What Would Thomas Jefferson Say About TSA?

Actually, I think we can come pretty close. I’ll admit it’s been taken just a tad out of context from The Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson was referring to the British Government sending additional customs officials and courts of admiralty into the colonies to enforce trade laws and prevent smuggling. But the operative phrase in founding our great nation was: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

In the opinion of many, that description fits TSA just fine, the difference being that it's not the King of England, but our own government that seems to have gotten out of hand. There have been several recent Congressional hearings questioning everything from TSA’s policies and procedures, to multiple reorganizations and staffing, to ballooning budget, to the effectiveness of technologies both new and old, to the value of the so-called intelligence gathering intended to be the foundation for the government's new approach to "risk-based security", intended to focus on the REAL risks, not the silly stuff.  Well, silly me....

Among my favorites are recent stories about TSA spending a great deal of brain-power deciding to now allow snow-globes in carry-ons (small ones, not big ones), but reserving the right to closely inspect pies and cakes (perhaps, in Jeffersonian terms, “eating out their substance”). 

But perhaps the most curious — I have several other severely disallowed words for it — is the recent publication of a list of “Indicators of Suspicious Behaviors at Hotels”, possible indicators of terrorist activity, about half of which I can virtually guarantee every one of you frequent fliers are certainly guilty of. 

This space does not allow for a complete list, but some of the more deserving of derision are:

  • No personal data on hotel registration
  • Using internet cafes despite hotel availability
  • Extending departure one day at a time
  • Refusal of housekeeping services
  • Extended stays with little baggage
  • Request for specific rooms, floors or views
  • Multiple visitors to one room
  • Avoiding the lobby or other areas with cameras and hotel personnel.
  • Leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel
  • And everybody’s favorite: Noncompliance with other hotel policies.

In the consulting business, we have business meetings in the hotel rooms every day, and we apparently feloniously avoid the hotel’s exorbitant prices for phone calls and internet usage by using our smart phones while parking free on the street instead of paying $25 a day in the hotel.  Sometimes the job requires extending the visit an extra day or two, but you never know, and I sure wouldn’t want to run into a hotel employee in the process.

I personally scored 13 terrorist red flags out of a possible 19 — with the others mostly a matter of personal preference rather than malevolent propensities. Come harass me, swarms of Officers.  I’m armed with a snow globe and a pecan pie, and I know how to use them.