Barb’s Note: If everyone who flies takes Matt’s lead in this and follows his example, we can effect change. He made it through without being irradiated or sexually assaulted by TSA. Read the account, and listen to the recording to see how he accomplished this. Then think about what would happen if others started doing this, en masse.

My TSA Encounter

By Matt Kernan

Noblasters.com

“You don’t need to see his identification.”

On November 21, 2010, I was allowed to enter the U.S. through an airport security checkpoint without being x-rayed or touched by a TSA officer. This post explains how.

Edit: Minor edits for clarity. I have uploaded the audio and it is available here.

This past Sunday, I was returning from a trip to Europe. I flew from Paris to Cincinnati, landing in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

As I got off my flight, I did all of the things that are normally requested from U.S. citizens returning from abroad. I filled out the customs declarations, confirmed that I hadn’t set foot on any farmland, and answered questions about the chocolates that I had purchased in Switzerland. While I don’t believe that these questions are necessary, I don’t mind answering them if it means some added security. They aren’t particularly intrusive. My passport was stamped, and I moved through customs a happy citizen returning home.

But wait – here was a second line to wait in.

This new line led to a TSA security checkpoint. You see, it is official TSA policy that people (both citizens and non-citizens alike) from international flights are screened as they enter the airport, despite the fact that they have already flown. Even before the new controversial security measures were put in place, I found this practice annoying. But now, as I looked past the 25 people waiting to get into their own country, I saw it: the dreaded Backscatter imaging machine. 

Now, I’ve read a fair amount about the controversy surrounding the new TSA policies. I certainly don’t enjoy being treated like a terrorist in my own country, but I’m also not a die-hard constitutional rights advocate. However, for some reason, I was irked. Maybe it was the video of the 3-year old getting molested, maybe it was the sexual assault victim having to cry her way through getting groped, maybe it was the father watching teenage TSA officers joke about his attractive daughter. Whatever it was, this issue didn’t sit right with me. We shouldn’t be required to do this simply to get into our own country.

So, since I had nobody waiting for me at home and no connecting flight to catch, I had some free time. I decided to test my rights.

After putting all my stuff through the x-ray, I was asked to go through the Backscatter. I politely said that I didn’t want to. The technician quipped to his colleague, “We’ve got an opt-out.” They laughed. He turned back and started to explain.

After he finished, I said, “I understand what the pat-down entails, but I wanted to let you know that I do not give you permission to touch my genitals or the surrounding area. If you do, I will consider it assault.”

He called his manager over, who again informed me of the policy. Throughout this event, this happened quite a few times. After raising my concerns regarding the policy to an officer, they often simply quoted back the policy. For the sake of brevity, I will simply say “Policy restatement.”

I said, “I am aware that it is policy, but I disagree with the policy, and I think that it is unconstitutional. As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to move freely within my country as long as I can demonstrate proof of citizenship and have demonstrated no reasonable cause to be detained.”

Policy restatement. “You have two options – the Backscatter or the pat down. It is your choice, but those are the only ways you can go through security.”

I asked if I could speak to his manager.

“I’m the supervisor here.”

“Do you have a manager?”

“Yes, but he’s very far away at the moment. And he’ll say the same thing I am.” Policy restatement.

At this point, I took out my iPhone, activated the voice recorder, and asked The Supervisor, “Per my constitutional rights, I am not allowed to be detained without reasonable cause for arrest. Now, am I free to go?”

He answered, “If you leave, we will call the APD.”

I asked, “Who is the APD?”

“The Airport Police Department.”

I said, “Actually, that’s probably a good idea. Let’s call them and your manager.”

The Supervisor turned and walked away without saying anything. I stood and waited, chatting to The Technician about how they aren’t allowed to wear radiation badges, even though they work with radiation equipment. He said, “I think I’m a couple steps ahead of you regarding looking out for my own health.”

I stood and waited for 20 minutes. Two cops showed up. Big ones. I admit, I did not want to be handcuffed by these guys.

One cop was older than the other, but they were still clearly partners. Neither of them took the lead on answering my questions, and neither of them told the other what to do. They came over to me and asked me to explain the issue. I first showed them the iPhone. After I explained my position, they restated the policy to me.

I said, “Yes sir. I understand the policy, but I still disagree and I still don’t think that I can be made to do these searches in order to go home. Now am I free to go?”

They didn’t answer.

I repeated the question. “Since you are actual police officers and not simply TSA, I am sure you have had much more training on my rights as a U.S. citizen, so you understand what is at stake here. So, am I free to go? Or am I being detained?”

Young Cop answers, “You aren’t being detained, but you can’t go through there.”

“Isn’t that what detaining is? Preventing me from leaving?”

“You can leave if you want, but it has to be that direction.” He points back towards customs. Young Cop asks, “Why are you doing this?”

