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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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Jonathan Corbett

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/

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/

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Turkish President Orders Body Guards to Beat Up American Protesters In DC: This Is Why We Don’t Allow Thugs Into the White House

fuck_erdoganWith all of the scandals going on in D.C. surrounding the President, it can be hard to focus on a few people being assaulted.  But the 9 people injured, one seriously, near the White House in a brawl started by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan deserves attention for two reasons.

First, Erdoğan is a thug and should not have been invited to the White House.  He is well-known for arresting and beating up protesters in his own country.  He is well-known for misogyny, stating that women are not equal to men and their role in society is “motherhood.”  And he is well-known for media censorship, not just in his own country, but going so far as to sue in a German court against a man who published a satirical poem disfavorable to him (poem below!).  You would think given that, when he was in the political minority, he was imprisoned for reciting a poem of his own, he would have aspired not to do the same, but I digress.  This is not who we should be hosting, as he does not share the value common to those who enjoy living in a free society.

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.

We can’t prosecute these men because they have diplomatic immunity, but we can certainly expel the Turkish Ambassador, as Sen. John McCain has suggested (note that I don’t join in Sen. McCain’s depiction of Turkey as a “third world” country).  That would be a good start.  The State Department is investigating.

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,

Kicking Kurds,
Beating Christians,
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.

Fully Briefed: Can TSA Refuse Body Scanner Opt-Outs?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

tsa_is_absurd

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).

Corbett v. TSA IV – Reply Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Appellee Brief (Redacted) (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Opening Brief (article)

U.S. Customs Initiates New Officers Using “Rape Table”

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.

I.  Can’t.  Even.

What Donald Trump Has Done to U.S. Department of Justice is Shameful

comeyThe U.S. Department of Justice is opposing counsel in about half of the cases I litigate; needless to say, I am no apologist for them.  At the same time as being frustrated by their, for example, analogizing my legal arguments to those of a terrorist, doing their best to keep evidence out of the courts, and even obtaining a special gag order just for me, I respect that they serve an important role in seeing that justice is served in our country.  Unlike the TSA, which should be disbanded rather than corrected, the DoJ should be an institution in which we continually place intelligent, loyal, and non-partisan civil servants.

Instead, Donald Trump has done the following:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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