Is there life after the TSA?

So the TSA is seeking the removal of 12 workers for improperly screening checked luggage at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. Now what?

Well, as someone who has been fired by the TSA, I can answer that question.

I was terminated after 10 years on the job when I published a book about the agency that supposedly includes sensitive security material (SSI).

Now I find myself on the street.

Since I did not qualify for unemployment, I decided to look for a job. But what do I do now? What experience from TSA can I use in the private sector?

What happens to my benefits?

Most security companies have no use for an expert in pat-downs, X-ray operations, explosive detection, liquid testing, or behavior detection.

In fact, to get a job in security, you must be certified as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, at a salary averaging half of what TSA pays.

I decided to take a one-week course with Blackhawk Academy in Houston for a commissioned certificate. The training included self-defense tactics, the use of guns at a shooting range, and interaction procedures with law enforcement and other agencies.

Now, that’s what I call real defense against terrorists.

While with TSA, I always wondered what would’ve happened if a gunman started shooting at a checkpoint. All we could do is take cover behind passengers.

TSA never instructed their employees on that scenario, since the only logical response would have been to ask the screeners to abandon post and run for their lives.

Police officers themselves would be of little help, since they would need to be embedded with the passengers to make a difference.

Thinking that I might be considered by the FBI a disgraced government officer, and that they might be worried about my training in firearms and the possibility of contemplating revenge, I decided to look further.

What if I applied for a car salesman’s position? After all, passengers view car salesman and TSA officers with about the same level of suspicion and distrust.

On the other hand, I was confident I could use my training and experience with TSA to better read my customers’ moods to determine if they were serious about making a purchase.

Maybe I could apply my sales pitches more successfully.

But no. Having applied and interviewed over a dozen times in the last few weeks, I found that all companies and dealerships declined my application because of a failed background check.

TSA made sure of that.

(Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

We’re at war? Really?

The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article about the increasing presence of US Marshalls and the TSA at train, bus and cruise ship boarding areas.

As can be expected, the reporter cited passengers that agreed with the assault, all in the name of safety.

I am especially amused by the quote of the college student who was appreciative of the use of “our” tax dollars. I would be more likely to give that statement more weight if that lad actually did pay taxes . . . but that’s another story.

That reporter, and all of the approving sources he quoted, want safety . . .

because . . .

Man, we are at war! Really!

Really?

“WAR (intransitive verb): to be in active or vigorous conflict” (thank you, Merriam’s).

All sorts of extraordinary rules and restrictions come with “war” . . . rationing, curfews, indefinite detention (ouch . . . think Japanese-American internment camps during WWII). So are we in “vigorous conflict”? And what determines “vigorous?”

“Full of physical or mental strength or active force. Done with vigor: carried out forcefully and energetically.”

Given these definitions, I have come to the conclusion that we are not at war.

The closest I can come is that there exists a small group of people, some associated with one or more related or unrelated groups, that hopes that the US stumbles and falls. We occasionally — like once every thee years — have skirmishes with a handful of people belonging to . . . or not . . . one of these groups.

Doesn’t sound like “war” to me. Sorry.

So where does that leave us? We have the TSA wholesale assaulting passengers without cause because of . . . war? We have Congress recently passing the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), which suspends the 6th Amendment rights of anyone the government chooses, with no access to an attorney, no indictment procedure, no trial before a body of peers, until the “end of hostilities” . . . because we are at war?

Tell me, then, who will determine when these “hostilities” will end? Has anyone else noticed that the NDAA doesn’t even define with whom we are “hostile,” and who has the authority to define the “end of hostilities?”

We have an increasing number of VIPR teams inspecting (in a very militaristic and intimidating way) passengers of any mode of public transport . . . because we’re “at war”?

Given the definition of war, it is apparent that our government is more “at war” with the innocent residents of this land than it is with any other identified group. “Vigor” apparently requires a level of frequency and energy, and “war” requires “vigor.” The only group whose actions fit the above definition is the US government, and the only foil against which they are waging is us.

