Is The TSA Finally Starting To Do Something Right?

Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Greetings from SXSW week in Austin, TX, where at the local airport I passed through security without taking my shoes off, removing my laptop from my bag, being groped, or having my nude body imaged using radiation. A sign indicated that bomb-sniffing dogs may be in use. Imagine that!

The first part of that was thanks to the TSA involuntarily giving me Pre-Check status. The result of having Pre-Check is that you’re treated like a normal person — like airport security used to treat people pre-9/11 — instead of like a terrorist. My only criticism is that it shouldn’t take paying money, submitting to background checks, or suing the government into submission in order to be treated like a person rather than a terrorist. The TSA seems to be rapidly expanding who it includes in Pre-Check, and perhaps will eventually include most of us. But, that still will leave, as per usual, foreign tourists, the poor (who fly infrequently and have more limited interaction with the government), and others who have no voice to protest the government in a situation where they are subject to the peak of TSA assholery circa 2011.

The last part of my walk through security — that notice about bomb-sniffing dogs — is much more promising than the government keeping a naughty-or-nice list of who gets groped and who doesn’t. I have been advocating for the TSA to use alternative (to scope & grope) technologies for the detection of non-metallic explosives for years now, and it seems that, perhaps, they are finally catching on to the fact that these alternatives are more effective, less invasive, and less intrusive — meaning there’s no reason not to use them. The TSA has continuously stonewalled in courts of law and the court of public opinion as to why they persist on using the scanners, stating that they know best and their considered national security decisions shouldn’t be second-guessed by the plebs, but providing zero evidence to back that up. I am thoroughly convinced that the evidence supporting the body scanners over the alternatives is not some sort of secret, but rather is entirely non-existent.

When the TSA does something right, it should be recognized, and so a rare thank you from me to the TSA for slowly taking small steps in the right direction. Please continue to expand Pre-Check to everyone who participates in the Secure Flight program (if you give your gender and date of birth when making a reservation, that’s you) unless there is a specific concern about an individual, and allow redress for those denied access to “normal person” screening. Most importantly, continue with the K-9 crews, as they provide meaningful, unobtrusive protection against explosives on airplanes.

37 thoughts on “Is The TSA Finally Starting To Do Something Right?

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  1. The TSA is a criminal-fraud on the airport-security industry. I still refuse to ‘thank’ them for not molesting or irradiating me. That’s like thanking a thief for not robbing your home.

  2. Hi John! Thanks for your post! I agree with you that when the TSA does something right it should be recognized. Also I would like your opinion if you have a moment. When I have the time I would like to make a small very basic website called Informed Citizen. Basically it will have information from your website on it and a few others about the TSA. The information will be laid out in a manner that is easy for me to copy and paste to share on message boards or comment sections of news articles. If other misinformed citizen friends or tsa agent friends learn from the documented facts you have uncovered about the falseness of security theater and decide to support you and your lawsuits on their own, then so be it! If people chose to do so on their free will, they could also copy and paste the information from the basic website to share with others, but the website would ask if they use the information to please be courteous and to please only stick with the documented facts. The website has nothing to do with politics (or economics) and is not an organization. What do you think?

  3. TSA Halts Testing on Technology to Screen Passengers’ Online Data:

    The Transportation Security Administration has called off — for now — live tests of technology that would expand background checks on airplane passengers to include analyses of their online presences.

    The idea was to have contractors analyze consumer data — potentially including dating profiles and shopping histories — on fliers who apply for the voluntary “Pre✓” program. Pre✓, open to all U.S. citizens, lets passengers breeze through dedicated checkpoints without removing shoes, belts, laptops or TSA-compliant liquids after paying an $85 fee and proving their identities.

    The agency got as far as watching “prototype implementations” but decided against trying a system out on actual passengers, according to a March 4 notice published in a government acquisition database.

    Read more:

  4. TSA Agents to Eyeball Bus Passengers During ‘Security Exercise’

    Illustrating again how the TSA has its operations outside of airports, bus passengers in Pittsburgh will be eyeballed by TSA agents during a “security exercise” involving multiple agencies that begins today.

    If you take the bus or T to work, you may notice increased security at your stop today.

    The Port Authority is warning riders that they may see an increase in police. However, little information was released about where they may be.

