Search

Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part IV — An Appeal Amid Massive Corruption Scandal)

This is the fourth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit).

 

After one hundred years of New Yorkers receiving gun licenses if and only if they gain the favor of the NYPD – often through cash payments – it is well past time for the courts of this state to step in and declare the NYPD’s implementation of the “proper cause” requirement to be unconstitutional…

gun-license-app-div-coverWe left off last fall with in Part III, where I filed suit against the NYPD for: 1) requiring that I provide them a “good reason” as to why I should be allowed to bear arms, 2) requiring that I answer entirely irrelevant questions (Have I ever been fired?  Have I ever been prescribed a prescription painkiller?), and 3) refusing to fulfill a public records request that would shed light on their supposed process for deciding on license applications.

After receiving service of the complaint, the NYPD filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that: 1) it’s totally constitutional to require a reason before allowing a citizen to exercise his or her rights, 2) that these questions are totally rational to ask of one seeking a gun license, and 3) that releasing records would “interfere with a law enforcement investigation.”  Judge Carol R. Edmead of the New York County Supreme Court granted this motion on February 7th, 2017, essentially rubber-stamping the NYPD’s arguments.  Judge Edmead required the NYPD to make no showing, for example, as to why they needed to know answers to any of their obviously irrelevant questions, and required the NYPD to present no evidence — not even a sworn declaration — that releasing records would cause legitimate interference with law enforcement.

The most glaring of Judge Edmead’s errors were in 2 parts:

  1. She conceded that gun restrictions must be subject to “intermediate scrutiny” — that is, they must address an “important” governmental objective by means “substantially” related to that.  She then went on to say that she was approving the NYPD’s actions because they were “rational.”  But a finding of “rationality” is not the test that she just stated was appropriate.  The NYPD’s tomfoolery must not be merely “rational” but be a substantially tight fit — asking not significantly more than is actually required to fulfill the “important” governmental objective of public safety.
  2. I’m actually somewhat shocked that she granted a motion to dismiss on the public records request given that, in deciding a motion to dismiss (the first opportunity a defendant has to get a case tossed out of court), a judge cannot yet weigh evidence because the plaintiff has not yet had a chance to present evidence.  Yet she had no problem finding that releasing the records would definitely interfere with a law enforcement investigation, just because an attorney for the NYPD said so.  In doing this, she cut off the case before allowing me a chance to argue the other side.

I immediately filed a notice of appeal, and today I “perfect” the appeal, as they say here in New York, by filing the “record” (a copy of everything that happened in the court below) and my appellate brief — given the requirement of 10 copies of everything (8 for the court and 2 for the opposing party), well over 2,000 pages had to be printed, bound, and delivered to make this happen (links to digital copies below).  In it, I detail for the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division the history of corruption in the NYPD’s licensing division.  Some highlights from the last few decades, although the corruption goes back 100 years:

  • In 1973, NYPD Capt. Salvatore Salmieri was suspended for issuing a gun license to a mafia chauffer. Exhibit C – Narvaez, Alfonzo.  “Captain Suspended in Gun Authorization.”  New York Times (Nov. 17th, 1973).
  • In 1997, the head of the licensing division, Henry Krantz, was disciplined for, again, picking out individuals for whom the usual process did not apply: “Krantz was charged with providing ‘preferential treatment to individuals or entities,’ as well as ‘wrongfully directing’ other cops to grant the favors and failing to supervise his staff.” Exhibit D – Marzuli, John.  “Gun Licensing Boss Suspended by NYPD.”  Y. Daily News (Jan. 23rd, 1997).
  • In 2002, a former head of the licensing division, D.I. Benjamin Petrofsky, was accused of (and later demoted for) helping famous rock-and-roll musicians receive a pistol permit in exchange for VIP concert tickets and after-party admission.  Exhibit E – Messing, Philip.  “NYPD Under Fire in Aerosmith ‘Got a Gun’ Scandal.”  New York Post (Nov. 24th, 2002).  He allegedly went as far as to fingerprint the musicians inside Madison Square Garden.  Wiederhorn, Jon.  “Janie’s Got A Gun Permit? Aerosmith Flap Lands Cop in Hot Water.”  MTV (2002).

