Memo to TSA: videotaping your “officers” is not a crime

If you’re the government and you’re going to put on a show of keeping America secure, shouldn’t you hire people who don’t seem like serious candidates for the next Three Stooges?

“Soooop! Soooop!” (That’s the voice of one of the TSA goons you’ll see on the video — calling for his [clueless] supervisor…although I bet he’d be a shoo-in for “best hog caller” at the local 4-H.)

In the video, Miami multimedia journalist Carlos Miller meets up with this TSA worker and his boss, who apparently have never heard of the First Amendment — as has been the case in a number of videos of the TSA by others. Nor do they know the TSA’s own rules on videotaping (it’s permitted, providing the airport itself doesn’t have rules against it).

So, yes, here we have people in the employ of the TSA (very likely making a nice chunk of change), one of whom is apparently a supervisor, who apparently have never taken the time to familiarize themselves with the TSA’s own rules. (Maybe they think they should get hazard pay for…ugghhh…it’s so HAARRRD…reading a whole bunch sentences…paragraphs, even!)

Miller blogs at pixiq:

The first Transportation Security Administration screener I encountered at Ronald Reagan National Airport on my return flight to Miami from Washington D.C. Wednesday told me he would not let me board if I did not stop video recording.

I told him that TSA policy allows me to record the checkpoints, but he wasn’t buying it.

He called a supervisor, who told me the same thing; that video recording the checkpoints is forbidden.

When I insisted he was wrong, that it clearly states on the TSA website that it is legal to record, he called police.

Fortunately, the pair of DC Metro cops who arrived acknowledged that I wasn’t committing a crime, but they did not go as far as telling TSA that I had the right to record the checkpoints.

They basically told TSA to deal with the situation themselves.

So even though I was eventually allowed to enter the checkpoint, the TSA supervisor, who said his name is Ricky Flowers, continued to insist that I was not allowed to record.

Perhaps Flowers would have been convinced had I handed him a copy of the policy as I did in Miami in January, but shouldn’t a supervisor already know the policy?

At this point, my family was really stressing out at the thought of me going to jail, so they kept urging I turn the camera off.

And I had already proven what I had set out to prove; that TSA officials are clueless about their own policy.

And he’s right about this:

Why do I do this?

It may seem petty and instigating to many people, but it is crucial that we ensure TSA officials abide by their own policies – especially at a time when their authority is expanding beyond airports.

Too many people are cowed by “authority,” just because it’s dressed like authority (in phony “officer” suits), and because it talks like authority, while having no authority to violate our constitutional rights. Because thousands of people are sexually violated daily — and otherwise have their right to not be searched without probable cause violated daily — doesn’t mean the government has the right to do this. It just hasn’t been challenged in court.

It is essential that we — all of us — challenge the rights grab any way we can, even in small ways like this. They need to see that we all aren’t just standing around blinking like livestock. That maybe there are people who will lead the call for other people to stand up, too.

(I’m working on it — an edited version of my civil liberties op-ed, the one no mainstream American venue would publish but Pravda finally did, will go out again next week to papers across America through my syndicate.)

Oh, and one final question — look at the two TSA dudes in this video. Let’s say somebody is plotting to bring down a plane. Do you really want to trust these two to stop him? (Let alone stop any reasonably precocious 8-year-old with a concealed squirt gun?)

The TSA’s little child pornography and predator problem

You don’t have to be a parent to feel utterly nauseated upon reading stories like this one, the details of which were just posted at The Smoking Gun (charges–two counts of felony child porn — were filed last month in a Maryland circuit court):

As cops raided his Maryland home, a Transportation Security Administration screener confessed to downloading child pornography, acknowledged that it was “not right in a legal and moral sense,” and stated that he has a “problem.”

The admissions by Scott Wilson, 41, came as Baltimore investigators recently searched his home after an undercover agent downloaded child porn from his computer via a file sharing program.

And you don’t have to be a Nervous Nellie to make the logical leap to asking the obvious questions:

Is this a serious systemic problem, and are these government employees–who are tasked with screening American travelers by looking at their nude images, physically groping their sex organs, or both — themselves being screened?

