The anonymous TSA agent who wrote a popular blog criticising the agency has identified himself in a piece for Politico. Now that he’s quit his job and is in the open, he has a lot of criticism to offer.
Jason Edward Harrington joined the TSA at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport around 2007 to help pay for school, and “hated it from the beginning,” he wrote.
In the Politico piece, Harrington dishes on TSA employee antics — like the officer who ran a colleague through an X-Ray machine (they were both fired), and the little poem he created to remember the “selectee passport” list of countries whose citizens automatically triggered extra screening (Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, People’s Republic of North Korea)
But most of his criticism is reserved for the Rapiscan full-body scanners introduced at airports after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab snuck a bomb onto a Northwest Airlines flight in his underwear and tried to detonate it.
After a “crash course” on using the machine, Harrington writes, “one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines. ‘They’re sh–,’ he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.”
And yes, Harrington says, TSA officers could see naked images of passengers in the Image Operator (I.O.) room, where they reviewed images from the scanners:
“The I.O. room at O’Hare had a bank of monitors, each with a disabled keyboard — which perfectly summed up my relationship with the TSA. I spent several hours each day looking at nude images of airline passengers with a keyboard that didn’t work, wishing I could be doing what I loved: writing.”
And no, TSA officers did not take their work in the I.O. room seriously:
“Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display…All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.”
After about a year of writing the Taking Sense Away blog, Harrington quit his job, and is headed to graduate school to study creative writing. He is also working on a novel about his time with the TSA.
In a statement responding to Harrington’s piece, the TSA said:
“Many of the TSA procedures and policies referenced in this article are no longer in place or are characterised inaccurately. Every passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policy upholds this standard. TSA does not tolerate any form of unethical or unlawful behaviour by its employees and takes swift disciplinary action if discovered.”
The statement also noted the agency’s efforts to move away from a “one size fits all” approach and implement risk-based security procedures.
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