It's physically impossible to enjoy the TSA search process. Long lines, bitter employees, and all of that fast-paced removing and returning of items makes for a stressful process at best. For these unfortunate people, the TSA were especially malicious, creating profoundly frantic situations with no clear solution. It was almost as if the TSA were out to get these particular travelers, but these unlucky few wouldn't face defeat without putting up a fight first. This content has been edited for clarity.
Crazy! Content has been edited for clarity.
Secret Agent Man
“I was detailed to the U.S. Secret Service to travel with a jump team to protect Senator John Kerry, who was running for President. Our jump team consisted of 4 ICE agents and 2 Secret Service Agents. On a jump team, agents being activated would get a phone call on their government cell phone and be told where to be the next day. Agents would then make their own travel arrangements using their government issued credit card. It was enjoyable duty except for the long hours.
One day we were jumped to Green Bay, WI. Kerry was going to do a neighborhood outreach in the neighborhood next to Lambeau Field. We were jumped in two days before the event, so we got to see the Green Bay Packers practice. Kerry came, had his meeting, and departed the same day. We were told to spend the night again in Green Bay, and we were going to be jumped to Cincinnati, Ohio the next day.
Well, we arrive at the airport in Green Bay. The airport was very small back then. You walked into the airport and checked in, and then immediately turned to your left where TSA had their scanners. There were two agents on duty, a man and a woman. I got the woman, who seemed to be having a bad day. We had informed them that we were federal agents and that we were flying with our weapons on our persons. The male TSA agent gave the agents a very quick inspection and let them pass, but my TSA agent was having none of that. The first thing she told me to do was to put my suitcase on her table to be searched. I did so, and she unzipped it and gave me the usual ‘is there anything that can poke me or hurt me in your suitcase?’
I informed her that I had some of my equipment in there, and that I would be happy to help her find them. She told me she wasn’t playing games, and that I had better take this seriously. I explained that I was trying to do so. The male TSA agent kept telling her that we were federal agents and that we were good to go. She began checking my suitcase by wiping the explosive residue cloth inside my suitcase. Then she began pulling things out, and she ended up pulling my collapsible steel baton out. She asked what it was, and I told her that it could be used to strike individuals if need be. She asked how it was used and I told her how to open it. She proceeded to snap it open, and it scared her so bad she dropped it. I then showed her how to close it. When she finished with my suitcase, she told me to put my carry on briefcase on her table to be searched. Now our briefcases were not the usual ones. Ours were black ballistic nylon with lots of pouches and pockets inside. I politely told her that she didn’t have the authority to check my carry on bag. At this, she went ballistic. She informed me in no uncertain terms that I would not board the airplane until my bag was checked. The male TSA agent, to his credit, agreed with me and told her to just let us board. At that point, she informed me that she was calling the TSA agent in charge to deal with me. Within 3 or 4 minutes, he showed up, and I could tell that she had not told him the extent of what was occurring.
He informed me that everyone that boarded and airplane had to have their carry on luggage examined. When I showed him my credentials, though, and explained who we were, he backed down and said we could board. Well, this set her off again, and he explained to her that even he wasn’t allowed to search our bags. With that, we were finally able to board our flight and leave.
To be honest, she thought she was doing the correct thing, but there is a reason federal agents don’t get checked. When we traveled, we had to be able to land and immediately go to work without being concerned with lost luggage and the loss of our equipment that we needed to do our jobs.”
“Humiliating In The Extreme”
“Both before and after 9/11, I was working as a contractor for the companies that manage all the shops and concessions on the airplane side of the security stations at our local airport. It was basically a glorified ‘secret shopper’ position. My employers arranged for me to get a security clearance pass so I could bypass security entirely and get back to where I needed to work. I just showed the TSA agent my pass as I walked in through the exit. They always took time to look at it carefully, because I was going into an area they were responsible for. Over time, many of the agents came to know me at least on sight, if not by name, and that was fine.
One day, I was going through the exit when a TSA agent stopped me. She looked at my pass carefully. She stared at me a long time. She went over the laminated edges of the pass very carefully, looking, I presume, for evidence of tampering. I told her what I had been told to say in that situation: ‘This security pass was issued by the airport’s security department with the approval of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The fact that I have it indicates their satisfaction with my meeting the criteria for entering a secure area without going through screening procedures each time. Please allow me to continue on my way.’