Or could this simply be a case where, as in any large organization, one or two bad apples will turn up, and sometimes they’ll display an ultra-high degree of rot?

Allow me to settle that for you right now (and I apologize that the truth of the matter is so disturbing): There are far more than a few “bad apples” floating around the TSA barrel.

Even as we, the traveling public, are expected to allow strangers to aggressively touch us–and, until recently, our babies and children — on any and every body part (and many parents report being barked at to “stand back,” or move to a different location, while this happens), we are clearly not being afforded the kind of protection from child molesters, rapists, and other sexual predators that one would expect. Certainly one wouldn’t expect an organization whose job it is to “keep us safe” to be hiring child porn enthusiasts, child molesters, and child rapists.

In Boston:

Andrew W. Cheever, 33, appeared before on a complaint charging him with possession of child pornography. Last December, State Police executed a state search warrant of Cheever’s former residence in Lowell. The initial search identified approximately 2,000 images of child pornography and several uniform items bearing the TSA logo.

In Spring Creek, Idaho:

The Elko County Sheriff’s Office was notified in July of possible sexual contact between David Ralph Anderson, 61, and a girl younger than 14.

According to Elko Justice Court records, the victim told investigators that on seven to 10 occasions between 2010 and this year, Anderson allegedly taught the victim about various sexual acts and had sexual contact in the form of touching each other’s genitals. […] Anderson, who is a TSA employee according to Elko County Jail records, is being held on $250,000 bail.

In Orlando:

Suspects include then-Transportation Security Administration agent Paul David Rains, 62, of Orlando, who no longer works for the agency.

He and the other suspects face charges ranging from child pornography and sex battery to lewd and lascivious assault and sexual performance by a child.

In Philadelphia:

A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

In Nashville:

A TSA agent has been arrested in Rutherford County on charges of statutory rape.

Clifton Lyles was arrested by U.S. Marshals Tuesday night, following a grand jury indictment.

In Londonderry, New Hampshire:

A TSA employee who worked at Manchester Boston Regional Airport has been arrested on five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, according to police.

Police arrested Dwayne Valerio, 44, at his 192 Rockingham Road home on Friday, March 18, according to Lt. Robert Michaud. Police released few details on what led to his arrest, citing the alleged victim’s age.

“The victim is a juvenile,” he said.

Again in Orlando:

A TSA agent has been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor after police say he tried to keep a girl as a sex slave. Police arrested 57-year-old Charles Bennett of Winter Garden on Friday. A 15-year-old girl was the one who reported him to police.

According to reports from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orange County Jail, the 15-year-old victim confided in her caregivers that Bennett had touched her inappropriately three years ago when she was 12. She says he also asked the young girl to be his “sex slave,” an accusation investigators say Bennett admitted to in a written statement to police.

And again in Boston:

A Transportation Security Administration worker at Logan International Airport is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

Sean Shanahan, 45, of Winthrop is being held on $50,000 cash bail following his arraignment in East Boston District Court. He is charged with statutory rape, enticement of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.

—–

And these are just the 2011 incidents!

It must be further noted: the vast majority of sex crimes — like enticement, molestation, and rape — are not reported (for example, only about one in six incidents of rape are reported). This is due to a complicated array of cultural and legal factors that includes misplaced shame (where victims, especially young ones, blame themselves), fear of having to relive a horrific incident in a courtroom setting, fear of retribution, fear of the perpetrator himself, and more. Therefore, we can fairly conclude that there were even more such crimes committed by TSA employees than those in the hardly-brief list above.

For its part, the TSA repeatedly claims to have thoroughly screened all applicants:

“TSA cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, however, we can assure travelers every TSA employee is subject to a significant background check, including criminal history, before they are offered a job. Unfortunately, these checks do not predict future behavior.  This individual is not working at the airport at the present time.”

Translation: Hey, these guys don’t work for us any more — what are you worried about? Don’t blame us!  We aren’t fortune-tellers and you can’t expect us to be able to tell if someone is going to commit a crime in the future . . . oh, wait . . . .

