TSA News: One-year anniversary

Exactly one year ago, on November 15, 2011, TSA News launched. The first post was by journalist and longtime consumer advocate Christopher Elliott. 

Since then, we’ve assembled a stable of writers from all over the country. We come from diverse personal, professional, and political backgrounds. We’re especially all over the place politically. But one thing we all share is respect for civil liberties. And we’re not about to sit around dumbly and watch as those civil liberties are ripped out from under us.

Since 9/11, this country has lost its collective mind. And the denial about that fact is profound. When 1/3 of Americans say they’d be willing to undergo a body cavity search to get on a plane, you know they’ve gone crazy. The overreaction to 9/11 has been brutal and unrelenting. Most of us, in fact, have no idea just how brutal and unrelenting. But people like Saadiq Long and Shoshana Hebshi do.

An American citizen who grew up in Oklahoma and a U.S. Air Force veteran, Saadiq Long has been placed on the no-fly list. He doesn’t know why; he doesn’t know how, when, or if he can get off; his years in the Air Force mean nothing; he can’t fly home. Why? We don’t know. We’re not allowed to know. And he’s hardly the only one.

Another American citizen from the heartland of the country, Shoshana Hebshi, was taken off an airplane in handcuffs, and strip-searched in an American prison. Why? Because she “looked” a certain way. She “looked” “Arab” or “Muslim” or take your pick of whatever bogeyman you choose. In other words, she has dark curly hair — like me, as it happens. Two other passengers on that plane, whose names we don’t know, were similarly abused that day.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t exist for Saadiq Long or Shoshana Hebshi or those other passengers anymore.

It doesn’t exist for any of us. You might object, and claim that the fact that I’m writing these words without being hauled off to jail means that it does exist. But that’s a very narrow, and narrow-minded, qualification.

The NDAA exists, the Patriot Act exists, the Espionage Act exists. We’re all subject to indefinite detention at the whim of the president. We’re all subject to warrantless wiretapping and snooping in our email and electronic files. These are facts. No amount of denial changes those facts.

As important as I think the work of this blog is, as important as I think our fight against TSA abuse is, I have no illusions about why we’re allowed to engage in this activism: it’s because we don’t pose a threat to the status quo. If we did, you can bet our overlords would find a way to shut us down. We in this country have free speech only insofar as we don’t threaten the powers that be.

We obviously don’t have freedom of movement anymore. And we don’t have the 4th Amendment. That’s what this entire blog is about. As Nuremberg prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in 1949:

“Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual, and putting terror in every heart.”

The TSA is but one symptom of a sick, festering National Security State. And whether you fly or not, whether you’re a dissident or not, whether you care about civil liberties or not, the fact remains that when the rights of one person are trampled, the rights of all people are trampled. And when that trampling isn’t even acknowledged, isn’t even recognized for what it is, then we are on a very dark path.

I wish I could say TSA News wouldn’t be here a year from now. But I know I can’t. We’ll be fighting this battle for a long time. For years.

The inconvenience I incur as a result of refusing to fly anymore is nothing compared to the abuse that Saddiq Long and people like him are enduring. And they are enduring it because of the insane overreaction of this country to 9/11.

When, people, when are we going to stop?


(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Catching Light)

  • From what I am reading here, you do not believe in ANY form of security screening at airports? I don’t think I would feel comfortable flying in an aircraft of unscreened passengers and cargo. What’s your take on aviation security: knock on wood, crossed fingers, good luck charms, heads in the sand? al aqaeda’s monthly online magazine INSPIRE still exhorts followers to attack aviation. How does anyone feel about the rights of American citizens forced into hiding when a radical Islamic cleric issues a Fatwa against a cartoonist like Molly Norris and others who write or publish a cartoon or anything they deemed offensive? We are dealing with an uncivilized enemy who even trains children to hate America and kill.

    • Susan Richart

      “From what I am reading here, you do not believe in ANY form of security screening at airports?”