She was having none of it, and insisted I’d have to go through security like everyone else.
Despite taking off my jewelry, shoes, and belt, I set the metal detector off when I went through. That’s not terribly uncommon for women who wear bras with underwires in them. That particular day, they used the wand on me, and found my bra set it off, which was no biggie. The real surprise was that the wand also indicated something between my waist and thigh areas. The woman who had sent me there in the first place was called to give me a pat-down. She was thorough, and pretty awkward because she was aggressive about it. She called the security office and told them all about what was going on, omitting only that I had a valid security pass. She told me that we would wait for another woman, and I’d have to have an especially thorough check in a private room.
At this point, the woman who had previously been brisk in her manner was becoming downright rude. Every time she touched me, she was rougher about it. She kept going over the same questions she’d asked before about my name, my travels, each time getting a bit more hostile. She had me stand with my legs spread apart, and went back and forth over the area while the wand made loud noises. She turned to her colleague, nodded with her head, and they stepped outside, leaving me in the room. She returned and said, ‘We can do a pat-down of you while you are completely undressed, but we cannot do a cavity search. In such situations, we rely on the Salt Lake City Police Department—they send us a female officer who has been trained to do a cavity search. You and I both know you are hiding something, so I suggest you take the time between now and when she arrives to make your decision about your agenda.’
The woman from the police department arrived. I asked if she knew I had an FBI-approved clearance. She did not. I asked her if she was aware of where the problem was on my body, and the fact that while I had stood topless while they checked my bra, they’d never asked me to remove my jeans? She didn’t know that either. Finally, I asked her if she’d been told that I was half-Arab, or that I had an Arab name, or that I had traveled to the Middle East where I had family in the past? I’d disclosed all that to the FBI. She was made aware of that, so I said, ‘Okay, since we’re both communicating and hearing each other, can you tell me why you know nothing else about the situation other than the fact that I am Arab?’
She didn’t have a good answer for that. I cannot adequately explain my fury, and I cannot adequately explain how much I wanted to scream. If that’s what racial profiling is about, it’s awful. It’s infuriating. She turned to the woman in charge. ‘Before I touch this woman, I want to see how the wand reacts. Please sweep it between her legs again.’ The police officer insisted the search would not proceed until she was satisfied it was absolutely necessary. So the woman used her wand with a smug look on her face. It slowly drained away as repeated passes produced nothing but silence. The police officer said to her, ‘I think you’d better go over her jeans, and very carefully.’
As she’d watched the other woman use the wand, the look on her face had gone from calm to fairly upset, and finally to angry. The wand went nuts in one specific area of my jeans—right in the center of the crotch, where all the seams meet. If you check a pair of jeans, you’ll find there’s usually a little lump there from all the fabric meeting up. They carefully examined that area of my jeans. She came back with her head hanging and said, ‘Under all that fabric is a huge metal item—several of us looked at it carefully and then compared it to the rivets on the corners of the pockets. It’s bigger than the others, but it’s definitely just a rivet. A big, fat, metal rivet.’
The woman didn’t want to look me in the eye. And she began to chatter uncontrollably. The one thing I didn’t hear from her? Any apology at all for what had just taken place in the last 90 minutes. I told her I truly believed that the biggest problem that day had to do with me being Arab, and that my belief was based on her repeated questions to me, and the fact that when the police officer arrived, that’s all she really knew about me, despite there being other stuff, like the fact that I had a security pass. I told her I’d be contacting her supervisor about my problems and concerns.
I ended up talking with the head guy from the TSA at our airport. He was very nice about it, and apologized repeatedly for something which he said was absolutely not my fault. My pass was renewed each year without problems. And though I went through both security checkpoints at our airport scads of times after that one, I was never stopped again. I also didn’t see the woman it all started with again, but that’s because another employee told me she was moved permanently to another area.”
“I’m a former US Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD), and now I’m a civilian UXO Contractor. Basically, I’ve worked with bombs and explosives every day since 1988. In 2003, right after the major combat operations in Iraq had ceased, the US Govt. contracted a few civilian companies to go to Iraq to destroy huge stockpile of bombs, rockets, land mines, and other miscellaneous items designed to go boom and destroy lives and things in general. There were approximately 12 teams all over Iraq, and each team destroyed well over 100 tons (not kilos, tons) of ordnance every single day of the week. We did this for over 3 straight years.