(Photo: 00 Caffiene/Flickr; H/T to Bill Fisher for the list of 2011 TSA crimes against children)

TSA abuse has been going on for years – here’s my story

As I was reading an email string about tactics to get mainstream Americans aware of what the TSA is actually doing, it occurred to me that I have never told my entire story. So here goes.

My saga starts when I was four years old and had my right leg amputated at the knee. Fast-forward to 2004, when I had a spate of business trips to Washington, DC and Texas.

12/1/2004: I walked up to a DTW (Detroit) security checkpoint and announced I had an artificial leg. Without being wanded I was taken aside by two women to Concourse A, MacNamara Terminal, where the women took three cubicle panels that were leaning up against the wall and made a makeshift enclosure at the public entrance to the Concourse. The panels were not stable, so the screeners had to lean them up against one another.

When inside I was instructed to remove my pants. The screeners were about to instruct me to also remove my pantyhose, but since I was standing there pretty much naked anyway they swabbed the top of my prosthesis with a swab and told me to get dressed.

12/1/2004: return trip from Dulles. I announced I had an artificial leg. I again was not wanded, but was subjected to an extensive search of torso and especially my breasts. The toe of my right shoe was swabbed, but other than that my prosthesis was not checked.

12/12/2004: After my complaints, this time I called ahead to DTW and requested a supervisory escort. I was given one, Tyrone Stokes, who instructed the screener to conduct a “simple pat-down.” The screener did not wand me to determine where my metal was but I was subjected to a “Full Monty” pat-down – crotch, inside my pants, everywhere. The screener wanted to show Mr. Stokes, apparently, that she knew how to do it.

12/14/2004: returning from DFW. Announcement by me about my leg. This time I was wanded to determine the location of the metal. I was instructed to lift my pant leg. I was also subjected to an upper-body pat-down (no metal alarm there) and had my hands swabbed.

12/23/2004: Back again at DTW. This time I had printed a copy of instructions from the TSA’s own website. Made my announcement. I set off the regular metal detector but did not set off the subsequent wand. The screener did an upper body pat-down (no metal alarm there) but indicated that because the wand did not alarm around my announced prosthesis it would not need to be checked.

12/31/2004: Sky Harbor, Phoenix. Same announcement by me. I was wanded and my left shoe was swabbed (what’s that about? My prosthesis is on my right side). Once again the upper body pat-down (once again, no metal alarm there).

2/12/2005: Back at DTW. Announcement per usual. I was wanded — again the only alarm was between my right knee and ankle. Never mind: I got a thorough chest/breast “massage” anyway, along with hand-swabbing and prosthesis-swabbing.

12/14/2005: Back at Dallas-Fort Worth. This time, though, I told the screeners that they could check the area that alarmed but they could not check areas that did not. After over two hours of their trying to convince me to allow myself to be assaulted once again, to no avail, I was denied boarding. On 2/16/2005 my employer flew me home on the corporate jet but I was told that they “would have to think twice about putting me on a plane again.” So now you know what happened to THAT career . . . .

I didn’t fly for several years. I discovered, however, that all the folderol would disappear if I took off the leg, put it on the conveyor, and hopped through the metal detector. I made several trips that way.  But that move required that I wear dresses. All sorts of screeners were upset with me. That tactic stopped when I read about a woman from Grand Rapids who received a full-on grope for the sole reason she was wearing a dress. I did try once to go through a MMW machine (millimeter wave scanner), but I got called over for a grope anyway. The word from the “back room” was to check my right thigh. The result was no right thigh but an upper body pat-down instead.

The last time I flew was October 2010. The TSA’s position of scanners or Full Monty is too much for me. I’ve done my share, and I will not be treated that way ever again.

I sued the TSA and got the Jesse Ventura answer that Federal District Courts did not have jurisdiction; the Appellate Court did. Try as I might, I never figured out how to appeal a ruling that didn’t exist.

I was on the front page, Sunday edition, of the Detroit News and had the local ABC affiliate run an investigative report on my experiences, complete with a hidden camera crew that documented one of my flights.