But of course, you’ve all probably heard of the more recent scandal that former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating before Trump fired him:

According to court papers, the trading of gun licenses for bribes stretched from at least 2010 to 2016.  Exhibit H – Neumeister, Larry.  “Former NYC police, lawyer arrested in gun licensing probe.”  Associated Press (Apr. 25th, 2017).  In return for approval of gun licenses without meeting New York’s qualifications, D.I. Endall’s officers “solicited and accepted food, alcohol, parties, dancers and prostitutes.”  Id. Several of the gun licenses bought through the corrupt members of D.I. Endall’s office caught in this sting went to street vigilantes who were known for beating a man on the street so badly he is permanently blind in one eye.  In the meantime, the application by Corbett, who the NYPD concedes had no character issues, was denied.

Deputy Inspector Endall was, of course, the NYPD licensing division commander who denied my application not 3 weeks before being transferred to desk duty — err, lower desk duty — because several of his subordinates were arrested for literally taking hookers and cash for gun licenses.

I do hope the Appellate Division takes to heart that they are literally taking a blind eye to corruption if they do not take action.  From here, I expect it to take several months to get an opinion from them.  If it’s unfavorable, I can then ask the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, to hear the case, before moving onto the federal courts.

So “Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC?”  Not sure yet, but so far:

  • Money Spent: $1,365
  • Time Spent: ~80 hours

Will look forward to updating with Part V as the Appellate Division takes a stand.

Corbett v. City of New York IV – Appellate Brief (.pdf – 7MB)

Corbett v. City of New York IV – Record on Appeal (.pdf – 38MB)

UPDATE: Mere hours before I was to file this brief, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated D.C.’s “good reason” requirement for carrying firearms.  This is a major win, and so I updated my brief and re-printed it.  The above documents now reflect that change.


“Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in ‘How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.’  Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights.  Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web:https://professional-troublemaker.com/

Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check.

Insomniac Sued for Letting Overdose Victim Die: “Someone Has Died Every Year” at Insomniac Events Since 2006

Last year, I sued Insomniac, the producer of Electronic Daisy Carnival — a massive, 100,000+ attendee music festival held in the desert outside of Las Vegas, NV — over their policy of not allowing OTC medication into their event and requiring those with prescription medication to “consult” with a “safety officer” before they would be allowed in.  That case was settled before appeal after being dismissed on a technicality.

A large part of Insomniac’s argument in that case before settlement was that there was no need for attendees to bring in their own OTC medicines because they provide world-class medical services including all the medicine anyone could possibly need.  But, the reality is this: there are only 3 medical tents, and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where the event is held is massive:

lvms

According to Google, the longest interior dimension is over 3,000 feet, or about 6/10ths of a mile (1 km).  To walk around the circumference of the venue would be about 1.5 miles (2 km).  With 3 medical tents, you’re looking at 1 tent every 1,000 or so feet.

At the 2016 festival, a young man named Nicholas Austin Tom succumbed to the heat in combination with MDMA intoxication.  MDMA (ecstasy, molly) is a common, relatively safe party drug with two main caveats: dehydration and hyperthermia (fever).  When you’re in a 110°F (43°C) desert, dancing and sweating, and do not consume water, you are already tempting fate with dehydration and hyperthermia, but add large doses of MDMA to that and the results can be deadly.

Of course, dehydration and hyperthermia are easy to treat in a medical setting: IV fluids and ice packs can save a life.  So, according to Mr. Tom’s attorneys, when he started seizing that evening, festival goers attempted to carry him to a medical tent — but it took them half an hour to find one.  Futher, when they arrived, there was no medical staff there, and by the time they returned, he was dead.

Did Insomniac just not know that they needed more medical staff?  From the complaint:

Beginning in 2006, someone has died every year at a rave put on by Defendants INSOMNIAC and [current parent company] LIVE NATION.

In case that seems like an exaggeration, they provided a list:

  • Joshua Johnson, 18 (Nocturnal Wonderland, 2006)
  • Michelle Lee, 21 (Monster Massive, 2007)
  • William On, 23 (Together as One, 2008)
  • Jesse Morales, 22 (EDC Dallas, 2010)
  • Sasha Rodriguez, 15 (EDC L.A., 2010)
  • Andrew Graf, 19 (EDC Dallas, 2011)
  • Kyle Haigis, 22 (EDC Dallas, 2011)
  • Emily McCaughan, 22 (EDC Vegas, 2012)
  • Arrel Cochon, 22 (Nocturnal Wonderland, 2013)
  • Anthony Anaya, 25 (EDC Vegas, 2014)
  • Brian Brockette, 20 (Electric Forest, 2014)
  • John Hoang Dinh Vo, 22 (Beyond Wonderland, 2015)

In fairness, it seems that they didn’t find a death for 2009, so perhaps for that year, they get a pass.

