Screening our airport screeners |

Screening our airport screeners

Guest Column, Jeff Ackerman

OK … so maybe they missed that F-16, M1 tank and caseload of rocket launchers that slipped through the passenger gate last week. And so what that they cheated a little bit on the pre-employment test that was harder than … than … OK … so maybe it wasn’t so hard.

In an effort to show that the glass really is half full, I think it’s just as important to point out that America’s 40,000 or so airport screeners have confiscated enough toenail clippers to pedicure King Kong. Toenail clippers, by the way, that could have easily been used to clip through cockpit doors in 263 days, provided the flight lasted that long. Bruce Lee killed an entire Imperial Army with toenail clippers. Remember that next time an airport screener confiscates yours.

I bring up the issue of airport security because many of us will be using airports this week and need to know that they are as safe as ever … which is relative, of course.

Ever since Clark Kent (Ervin), the acting inspector general for the Homeland Security Department, learned that applicants for airport screener jobs were being given the answers to the employment test before actually taking the test, he’s been throwing a fit.

And, before we get much further, his real name really is Clark Kent (Ervin). Who better to keep an eye on Homeland Security than Clark Kent? Are you kidding me?

Anyway … I’ve seen the airport screener employment test and can tell you firsthand that it’s harder than … than … OK … so maybe it isn’t hard. But it’s long. It’s got more questions than a driver’s license exam, for crying out loud.

Nevada County may not be the best place to ask this, considering the high number of college graduates, but try this screener test question out for size:

“Why is it important to screen bags for IEDs?” (IED is screener lingo for Improvised Explosive Devices, otherwise known as bombs.)

The multiple choices included:

a) Because the ticking timer could worry other passengers

b) The bomb’s wires could cause a short to the aircraft wires

c) Batteries could leak and damage other passenger bags

d) The IED could blow up the plane and kill everyone on board

No wonder they gave the answers in advance. Can you imagine the pressure inside that classroom as you wrestle with that one? I’d have answered “All of the Above,” but that wasn’t even an option.

If you think that one was tough, here’s another of the 25 brainteasers:

“How Do Threats Get Aboard Aircraft?”

a) Carry-on baggage

b) Checked baggage

c) Another person’s bag

d) All of the above

I would have answered “Inside fingernail clippers,” but that wasn’t an option, either.

There’s a reason I keep harping on the fingernail clipper donation program the airports are running these days. I had my custom toenail/fingernail combo clipper set confiscated a couple of months ago. To make matters worse, I had to take my shoes and socks off so the screener could see that I wasn’t hiding any animals between my toes.

“My toenails are pretty long, eh?” I told the screener, as he passed a toe wand past my big toe.

“No joke,” he said. “Those are the nastiest toenails I’ve seen all day.”

“That’s why I need my clippers back,” I pleaded. “I didn’t bring a magazine and I have a long flight. I was planning to cut these bad boys between here and Denver.”

“Sorry,” said the dedicated screener. “I’m just following orders.”

He probably saw the same Bruce Lee movie I saw. Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that, on the wrong foot, a giant toenail could be just as lethal as the clippers. Bruce Lee cut a guy’s head clean off with a giant toenail once. I think the movie was called “Nails of the Dragon,” or something like that.

The guy in charge of America’s airport screeners defended the test and the need to give out the answers in advance. “It’s just one small part of a comprehensive training program,” he said.

Even if prospective screeners can determine why it’s important to find a bomb before it actually gets on an airplane, they must still pass other physical and mental challenges before being hired. There’s wand training, for example. If the wand passes over a bomb tucked inside a passenger’s pants, it makes a loud screeching sound. Screeners must be able to distinguish that sound from, say, a parakeet, so they can take quick and decisive counteractions.

Such as running. A screener needs to be fast on his feet, just in case the wand starts to go nutso. When you’re only making $11 an hour, it’s every screener for himself.

Finally, there’s the all-important background check that all potential screeners must pass. Fortunately, it’s also multiple choice:

1. Have you ever made an IED (Bomb)?

a) Yes

b) No

c) Maybe so

2. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

a) Yes

b) No

c) Not today

3. Have you ever participated in a Jihad?

a) Yes

b) No

c) Once in Wyoming, but I got bucked off after six seconds

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union newspaper in Grass Valley.

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