One person cannot change the monster the TSA has become — it takes many. Therefore, I have turned to organizing those of us who understand what’s going on. We need to speak with one loud, persistent, forceful voice.

Now you know the story. This insanity must stop.

(Photo: tsaiid/Flickr)

Did you get your Christmas card from Al-Qaeda?

Maybe it was the frosting, which a TSA agent tsk-tsked for being “too gel-like.”

Or maybe it was the sinister name of the company that baked it — Wicked Good Cupcakes — that made the federal agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems suspect the cupcake contained more than chocolatey holiday cheer.

Whatever the reason, we now have the latest TSA scandal: Rebecca Hains, a Peabody, Mass., college professor, says a single cupcake was confiscated by TSA agents in Las Vegas last week.

The agency bans certain liquids and gels, even though there’s no convincing evidence that terrorists are plotting to bring down a plane with liquid explosives, or specifically, that the topping in a single tasty holiday cupcake could incinerate an aircraft.

These must be actions of a single, overzealous TSA agent, right?

If only. When I mentioned this story on Twitter a few days ago, I heard back from readers who said airport screeners were busy confiscating all kinds of Christmas contraband, including snowglobes and cheese dip.

The TSA’s explanation, in case you care, is that some of the holiday paraphernalia is on its ever-changing list of banned items. Its reasons for prohibiting them are vague and unpersuasive.

Truth is, the TSA has been swiping our holiday stuff for years.

One of the earliest reports came by way of Jessica Bruder, a writer for the Portland Oregonian who flew to Illinois over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007 and almost had her apple pie confiscated by a federal screener.

After sliding her dish through the conveyor belt, the interrogation began:

“Are you the pie lady?” the agent demanded.

Standing there in orange polka-dot socks, jeans inching down my hips, I nodded soberly. He indicated we’d have more to talk about on the far side of the metal detector.

When my pie emerged, the questions began.

“What kind of pie is that?” He squinted at the pan.

“Apple. With some raspberries.”

“Does it have lumps?”

I glanced at the crust, which was black in places and looked like a topographical rendering of the Himalayas.

You get the idea. The agent eventually let her fly with the pie, but admitted to confiscating dozens of pumpkin pies because they were too close to the consistency of plastic explosives.

The TSA later backtracked and said pies were OK.

Snowglobes are not, however. Why? I haven’t heard a reasonable explanation yet. But here’s what happened when agents told blogger and Houston Chronicle features editor Kyrie O’Connor she couldn’t take hers on the plane earlier this month:

The TSA confiscated my snowglobe.

“Really?” I said. “I bought it at the Lexington airport. I didn’t expect to be here. I’m just going to walk down that hall and buy another. Exactly how are you making the world safer by taking my snowglobe?”

And, dear reader, that is when I — not a crier — began to cry.

They took my snowglobe.

“Maybe this is the low point of your day and everything gets better from here,” said the chirpy TSA woman.

What’s going on here?

Does the TSA really believe we’re going to commit a terrorist act with a snowglobe or a cupcake? If it does, then it’s a lot stupider than it looks in those dashing, law-enforcement style uniforms Congress is allowing its agents to wear.

A far more plausible explanation is that this is just another dark act in TSA’s ongoing security theater. It’s an episode that repeats itself every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and is intended to remind American air travelers that there will be no peace on earth, no good will to anyone, until the war on terror is won.

Sure, taking away our pies, cupcakes, snowglobes and cheese dip is a relatively minor thing compared with the blatant violations of our civil liberties that take place every day at the airport, including the invasive pat-downs and dangerous body scans.

But it is, on another level, equally troubling.

TSA’s actions chip away our holiday cheer, which in recent years has been in short supply. They don’t make us feel safer. Instead, they annoy us, sadden us, even demoralize us.

It’s like getting a Christmas card from Al-Qaeda.

Thanks for nothing.

