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:
In other words, lithium batteries are not completely opaque “black boxes” which airport x-rays cannot penetrate.
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…).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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/“
Second, a recently released analysis of video of the brawl shows that Erdoğan himself ordered the assault. His personal bodyguard can be heard to say, “he says attack,” immediately after speaking with Erdoğan. His guards than rush to violence against a small group of protesters, allegedly from a political party that Erdoğan cutely labels “terrorists.”
Think about that for a second: a foreign head-of-state just ordered an attack on Americans on American soil.
And, you know, not inviting thugs to the White House.
Defamation Poem, by Jan Böhmermann (translated)
Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight,
Is Erdogan, the president,
His gob smells of bad döner,
Even a pig’s fart smells better,
He’s the man who hits girls,
While wearing a rubber mask,
But goat-fucking he likes the best,
And having minorities repressed,
While watching kiddie porn,
And even at night, instead of sleep,
It’s time for fellatio with a hundred sheep,
Yep, Erdogan is definitely
The president with a tiny dick,
Every Turk will tell you all,
The stupid fool has wrinkly balls,
From Ankara to Istanbul,
They all know the man is gay,
Perverted, louse-infested, a zoophile,
Recep Fritzl Priklopil
Head as empty as his balls,
Of every gang-bang party he’s the star,
Till his cock burns when he has a piss,
That’s Recep Erdogan,
The Turkish president.
This blog began in 2010 to document my lawsuit against the beginning of the TSA’s body scanner program. From that time until 2015, the body scanner was “optional” for all passengers — so long as you didn’t mind being molested by a blue-gloved screener during their “full-body pat-downs.” This was part of the reason that no court has struck down these body scanners as unconstitutional: because, they say, passengers are consenting to use them (even though that “consent” is coerced by offering the alternatives of “let us touch your junk” or “don’t fly”). But, at the end of 2015, the TSA announced that they would reserve the right to refuse to allow these body scanner “opt-outs” at their discretion, and I immediately filed suit.
There are two really interesting issues in this case that I hope may cause a wrinkle for the TSA:
The original body scanner rule in 2010 was issued without “notice-and-comment rulemaking,” a procedure required by Congress whereby agencies that make rules first have to ask the public for input. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled that the TSA violated this procedure and, although normally that would require them to stop enforcing the rule (i.e., stop using the body scanners), the Court, fearful that the body scanners actually protect us, simply ordered the TSA to take comment after the fact. The new body scanner rule limiting opt-outs was also issued without public comment, and I’ve asked the court to, this time, put some teeth into forcing the TSA to actually follow procedure before issuing a rule.
The TSA is arguing that it needs to be able to force some passengers through the body scanner because, they allege, it is more secure than a full-body pat-down. But, this is objectively untrue. Besides the fact that I proved the scanners to be beatable in 2012, think about this: if one alerts a body scanner, the result is… a pat-down of the area of the body that generated the alert! How could this possibly be more secure than a full-body pat-down that would have touched that area of the body and more? The function of the body scanners is to narrow down those people who do not need to be patted down to save time, not to make a pat-down more secure. Body scanners don’t find weapons — pat-downs do.
This case lives in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the procedure for cases there is a written brief filed by the person filing the case, an opposing brief filed by the other side, and then a reply brief again by the filer, after which the court may rule on the case. Yesterday I submitted my reply brief after nearly a year and a half of delay, and so, the case is now “fully briefed,” meaning the judges can decide it at any point (or can ask for the parties to argue in-person, or can ask for more evidence, or, basically, whatever they want). Realistically, I expect it more likely that they will decide without in-person arguments, probably towards the end of the summer. I’m not holding my breath — the game is rigged, and the TSA gets almost complete control over what evidence the court sees, some of which I don’t even get to see (wouldn’t want the public to see things like how often their testing shows the body scanners miss a weapon, because that would be, well, embarrassing).
The younger generation is fond of the phrase, “I can’t even,” to describe situations that are beyond the scope of normalcy.
U.S Customs & Border Patrol agents an Newark-Liberty International Airport, a stone’s throw from Manhattan, have been accused of initiating new officers — male and female — with a “hazing ritual” that they call the “rape table.” A new officer subject to the “rape table” is led into a secure room where the lights are turned off and they are held down and groped and humped by their senior officers.
These are the people we’re supposed to be ok with searching our digital items without a warrant. Who can detain you for up to 8 hours without giving you a reason, a phone call, or an attorney. The people who are supposed to be busy, you know, keeping our borders secure. Who also think the “rape table” is ok.
Appointed then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General, and then fired her 10 days later. The Attorney General is the highest position in the DoJ, which encompasses not only the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which we usually associate with them, but also a host of sub-agencies, including the FBI, DEA, and many others. Why did he fire her? According to him, it was because she refused to defend his Muslim Ban on the grounds that the Executive Order was indefensible (virtually every federal judge to hear the matter has agreed). As the nation’s top attorney, she is obligated to uphold the law and cannot defend law that she believes is unconstitutional. But, it’s also interesting to note that she was fired on the same day that she, correctly, informed the President that his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was compromised by Russia and Turkey.