We didn’t have much room to store personal belongings, so we used a lot of our personal things for multiple purposes. For instance, I used the back pack that had been my carry on baggage for my demolition operations. There was visible explosive residue all over it. It looked like different colored chalk all over my black back pack. I grew accustomed to it and I didn’t even think about.
After I had been in Iraq for a little over a year, I needed to come home and see my family that was spread out between 3 cities in Texas. As I departed the city, I was ‘randomly selected’ to have my bags swiped and tested for explosives. As soon as they said that, I immediately asked for them to call for their supervisor and for the TSA Bomb Inspector. (Yes, they have those at all major airports). They said, ‘No sir, this won’t be a problem, it’s a random screening. You’ll be done here in less than a minute.’
I again requested they send for the two individuals immediately. They swiped my bag and put the little swab into their ‘spectral analyzer’ and all of their bells and whistles started going off. Two individuals drew their weapons on me, and another immediately put me into a compromising position and started asking me what was in my bag. I told them,’See? That’s why I wanted you to call your supervisor and the bomb guy.’
A few minutes later the two guys I had requested arrived. The supervisor asked what I had in my bag. I assured him there was nothing INSIDE my bag, and that the colored chalk visible on my bag was actually explosive residue. He asked, why is there explosive residue on your bag. I explained to him what my job was, and that I had plenty of proof inside my bag. As soon as I said that, another agent stepped between me and my bag, bringing the count to four agents with weapons between me and my backpack. I chuckled and said, ‘Okay, just open the zipper and bring me the manila folders inside.’
The supervisor nodded to the agent to go ahead and bring it over. Inside, he found my Government Orders stating my job title and job description. It also contained my military EOD certificate. As soon as their bomb guy saw that, he said, ‘Oh, you’re EOD. So was I!’
Then they actually talked the airline into bumping me up to first class for the flight. Was this all over? Heck no. I still had to land and take off from two more major airports. What are the odds, another ‘random screening’ and almost the very exact same scenario played out. No big deal, just glad that was over. Now I only had to get through one more airport to get back to Iraq after visiting my parents. The odds of being selected for a ‘random screening’ at three different airports within a two-week period were astronomical. I should have bought lottery tickets, because wouldn’t you know it, it happened again! I just asked for the supervisor and bomb inspector again. They gave me the same song and dance about it not being necessary, and took the swipe and nothing happened. They said, ‘Here’s your bag, you’re all set. See, no problem at all.’
I took my bag, and said, ‘CALL YOUR BOSS AND THE BOMB GUY RIGHT NOW!’
A few minutes later, the supervisor and bomb guy showed up on one of those little golf carts. I said, ‘Your explosive detector is broken, that’s the problem. THAT’S A MAJOR PROBLEM.’
He and the bomb guy both assured me that it was within spec and there shouldn’t be a problem at all. I held up my backpack and said, ‘This isn’t chalk. It’s all explosive residue, and your machine didn’t detect it at all.’
I then told them I had already gone through two other Texas airports and their machines detected the explosives just fine. So there was definitely a problem. They talked amongst themselves for a minute or two before coming back over to me. I said, ‘Okay, my plane is boarding in 5 minutes, so I’m going to go ahead and go now and you guys can figure this thing out.’
The supervisor said, ‘Sorry Mr. Clark, but we can’t let you leave. We’re going to have the airline remove your bags from the aircraft and have all of your stuff searched by hand.’
I said, ‘Fine, you’ll also have to hand search every single piece of luggage that has gone through this airport since my arrival, up to and including every airplane that is still in the air. You’ll have to re-call the airlines and redo everyone. Then you’ll have to just shut down your airport.’
‘Why would we have to do that?’
‘Because I’m the one that caught your mistake and you’re trying to inconvenience me for pointing it out. I can either be on my way and you can sort this out on your own, or I can call every news agency in the city and let them know about how your airport possibly let through dozens, if not hundreds of potential terrorists, and all of you can start looking for another job.’