(Photo: Clare and Dave/Flickr)

The TSA’s new FAST program is something to be furious about


The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, and other agencies working within the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) model, want to implement mobile mind-reading units everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean not just at airports (emphasis mine):

The FAST program has now completed its first round of field tests on the public. According to DHS, one of the program’s primary goals is to bring security to “open” areas–such as Metro, Amtrak, and mass transit systems other than aviation–where threats could go undetected. The Mobile Module, according to DHS, “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”

In the field tests, DHS tested the Mobile Module in at least one location in the Northeast. “It is not an airport,” Verrico told Nature magazine, “but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting.” Whether these subjects knew they were participating in a FAST study is unclear.

EPIC claims that DHS documents reveal efforts to “collect, process, or retain information on” members of the public who likely did not give their consent. “We do think this is a program with great privacy risks,” says John Verdi, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project. Back in 2008, the DHS conducted a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), but when FAST moved into its public testing phase, Verdi says, “Our requests have revealed that the agency did not perform a PIA. In our view that is against the federal law.”

“…Large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”

Never mind the Fourth Amendment.

Never mind the fact that some people, i.e. sociopaths (the very people who can commit violent crimes like terrorism without experiencing guilt beforehand or remorse afterwards), don’t always present with psychological indicators — with physical or biochemical “tells” — when they deceive, thus rendering these expensive, intrusive, James-Bond-wannabe mind-reading units as good as useless.

Let’s be clear-eyed here: this is about three things, and three things alone.

(1) Money. Not for you or me, silly. Money for the security contractor(s) who are selling these ridiculous apparatuses to the DHS (and as flush with tax dollars as that agency is, they are an attractive mark) and, of course, money for the campaign coffers of the various politicians enabling this unconstitutional rubbish. Oh, and for any stray former government official who has the new job title of “consultant”.

(2) Fearmongering, because when people are afraid, they will more likely believe what the authorities tell them, and they will (apparently) put up with almost anything.

(3) Conditioning. Fifteen years ago, if you’d told me that law-abiding Americans wanting to fly somewhere in their own country would in the near future be lining up like cattle at the slaughter; taking off their shoes; allowing themselves to be irradiated while someone viewed their unclothed bodies on a screen; allowing themselves to be aggressively groped — and their children to be touched, by someone who is not a parent or doctor, on the parts of their bodies they are otherwise taught are private and personal — I’d have said you were making things up.

It may have taken a little time, but the DHS and TSA have succeeded in conditioning most of the traveling public. They’ve largely got the media on their side, too — “It’s just to keep us safe!” — and they’ve been slowing ramping up the intrusiveness in the past couple of years, happily allotting billions of our tax dollars to buy all these whiz-bang machines and enrich their well-connected manufacturers, reacting with horror–and even lawsuits — when the occasional civil libertarian cries out after having a stranger grope and penetrate her at the airport: “How dare you call our agents rapists! Even though they raped you!”

(And only Pravda — yes, that Pravda — would publish her account.)

It needs to be repeated, and often: The TSA has not thwarted a single terrorism attempt. Not a one. The attempts were thwarted by good investigative work on the ground, long before anyone with terrorism in mind got near an airport, and alert, motivated passengers.

Whither our civil liberties?

Also at Litbrit.

Does the TSA really care about you?

It’s hard to see “TSA” anywhere near the word “cares.” But there you go.

Venom boils up when I read about this latest TSA foil, called “TSA Cares.”

How thoughtful that the TSA will hire even more people whose entire job will be to tell you exactly what assault you should expect at the airport. I am endlessly amazed that the TSA, and everyone who supports this agency and its procedures, comes from a perspective of “we have to.”

Excuse me? You have to? You mean you have no other information upon which to base a risk assessment?

You believe a stooped-over US citizen with a carry-on full of various medications and a round-trip ticket purchased with a credit card presents more risk due to an ostomy bag than anyone else?

Are you really that senseless?

I have a hard time believing anyone is quite that stupid.

But I know I have to accept reality and work from there, so let me make this easy.

TSA, you really don’t “have to.” You can actually triangulate within that vast array of data that you already possess (no, I don’t need to give you more).

Case in point: What does the government already know about me? They know where I’ve lived for the past 60 years, they know for whom I have worked and my occupation, they know I have no arrests and they know they don’t even have my fingerprints.