Fired Legendary U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. If there was one high official in the DoJ who deserved respect, it was Mr. Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His district contained Wall Street, and he was well-known for aggressively prosecuting financial crimes including the likes of Bernie Madoff. But, he was also well-known for fighting public corruption and taking down many a politician in New York, and some speculated he “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign.” Trump never offered a reason for firing Mr. Bharara.
Fired FBI Director James Comey. Being overseas at the moment, I was shocked to wake up this morning to read that Trump has fired the head of the FBI (which, as mentioned, is a sub-agency of the Dept. of Justice). Officially, Trump’s position was that Comey was fired for mis-handling the Clinton e-mail scandal by stating last July that she would not likely be prosecuted. This begs the question, though: why now? In a bizzare 1-page termination notice, Trump takes time time to note his “appreciation” that Comey has “informed” him repeatedly that he is not under investigation. But the fact remains, of course, that the FBI is actively investigating Russian influence on the election. It is also worthy of note that U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions officially gave Trump the recommendation to fire Comey. Mr. Sessions, after public and Congressional outcry, had recused himself from the Russia investigation… yet now fired the person who was in charge of it.
To be perfectly blunt, it seems to me, based on this pattern of firings, to be far more plausible that Trump has fired these people for not just political reasons, but in order to prevent the exposure of anything from poor decision making (e.g., accidentally hiring a foreign agent to lead the country’s intelligence community) to lying to secretly working with foreign nations. And, were I Donald Trump and had I nothing to hide, I would certainly at least be aware of the public perception I would be creating by firing these career administrators.
To any extent that Donald Trump has “drained the swamp,” he has either replaced it with new swamp or failed to replace it at all, leaving a hole in our nation’s ability to function. People like Preet Bharara are not easily replaceable, and Trump should have been begging him to stay rather than asking him to leave.
What Trump has done to the DoJ is shameful. And, it should go without saying that a special prosecutor needs to be appointed to continue any investigation that Comey was up to before he was fired, because whether or not there’s anything to uncover, the administration of justice requires impartiality beyond what Trump’s team has afforded us so far.
I’ve made a few posts discussing California’s First Year Law Students’ Exam (the “FYLSX”), noting that I failed my first attempt by a fraction of a percent when the Bar applied a grading formula different from that which was advertised, and then, using the knowledge gained of their altered grading scheme, passed on my second try so spectacularly that the Bar published one of my essays as an example of how to write their exam. I also briefly mentioned that I — as I’m known to do — filed suit to ask a judge to effectively require them to grade like they say they will and be more transparent about the exam and how they grade it.
The particular dispute was that they advertised that the multiple-choice section and the essay section of the exam would be “converted to the same 400-point scale” in order to “give these sections equal weight.” When I received my score report from the first exam, I noticed that the scaling formula used by the bar resulted in it being impossible to score more than about 362 points even if every question was answered correctly, and likewise, it was possible to score far more than 400 points on the essays.
The attorney for the Bar assigned to the case disclosed additional documents, formerly considered to be secret and until now never disclosed to law students, to me yesterday that all but flatly admit that not only were the sections not weighted equally, but they also didn’t use a 400-point scale! See if you can follow this tortured grading system they describe, because it took me several reads to figure it out:
Multiple-choice raw scores (i.e., number of items answered correctly) were equated to the June 1998, 2011, and October 2013 exams using 21 items that were common to each of these exams. The equating formula was as follows:
Multiple Choice Scale = (3.4092 x raw multiple-choice score) + 21.6267
The candidates’ raw total essay scores were scaled to a score distribution that had the same mean and standard deviation as their multiple choice scores using the following formula:
Essay Scale = (2.3536 x raw essay total score) + -442.389
A candidate’s total score was the sum of that candidates’ multiple choice and essay scores.
What I gather from this is that 21 of the 100 multiple choice questions were repeats of previous years, and based on how well students did on those 21 questions, their grade on the entire 100 questions was curved. Then, they calculated the average multiple choice score and the standard deviation, and curved the essay scores such that the average student gets the same score on that section as the multiple choice, and the score distribution was normalized to the same standard deviation.
From this it is clear:
This has nothing to do with a 400-point scale per section. The number 400 does not even appear in this internal document regarding their grading scheme. The scale is created simply by comparing this group’s scores to previous scores and trying to curve it accordingly. You’ll notice that if you plug in “100” as your raw multiple-choice score (a perfect 100 out of 100 questions) into the formula provided, the maximum score attainable is 362.5467. Not 400.
The sections do not have “equal weight.” Saying that the average test taker got the same score on both their multiple-choice and their essay questions is not the same thing as saying “half your grade comes from multiple-choice, and half from the essays.” Whether the essays count more or less than the multiple-choice section depends entirely on how well the other students do on their exams. This is not equality, it is normalization.
So, for those taking the June 2017 exam, know this: on both exams I sat for, the essays counted far more than the multiple-choice. You should therefore be spending far more time studying how to write a good essay than how to select A, B, C, or D correctly, unless your multiple-choice practice exams are turning out abysmally (for more study tips, see my previous post). Hopefully by the October 2017 exam, a judge will have “persuaded” them to abandon this system.