      1. Who is “you?”

      2. Please cite the words or phrases that made you arrive at your conclusion.

      I think I speak for the majority when I say it’s not that we don’t want any security. Inaccessible cockpits, instructions to flight crews to NOT cooperate with any hijackers and the willingness of passengers to get involved with misbehaving individuals, in addition to pre-9/11 passenger checks, are all that is needed to secure air travel.

      I would go so far as to say that all the new rules and regulations at checkpoints have probably made air travel less safe as screeners are looking for some many minute “violations” they could easily miss something significant. The more jobs that are given screeners, the less well those jobs will be done.

      What we want is security that does not demean or humiliate passengers or violate their 4th Amendment rights. We want the scanners and the “enhanced pat downs” (which are, for many suffering through them, nothing short of sexual assaults) gone.

    • Lauren, did you click any of the links? I have never said nor implied that we should have no security. Neither has anyone else on this blog. That’s a straw man argument.

  • Archie1954

    I thank the Lord everyday that I no longer reside in the US and I never will again. Just to see what has happened to the home of the brave is heart wrenching. Unfortunately an international empire requires certain restrictions on the rights of the citizens back home. The ordinary American is now learning first hand what those restrictions are.

    • Archie1954, indeed. As Hannah Arendt put it, “Empire abroad entails tyranny at home.” But too many Americans still don’t make the connection.

  • robert z

    What has happened to my country? A country ruled by traitors. A country betrayed by the government which has one over riding responcibility to protect the rights of every individual. And somehow we re-elected a president who meets regularly to review his “kill list”. Killing anyone without due process is a crime.
    And when people passively allow their government to do such things, it is the people who are part of the problem. I am ashamed that the majority of the Amercan citizen to allow our once great and honorable country to lose evrything which once made us great.
    You have become a nation of uncaring bullies and the hatred you are generating worldwide is deserved. I regret that this will ultimately lead to the some very horrific payback down the road.

  • Deb

    Lisa – Within the treasure-trove of comments today on CE’s piece on LinkedIn — appear to be at least a few people who seem genuinely interested in doing something to stop the lunacy. Might be worth connecting with some of them:


  • Congratulations on a job well done. It is my sincerest wish that the need for the existence of this blog will someday go away and that the fine and dedicated people who have written on it will be able to go back to living their normal lives.

  • Nipper

    You have done more for this cause than you can imagine. Thank you.

    • I echo your sentiments. Lisa has assembled the best team of writers and critics that you can imagine to shed light on this important subject. We will be here as long as it takes.

  • 1amwendy

    For years. Yes, we will be at it for years to come, as we have been at it for years already.

    Saadiq’s sister has a petition going: I have signed it and I recommend that you do, too. The link is here: http://www.change.org/petitions/air-force-vet-should-not-be-on-the-no-fly-list-allow-saadiq-long-to-visit-his-sick-mom-for-the-holidays. To deny due process to any citizen is such a clear-cut abrogation of the Constitution that, in a sane world, defies description.

    I personally want to congratulate Lisa for her wonderful work on this blog.

    • Yes, the link to the petition is also in the post. Encouraging everyone to sign.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    Great post, Lisa, and I love the quotation from Robert H Jackson. I think I’ll use it in my next complaint to the TSA. I suppose it’s inappropriate to say “Happy Anniversary” in this context, but thank you for this forum, and thank you for standing up for our rights as American citizens.

  • Bob

    Here is a shred of good news. As reported, as some people have tried to deny, the BSX machines are indeed being put in the trash.


    Remember just a few weeks ago they told us, and some believed, that they were simply being moved to lower volume locations. Now they are saying it is because of privacy concerns. Lies on top of lies.

    I have been following the development and deployment of these machines since day 1.

    The BSX machines have never been able to use ATR. Ever. This was admitted by the manufacturer and is public knowledge. Simply put the BSX image is 2D. ATR requires a 3D image.