I explain that I’m worried that the Backscatter has unproven health risks. And that for all he knows, I might be a sexual assault victim and don’t feel like being touched. I say that the policy is needlessly invasive and it doesn’t provide any added security.

He asks, “But didn’t you go through this when you left on your flight?”

“Yes,” I say, grinning, “But I didn’t want to miss my flight then.”

The cops leave, and I stand around and wait some more. It should be noted that throughout this time, no fewer than 10 TSA officers and technicians are standing around, watching me. I was literally the only one still waiting to go through security.

The cops, The TSA Supervisor, and another guy were standing behind the checkpoint deliberating about something. I explained this to my iPhone and The Supervisor shouted, “Does that thing have video?”

“No sir. Just audio.” I was telling the truth – I’m still on an iPhone 3G.

After a while, Young Cop comes and asks me for my papers. My passport, my boarding pass, my driver’s license, and even a business card. I give him everything except the business card. He told me that he was just gathering information for the police report, which is standard procedure. I complied – I knew that this was indeed standard.

He left, and a Delta Airlines manager comes over and starts talking to me. He is clearly acting as a mediator. He asks what I would consent to, if given my options. I explain that I want the least intrusive possible solution that is required. I say, “I will not do anything that is not explicitly stated on recording as mandatory.” He leaves.

Let me pause and clarify the actors’ moods here, because they will soon start to change:
The Supervisor: Very standoffish. Sticking to policy, no exceptions.
The TSA Officials: Mainly amused. Not very concerned otherwise.
The Cops: Impartial observers and consultants. Possibly a bit frustrated that I’m creating the troubles, but being very professional and respectful regardless.
The Delta Supervisor: Trying to help me see the light. He doesn’t mind the work – he’s here all day anyway, so he’d rather spend it ensuring that his customer is happy.

After another wait, Old Cop returns, and asks me what I want. I tell him, “I want to go home without going through the Backscatter and without having my genitals touched. Those are my only two conditions. I will strip naked here if that is what it takes, but I don’t want to be touched.”

He offers as an alternative, “What if we were to escort you out with us? It would involve a pat-down, but it would be us doing it instead.”

“Would you touch my balls?”

“I don’t want to touch your – genital region, but my hand might brush against it.”

I clarify, “Well, like I said, I’ll do whatever you say is mandatory. If you tell me that you have to touch my balls—“

“—I said no such thing. You’re putting words in my mouth.”

“OK. I apologize. If you say that a pat-down is mandatory, and that as a condition of that pat-down, I may have my genitals brushed against by your hand, even though you don’t want to, I will do that. But only if you say it is mandatory.”

“I’m not going to say that.”

“OK. So am I free to go?”

“You are free to go in that direction.” He points back towards customs. Then he walks away to commune with the others.

My iPhone is running out of battery, so I take out my laptop, sit in a corner, and plug it in. I have some work to do anyway, so I pull up Excel and start chugging away for about 20 minutes.

This is where the turning point happens.

The cops come back and start talking with me. Again, they are asking why I’m doing it, don’t I have a connection to make, etc. They are acting more curious at this point – no longer trying to find a contradiction in my logic.

I eventually ask what would happen if I got up and left, and just walked through security. They shrugged. “We wouldn’t do anything on our own. We are only acting on behalf of the TSA. They are in charge of this area.”

“So if he told you to arrest me, you would? And if he didn’t, you wouldn’t?”

“That’s right,” Young Cop says.

“OK well then I think it is best if we all talk together as a group now. Can you call them over?”

The Supervisor returns, along with the Delta Manager. The Supervisor is quite visibly frustrated.

I explain, “The police have explained to me that it is your call on whether or not I am being detained. If I walked through that metal detector right now, you would have to ask them to arrest me in order for them to do anything.”

He starts to defer responsibility to the officers. They emphasize that no – they have no issue with me and they are only acting on his behalf. It is his jurisdiction. It is policy. They won’t detain me unless he tells them to.

So I emphasize the iPhone again, and ask,” So, if I were to get up, walk through the metal detector, and not have it go off, would you still have them arrest me?”

The Supervisor answers, “I can’t answer that question. That is no longer an option because you were selected for the Backscatter.”

“Well you can answer the question because it is a yes or no question. If I got up and left, would you have them arrest me?”

“I can’t answer that question.”

The moods have changed. The cops are now frustrated with him because he’s pawning off his decision-making responsibility to them. He’s stopping what is clearly a logical solution to the problem. Meanwhile, the Supervisor is just growing more and more furious with me.

In another deferment of responsibility (which he probably thought was an intimidation factor), “Well then I guess I’m just going to have to call the FSD.”

Unfazed, I ask, “What’s the FSD?”

“The Federal Security Director.” And he walks away.

