Agency claims machines are “switched off,” traveler says policy is part of psychological ploy to coerce subservience from other passengers
If the experience of a man traveling through Baltimore Washington International Airport last night is anything to go by, the TSA is now forcing people who opt out of the naked body scanner to walk through the machine as part of a psychological ploy to coerce subservience out of other travelers.
Alexander Petersen was passing through security to board a domestic flight to Florida with his wife and three children. After the backscatter x-ray machines were turned on, TSA staff started corralling passengers to go through the naked body scanners. Petersen’s family escaped selection but when he was told to submit to a scan, Peterson declined and opted for the invasive pat down instead.
“They then called for an “opt-out” pat down and still told me I had to go through the machine,” writes Petersen. “I said no, and reiterated that I opt for the pat-down. They said that I just have to walk through the machine and that they won’t turn it on. I said “how do I know it’s not on, just because you say so?” Then, one of the other workers stood inside of the machine where the footprints were and waived for me to go through. With that, I assumed that it was indeed off, and proceeded through the machine for my enhanced pat-down molestation.”
After receiving his advanced grope down, during which a TSA worker felt his crotch and backside, much to the confusion of Peterson’s young son who asked, “what is that man doing to you?,” Petersen reflected on being forced to walk through the machine with assurances that it was “switched off,” even though he had declined to be body scanned.
Upon further reflection, I do not believe this procedure to be arbitrary or isolated. It makes perfect sense in a game of psychological warfare by the government to suppress the will of people to opt out of the intrusive searches being done. What better way than to make that naughty guy that opts out walk through and thereby, in a way, submit to the machine. Otherwise, by walking around the machine, there is a sense of victory. In such a case, one thinks, “I did not submit to that machine and the unwanted xrays and pictures. I did not go through it.” By going through it, there is a sense of defeat. “I had submitted,” one thinks.
What’s more important is how that simple action of walking through the machine, whether as part of the xray search or not, is viewed by the rest of the travelers in line (the flying public). The ones nearby might have heard that I opted out. They then see that even the naughty disobedient traveler is still corralled through the machine and then molested. They will likely be less inclined to opt out since they have to walk through the machine anyway. “Just flip the switch and they’ll avoid the additional molestation,” they likely think. As for the more distant travelers in line, who can’t hear what’s going on and don’t know that a passenger has asked to opt out, they see the same pattern of passengers who opt out and who submit to the x-ray, still walking through the machine. They pay less attention to those who opt-out.
There is no moral victory to be had. Everyone is going through the machine. This should certainly decrease the level of those who opt-out because they feel like they may be the only one to opt-out. Less people want to be the only one that opts out. They think everyone else is submitting. For the acute observers that notice that some people are opting out and walking through the machines, they are still less likely to opt out since they know they still have to walk through the machine and there is less of a victory by totally avoiding it and walking around it, which would provide a moral victory and truly ensure that no x-rays are emitted on them nor pictures taken.
Indeed, if this is part of a new psychological ploy on behalf of the TSA it would not be the first time that they have employed such tactics.
At the height of the revolt against the TSA a couple of months ago, it was admitted that the goal of making the pat down procedure tantamount to sexual molestation was to psychologically coerce people into using dangerous radiative body scanners, devices colloquially known as “Dick Measurers” amongst TSA agents.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was told by a TSA agent directly that pat downs were made increasingly invasive not for any genuine security reason, but to make the experience so uncomfortable for the traveler that they would prefer to use the body scanner, despite the fact that scientists at Columbia University and the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety, along with other scientific bodies, have all warned that the devices increase the risk of developing cancer.
I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”
In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The Dick-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.
The TSA was also caught arbitrarily amending its own policies during the national opt-out day protest back in November when the agency temporarily curtailed the use of the body scanners as part of a political ploy to defuse the impact of the opt-out demonstration. The agency has still failed to release any information about the stand-down despite former Congressman Bob Barr filing a Freedom of Information Act request demanding to know why the TSA pulled such a stunt on one of the busiest traveling days of the year.