    The MMW machines have always been able to do ATR. It was offered on day 1. The Europeans had already tested it. ATR was not deployed so as not to make the BSX machines look inferior.

    Then came the lawsuits and public pressure.

    The TSA then turned around and spent millions “developing” ATR software for the MMW machines that already existed. They continue to lie. Those BSX machines will never see the light of day again.

    This is a small victory. Small because we all know this has nothing to do with the TSA concerns of our privacy. This is their legal out from using untested radiological machines on an unsuspecting public. These machines are dangerous period. The Army study confirmed that they emit higher levels of radiation then the manufacturer claims And it also showed that the radiation is concentrated on the soft tissue area’s of the body where it is more likely to do damage.

    This agency is completely incapable of telling anything even remotely close to the truth.

    However this does show that these guys are taking damage because of our efforts.

    Next look for the TSA to opt-out of the public comment period by claiming that they have met all of the petitioners grievances.

    • Good post. I think we need to point out that ATR machines do NOT protect privacy. Before I explain why, let me restate the obvious: “A government person that performs an inch-by-inch search of your body without a warrant or reasonable suspicion violates the 4th amendment.” Using a machine does not excuse the act.

      The courts invented “privacy” as a constitutional concern, although it is not in the constitution. Nevertheless, the ATR machines do NOT detect explosive residues, they just use software to find anomalies, which is a mathematical discrepancy to some random parameter of what the human body looks like, or more accurately I bet, it is detecting emitted radiation to identify shapes that might be non-body indicators.

      The manufacturer says the false positive rate is at least 3%, so if 40% of passengers get scanned, and 3% are false positives, that is around 10 million passengers a year. The false positive leads to PRIVACY INVASIONS which often include genital and breast criminal touching – except local law enforcement doesn’t have the GUTS to arrest TSA employees for unwanted touching of sex organs, a crime in all 50 states.

      And, when the scanners identify something real, it often leads to more PRIVACY INVASIONS such as exposure of medical conditions (mastectomy scars, prosthetics (breast or limb), medical devices (colostomy bags, insulin pumps, back braces), and oversized male organs as has been reported).

      In short, the scanners in principle violate the 4th amendment with or without nude images, they violate privacy with or without nude images, and they profile medically challenged people with or without nude images.

      There is no “reasonable” to it as the odds are almost non-existent that there is a working non-metallic bomb carried by a suicidal airline passenger on US flights (0 in 50 years….), and the fact that scanners are used on maybe 40% or so of passengers means they are not effective in deterrence…the 0 in 50 years x 40% shrinks the odds to ineffectiveness mathematically, ignoring the fact there are no valid terrorists in the US that we can measure, and ignoring the fact that the TSA has never found even 1 terrrorist.

      • Jeff and Bob, agreed to all, with one exception. The Europeans found that the MMW machines have a false-positive rate of 54%, obviously much higher than the manufacturer’s claim of 3%.

        Regardless, all body scanners of all kinds are an invasion of privacy and a violation of the 4th Amendment, whether some Americans recognize it or not.

      • Bob

        Correct. The scanners do not detect anything. They simply look for abrupt changes in body contours on the front or rear of the body.

        I laugh every time i hear a TSA spokesman repeat the line that “AIT detects both metallic and non metallic substances.” Wrong it detects neither and the use of such machines increases the chances that metal objects will make it on board the aircraft.

        And yes the FP rate for ATR is documented at over 50%. Which is why the TSA preferred the nude scanners in a test environment. However in the field the FP rate of the nude scanners is higher because it relies on human interpretation. Now add the element of having an operator being pressed to process quickly. Which is why the IG has reported that they have easily been able to sneak firearms past these scanners.

      • Rmulligan


        I would like to review the software and would bet you a dollar to a doughnut the software does have the capability to switch views to see the body of the person scanned by the ATR. I am not convinced this is not an option.

        • Seconding Rmulligan’s bet. There’s no way these things don’t have the capacity to record graphic nude images. In fact, I’m getting ready to do a post linking to evidence about this.