While many people have little problem allowing governments vast snooping privileges when investigating “terrorists,” it’s been called out again and again that governments are incapable of showing any such restraint. Many of the headlines are dominated by the U.S. and our struggles with high-tech abuse from organizations like the NSA, but government assholery isn’t an American-specific problem: last week, London Metro Police were exposed as “hacking” the emails of various journalists and protestors.
The letter she received basically reveals that the police have been illegally accessing the email accounts of individuals for many years. The letter claims that London police asked the police in India to get the passwords for them, and in turn, Indian police hired various hackers to do it for them. Once these hackers got the passwords, they were sent back to the Indian police, who then sent them to London police. This has been going on for years, and the whistleblower claimed that the unit had no respect for the law and didn’t have any regard for the personal privacy of individuals.
Consider the absurdity of there existing a secret unit in a local police department that has the ability to do such hacking (or sometimes, apparently, outsource the hacking to India). U.K. law apparently allows such spying only to combat terrorism or a major crime, which probably means it should be taken outside of the hands of municipal cops. Yet the NYPD here in the U.S. also considers its job to include international terrorism, to the point of having thousands of cops who work in locations other than New York city.
It is still very early in the “investigation,” so it is yet to be seen if exposing the matter will result in change. But, if these allegations prove to be accurate, it will be a serious blow to the reputation of the police force and another reminder that handing over keys to the government is a bad idea, even if they allege they will only use those keys when absolutely necessary — because time and time again, all governments everywhere have shown this to be a fantasy.
It was a tough choice between the title above and, “United Airlines Hits Bottom, Digs.” A week after losing close to a billion dollars in share value after forcing a ticketed, seated passenger to get off a plane such that one of their own staff could take his seat, via police who caused enough injury to require hospitalization in the process, and 2 weeks after they denied 2 middle school girls boarding under a sexist dress code policy they apply to family members of United employees, you might think that United would be on their best behavior.
“Hold my beer,” United CEO Oscar Munoz can metaphorically (if not literally) be heard shouting across the terminal.
Earlier this week, a New York mom reported that she was required to go to the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol office at Newark Airport to pick up her husband and young daughter, on vacation in Mexico for a week, because a passenger presenting no reason other than the daughter’s skin color was lighter than the father’s told a United flight attendant that she found the pair to be suspicious, and United, apparently agreeing, had federal law enforcement meet the plane. Mom is of Irish descent, and dad, Mexican, and this by itself is enough to get dragged off the flight upon arrival, assuming you were allowed to fly in your own seat in the first place:
After our 3-year-old snoozed on her father’s lap for most of the flight, the plane landed. He texted me to tell me they had arrived. When the plane taxied to the gate, however, a number of officers from the Port Authority and Customs and Border Patrol boarded the plane, approached my husband and instructed him to grab his carry-ons and follow them. He and our daughter were escorted out of the plane before anyone else could get off.
The passenger who shared her “concern” with the flight attendants had been sitting next to my husband. According to him, she had been friendly throughout the flight, but my husband noticed her strange obsession with our daughter, sometimes throwing her body over his to try to engage my daughter.
As compensation for this “re-accommodation,” as surely Mr. Munoz would call it, United offered the family a $100 travel voucher.
I think what is even more surprising to me is that the commentary on even the strongly left-leaning Huffington Post, who appears to have broke the story, contained a plethora of comments defending the actions of the passenger, flight attendants, and CBP, because it’s always “better to be safe than sorry” (just as they would assuredly dismiss the TSA touching your genitals with “anything to keep us safer”). (Click the little thought bubble on the left to read)
Alexis Nola, for example, is a fan of “see something, say something…”
…and pay no mind to the fact that she was sitting peacefully with her father for the whole flight, because she may have been too drugged to express her situation, even though she could walk on and off the plane…
Kimberly Ziegelheafer wants us to know that child trafficking is “running rampant” and, apparently, stopping every adult/child pair who does not look alike (er, let’s be real here, it’s only a father/child pair who would encounter this form of discrimination), dragging them into the back room of a CBP office, and not releasing them until someone female alleges that she is the mother and all is well…
Carolyn Sue Greig alleges she would have baked cookies for these assholes, had it been her husband and child…
But I assume the white woman from Texas with 2 first names has probably never experienced discrimination in her life and does not understand that yes, this is a big deal. There are millions of children in this country with step-parents who look nothing like their child, and they don’t deserve to be dragged off of flights. It’s traumatizing to the child and, frankly, to the adult as well. It also doesn’t take more than a cursory search of the Internet to find that fathers alone with child are regularly given extra scrutiny, whether it’s at the playground or, apparently, simply traveling home.
United Airlines had no business reporting this incident to the police absent the suspecting passenger being able to articulate some reason for her suspicion beyond the color of their skin (the same goes for Muslim-looking men who are dragged off of planes after purely imagined suspicious behavior). This family is owed much more than a $100 voucher, and I, for one, hope to see Mr. Munoz given the boot after another billion gets wiped off their market cap.