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'Are Any Parts of Your Body Sore?' Asks the Man From TSA
email this pageprint this pageemail usJeffrey Goldberg - The Atlantic
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November 03, 2010

Reagan National, 6:40 a.m. today. I opt-out of the humiliating back-scatter machine and ask for a pat-down. Once again, the TSA officers eye me suspiciously. "Wait here," one says. I wait, and wait some more. One obvious technique the TSA is using to funnel passengers through the back-scatter imager is to waste their time - many people can't afford to wait five minutes for a pat-down, and will exchange the humiliation of the Federal Dick-Measurer for a speedier trip through security.

Eventually, I'm called over for my pat-down. "Do you want to do this privately?" he asks. "No, right here in the middle of the airport is fine," I say.

"The guidelines have changed, just to warn you. We now have to run our hands through your groin until we meet -"

"Resistance. Yes, I know," I say.

"Are any parts of your body sore?" he asks.

"No," I say, instantly regretting that I didn't say, "Yes. My groin. Very sore." Next time.

He feels me up. "Could you widen your stance, please?" he asks.

"Hey, I'm not in the United States Senate!" I say, widening my stance.

His search is fairly half-hearted. He spends more time stroking the back of my tie than he spends between my legs.

I ask, "Do a lot of people opt-out?"

"No, not many."

"People are cows," I say.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean they'll do whatever the federal government tells them to do," I say.

"How come you don't go through the machine?" he asks me.

I give him several more answers than he expected:

1) I prefer to limit my exposure to radiation, which the back-scatter imager produces;
2) I don't think this new technology will stop terrorism;
3) I find the idea of the government taking pictures of my genitalia a discomfiting invasion of privacy;
4) I find the specific pose a person is forced to take inside the machine - hands up, as in a mugging - particularly debasing.

"Okay," he says, "have a nice flight."

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, he has reported from the Middle East and Africa. He also writes the magazine's advice column.

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