The bottom line: trying to take away people’s drugs at the gate doesn’t work.  Drugs will always be smuggled into music events.  What does work is providing adequate water and medical services.  Based on the list above, it would seem that Insomniac must know that they have a problem.  I just can’t fathom how Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotella does not feel disgusted with himself for letting this happen.  (Feel free to let him know how you feel on Twitter.)

Tom v. Insomniac – Complaint (Los Angeles Superior Court, BC 665696) (.pdf)

* Provided with an F.U. to the Los Angeles Superior Court for charging me ~$15 just to retrieve that document, and to the media for reporting on the story but being too cheap or lazy to actually post the source document.  Public records should be free.

An Open Letter to Burning Man (and Law Enforcement): Locking Down a City to Find a Missing Teenager is Illegal

 

Trojan Horse, Burning Man 2011
Oh, a gift! Open the gates, let it in! [Art @ Burning Man, 2011]
Burning Man is a festival of art, music, culture, and spirituality, held annually in the vast deserts of Nevada.  Over 60,000 attendees gather and literally build a temporary city — roads, emergency services, a mail system, and structures of every shape and size — for one week.  Some of the most brilliant art projects in the world are showcased, many of which are ritualistically burned to the ground by the end of the event.

I find the experience I’ve encountered there to be like none other and treasure the learning and good times I’ve had.  But, the organizers of the festival consistently do one thing that, were they anyone whom I did not hold in such high esteem, would have been sued a long time ago: any time a “child” goes “missing,” they block the exits of the festival until found.  And almost invariably by “child” I mean “teenager,” while by “missing” I mean “has voluntarily gone off partying and some parent is worried.”

Open Letter to Burning Man
An Open Letter to Burning Man (.pdf)

This is literally the definition of false imprisonment.

Traditionally, at common law, false imprisonment is defined as the 1) confinement of another, 2) within fixed boundaries for any period of time, 3) who is aware of, or injured by, his or her confinement, 4) without consent or privilege (Nevada law takes a substantially similar view).  The “within fixed boundaries” part deserves clarity: the boundaries could be a cage, a house, a 100-acre estate, or even an entire city.  The “privilege” part also deserves clarity: there has never been a “privilege” to detain a single person without reasonable suspicion, let alone to detain 60,000 persons, 99.9% of which assuredly have no idea where the missing person is.

Cut that shit out.  It fails to uphold the community’s value placed on consent and self-reliance, and it’s just plain illegal.

U.S. Supreme Court Lifts Part of Travel Ban Injunction, Agrees to Hear Case

Travel Ban ProtestFirst: No, this was not a vindication of the “TRAVEL BAN.”

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued an opinion on the preliminary injunction entered by the 4th and 9th Circuits, as well as the government’s request that they hear the case (a “petition for certiorari” — that word is pronounced “sir-she-uh-ruh-ree,” for those wondering).  The tl;dr:

We grant the petitions for certiorari and grant the stay applications in part.

So, the Court will hear the case in the fall, but what part of the injunction did they put on hold?

The injunctions remain in place only with respect to parties similarly situated to [the plaintiffs].  In practical terms, this means that §2(c) [and §6(b)] may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.

What it boils down to is this: the plaintiffs in this case were all alleging that they were denied access to attend to their family or business in the United States.  When you file a lawsuit, as a general rule, you can only ask the court to help you, not to right a wrong against the public.   Even if your case is a class-action, you can only seek to reach people “similarly situated” to you.

The lower courts enjoined the government from applying these two odious sections of the TRAVEL BAN to anyone.  But, since some people seeking entry have no connections to the U.S., those people are not similarly situated to these plaintiffs, and thus the Supreme Court narrowed the injunction to only those with some connection to U.S. persons or entities.

So, in summary:

  1. If you are accepted to university, are visiting a family member, or have been hired by a company in the U.S., the TRAVEL BAN is still on hold as to you.
  2. If you have no connection to the U.S. at all, you may have to wait a few months if you’re coming from one of the 6 Muslim countries Trump has banned — or get some family or business connections here first (the ruling isn’t quite clear if having “friends” to visit in the U.S. would count as a sufficient connection).
  3. In upholding the injunction as applied to those with a connection to the U.S., the Supreme Court is implying that the plaintiffs in this case are likely to win, because showing “likelihood of success on the merits” is required for any kind of injunction.  Good deal.

Terrorist Attacks Police Officer in Michigan Airport — What Could Have Prevented This?

