Secret TSA “International Security Interviews” — Thoughts on a Lawsuit?

It’s not often that I learn something completely new about TSA policies, but I was definitely caught off-guard last month when I was told at London Heathrow that I was required to answer some questions in order to board my flight to New York by airline security contractors. Half asleep from a day and a half of flying prior, I encountered the first in the AAdminal’s Club, who I, at first, paid no attention to, but when questions changed from, “Where are you flying?” to “Was your trip for personal or business purposes,” and “Where were you since you left America,” I asked if the questions were necessary, and was told yes. I refused, was referred to an AAdmiral’s club employee, and was allowed on my way.

ictsstickerThe purpose of having this security guy in a lounge turned out to be “convenience.” As I got to my gate, I learned that some passengers had “stickers” on the back of their passports, meaning they had completed one of these so-called “security interviews,” and if I had complied in the lounge, I would have had a sticker. So, being stickerless, another security contractor starts interviewing me, this time asking only 2 questions: where I was flying, and how long I’d be staying there. I gave him a funny look, and he said, “Oh, you live there,” put a sticker on my passport, and let me through.

I immediately complained to AA via e-mail (before I was even in the air), and the next day I had a response that the security interviews in London were TSA-mandated. I asked them to clarify what the procedures were and what happens if a passenger refuses, and was told the procedures were Sensitive Security Information (SSI) and I should contact the TSA. So, I did.

Today, a few weeks later, the reply from the TSA is that security interviews are required as a part of the airline’s TSA-approved security program, that they are indeed SSI, and that failure to comply would result in being denied boarding.

I’m leaning towards filing suit against this policy. Here’s why:

  1. First, it should be clarified that this is *NOT* a border search, a search by Customs & Border Patrol (or their internationl equivalent), or an airline/airport security procedure (the TSA’s phrasing it as the airline’s security program neglects the fact that they forced them to adopt such a program). This is the TSA forcing you to answer questions before you can return. It turns out that not even CBP can force you to answer your questions, if you’re a U.S. citizen.
  2. As an American, I have several rights that cannot be exercised together as a result of this policy. The right to remain silent, the right to travel, and the right to be re-admitted to my homeland are all clearly defined. The TSA is now basically saying, “pick two.” (But, I choose all three, thanks.)
  3. This program is entirely secret. Google for “international security interviews TSA” and see what you get. It’s all about domestic stuff relating to Pre-Check and trusted traveler programs. The contents of this program, as admitted by the TSA and airline, are SSI, have never been disclosed to the public, and even surprised a frequent international traveler and TSA troublemaker like myself. (I’ve had the “sticker” before, but I had never thought anything of it because they had never asked anything more than was printed on my boarding pass.)
  4. My flight was returning home to my family on Christmas day. If the second interviewer had asked the same questions as the first, I would have again refused and been denied the ability to see my family on a holiday because of a secret interview of which I had no notice of a requirement to comply. I don’t want that to happen to me or anyone else in the future. I shouldn’t have to guess whether “none-of-your-business” type questions will be forced on me as a condition of traveling internationally.
  5. Finally, this has to be one of the most useless security measures ever. Like the TSA’s somewhat-abandoned SPOT program, all one need do to defeat it is calmly lie — or print out a sticker in advance.

So, what do you guys think? Is a lawsuit in order here? I’d also love to hear any interesting stories if you’ve been through one of these interviews.

46 thoughts on “Secret TSA “International Security Interviews” — Thoughts on a Lawsuit?

Add yours

  1. The full blog linked to by the link to “not even CBP can force you to answer your questions.” Do you know where one can find the rest of the story?

    Also, we have the right to travel? Elaborate? (I’d heard it was a privilege.)

    To answer your question, I hate for you to spend even more time and money on yet another lawsuit likely to be useless and dismissed but I love your willingness to tilt at windmills. It’s fascinating and educational and the only reasons I can think why you shouldn’t are, as mentioned, time and money. Best of luck whatever you decide. 🙂

  2. Wow, they are literally just making this shit up as they go along. It’s like the TSA is absolutely certain that if it just ignores our rights long enough we’ll forget we ever had them. Fuck the TSA. I wish selfishly that you will sue them, and I’ll provide moderate financial support as I have in the past.

