Today, while en route to Washington to speak to hundreds of thousands of people at the March for Life, I was detained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for not agreeing to a patdown after an irregularity was found in my full body scan. Despite removing my belt, glasses, wallet and shoes, the scanner and TSA also wanted my dignity. I refused.
I showed them the potentially offending part of my body, my leg. They were not interested. They wanted to touch me and to pat me down. I requested to be rescanned. They refused and detained me in a 10-foot-by-10-foot area reserved for potential terrorists.
I told them that I was a frequent flier and that just days ago I was allowed to be rescanned when the scanner made an error. At no time did I ask for special treatment, but I did insist that all travelers be awarded some decency and leniency in accommodating the screening process.
My detention was real and I was repeatedly instructed not to leave the holding area. When I used my phone to inform my office that I would miss my flight, and thus miss my speech to the March for Life, I was told that now I would be subjected to a full body patdown.
psychology of TSA: (from a paper newsletter).
One of the first things I learned in the intelligence business years ago is that smart enemies will always adapt their tactics. It's not rocket science; Sun-Tzu wrote the same 2,500 years ago-- focusing on a single approach (like airport security) is useless.
Thing is, TSA airport security has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with making sure that every human being who transits within or through a US commercial airport knows exactly who is in charge. We call it the Tip of the Spear.
The idea is to desensitize people to government intrusion, generally with something shocking (like treating a 6-year old girl as a criminal terrorist). That's the tip of the spear. As the spear drives further and further into its target, subsequent intrusions seem less and less acute.
Psychologist Robert Cialdini, whose writings on influence and persuasion have been read by millions across the world in dozens of languages, discusses three key principles which apply to this 'Tip of the Spear' approach.
The first is called social proof. It's easy to understand-- like lemmings, sheep, or milk cows, people standing in the security line watching everyone else get patted down and go through body scanners, will most likely comply with the social norm. Monkey see, monkey do.
The second is the principle of authority. Also easy to understand-- people will obey authority figures even if it requires taking objectionable action. Uniforms establish an authority image, as do the training programs that teach intimidation tactics to government agents-- voice projection, direct eye contact, use of professional vocabulary, etc.
The third is a bit more complex; Cialdini calls it the principle of commitment and consistency. Simply put, if people commit to an idea in word or deed, their future actions will be consistent with this idea because it becomes part of their own self-image.
In this context, people who submit to government intrusion the first time (e.g. watch their children receive pat-downs at TSA checkpoints) are more likely to continue acceding to further government intrusions down the road. It's a bit of a boiling frog approach.