‘Have a nice day sir. Enjoy your flight.’
I made it back to Iraq just fine. When I finally did leave the big sand box for the last time, I put my black backpack on our last demo shot and blew it up. There is no way I wanted to go through that again.”
“I was on a business trip to San Diego. I had taken my wife and 23-month-old son with me, so they could enjoy the weather while I worked. That week, the US invaded Iraq. On the return trip (since San Diego is a major military hub), the airport security was on high alert. We checked our four bags, and my wife won the ‘threat lottery’- her ticket randomly assigned her additional scrutiny at the security gate.
Absurd enough is the fact that my wife is American-born, never traveled outside the US and Europe, not so much as a parking ticket against her in her life, and she’s traveling with her toddler son. But at this time everything was random, and she got the bad draw to get an extra pat-down. My son was tired and cranky and wanted his mommy, so all of this was making him more anxious, as he didn’t want dad holding him. But the agents were obnoxiously insisting that my wife couldn’t hold her crying toddler who was clearly upset about not being able to be with her. So I’m trying to manage him while my wife is enduring a very thorough pat-down by a female agent.
As I am watching our four checked pieces of luggage clear the giant scanning machine, the TSA officer suddenly asks me, ‘Which of these four bags are hers?’
I say, ‘We travelled together, all four bags are ours.’
‘But which are HERS?’
I respond, ‘We didn’t designate his-and-hers. All four are ours.’
He said, ‘Well, I need to check her two bags to make sure that she didn’t pack anything inappropriate in them- she’s got higher security scrutiny. Which bags have her stuff?’ I again say, ‘But all four bags are ‘hers’, and all of them contain some of her stuff.’
He gets testy and demands, ‘Sir, I need you to tell me the two bags that are hers, so that I can check them for explosives or other items.’ I was SO CLOSE to saying, ‘By all means, you’d better check those two bags on the left, because the bombs are in the two bags on the right.’
I kept myself from saying that, but instead answered with, ‘Whichever two bags are on the left are hers.’
He grabs them and asks, ‘These two?’ to which I respond, ‘If those two were on the left, then we’ll call those hers.’
It was clear to me that never once did he realize the absurdity of asking me to self-select our luggage that would get extra scrutiny.”
“I do contract vibration analysis. I carry my very expensive electronic tools on the flight with me. One of them is an ICP power supply. At the time, I was flying 40 round trips every year.
I am in line before the x-ray machine, and I put my tool case on the belt. This time, the TSA guy opens the case on the conveyor before the x-ray, stopping the line. I ask him to run it through and then check it after, but he insists on going through it before the x-ray. He finds one of my ICP power supplies. He holds it up and loudly declares, ‘This is a bomb detonator.’
It is now decision time. I decide to respond with, ‘Are you accusing me of a federal crime and trying to take a bomb through your checkpoint?’
Ball is in his court. I look around and we have an audience. Lots of people in line wanting to see how this ends. He doubles down. He takes the device and hold it up in the air and says, ‘It is a detonator!’
He then starts flipping the little switches as I calmly stand there. I look around, and people are diving under things and looking to escape. I was now deadly serious.
‘If that was a detonator, you just killed yourself, me, and maybe 50 more people. I don’t think I have ever seen anything that stupid.’
He has this sudden look of realization. He buttons up my case and shoves it into the x-ray. I get the bag check on the other side. My bomber boy is long gone. I find the supervisor and log a complaint. I do not like being accused of a federal crime. The supervisor apologized and sent me on my way.”
“A man with PTSD shot up his military base and took his own life after two tours in Iraq. Turns out he had the same name as me.
Three months later, I arrived at the airport to catch a flight. TSA pulled me out of line for a ‘random search’, and soon I was in a soundproof room with three agents. They had already searched everything that I had brought. They were concerned that they had not been able to search my shoes, which had bicycle clips that you could remove with an allen wrench. They did not have an allen wrench and felt the need to call the local police to bring them one, in order to make sure that I wasn’t hiding anything in the one millimeter compartment on the bottom of my shoes.
They questioned me relentlessly for the next four hours. What was my business? Where was I going? Why was I going there? I had no idea why they were so hung up on these details, and I had answered these questions so many times while they would just bring in yet another agent, who would go down the list again. Eventually they accepted that they never found anything and agreed to let me go, after my flight had departed.