I can see him talking on the phone to the FSD – a man apparently named Paul – and I can only catch parts of the conversation:
“No, he’s been perfectly polite…”
“We tried that…”
“All he said was … Constitutional rights”

He walks over to Old Cop and hands him the phone. I can hear similar sound bites. They hang up, deliberate some more, and then wait some more.

Meanwhile, I’m typing away on my computer. Answering emails, working on my Excel model – things that I would have done at home regardless.

The Supervisor walks over and stands uncomfortably close to me. After typing for a bit more, I look up. His voice shakes, “I don’t know if I ever introduced myself.” He pulls out his badge. “My name is XXX XXX. Here is my badge. Now, I’ve shown you my credentials.”

Ah – he’s gotten the Miranda talk. I hide my smile.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to escort you out of the terminal to the public area. You are to stay with me at all times. Do you understand?”

“Will I be touched?”

“I can’t guarantee that, but I am going to escort you out.”

“OK. I will do this. But I will restate that I still do not give you permission to touch my genitals or the surrounding area. If you do, I will still consider it assault.”

“I understand.”

And then came the most ridiculous scene of which I’ve ever been a part. I gather my things – jacket, scarf, hat, briefcase, chocolates. We walk over to the staff entrance and he scans his badge to let me through. We walk down the long hallway that led back to the baggage claim area. We skip the escalators and moving walkways. As we walk, there are TSA officials stationed at apparent checkpoints along the route. As we pass them, they form part of the circle that is around me. By the end of the walk, I count 13 TSA officials and 2 uniformed police officers forming a circle around me. We reach the baggage claim area, and everyone stops at the orange line. The Supervisor grunts, “Have a nice day,” and leaves.

In order to enter the USA, I was never touched, I was never “Backscatted,” and I was never metal detected. In the end, it took 2.5 hours, but I proved that it is possible. I’m looking forward to my next flight on Wednesday.

Listen to the audio HERE.

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17 Responses to “How to avoid both the naked body scanner and TSA gropes!”

  1. KB says:

    Ever since the underwear bomber got busted, I’ve believed we should all show up at the airport in Swim suits or nothing but rain coats and a change of traveling clothes to slip over after a brief and uncomplicated search. The scanning area could be moved closer to the entry doors to provide dressing rooms, then loved ones could go to the gate to say their good byes. Modesty isn’t an issue. Our country can’t afford another 911. This type of check would make entry to any sensative area a lot less complicated and less costly.

  2. Nikki May says:

    Today, I may see a glimmer of hope. That situations like yours will happen over and over and over. And that we will see the change. That freedoms will be restored. That unreasonable searches and unlawful detainments will be a thing of the past.

    That glimmer tho….may just be the last flicker.

  3. Wiredtronics says:

    @Bustamente

    That would be a real WTF scene, watching a comingback marine having to pass through TSA backscatter.

    Anyway, even though i’m not American, i’m happy and proud to see people rising against such insane mesures.

    Greetings from France !

  4. Cardinal Senter says:

    Unbelievable story. It made a mockery of the system.

  5. Stop Look Listen Act says:

    The soldiers are not fighting for our rights per se. They are fighting so the rich can get richer.

  6. Bustamente says:

    Wow. You stood up and fought for our rights. You are a Patriot.

    So somebody tell me–how are the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting for our rights? Where were they when this man was being detained? Would they have “fought” for him?

    And when they return, will they willingly go into the backscatter machines?

  7. voluntaryist says:

    Moral: Stay strong by standing up for your rights. In doing so you stand up for everyone. Whoopie Goldberg has called such people terrorists. The gov would agree but they are afraid to push too hard until they are sure they would be successful. They fear us more than we fear them because they know they are in the wrong.

  8. Enrique Ferro says:

    For goodness sake! I pity you Americans, the land of the free, ha, ha. All the pirouettes you have to engage into, just to leave the airport and go back home! Amazing, tragic. When I first heard of this porno security I couldn’t fancy it was also the way out!
    Anyway, Matt. What on earth are you going to do on Wednesday? Are you going to repeat your constitutional rights statement each time you catch a plane?!? Poor soul! Please tell us in a couple of months how many trips you missed…
    I’m happy I’m not American, and I’ll not visit for a long time. Being American must be hellish uncomfortable, and as a visitor, even worse, as if US citizens are mistreated in such a way, I guess foreigners risk ending up in Guantánamo!!!
    Final moral: stay clear from the US…
    Good luck!