    The Port Authority said today they are working on a joint training exercise with the Transportation Security administration, which will include TSA agents, Port Authority Police and first responders.

    The transit system is serving as the test location and is being led by the TSA Mass Transit and Passenger Rail Division, which aims to advance security by detecting and preventing any threats or attacks.

  5. I recently flew from DFW to MIA and back. My airline gave us Pre Check on the leg out but not on the return leg. Things like this tell me that no one has any idea of what they are doing. Not the airlines, and especially not TSA.

    Pre Check level screening is what TSA should be doing for everyone and only escalating if cause is shown.

    1. Almost. 🙂 The 875,000 number is the number of people (not necessarily Americans) on the generic terror watch list. The number of people on the specific no-fly list is closer to 20,000, and a majority of those are not US citizens.

      This is still absurd, though. If you have a terror watch list of 10,000, you can assign resources to actually monitor those people. With a list of nearly 1 million, there is no way to actually use a database that large effectively. After all, that represents about 1 in every 8,000 people in the world are on the terror list.

      The current US government approach — at least with DHS and the NSA — is to create the largest haystack in which to find a needle. This “leave no stone unturned” approach means that each “stone” can have only a cursory, if any, review. It doesn’t work, it’s invasive, and it should be changed.

  6. National gun database & the TSA stopping people on highways:

    Maryland – Finally the patrol car’s emergency lights come on, and it’s almost a relief. Whatever was going on, they’d be able to get it over with now. The officer — from the Transportation Authority Police, as it turns out, Maryland’s version of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority — strolls up, does the license and registration bit, and returns to his car.

    According to Kally and John (but not MTAP, which, pending investigation, could not comment), what happened next went like this:

    Ten minutes later he’s back, and he wants John out of the Expedition. Retreating to the space between the SUV and the unmarked car, the officer orders John to hook his thumbs behind his back and spread his feet. “You own a gun,” the officer says. “Where is it?”

    “At home in my safe,” John answers.

    “Don’t move,” says the officer.

    Now he’s at the passenger’s window. “Your husband owns a gun,” he says. “Where is it?”

    First Kally says, “I don’t know.” Retelling it later she says, “And that’s all I should have said.” Instead, attempting to be helpful, she added, “Maybe in the glove [box]. Maybe in the console. I’m scared of it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I might shoot right through my foot.”

    The officer came back to John. “You’re a liar. You’re lying to me. Your family says you have it. Where is the gun? Tell me where it is and we can resolve this right now.”

  7. Pre-Check is just an extortion racket for gullible people who enjoy being perceived as part of the upper tier of the class war. Other than that, it does nothing. As evidenced by the recent sort-of-maybe-grenade shaped perfume bottle. This woman was indignant that she, as a Pre-Check elite, was subject to the idiocy and abuse of TSA. The rest of us were not surprised.

  8. Hello,

    For anyone interested, I know it can be stressful at the airport false security theater or talking with misinformed people who mistakenly support the current procedures if the tsa so I found a scientifically validated stress reduction that works so I could be calmer and think more clearly when talking to others or when I am in other stressful situations. The technique is called the Sedona Method and it has been validated by University Of New York and Harvard University.

    Thought this might be helpful for anyone interested!

  9. No-Fly List Claim Booted From Appeals Court:

    A federal judge should hear Homeland Security’s defense of the tight-lipped responses it gives to questions about the no-fly list, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.

    Raymond Arjmand, a U.S. citizen born in Iran, has tried for years to find out if his name is on the government’s no-fly list, more formally known as the Consolidated Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).

    He has suspected as much since being searched and detained several times at airports, including once while returning from a trip to Canada and another time returning from Mexico.

    Arjmand said in a brief that the searches have caused him “great embarrassment, significant delays of several hours resulting in missed air flights and additional costs to purchase new flight tickets, and seizure of personal property, including electronic storage devices containing sensitive and privileged information.”

  10. U.S. will not appeal judge’s ruling in no-fly list challenge:

    The U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday it will not appeal a court ruling this year that found problems with how the government administers its no-fly policy.

    The U.S. no-fly policy excludes individuals from commercial air travel if they are suspected of having ties to terrorism, but critics say it is practically impossible to be removed from the list once on it.

    Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, sued the U.S. government in 2006 after she was told she was on the no-fly list, and was subsequently denied a U.S. visa. U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled in her favor, saying that existing procedures to correct mistakes on the no-fly list do not provide adequate due process protections.

    At a hearing on Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco, the Department of Justice’s senior trial counsel, Paul Freeborne, said the deadline for filing an appeal had passed and that the government did not intend to pursue one.

    Freeborne declined additional comment after the hearing.

    Ibrahim’s attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, said they are pleased the government “seems to have accepted the court’s order, after eight years of preventing an innocent woman and the public from learning the truth.”

  11. TSA Wasted $1 Billion of Useless ‘Behavior Detection Officers”

    Like the rest of us, airport security screeners like to think they can read body language. The Transportation Security Administration has spent some $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists.

    There’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies.

  12. Massachusetts Area transit police conduct militarized training exercises with TSA:

    Apparently the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police, infamous for having shot dead unarmed Oakland resident Oscar Grant on a subway platform in 2009, are today conducting armed, joint exercises on trains with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) VIPR teams. From the BART website:

    From 8:30am to 12:30pm on Friday, April 18, BART Police, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Bay Area law enforcement will be working with other local transit agencies to conduct joint security training exercises at the SFO, Embarcadero, West Oakland, and Coliseum BART stations.

    The purpose of the training is to prepare for possible future emergencies.

    The training should not affect service. Please do not be alarmed if you hear or observe activity related to this special training or if you see uniformed officers and police canine units accessing station areas, or emergency vehicles parked in station parking lots.

    Don’t be alarmed when masked men wearing all black board your train and point assault rifles at your face. Ok.

    How, you might ask, is this happening? How can the federal government work with local police to conduct training exercises like this, on public trains, during busy commuting hours?

    Among the problems that got us here is that the federal government asserts we have no Fourth Amendment rights at the border, and claims that the border extends a full 100 miles inside the country. That extremely broad definition of “the border” means two-thirds of Americans live in the Constitution Free Zone. To give you a sense of the magnitude of this assertion, consider that both the Bay Area and the entire state of Massachusetts fall within this 100-mile rights-swallowing vortex.

    In the past few years, TSA VIPR teams have quietly expanded their reach beyond airports to “sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals.” The teams conduct warrantless searches basically whenever agents feel like it. As the New York Times reported in August, 2013, civil libertarians are not pleased.

    “The problem with T.S.A. stopping and searching people in public places outside the airport is that there are no real legal standards, or probable cause,” said Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “It’s something that is easily abused because the reason that they are conducting the stops is shrouded in secrecy.”

    T.S.A. officials respond that the random searches are “special needs” or “administrative searches” that are exempt from probable cause because they further the government’s need to prevent terrorist attacks.

    Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the T.S.A. has grown to an agency of 56,000 people at 450 American airports. The VIPR teams were started in 2005, in part as a reaction to the Madrid train bombing in 2004 that killed 191 people.

    The program now has a $100 million annual budget and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008. T.S.A. records show that the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year, including those at the Indianapolis 500 and the Democratic and Republican national political conventions.

    Oakland isn’t known to take these kinds of rights assaults lightly. But even after the city council rejected the expansion of a massive domain awareness surveillance center, thanks to robust civic protest, it appears as if the federalization and militarization of local police in the city is continuing apace.

  13. TSA reaches settlement in breastmilk lawsuit:

    The United States Transportation Security Administration has reached a tentative settlement in the highly publicized lawsuit filed by a mother who was allegedly harassed by TSA officers when she requested her breast milk not be x-rayed, authorities announced Tuesday.

    The TSA again apologizes to Stacey Armato for the incident that took place at the Phoenix Airport on Jan. 25, 2010 and also agreed to clarify its internal procedures for screening breast milk in the tentative deal.

    “We brought this lawsuit for one reason — to bring clarity and policy change for breastfeeding mothers traveling with breast milk,” Armato said. “Hopefully what I experienced at the Phoenix Airport in 2010 will never happen to another mother traveling with her breast milk.”

    TSA is expected to update its public website to better guide breastfeeding mothers traveling with breast milk and train its screening officers on the new policies if the agreement is finalized.


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