Variations on this experience repeated a few times until I gave up and just took Amtrak everywhere I went. Even then, I was stopped in the stations a few times by TSA agents, but the search is optional.
Eventually, a baby was flagged in the system as having a similar name to a person of interest, and TSA was forced to create an appeals process to get off the watch list and no-fly list for people that were added to it in error. Three weeks later, I was finally cleared and have flown hassle-free ever since!”
“Officious Little Twerp”
“As a consultant, I used to fly somewhere every week. My response was that I refused to go anywhere without a book. Because I was seldom in the location more than 3 or 4 nights, I used a large carry-on bag with wheels. It had a big outside pocket where I kept my book, so that I could just pull it out before I took my seat, but I didn’t have to carry the book separately.
Because of my job, I also had a laptop in a bag with various equipment for work. I was also carrying a heavy winter coat, so my arms were pretty loaded down. This one week, I got to the TSA check and already was ready to go through the metal detector. No problem. It was so routine that I hardly had to break stride anymore. But as I collected my bag at the end of the X-ray machine an agent stepped forward and wanted to know what I had in the outside pocket.
‘A book,’ I said, ‘for reading on the flight.’
The agent told me that it looked too big to fit into the overhead bins on the planes.
‘No,’ I told him. ‘I’ve been flying at least twice a week with this bag for the past 5 years, and it fits into the overheads with no problem.’
He didn’t believe me though, and made me put the bag into one of those metal frames measured to the size of the aircraft bins. I took the book out of the pocket and the bag slid in easily.
‘That’s not good enough. Now put the book back into the pocket and try again,’ he said. With the book in the pocket, the bag wouldn’t fit anymore.
‘You have to take the book out of the pocket,’ he ordered.
‘Of course. As soon as I’m on the plane the book WILL be out of the pocket. I’m bringing it to read on the flight.’
‘That’s not good enough.” he said. ‘You can’t put the book in the pocket now. If you put the book in the pocket, I’ll make you check your bag to be sent separately. I won’t let you go from here with the book in the pocket. I’m going to follow you, and if you put your book in the pocket, then I’m going to take the bag back and make you go out of here to check the bag through, and you’ll have to go through security again.’
If I go to check my bag, that means standing in line all over again. Then going through security all over again. I’ll be late for my flight. Also, that it would mean another delay at the destination waiting for my bag to come through, so I’d be late arriving at work. And to top it all, I’ve had baggage lost several times before and it was a nightmare, so I don’t trust the baggage handlers. The whole reason for carry-on baggage is to have a change of clothes and toiletries, in case they lose your baggage.
So there we were. Me walking down what seemed like miles through the terminal, the carry-on bag towed in one hand with my coat grasped with the handle, my laptop and other equipment held in the other hand, and a thick book in my mouth.
And that officious little twerp following me all the way to the departure lounge to make sure that I didn’t carry the book in the pocket, which was made for just such a thing to make it easy to take out when you wanted it.
It was a library book so I couldn’t leave it behind.”
“Weapons In The Sterile Area!”
“I once brought a weapon of mass destruction into the Manchester, New Hampshire airport. I was armed with an X-acto knife blade that is almost an inch long! I have carried it with me through airport security dozens of times as well as into the court house, and other areas where you go through metal detector and x-ray screenings. The TSA agent is poking through the bowl and pulls out the artifact and starts looking at it carefully. She flips open the blade and her eyes get big as saucers.
I pipe up and say, ‘If you’re concerned about the knife, I can remove the blade and you can throw it away.’
I place my hand out and she recoils, like I was going to snatch it out of her hand and she loudly states, ‘You are not allowed to touch the weapon in the sterile area!’
I said I thought it was a bit much to describe it as a weapon, as it was a knife under 3 inches, and this was when they had allowed people to carry pocket knifes again with blades under 3 inches.
A few minutes go by and she returns with her supervisor, who is now holding it and exercising the blade in and out. He gets to me and says, ‘How cool! I didn’t know they made anything like this. Where did you get it?’ I explained it was a gift from my wife, and I took it with me everywhere.
The supervisor said, ‘Ah, yeah, about that. She thinks this is a box cutter, and while pocket knives are okay again, box cutters aren’t.’