  3. Hi John,

    Well in my opinion maybe your money and time should be focused mostly on the pat downs and scanners. I think the pat downs are scanners were the first breach of rights, and all other evil procedures that follow are a result of the first breaches.

    At this present time, the majority of people put up with the illegal bullying, so the tsa get the message that the majority of people atleast tolerate their actions. I think their needs to be some sort of combination of your present lawsuits with some sort of backing by the public.

    Perhaps some money that would be used for this potential lawsuit could be used in advertising or something similiar to get your current cases more public?

  4. Seems like I was hit by one of those interviews when flying through Heathrow in January of last year (yeah, apparently this was been going on for at least a year before you caught wind of it). I have one of those stickers on my passport as well. I didn’t even know what it was — the interview was pretty non-invasive, and none of the questions seemed out of line. I’m actually glad to figure out what the sticker means, since I was wondering.

    I’ve flown internationally through other airports since and haven’t had a repeat experience. Maybe it’s just Heathrow?

  5. TSA Wants To Read Your Facebook Posts & Check Out Your Purchases Before It Will Approve You For PreCheck:

    The TSA is seeking vendors for TSA Pre√® Application Expansion initiative to develop, deliver, and deploy private sector application capabilities expanding the public’s enrollment opportunities for TSA Pre✓® through an Other Transactional Agreement (OTA) awarded by TSA. The Government plans to award an OTA to multiple vendors. The Government will evaluate the proposed ready-to-market solutions’ application capabilities against this TSA Pre√® Expansion Initiative Solicitation and Statement of Work.

    This will involve a new pre-screening process to weed out terrorists by looking through a variety of “commercial data” sources. The proposal [pdf link] is very vague on the details of what “commercial data” will be used by these third parties.

    Contractors may use commercial data to conduct an eligibility evaluation (also known as pre-screening) of potential applicants. The eligibility evaluation shall include, at a minimum, validating identity and performing a criminal history records check to ensure that applicants do not have disqualifying convictions in conjunction with the TSA Pre✓® disqualifying offenses…

    The proposal goes on to say something that sounds like the TSA safeguarding PreCheck applicants’ privacy by standing between them and any crazy ideas third party contractors might have about “commercial data.”

    As a second component to the eligibility evaluation, TSA may also consider approving an option to use additional private sector processes to conduct a provisional risk assessment (based on an algorithm developed by the Contractor) for the purposes of assisting in identifying those individuals believed to pose a low risk to transportation security. TSA must approve any commercial data inputs proposed for use by contractors to include those which validate identity and determine provisional low-risk status.

    For purposes of this private sector enrollment initiative for the TSA Pre√® Application Program, “commercial data” includes: public record data, such as criminal history and real estate records produced by federal, state, and local governments; other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites; and wide ranging data such as purchase information, customer lists from registration websites, and self-reported information provided by consumers that is obtained by commercial data sources such as data brokers.

  6. New Citizen Watchdog Group Takes on the TSA:

    Too many of our family, friends, and fellow travelers have been violated by agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While some may argue the need for federal security at airports, one thing is clear — it is not the American way to sacrifice fundamental liberty for temporary security. Whenever there are those who use security as an excuse to violate our property, our privacy, or our dignity, there need to be champions brave enough to stand up and draw a line.

    There has been an uptick in citizens using technology as a boomerang against the same tools of oppressive surveillance that the various agencies of the U.S. government have exploited. Please see the video below and learn more about how you can support this national campaign for liberty that will combine the use of phone apps, web-based tools and a legal framework to restore the right to privacy and dignity while traveling.

    1. I see a great opportunity for a highly-skilled makeup artist. Good heavens, doesn’t the TSA realize that anyone who wants to do evil is going to be unrecognizable and undiscoverable?

  7. Judge expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of the government’s no-fly list:

    A federal judge expressed skepticism Friday about the constitutionality of the government’s no-fly list, suggesting that those who find themselves on it ought to be allowed a meaningful opportunity to clear their names.

    The lawsuit challenging the no-fly list, filed by Alexandria resident Gulet Mohamed, has been winding its way through federal court for four years, and U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga has consistently rejected government efforts to get the suit tossed out.