Yesterday, it was reported that a Canadian national entered a Detroit-area airport, found a police officer, yelled “Allahu Ackbar!” and then repeatedly stabbed the police officer in the neck.

In the meantime, our government has focused on:

  1. A “TRAVEL BAN” (emphasis Trump’s).  But a ban on temporary visas for citizens of a half dozen Middle Eastern countries would not have excluded this Canadian Muslim terrorist (or any other terrorist, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
  2. A “laptop ban,” because older x-ray equipment can make it difficult to distinguish a laptop battery from a block of C-4.  The better solution being an upgrade of older x-ray equipment notwithstanding, every recent airport attack has either detonated a bomb before the security checkpoint or used an alternative weapon — like a knife.
  3. A more thorough molestation when going through TSA checkpoints.   Because despite all the other holes in TSA security, grabbing everyone’s genitals makes us feel safer, right?
  4. Surveillance — which, apparently, doesn’t work.

Here’s what our government has not focused on:

  1. Getting the hell out of the Middle East.  Instead, we’re still selling arms to Saudi Arabia and now bombing more civilians than ever.
  2. Fixing mental health in this country.  Scratch that, fixing health in this country.

There seems to be a simple solution: spend less on war, ineffective TSA security, and creating a police state, and spend more on healthcare.

So why aren’t we doing this?  Why don’t we, the people, the voters, insist on this?

Please, Don’t Go In The TSA’s Private Room!

One of the more interesting (sometimes, disturbing) parts of “my job” is that I get e-mails from people across the country on a regular basis describing abusive TSA practices.  These accounts range from descriptions of the TSA’s usual pat-downs, of which the author was shocked to realize happen that way, to descriptions of clear violations of TSA procedure, thuggish attitudes, and down-right sexual assault.  There is one common theme beyond blue gloves: a high percentage of the time passengers feel abused, it is when they go to “the private room.”

For those of you who have had a TSA full-body pat-down, you probably know the speech they give you: a description of how they’re going to touch you, a note that they’ll be using the back of their hands on your “sensitive” areas, a question as to whether you have any injuries or medical devices, and finally, an offer to conduct the screening in private.

For the love of god, please do not take them up on this offer.

Three reasons:

  1. In the private room, there are no cameras, there is no supervision, and if you say the TSA screener inappropriately touched you, it is unlikely you will convince a TSA supervisor, a police officer, or a judge to believe you.  Every checkpoint in the country has many cameras, and you can actually request footage from them by Freedom of Information Act request.  If something goes wrong (well, more wrong than usual), this is your only hope for justice.
  2. Sometimes, the TSA will insist that they conduct private room screening. In particular, this will happen if you alert the explosive trace detector.  In this case, the private room screening will be even more invasive than usual.  They will literally be grabbing your genitals with the front of their hands.  Even if it results in missing your flight, do not go.  Even if the TSA insists that you must, refuse.  At some point, you have to draw the line — I urge you to draw it at this point or before.  Let them throw a fit, call the cops, or whatever it is they threaten you with, but at the end of the day, they have to let you go.
  3. Private screening allows the TSA to hide their pat-downs from everyone else, making it seem more rare and keeping the public less on notice of what may happen to them.  By forcing the pat-down to be in front of everyone else, you are taking a small stand.

If you think I may be exaggerating, here’s an example of the kind of e-mail I get (warning: graphic):

TSA Sexual Assault

This kind of sexual assault happens all the time, leading to a headline in 2011 where three different senior citizens in three different incidents accused the TSA of strip-searching them in the private room. But most of the time, stories like these get no media attention. The victim may file a complaint, and nothing happens.

Catching your flight is just not worth it.  Please help me get fewer e-mails like this and spread the word.

P.S. – One more suggestion, if I may: tuck your shirt into your pants before a pat-down.  If you do so, you won’t be asked to lift up your shirt, and you won’t feel their latex-coated hands on your bare skin.

Trump to Murderous Philippine President: “You Are a Good Man”

Some commenters on my blog have taken a bit of offense to my regular criticism of Donald Trump, going so far as to call me a “partisan.”  Shocked that after several years of railing against Obama administration policies (not to mention my pro-Second Amendment stance) that all of the sudden I’m now “partisan” for blasting Trump, it was explained to me that while I regularly complained of things that Obama’s agencies did, I rarely called out Obama personally.

