Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate


TSA – Assorted Assholery

Sometimes I’m a Trusted Traveler, Other Times I May Be a Terrorist

The TSA’s ability to predict which travelers are terrorists and which are not is apparently so good that not only can they identify which people are possibly terrorists, but they can also predict whether those people are in a “terrorist mood” before a particular flight, or are feeling rather non-mass murder-y that day. Much like rhythm-method birth control, being able to pick out “safe days” vs. “unsafe days” allows minimal inconvenience for all parties.

For example, on January 23rd, I was definitely not in touch with my inner jihadi, and so the TSA assigned me Pre-Check status…

Ticket with TSA Pre-Check Endorsement
Ticket with TSA Pre-Check Endorsement

This morning when I woke up, I didn’t even realize that I was feeling like causing some trouble. But luckily, the TSA did, and so they assigned me “selectee” status to dissuade me from bringing any bombs on board…

Ticket with “Selectee” Indicator

If you’re not familiar, the infamous “SSSS” stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, and is applied to travelers that are on the “Selectee List” (kinda like the “No Fly” list, except they let you fly after petting your genitals before every flight), travelers who trigger an algorithm by doing such things as buying a one-way flight in cash on the day of departure (because Al Qaida can’t afford a round-trip ticket), or at random. It’s unclear why SSSS was assigned to me today or what effect this has for a boarding pass issued at an international airport, as Stockholm didn’t seem keen to treat me any differently, but I for one can’t wait to see what harassment I get when I land in New York.

Obviously I’m being facetious in suggesting that the TSA has the technology to determine which days a dangerous individual might decide to do something bad (and, for the dense within DHS, any suggestion that on some days I might be a terrorist or consider carrying bombs on a plane is also sarcasm). If on some days we’re saying people are trusted enough that they don’t have to take off their shoes, don’t have to take electronics out for separate x-raying, don’t have to go through a body scanner, and are screened using a metal detector calibrated to be less sensitive than usual, but on other days require the most vigorous of security screening, is the system not completely broken?

As far as keeping us secure, it is certainly broken. But is the Pre-Check system really designed to keep us secure, or is it simply to funnel rich people — that is, people with the most influence over the political process — through easier security such that they may continue treating the 99% like cattle without political repercussions?

Syracuse Airport Installs “Exit Portals” To Lock Travelers Inside Terminal

Exit Portal / "Detention Pod" The latest invention for controlling a population in transit: meet the TSA-approved “exit portal,” or, as some call it, the “detention pod.” These little devices are installed at the exits to the secure area of the terminal and use an airlock-like system where you enter the first door, the first door closes, and then the second door opens. Syracuse Airport is the first to give them a try

The airport claims that this is so the exits can’t be used as an entrance, thus saving them the $11/hour that they used to pay to have a security guard make sure no one goes the wrong way. It’s unclear how much the portals cost and how many thousands of hours of a security guard’s salary it cost to buy them. It’s also unclear why they would use these machines instead of a pretty ordinary one-way turnstile or, as some airports already use, entirely unobtrusive sensors that detect when someone is walking in the wrong direction and sound an alarm.

What *is* clear is that these devices represent another opportunity for the TSA to violate the public. Perhaps the TSA sees you walking through the terminal and determines that you’re suspicious or. you know, your credit score wasn’t good enough. They can then lock you inside these machines for “additional screening.” What happens if there is a fire, or another terminal shooting, and people need to exit immediately? Surely there’s an “emergency mode” where the portals simply open, but does it work if the portal controller is on fire?

The TSA comes up with an impressive quantity of bad ideas. Be sure to let Syracuse Airport know that you don’t appreciate their support of this one.

TSA Searching Bags in Penn Station

I have a friend who lives near Penn Station in midtown Manhattan who tells me that she sees the TSA there all the time, but never remembers to take a picture for me. Today, I had the “luck” of seeing it myself…

Smurfs in Penn Station

So, the next time someone says, “I don’t mind surrendering my rights in an airport; anything to keep us safer,” please remind them that the TSA has been plotting for years to invade every mode of transportation. They practice at Penn all the time because the NYPD is happy to join in their totalitarian distopia manufacture. They hit Amtrak stations, Greyhound terminals, music festivals, and political events. For now it’s a bag search. How long until the scanners and pat-downs are a “normal” part of walking down the street?

The time to demand change is now.

TSA Smashes Priceless Antique Cello Bow

Apparently they couldn’t get the thing to fit back in the box right when they opened to inspect, so they just tried to squeeze the lid shut. As a musician, this makes me wince. Original Story.

DHS “Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” Admits It Is A Farce

I mean, they didn’t say that explicitly, but you be the judge: the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was asked to review the policy of DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol regarding conducting suspicionless searches of electronic media (generally, your laptop) at border crossings. This policy means that any time you enter the country, the government feels it has the right to look through all the documents on your hard drive, even if there’s no reason at all to suspect that you might be engaged in criminal activity.

The review concluded that “imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefit.”

Do you see a problem here with an office, whose job it is to ensure that an agency respects the civil rights of the people, that does not understand how requiring the government to have a reason before it paws through the photos of your kids and wife (yeah, those photos!), reads through all of your e-mail, and makes sure the music you’re listening to and books you’re reading are not “suspicious,” would have a civil liberties benefit? DHS does this, ostensibly, to prevent the trafficking of child pornography and corporate espionage. I’m no expert on either subject, but it would seem to me that if one were to engage in either crime, wouldn’t they simply upload their contraband to a secure location on the Internet, where they can easily download it at their destination, rather than travel the globe with it sitting on their hard drive?