    Friday’s hearing, though, presented an additional twist: It was held one day after the FBI put Mohamed’s older brother on its list of most wanted terrorists. The FBI says Liban Mohamed, 29, was living in northern Virginia until 2012 and has since left for east Africa. They say he recruited for the al-Shabab terror group in Somalia and have charged him with providing material support to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab.

    Gulet Mohamed was 19 when he filed his challenge to the no-fly list in 2011. He said he was denied the right to return from Kuwait, and was beaten at the behest of U.S. authorities who questioned his travels to Somalia and Yemen. Gulet Mohamed, who was allowed to return to the U.S. after he filed his lawsuit, said he traveled to those countries to visit extended family and learn Arabic.

    Gadeir Abbas, Gulet Mohamed’s lawyer in the no-fly case, said the timing of the FBI’s announcement — as well as unsealing Liban Mohamed’s arrest warrant in federal court, which was issued 11 months ago — was meant to pressure a judge who has been sympathetic to his client’s argument.

    Joshua Stueve, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, declined comment on the allegation.

    The judge did not address Liban Mohamed’s situation, but he aggressively questioned the government. He suggested that the executive branch should perhaps be required to submit its case for placing a person on the list to a magistrate for review.

  8. Man sues TSA, Philadelphia after being detained 23 hours:

    Roger Vanderklok only wanted to file a complaint. Instead, he was taken to jail.

    After being questioned by Transportation Security Administration workers at Philadelphia International Airport about some PowerBars and a watch in his bag, Vanderklok was accosted by TSA supervisor Charles Kieser.

    When Vanderklok asked to file a complaint, Kieser instead called the Philadelphia police, who promptly arrested Vanderklok and took him to jail.

    Vanderklok is now suing the Philadelphia police along with the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

    “The police at the airport never even questioned Mr. Vanderklok. They just detained him,” said Vanderklok’s attorney, Thomas Malone. “The detectives at the 18th [District] also never spoke with him. He was charged based on a single allegation by one TSA employee.”

    At Vanderklok’s trial on April 8, 2013, TSA supervisor Kieser told the court, “I saw a passenger becoming agitated. Hands were in the air. And it’s something we deal with regularly. But I don’t let it go on on my checkpoint.” Kieser added that Vanderklok, “had both hands with fingers extended up toward the ceiling up in the air at the time and shaking them,” and “put his finger in my face. And he said, ‘Let me tell you something. I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want.’ And he said you’ll never find it.”

    1. Was going to post a link about this but Joe already got to it. Here is the story from yahoo

      John many people are opposed to the TSA well at least the ones who are commenting on yahoo comments. I mentioned in a few comments that people should support your lawsuits.

      Anyone who wants can copy and paste this in the comments under the article can:

      “Please suport John Corbett who has lawsuits against the TSA corruption. His webiste is TSAOutOfOurPants. Any donation amount would be appreciated”

  9. Man sues TSA, Philadelphia after being detained 23 hours:

    Fortunately for Vanderklok, Kieser went overboard with his lying, as the airport surveillance videos showed Vanderklok looked calm with his laptop under his arms and his hands clasped in front of him throughout the incident.

  10. Katko’s other bill, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act (H.R. 719), would require TSA Criminal Investigators to spend at least 50 percent of their time “investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected of committing a crime.” The bill has four co-sponsors, including Rice.

    Under existing rules, investigators do not have to meet the 50 percent requirement, even though they receive higher compensation than other TSA employees because they are considered law enforcement officers.
    H.R. 719 –

  11. Border PatroL Needs Drivers Consent To X-Ray Vehicles:

    As Border Patrol agent Matthew Crews asked the brothers if they were U.S. citizens, Erik’s behavior made him suspicious, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Charles Schuetz states in the report.

    “Erik Hernandez was speaking very fast with an excited tone as he answered BPA Crews’ questions,” the document states.

    Sixteen kilos of methamphetamine the Border Patrol found in an SUV was struck from the record by a federal judge because the agents didn’t get the driver’s consent to X-ray the vehicle.

    After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Customs and Border Protection bought 75 Z Backscatter Vans to X-ray vehicles at border checkpoints, according to the nonprofit investigative reporting group ProPublica.

    The vans are made by American Science & Engineering, which sells them for $700,000 to $1 million.