I don’t consider myself a member of either political party.  The reason for any disparity in naming Trump personally more than Obama is two-fold:

  1. Obama had a filter and let his administration do their jobs, while Trump is a loud-mouth who puts his personal name on every bad decision his government makes.
  2. Some of the stuff Trump says, and does, is not just disagreeable, but is flatly ignorant.

For an example of the latter, yesterday, it was reported that in a phone call with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, our President said the following: “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. … Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation in the Philippines at the moment, this may not sound so bad.  In that case, allow me to summarize their drug policy: President Duterte has directed his citizens to murder drug dealers and addicts in the street.  I mean this literally and with no exaggeration.  Some quotes:

  • “Go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”
  • “The funeral parlors will be packed. … I’ll supply the dead bodies.”
  • “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

The country’ federal police, at last count, had reported killing 1,959 alleged drug dealers and addicts, and have additionally reported finding the bodies of 3,658 more killed by vigilantes.  That is over 5,000 people killed during this man’s term as president without a trial or any due process whatsoever, for a crime as small as possessing a few grams of meth.

But that’s not all.  Mr. Duterte admitted that, back when he was only a mayor, he used to personally kill people he thought were criminals in the streets.  “And [I would] go around Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter so I could kill.”  In a level of hypocrisy fit for a king, that same article discusses Duterte’s addiction to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin.

Don’t really feel sympathy for druggies?  Fine, here are some other choice quotes:

  • On rape: “I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.”  (Much like Trump’s response to his “grab her by the pussy” comment, Duterte responded to criticism by saying it is “just how men talk.”)
  • On traffic caused by a visit from the Pope: “Pope, son of a whore, go home. Do not visit us again.”
  • On Hitler: “At least Germany had Hitler.”

Now, after reading the above, let it sink in that our President said to Duterte, “You are a good man.”

Fuck you, Donald Trump.  Mr. Duterte is scum: a self-admitted murderer who does not believe in the rule of law and, quite simply, has respect for no one.  This is not a “good man,” and you are ignorant for saying it.

If that makes me a “partisan,” so be it.

Update: Newest TSA Carry-On X-Rays Can Indeed See Through Laptop Batteries

I just passed through a TSA checkpoint at Miami International Airport, where, during my pat-down after opting out of the body scanner, I was placed directly facing a monitor that showed a laptop that was being screened (notwithstanding that TSA policy is that such screens should be hidden from view of passengers).  From that image, it was clear that components underneath the battery of the laptop were indeed visible to the operator, and looked more like this image posted by bomb-detection specialists DSA Detection:

Laptop under AT X-Ray

In other words, lithium batteries are not completely opaque “black boxes” which airport x-rays cannot penetrate.

DSA Detection has been nice enough to publish a how-to guide to detecting explosives concealed in a laptop.  While the guide doesn’t go through how to detect an explosive specifically concealed within a battery, it is clear that the x-rays can penetrate through the battery.  Given that materials of different densities are color-coded differently, and given that the density of PETN is 1.77 g/cm3 and the density of C4 is 1.73 g/cm3, but the density of lithium metal is 0.53 g/cm3, there should be no reason why a properly calibrated x-ray with a well-trained and attentive operator cannot tell the difference between a lithium battery and a box filled with explosives.

Now, are the x-ray machines in the 10 airports subject to the current laptop ban of the newer technology which produces images like the one shown here, or the older that produces images like in my previous post?  I must assume that if DHS has used any logic whatsoever, these 10 airports are using the older technology and that’s why they’ve been shit-listed.  But there is no way all of Europe uses this older technology, and I truly hope that DHS’s European counterparts continue to resist the nagging of DHS to ban carry-on laptops anyway.  DHS should be helping any airport with inferior technology or training to get up to speed, not treating everyone outside of the country as if they are inept and inferior (especially when comparing others to the TSA… you know what they say about those in glass houses…).

Exclusive: Laptop Ban Reaction to X-Ray Equipment Stolen by ISIS

Carry-On X-Ray
Carry-On X-Ray Equipment.  Courtesy: Narita Airport

On March 21st, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ordered airlines flying to the U.S. out of 10 airports, mostly in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, to refuse to transport any electronic devices of iPad size or greater in their passenger compartments.  This effective ban on in-flight laptop usage on these flights, all of which would be between 6 and 12 hours in duration, assuredly caused any airline who uses those airports as a hub to face massive losses as travelers rush to connect through Europe instead.  For the last several weeks, DHS has allegedly been considering expanding the ban to all airports in Europe as well, a move which European officials seem to have talked our government down from.

