal went right to that oh no you di’n’t reaction. So while she’s flipping out about how it’s just her job and he needs to back off, he’s standing there silently holding out his family’s passports with the picture pages open. Maybe everything is 1% at the TSA – including the prescription insurance for their anti-psychotics.


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