Okay, so this guy named Aditya Mukerjee reported on his blog that he was detained for many hours by the TSA when he tried to fly to LA. According to his story, basically he got hit with a false positive for an explosive residue, and then was detained for hours and hours more or less for looking Muslim.
Some guy who apparently thinks that the TSA is pretty awesome responded, here. (Edit: The author of the linked post, Steven Frischling, commented below, defending his record of not always thinking the TSA is pretty awesome. Fair enough. In this instance, he apparently thinks that the TSA was justified, and I think that he has an un-nuanced view of the situation. For more, read the comments.)
But his spin control is kind of hilarious. I note:
… an interview with someone within the TSA, at JFK Terminal 5, revealed that Mr. Mukerjee appears to have been flagged by the Behaviour Detection Officer (BDO) while in line for what appeared to be unusual behaviours. As the official Incident Report makes no mention of the BDO’s involvement it is impossible to assess what caught the Officer’s attention, but the TSA source indicates Mr. Mukerjee was already on someone’s radar before he chose to opt-out.
I’ve read that three times, and I’m pretty sure that what it says is, “A TSA employee thought that Mr. Mukerjee looked awfully brown-skinned and Muslim before he was even swabbed down, but elected not to put his observation in the report.”
Mr. Mukerjee contends he asked to leave the screening area and return to the pre-security section of the terminal, with the intention of simply stepping back in line and going through screening again, but was not allowed. This is absolutely correct, at this time he was in limbo, he was not being detained, but he could not leave.
Can someone walk me carefully through the difference between “being detained” and “not being allowed to leave”?
JetBlue’s Corporate Security, who had been aware of the situation and interviewed Mr. Mukerjee, also described him as aggressive in the official incident report. The determination of the airline, on which JetBlue’s corporate communications cannot comment, is that Mr. Mukerjee could pose a problem in flight due to his highly agitated demeanor. He was not viewed as a terrorist threat, but a potential risk similar to that of an intoxicated person on a flight … which typically results in a 24-hour “cooling-off period before a passenger is allowed back on an aircraft.
What does this actually mean? I think it means that after “hours of intense questioning,” dude was pretty upset (which he certainly notes in his own account).
And stepping back from micro-processing the he-said, she-said of the various self-interested parties here, what actually went on? A guy — who looked all Muslim and suspicious — set off an explosives alert. Clearly, he needed to be additionally screened here.
So what took them hours? He set off an explosives alert. They presumably searched his bags carefully for explosives, and his person. And then… what? He wasn’t carrying explosives. Why was the guy held for hours and intensively questioned?
Probably for a combination of the following reasons:
- He looked like what they vaguely imagine a terrorist might look like.
- Everyone involved wanted to show that they were aggressively Doing Something.
- Perhaps some petty exercise of authority
I doubt that there was anything horribly, horribly sinister going on here. No TSA official probably sat and cackled in another room, exercising his vendetta against brown people. But that’s exactly the problem: you get these authoritarian exercises without having any closet-Nazis in the agencies. We don’t get saved from harassment because we’re basically a nation of more-or-less well-meaning people.