What has been missing from the story is, “Why?”  Authorities have only disclosed a generalized fear that laptops could be used to conceal explosives, and have expressly denied a specific threat.  But laptops have been around for decades, and as surely any sophisticated terrorist has heard of timers, why does it matter if you ban them from the passenger cabin if you allow them in the cargo hold?

A commercial aviation security official that I have verified but will not publicly name has explained the rationale to me: x-ray equipment of the variety commonly used for screening carry-on baggage disappeared a few months ago from a location in the Middle East, and it is suspected (perhaps even recently confirmed, given the desire to expand the ban) that ISIS members have stolen the equipment such that they can study how to properly conceal an explosive.  Given that a bomb smuggled in a laptop exploded at an airport security checkpoint in Somalia on March 6th, 2017, it appears DHS has concluded that the theft was related and laptops were the concealment method of choice.

X-rayed Laptop
An x-rayed laptop. The battery is in the lower right.

It’s not bad reasoning since lithium batteries are completely opaque to x-rays, and therefore a battery-sized metal box filled with explosives would look exactly the same [Edit – This is not true for the newest technology x-rays… read more…].  But, there’s three problems with the reaction that make the laptop ban the wrong idea:

  1. Once the laptop ban was put in place, anyone who planned to use a laptop to conceal a bomb was tipped off and will simply try another approach.  This is reminiscent of the failed “toner cartridge bomb,” after which the U.S banned toner cartridges from flights.  But obviously, a toner cartridge is only what they chose that day… a stereo, Xbox, or, well, laptop, would have worked just as well.  Likewise, just because they’re doing it in carry-ons now does not mean they won’t switch to checked baggage next.
  2. A laptop battery actually holds similar energy to a small bomb.  While it’s not easy to make a laptop battery release that energy all at once in an explosion, a fire in the cargo hold created by batteries malfunctioning (not Galaxy S7!) resulted in at least 2 deaths by plane crash so far (all-cargo, not passenger, flight, thankfully).  By forcing all these batteries into the cargo hold where a fire cannot be rapidly detected and contained, DHS would be countering any deceased risk of terror with an increased risk of fire.
  3. It is simply not economically viable.  Taking away what would surely amount to millions of man-hours of productivity every year is simply not the solution (exactly $1.1B of loss, industry group IATA estimates, quite conservatively in my opinion).  It would be far less economically impactful to swab every laptop that comes through the checkpoint for explosive trace residue.

So why was the stolen x-ray equipment kept a secret?  I asked my source if there was some security reason for keeping the stolen x-ray equipment from the public, and was told, unequivocally, no.  “It’s because the mom from the midwest planning to fly her kids to Disney would freak out.  They are worried that people would stop flying if they knew.”

My thought would be that the public would be much more understanding if the government was more forthcoming.  But apparently the U.S. government feels that you can’t handle the truth and therefore hides behind secrecy laws to withhold the full story.  This hiding is, of course, illegal, since, with exceptions not relevant, to withhold information as “sensitive security information” (SSI) requires that the release of the information would be “detrimental to the security of transportation,” not detrimental to mom’s willingness to go on vacation (49 C.F.R. § 1520.5(a)(3)).  The TSA, a sub-component of DHS, is well-known for using the · SSI designation in an · “inconsistent and arbitrary” nature, as well as merely to avoid embarrassment, so it is not particularly surprising when the parent agency does so as well.  [I have reached out to the DHS press office, which has declined to comment on this story.]

(Note that my source did not specify whether this information was SSI, classified, or otherwise protected, but I assume it is presently SSI and not classified given my source’s role and reports that U.S. authorities have discussed the situation with airline officials, which would not be done for classified information.)

Putting together one more piece of the puzzle, it seems to me that the classified information leaked by President Trump to the Russians earlier this month was very likely the details (beyond that which are reported here and beyond my knowledge) about the how the government was able to infiltrate ISIS to investigate the use of the stolen x-ray machines.  Most news organizations did not report the nature of Trump’s disclosure other than that it related to “a plot by Islamic State,” although the Washington Post actually did describe it as laptop-ban related.   So at the same time as the American people are mislead about the risks of flying, the Russians were given more information than the airlines and airport operators who are responsible for actually keeping bombs off of planes.

So, to recap: the government lied to us when they said there wasn’t a specific threat, they withheld information from us because they thought we’d be scared, and they implemented a laptop ban that will be ineffective and expensive at best, dangerous (as a result of increased fire risk) at worst.  Business as usual.


“Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in ‘How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.’  Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights.  Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web: https://professional-troublemaker.com/

Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