I respond that what is in there is an X-acto knife blade, so I’d think of it as a knife, but if anyone is worried about it I’ll pop the blade out and everyone can be happy.
The supervisor looks at the TSA agent, who is turning red in the face. He says, ‘Well, I can go either way, but if it’s easy to pop out that’s cool with me.’ I thought the TSA agent was going to lose it and actually says, ‘He is handling the weapon in the sterile area!’
The supervisor says, ‘I think that’s an over-exaggeration of what is going on here.’
She literally stomps her foot and backs up a few feet.
I’m trying not to snort as I’m chuckling under my breath so hard, I can barely keep a straight face. I pop out the blade and hand it to the supervisor and he tosses it in the contraband bin. As I’m putting the Artifact back in my pocket, the supervisor asks if I have more of the blades. I say ‘Sure, they’re cheap, so I have dozens of them.’ He asks, ‘Not on you, right?’
I respond ‘Oh no, at home, but you’re welcome to search my bag if you like.’
The TSA agent grabs my bag off my shoulder and is heading for a table, and the supervisor grabs her by the arm and says ‘Naw, no need for that, have a nice day.’
The TSA agent just glares at the supervisor and extends her arm towards me with my bag.”
“I had traveled to Thailand on business, and it was a rough experience for me. I was working on a project between 18–20 hours a day and was exhausted, so as soon as my part of the project was done, I was more than eager to return home. So when I got the opportunity to leave, I took the first flight out of Bangkok to return home. What I didn’t quite realize was just how long the layover was. Prior to the flight I’d gotten to the airport 7 hours early. Then I had a 10-hour layover in Tokyo. All in all, the entire travel time was almost 50 hours. And I was already exhausted, so it was almost all I could go to hold it together.
We landed in San Francisco, where I needed to catch the connecting flight to Salt Lake City. As we landed, I had about 1/4 bottle of water, which I grabbed and put in my purse. We then deplaned and I walked out and almost directly into a TSA checkpoint. Remember that I’d already passed through security in Tokyo and was coming directly off the international flight. Well, the TSA security agent grabbed me, pulled me out of line and loudly demanded to know what I was doing with the liquid in my purse. I was so tired, I didn’t even remember that I had the bottle of water.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by TSA guards, who grabbed and cuffed me right in front of everyone. They waved the bottle of water in my face and threatened to arrest me. I explained that I’d gotten the water from the flight, and if they’d just read the label, they could tell where I’d gotten the water. This entire thing went on for what seemed forever, but was probably about 10 minutes, with more and more TSA agents showing up, everyone staring, and me starting to crack. I offered to drink the water, but one of the agents told me that I wasn’t about to get away THAT easily.
Finally, I just lost it. I started to cry. Now, when I cry, it’s not that sweet little Hollywood cry, where they never mess up their makeup. When I cry it’s big, sobbing, gulping, wailing, hiccuping, ruin my makeup, stuffy nose kind of crying. And with my hands cuffed behind my back, I couldn’t even wipe my eyes or blow my nose. Since I was still standing in the security area, with me crying and the number of TSA agents there, and all the passengers that I’d been on the flight with staring, it just progressively got worse.
Then, some of the passengers started speaking up, trying to help and everyone was explaining that the international airport really DID give out bottles of water. I was so upset that I’m not quite sure what the catalyst was that finally made them un-cuff me and send me on my way, but they did. They DID keep my water though. I was such a mess that when I went to check in for my flight from SF to SLC, the lady at the gate took pity on me, upgraded my seat to First Class, checked my luggage, and personally escorted me to the plane.
Because I travel so much, I’ve had some great interactions with TSA agents, but this was one the craziest.”
FBI On His Tail
“I lived in the USA for a few years on a F2 visa. For those in the know, a F2 visa does not allow you to do anything. You are pretty much only allowed to breath in the USA and pay taxes as necessary. Needless to say, I needed to get money from somewhere. So I phoned a friend. My friend hooked me up with an acquaintance who needed people with my qualification. In Iraq and Afghanistan. So you had a South African, living in the USA, working in Iraq. What could possibly go wrong?