  9. Anna says:

    Matt Kernan,
    You are an absolute hero to me! I am proud to be a human being just listening to your conduct in your ‘story’ about being ‘stuck in the matrix’ :) with the agents… who don’t seem to know where is left and right and who is responsible for what anyomre, but they do know very well still, is intimmidate and ridicule. I am happy for you and proud of you, cos you are one of the very very few people who know how to assert their rights (providing they know them first, which decreases this number radically!) whilst keeping the degree of self-control and PEACE as you did! Wow! I bow down in front of you! I know from my own experience how hard it is not to surrender to intimidation and admire you for standing strong against it and remaining cool! I am just starting to learn about this after my ‘matrix experience’ of police abuse and misconduct.
    Thank you very much for sharing this with us and posting on you tube. Reposting everywhere I can :)
    We are Change Slovakia (commonly known as Anna) on fb

  10. MK, not sure why you think that. The option we have is to know our rights and peacefully stand up for them, or lose them. Yes, it took a bit of time. Yes, it is inconvenient. However, what is another option? Cow to TSA and meekly submit? They count on us being too apathetic and ignorant to stand up for ourselves, and to busy to take the time to do what this man has done.

  11. J Johnson says:

    Excellent flexing of your Constitutional rights, and way to help expose these invasive, maddening ‘security’ policies for the frauds that they are. Calm, sensible, documented, legal. It’s so absurd that a citizen has to go through all this, without ever showing cause to be flagged as suspicious. The ‘authorities’ use intimidation, and hope nobody questions their bullying, but clearly don’t want to admit the policies are unreasonable. What a waste of law enforcement time and money.

  12. MK Ultra says:

    If this is our option, we’re all screwed!

    Well, in case we didn’t know that already.

  13. Shea Brown says:

    Good for you Sir. People like you standing up for your personal rights
    sets an example for the rest of us who fear rocking the police state boat.
    I call the mentality of 2010 “Leafblower” mentality. Two Mexicans with leafblowers
    start at the end of the street, and blow the leaves up the street,taking money from each home owner,,, never having picked up one leaf. Then they start over, just blowing the leaves back down the street. The homeowners pay again,, never noticing what is really going on.
    No leaves are ever actually picked up and put in a compost pile,, but it sure looks like something is being done. Considerate neighbors would actually pick up their leaves, instead of having someone just blow them into their neighbor’s yard. You sir,, are the considerate neighbor type !

  14. jesse says:

    That’s a Communist fist logo advertising a Communist revolution. I thought your readers should know.

    PS The inner-circle Commies purge the An-archists first then the weaker Communists among their ranks after seizing power. Whatever population they then took over proceeds to implode without constant foreign aid.

  15. Andrew Charnley says:

    You are perfectly correct to presume new airport scanning technology is going to be extremely bad for your health. It is now realised through statistics that women having breast X-RAY tests will more likely create cancer than prevent it. These machines are delivering a higher and more damaging dose than standard X-RAYS. All of these machines require constant re-calibration to work efficiently and are mostly suspect as it is a cost for hospitals to constantly recalibrate X-RAY machines. In years to come the health of your nation will be in serious health difficulties but no one individual will be to blame.

    It is extremely difficult to realise in absolute terms the utter stupidity of any government to have implemented this vetting system. The USA is behaving no differently than when they locked its own innocent citizens up during the 1950’s ‘There is a Red under the bed’ era. America was paranoid then and it is in that state today.

    If you find deception difficult to believe than consider another example where the WTO has allowed MELAMINE (a toxin; yes it kills you if you consume it) into your foods. It is used as a food ingredient or what is known as food padding and can measures as a protein.

    In 2007 the WTO was desperately searching most food ingredients to check they were free of melamine due to its toxicity. Many pets in the USA were murdered though consuming pet foods brought in from China. Similar issues were found in baby milk powder products within China and 10,000 babies were hospitalised and many died. The Chinese government made a show of this and hanged some food officials to make the problem go away but is has not.

    Since 30 April 2010 it has become legal to add 1mg to infant food per kilo and 2.5 mg per kilo for adult foods when there should be a ZERO tolerance.

    Melamine is harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Chronic exposure may cause cancer or reproductive damage. Typical end products are dry erase boards and countertops, fabrics, glues, Melamine crockery, and flame retardants and is also a major component in Pigment Yellow 150, as well as a colorant in inks and plastics.

    God help us all as I could describe hundreds of disgraceful acts done to us by so many government authorities and food industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry…

    WARNING: Governments Can Damage Your Health.
    Issued by Common Sense People

  16. FJ says:

    Bravo!

    You must be wary, however, of their putting you on the terrible – and secret – no fly list. The HS & TSA appear to be accountable to no one for those they place on this list. Way too much power placed in the hands of slavish servants of those with corrupt objectives.

    Surely, the populace is being conditioned to accept being herded and otherwise treated like cattle.

  17. woozoo says:

    Every traveller should take the time to do this! Great stuff! It’s all a big scam anyway. Yet another way for some piece of scum to make money.
    Well done!