Ask anyone — anyone — with a working background in criminal risk the probability that I would present a risk. The answer would come back zero. Heck, ask the sheriffs that staff the checkpoint at my local courthouse. They take one look at me and wave me through without asking me to even take off my winter coat. Those guys actually engage their grey matter when assessing criminal risk.

The TSA cares about self-perpetuation.

The TSA cares about mission creep.

The TSA cares about maintaining its bloat.

The TSA cares about money and more money.

The TSA cares nothing about you, me, its own employees who are not allowed to wear dosimeters, or the Constitution. All this for procedures that the TSA has no legal justification for doing.

Now the disclaimer: I have medical assistive devices and have been poked, prodded, strip-searched, and been the unfortunate recipient of every TSA outrage I have seen in print from others.

I was the first person ever to sue the TSA in Federal District Court (2005) and have the case dismissed without prejudice due TSA’s jurisdictional ploy that these cases can be heard only by an Appellate Court.

How the hell can anyone appeal a non-ruling? I never found out.

(Photo: Marsh Ed/Flickr)

Is the TSA looking for the wrong stuff?

Every week, it seems, the TSA’s Blogger Bob heralds another discovery of deadly weapons. The latest is a pair of Ninja daggers secreted in a book titled “Ninja: The Shadow Warrior.” Last week, Blogger Bob touted TSA’s discovery of a stun gun disguised as a cell phone. As Blogger Bob notes, TSA searchers also found “firearm components, ammunition, replica firearms, brass knuckles, a belt buckle knife, a brass kubotan containing a 2½-inch double-edged knife, switchblades, butterfly knives and batons.”

All of this sounds ominous and as if TSA is doing its job. I guess they should get a pat on the back. But should this be TSA’s job? Do they need to be worried about these weapons? Are such weapons any more dangerous in an airplane than they might be while being carried in Grand Central Station or while one is strolling in front of the White House?

Why are we confiscating these kinds of weapons or even replicas of weapons?

Everything traces its way back to 9/11 and the box cutters that were used as the weapon of choice to allow hijackers to get control of the cockpits of four aircraft. When TSA started, cockpits were not hardened, and keeping virtually any weapon out of the hands of terrorists who were boarding planes was the rule. We are fighting a war against a threat that has been eliminated: attackers can’t get to the cockpit anymore.

Today, every airline cockpit door is bolted shut, secured, and bulletproof. In case of emergency, those pilots are not going to open the door for anyone before getting the plane on the ground. I don’t think anyone has figured out a way into a hardened cockpit with box cutters, Ninja knives, baseball bats, even machetes and loaded firearms. I think we can say that for everything except loaded weapons and explosives, TSA can stand down.

Eliminate the searches for and confiscation of items as ridiculous as toy guns and replicas of anything. Reading through the TSA list of prohibited items is worthwhile. It is easy to see how many items that pose no threat to an aircraft are prohibited.

Here are three lists of prohibited items taken from the TSA list. Most of these items are of no threat and should be taken off the list.


I don’t want to get in to a debate about why a screwdriver with a 7-inch blade is less dangerous than a 7-inch knife. The object of this article is to encourage TSA to take another look at aircraft security with changes that have come into effect since 2001, especially in terms of the hardened cockpits, in order to limit the number of items that need to be searched for and confiscated.

Limiting the searches that TSA personnel do will save thousands of hours of time, cut budgets dramatically, allow a focus on the most dangerous risks, and move passengers through security more quickly and with fewer hassles.

Bruce will now explain why the TSA is a $1 trillion failure

Those of us who’ve been writing about the TSA for a few years are well familiar with security expert Bruce Schneier. He and other people like him who actually study actual security using data, risk assessment, statistical analysis, and empirical evidence are a balm to our weary psyches, frayed and exhausted as they are from trying to correct the steady flow of misinformation, disinformation, and specious arguments put forth by the TSA and its apologists.

Ah, but the lizard part of the brain isn’t content. It responds easily to fear; in fact, it revels in it.

