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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Does Donald Trump Hate the TSA as Much as the Rest of Us?

By Joe Setyon - March 20, 2019 at 11:15AM

We here at Reason are not exactly coy about our dislike of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Forgive us for thinking that providing security theater doesn't justify molesting children at the airport, forcing mothers to waste their breast milk, or otherwise harassing harmless travelers.

And a tweet from President Donald Trump suggests he's with us on this one. Sort of. Late Tuesday night, the president retweeted a video of a boy being patted down for almost two minutes by a TSA agent. "Not a good situation!" Trump said:

First things first. He's absolutely right: It is a terrible situation. Now I don't necessarily blame the agent—he was likely just doing his job. But sometimes it's the job that's the problem. Groping a boy in a T-shirt and shorts who very clearly didn't pose a threat is pointless, even if "his laptop alarmed an explosives trace detection machine," which the TSA claimed in a blog post. (Spoiler alert, there were no explosives.) This video might not be as bad as the one showing agents groping a 96-year-old woman in a wheelchair, but it's still a pretty glaring instance of security theater at its worst.

And it's not like the TSA is actually good at evaluating true risks. In fact, it has a pretty awful track record of identifying weapons that could actually pose a threat. A 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation, for instance, revealed that in 67 out of 70 cases, undercover investigators succeeded in smuggling weapons or explosives through security. Things don't appear to have gotten much better. In November 2017, another DHS investigation revealed that TSA screeners were still failing to identify test weapons at a high rate. The failure rate was "in the ballpark" of 80 percent, a source told ABC News at the time.

While the TSA is great at confiscating plastic toys, bullet-shaped ice cubes, and rocket-propelled grenade replicas, firearms and explosives are a completely different story.

So yes, Trump is right to criticize the TSA. But there are a few caveats, which The Washington Post has done a good job of pointing out. Trump was retweeting well-known comedian Larry the Cable Guy, who had retweeted conservative actor James Woods, who had shared a post from an account called "Deep State Exposed." That account is run by Jeremy Stone, a conspiracy theorist and follower of QAnon. (If you don't know what QAnon is, then you might want to stop reading now.) Its followers believe most major world institutions are working together in a conspiracy that also involves a child sex ring. Trump was convinced to run for president by military generals, the theory goes, and he's secretly working to dismantle the ominous Deep State.

The TSA video in question is also two years old, having sparked outrage back in March 2017 when it was initially released.

Now Trump, for his part, has previously criticized the TSA (mainly during his 2016 campaign), calling it a "total disaster" and saying it was "falling apart." But he hasn't done much to fix it.

Retweeting a 2-year-old video that resurfaced thanks to a conspiracy theorist does not necessarily mean changes at the TSA are coming any time soon. Trump has been complaining about Saturday Night Live skits that poke fun at him for some time now, but he hasn't actually done anything about it.

So no, Trump is probably not going to privatize the TSA or even implement much-needed reforms. But if he does, and it's because a QAnon follower got him pissed off at the TSA, then that's just fine with me.


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