Something quickly did in the Boston airport. The guy at the booth in the immigration hall asked me, ‘Do you mind standing over there and giving us a second? We have some extra questions.’
If you never flown into Logan, you enter the immigration hall with the booths, and then right behind them is a wall with staircases to either sides leading down to the baggage claim. So I stood against that wall and waited. And waited. And then waited some more. After about 30 minutes of propping the wall up, a Spanish girl joined me, and soon after this, a small dude in a blue TSA polo shirt came to get her. He ignored me like a stop sign. 40 minutes later, another Spanish girl got pulled, and again the small dude showed up rather promptly.
Me: ‘Excuse me sir, do you know where I have to go? I have been waiting for quite a while.’
Small dude: ‘Stand back! BACK! Someone will come and take care of you! You have to wait!’
He scurried off, with the girl casting nervous glances my way. This happened again in another 10 min.
‘Stay back! BACK! Wait JUST there! I told you to WAIT!’
I tried to approach the guy in the booth. ‘Excuse me sir, I am still waiting by the wall, and no one has assisted me yet.”
He just told me to get back to the wall and that he will deal with it. About 10–15 minutes later, a tactical team rushed up the stairs, taking position at the top. Four guys in full rattle! Armour, helmets, weapons, flash bangs, and knee and elbow pads. Two by the one staircase, two by the other. And then Team TSA just stood there mulling about, and looking lost, and eyeballing tourists. Area secured I guess? The other people in the immigration hall all eyeballed them right back as they went about their day. Then a ‘normal’ TSA officer showed up, looked around for a bit, handed his sidearm to one of the team, and went over to the guy that asked me to wait by the wall. They whispered for a bit, and he started staring at me.
Team TSA picked up on this and promptly drew a bead on me. The idiots were ready to shoot each other and everybody else in the hall.
‘You are the guy from Iraq?’
‘Please come with me. Please stay on the yellow line, sir.’
The yellow line is a path where ‘someone’ can hypothetically shoot you, with high degree of risk reduction. We encountered a small angry blue dude stood freaking out and stopped us from entering. ‘You can’t bring him in here! There are INNOCENT people in here!’
So Team TSA took me around the corner to some long metal tables. Team TSA went back to their mulling and looking lost thing, until another TSA guy shows up and tells the team, ‘Get lost. You make us look bad,’ in a thick Boston accent. This Boston Guy looked me over and asked me if I had any other luggage, then asked me to get it from the claim area and meet him back there. I got it, and on opening it, got my usual TSA note that my luggage was ‘randomly’ selected for further investigation. That’s when the angry small man reappeared.
‘Did you search his bags! You need to search his bags very carefully! He came from Iraq!’
Yes, with employees like these, your bags get selected randomly for investigation. I just started unpacking. No use arguing with small angry authority figures on a power trip. Boston Guy just went on with the paperwork, and we had a nice chat about Boston diners, good barbers, and what was showing at the movies. The small blue crotchety gnome stayed close by, giving me the evil eye, and interjecting things Boston Guy was ‘forgetting’. Eventually we got finished, and I was on my way home. Four hours after the plane landed.
When I got outside, my first order of business was to calm my frantic wife. The small TSA guy did not allow me to make a call to calm her down. And this is why the FBI came to my house. They were surprisingly super nice and polite. We went to see a movie at Providence place the following week, and walked over the hill. On our return at about eleven, we had just set our feet in our apartment when I got the call.
‘I’m so-and-so from Boston FBI. I just want a quick chat, are you home?’
‘Sure sir, just call again when you are here. The door bell is broken.’
In a few minutes I got a call back, and went downstairs. And the two guys exited a car half a block from my font door. I can’t be totally sure, but I suspect these agents were in the car when we got home.
‘Hi, thank you for talking with us, we just have some questions about the situation in Iraq. Now you did not ask for identification, but here are our badges, call the FBI office in Boston and just verify our identity please.’
So we went upstairs after I called the Boston office. Yes, they were FBI, yes they were coming to see me. So they said they were there because of ground side intel on Iraq, but all the questions always curved back to me, and my life, and my wife’s life, and our U.S. experiences. The most remarkable part was how personable they were. They were super easy to talk to and confide in. I suppose they got training for that, being FBI and all. After about an hour and our entire life stories, they left.”