So when presented with, for example, an argument based on logic, that primitive part of the brain doesn’t want to hear it. It takes over the rational parts of the brain and shuts out reason and logic.

Other research has found this as well.

That’s why it’s so difficult – indeed often impossible – to sway people who are convinced that the TSA’s security theater (a term Schneier coined, by the way) is Keeping Us Safe.

In a new article for Vanity Fair, reporter Charles Mann goes on an airport walkabout with Schneier, who points out, as he has done so many times before, all the pointless procedures that the TSA has put in place, to the tune of billions of dollars, no less.

Will he convince anyone not already up on this stuff? Doubtful, but here are some excerpts anyway:

The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

Sowing terror is relatively easy. Say “9/11” and watch how quickly people scramble. How eager they are to give up their rights, no matter the psychic or financial cost.

In fact, this “death by a thousand cuts” was explicitly stated by al-Qaeda as its goal. Not to kill thousands or millions of people, but to force the United States to spend more and more and more money in a futile attempt to achieve 100% security.

What the government should be doing is focusing on the terrorists when they are planning their plots. “That’s how the British caught the liquid bombers,” Schneier says. “They never got anywhere near the plane. That’s what you want—not catching them at the last minute as they try to board the flight.”

Indeed, at the airport gate is too late. American intelligence agencies, if they are being intelligent, use the same techniques that have always been used to prevent crime: responsible police work, responsible intelligence gathering. Not shaking down passengers for raspberry jam and snow globes.

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer.

Forget deer. There are 35,000 traffic fatalities every year in this country. How many people who defend the TSA do you think have stopped driving? Or taking baths?

“It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Sing it, Bruce.

Those of us who live in the evidence-based world are content to sing along, for our own satisfaction if nothing else. For we know that millions of people don’t live here.

Instead, they inhabit the Land of Denial. Judging by its popularity, it must be a very happy place.

(Photo: shyb/Flickr)

American media won’t publish Amy Alkon’s story, but Pravda will

Author and civil liberties activist Amy Alkon poses an interesting question:

Why Did I Have To Go To Pravda To Get My Op-Ed About TSA Rape Published?

As you’ll see if you read her column, she has been pitching an op-ed criticizing the TSA to the mainstream press for months now.

No go.

Nobody wanted it. Not the New York Times, not the Los Angeles Times, not Reuters, not CNN, not the Huffington Post, not the Wall Street Journal, not AOL, not Yahoo, not the Washington Post, not MSNBC.

And Alkon has journalistic connections. If she can’t get her piece published, how is the ordinary American who’s been abused by the TSA supposed to be heard?

She finally found a more hospitable locale at Pravda. Yes, that Pravda.

Whatsamatter, mainstream press?  Is the truth too hot to handle?

(Photo: surfstyle/Flickr)

TSA uses carolers and canines to distract us from the truth this Christmas

Once again, TSA choristers are singing their respective hearts out at Los Angeles International Airport.

You know, I love music. I studied voice for several years (the term is “classically trained”), and I’ve made some money at it over the years. I’ve sung from Venice to Florence, at Arlington, at the Chapel at Notre Dame, and at Detroit’s Symphony Hall. I really love music, and appreciate those who perform.

So I appreciate that TSA choristers are using their shared occupation as a base to form a choir.

But have you noticed that two feel-good stories were covered — again — this year, right at Christmas?

Between puppies and carolers, we are being subjected to a PR campaign intended to distract us from the ugly fact that the organization for whom these people work has no intention of restoring our basic fundamental right of maintaining the sanctity of our bodies, of maintaining the right to decide who sees us naked and who touches us where, while also maintaining the right of freedom to move about the country. Move about the world.

Throughout history, the right to freedom of movement has been crucial to personal industry and social prosperity. Societies cannot prosper without the freedom to travel. There is no threat so large that freedom to travel should be compromised.

Recent polls indicating that 39 percent of Americans would choose anything but air tell me that freedom to travel is being compromised. We cannot thrive economically — or in any other way — in our current repressive environment.

The sooner we collectively figure that out, the better we’ll be.