  12. Court allows U.S. law enforcement to evade Fourth Amendment by piggybacking on foreign searches:

    Like a fullback opening a hole in the line for a following tailback, foreign law enforcement can blast a hole in Fourth Amendment protections by conducting a search of electronic evidence before U.S. law enforcement does. So ruled the Eleventh Circuit in U.S. v. Odoni.

    The court held that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in computer files that were previously searched by foreign law enforcement agents, meaning U.S. law enforcement could subsequently search those files without a warrant. It relied on the “private search” doctrine established by the Supreme Court inUnited States v. Jacobsen, in which the Court held that individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in objects that have already been searched by a private party. The Eleventh Circuit found that this principle “applies with equal force” to items searched by foreign government officials.

  13. Hello Jonathan,

    I’m the founding director of the new organization called TSA Watch. I’d like to talk with you directly.

    TSA Watch ( is a new effort to build nationwide resistance to the Transportation Security Administration’s systematic violation of traveler’s inalienable rights, dignity and property.

    We will use modern tools and new tactics to document inappropriate TSA agent behavior, and far more. We believe we can help force recognition and respect of our Fourth Amendment related rights and dignity again.

    You can check out our introductory video here:

    And here is our shortest video:

    Our current fundraising effort is centered at Our Facebook page is (we would appreciate more “Likes”)

    Our website,, is just getting off the ground.

    We have a lot of work to do, and we need to let the world know, in order to pull together the team we need to do it.

    You could email me at to share contact information privately.



  14. Google worried US could use amended warrant rule to search computers abroad:

    Google has opposed moves by the U.S. Department of Justice to extend the warrant-issuing authority of magistrate judges to searches of computers in districts other than their own.

    Innocuous as that may sound, Google is concerned that the proposed amendment would likely end up being used by U.S. law enforcement to directly search computers and devices anywhere in the world.

    There is nothing in the proposed change to the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 that would prevent access to computers and devices worldwide, wrote Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security, in a blog post Wednesday.

    The rule gives authority to a judge in a district to issue a warrant to search for and seize a person or property located within the district, with certain exceptions.

    The amendment would give a district’s magistrate judge the authority to issue a warrant “to use remote access to search electronic storage media and to seize or copy electronically stored information located within or outside that district,” if the location of the media is concealed using technology or the media are protected computers that have been damaged without authorization and are located within five or more districts.

  15. As you were being questioned, did the “agent” record your answers in some manner? If not, then might I suggest that in future all be prepared for this type of questioning with some creative responses.

    Were all passengers on the flight questioned or just certain passengers?

  16. Totally agreed! I travel frequently internationally and this happened to me for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought the woman was a gate agent asking nosey questions. I ignored her and she called for backup! I was like WTF is happening?!? I’m TSA pre-check, Global Entry and fly at least once a week. They don’t even have to introduce themselves?!? It’s not like you are going through security or customs and understand what is going on. This is like harassment! Like you, I was exhausted, not feeling well and rushing home to a family member in the hospital. I would have been irate if not allowed to board the flight.

  17. I’ve encounter this 100 times flying out of Japan, I’d like to know, if anyone is aware of why this seems to apply to only U.S. passport holders..? Every single time I’ve had this experience in a Japanese airport, I’m the only american surrounded by 50 other Japanese passengers and I watch as the Delta or United employee doing the screening, walks from another american, skips the next 50 Japanese passengers, then focuses directly on me, and starts asking the questions… WHY is this ONLY Americans…? I’m going to tell them to fuck off next time…

  18. Seriously, is this really a lawyer who wrote this? “As an American, I have several rights that cannot be exercised together as a result of this policy. The right to remain silent, the right to travel, and the right to be re-admitted to my homeland are all clearly defined”. Dude, you’re using the services of a company (i.e. the airline) regulated by the TSA which has a compelling government interest to ensure that the person boarding the plane will not try to blow it up in mid-air. Hence, the TSA is allowed discretion to demand answers to certain questions. Technically, you do have the right to remain silent when they ask you these questions. However, they will just deny you boarding and you’ll end up looking like a total weirdo and stuck in a foreign country and probably flagged in their system that will make your life even more difficult the next time you try to board an airplane.

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