It seems clear to me that the alleged desired benefit of these searches is unobtainable since they are easier to circumvent than the TSA’s body scanners. It seems clear to me that this is a new technique to spy on the citizens, collect data (“Oh, Mr. Corbett here has files on his hard drive relating to aviation security… let’s put him in a database!”), and chip away at the Fourth Amendment. It seems clear to me that this furthers the government’s, and particularly the Obama administration’s, desire to fellate the copyright industry — from its absurd extrajudicial prosecution of Megaupload, to its attempts to pass SOPA and related laws, to these hard drive searches at borders that have already seen travelers questioned about whether they illegally downloaded songs and movies.

While this battle is fought on the legal front, you can protect your data now: free software such as TrueCrypt can scramble the data on your computer such that, if done right, it cannot be unscrambled without the correct password, even by the government (and, even if the government can decrypt your hard drive, they won’t: to admit that they know how to break the world’s strongest encryption algorithm would be giving away a secret that is worth much more than prosecuting you). As U.S. Courts of Appeals have refused to compel people to provide passwords, for the time being, encryption allows you to force the government to respect your rights.

Woman Convicted of Crime for Yelling at TSA Screener Who Wanted to Touch Her Daughter’s Genitals

Regretfully, Andrea Abbott was found guilty of disorderly conduct stemming from yelling at a TSA screener who demanded to pat-down her teenage daughter. Her sentence was only a year of unsupervised probation, but what country do we live in where a jury agrees that a woman upset about government perverts demanding to grope her daughter has committed a crime?

Please express your outrage to the District Attorney’s office that prosecuted the case:

Manchester Replies, Says Scanners Are Effective. May I Test That?

The spokesman who was the subject of yesterday’s post replied to me today, telling me:

“I’m a spokesperson for this airport so when I said everybody in my quote, I meant our staff and our passengers from whom we’ve had overwhelmingly positive, genuine feedback.”

“On the health point, medical and x-ray equipment experts from across the World who’ve actually examined back scatter technology in detail have concluded unanimously that it poses negligible health risks.”

“Unsurprisingly, I also don’t agree that the scanners are ineffective. Security officers are not looking for metal tins but your film is an interesting watch and has certainly fuelled imaginations. We have actually operated body scanners for three years and we know they work.”

Well, on the first one, only you know whether or not you’re being truthful, but judging by the fact that even the TSA admits to receiving hundreds of complaints, it seems that Manchester must have very selective hearing.

On the second one, I’m no doctor, but I do know that there has been no fully-independent testing of the nude body scanners. Most of the times, the government has provided “researchers” with the data and asked them to come to conclusions, rather than giving them scanners and letting them run tests. I use “researchers” lightly because such a “scientist” is but a government lackey. I also know that the x-ray machines have been shown to operate out-of-specification (calculation error… or was it??) and to leak radiation to those near it (known as overshoot, which will affect the screeners more than anyone else). I also know that the most deadly computer programming error ever involved an x-ray machine that was “totally safe” until it accidentally overdosed its subjects, most of whom died a horribly painful death. Finally, I also know that the screeners are not qualified, even by the TSA’s own policies, to run radiation machines.

But that last one — the efficacy claim — I happen to know a lot about.🙂 In March 2012, I took an undetected metal container through both backscatter and MMW ATD nude body scanners. The whole point of these things was supposed to be to detect non-metallic explosives, which my metal container could have been full of. To say that they are effective when they have been proven otherwise seems to be a matter of believing what you want to believe.

But Manchester, or any other airport with nude body scanners, if you would like an efficacy test, I would be happy to provide one. Get in touch with me and get me the proper approvals and paperwork, and we can have a challenge to see what can and cannot be brought past your security. My only condition is that we publish the results.

Somehow I don’t expect any takers on that one. I wonder why?

EU Bans X-Ray Nude Body Scanners, and An Open Letter to Manchester Airport

Dear Manchester Blokes:

Today, an article in The Daily Mail noted that the European Union has decided to ban nude body scanners that use x-rays from airports across the continent. The article had the following quote from Russell Craig regarding nude body scanners in use at your airport:

“Today, we’re just kind of standing around scratching our heads wondering why a trial that was popular with everybody, that everybody approved of, just never got the green light from Europe.”

I’m not quite sure exactly how far up his ass Craig’s head is, but nude body scanning has been the subject of international scorn. It is extraordinarily invasive and demeaning, and I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from people who have been left in tears after the process. It is a huge health risk, not just for the passengers, but for the operators who are exposed to ambient radiation from thousands of daily scans. And it is entirely ineffective, as I clearly demonstrated in my viral video, “How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.”

“Everybody” does not approve of your trial, but many are quite happy that the machines will end up in the rubbish heap.


Jonathan Corbett
TSA Out of Our Pants

TSA Caught Covering Up Pat-Down Complaints, Lying in FOIA Response

A group called was nice enough to file an FOIA request with the TSA requesting snail-mail complaints received by them regarding their then-new pat-down procedure (which they admit requires screeners to touch your genitals, buttocks, breasts, and everywhere else). Over a year and a half later, the TSA replied with 201 complaints submitted by members of the public in Q4 of 2010.

Considering the ACLU states that it received over 900 complaints in just a single month of Q4, it seems highly unlikely that only 200 people wrote to the TSA to complain. Luckily, I don’t have to simply have suspicions: I know that the TSA either destroyed or simply failed to release complaints, because I personally wrote to the TSA on November 6th, 2010, just 10 days before I decided to file suit, and my complaint is not included in the 201 released!

Lying in an FOIA response may constitute a federal crime. Sure, it’s possible that mine just got “lost,” but based on the ACLU number, it seems more than a few disappeared. Let’s expose this: if you sent a complaint about the pat-downs to the TSA, DHS, or Office of the President at the end of 2010, please have a look at the complaints released and let me know (either way) in the comments here whether your complaint was included.

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