Pogo, you were prescient: “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

Americans fall for TSA’s fearmongering claims


Sigh. So many lies, so many credulous Americans, so little time.

Today brings us two more accounts of the TSA’s dog-and-pony show (apologies to dogs and ponies), two more recaps of the TSA’s public relations fantasies and, in some cases, outright lies.

The Los Angeles Times finally catches on to the fact that VIPR teams have been infesting the country for years now, as some of us have been writing about for just as long, most recently here at TSA News.

Then, the Anchorage Daily News has a story about Alaska State Rep. Chris Tuck, who, as Scott McMurren pointed out at TSA News yesterday, is urging passengers to resist the TSA’s encroachments and opt out.

Both stories repeat the TSA’s already-oft-disproved claims that the scanners don’t store images, that the TSA doesn’t strip and grope passengers, that the scanners have been rigorously tested.

The articles do also contain voices of dissent. The reader comments, however, are a different matter. Stroll on over and browse the varied voices of people who fall for the TSA’s fearmongering claims hook, line, and sinker. It’s a depressing display.

(Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr)

These terrorists don’t need to be screened — they have uniforms

Today’s word is “inconsistent.”

Say it with me: inconsistent.

If the last week’s events have shown us anything, it’s that the federal agency guarding America’s skies is inconsistent.

Dangerously inconsistent, sometimes.

Consider the outrage over rapper Freddie Gibbs, who slipped a bag of marijuana in his checked luggage on a flight last week. But when the TSA found his stash at the airport, it didn’t report him. Instead, it let him off with a lighthearted warning when an agent allegedly wrote, “C’mon son” on the official “you’ve been inspected” card.

How do we know this? Because Gibbs posted the evidence online.

TSA has reluctantly agreed to investigate the matter, but only after being contacted by a blogger.

Interestingly, another TSA representative, in a separate case, claimed the agency doesn’t care about drugs in the suitcases it inspects at the airport.

Oddly, we got word that more than a dozen TSA screeners in Charlotte could lose their jobs after an internal investigation showed they didn’t properly screen luggage. Over a one-week period in June, 80 of 80,000 bags were “not screened according to security protocol,” according to the TSA.

Of course, the apparent lapse led to no terrorist incidents. Not even a single rapper tweeting about his grass.

So let me get this straight: Drugs are OK, but letting a few unchecked bags with nothing dangerous on board — not OK?

C’mon, TSA.

But while those inconsistencies are laughable, this one isn’t: The Senate just voted to give members of the armed services and their families a special expedited TSA line. It suggests soldiers should experience a less thorough screening when they are flying. This, in itself, is troubling because there is no evidence that being in the military makes you less likely to commit an act of terrorism. As a former TSA officer observed on the TSA News Blog, being in the military may actually increase the likelihood you’re a terrorist.

You might not realize this, but the TSA has quietly been giving itself and its friends these special privileges all along. I received a copy of the TSA’s in-house newsletter, the originally named “TSA Today” with a little blurb about a new “flying employee’s lane” that opened earlier this year in Nashville. It allows non-uniformed crew, airport employees flying out and families of airport employees traveling with them to use the lane. (My source believes TSA agents also have access to the special lane.)

“There is a saying that ‘some of the smallest things can make you very happy’,” TSA Today wrote. It noted,

I have noticed in the past month instead of a constant flow of complaints from crew and airline employees; compliments and kudos to the FSD [Federal Security Director].

Whenever I am watching the Employee Lane and interact with the employees, you can see the smiles on their faces and hear words of appreciation.

All right, so let me see if I understand this: Off-duty baristas, airport parking attendants, the great-niece of screener trainee — they can all use a special lane and are probably waved through the checkpoint, while the rest of us have to stand in a long line, get scanned, patted down, prodded, and poked?

Look up “inconsistent” in the dictionary. One of the definitions is “Transportation Security Administration.”

C’mon.

I’ve actually spoken with the agency about its uneven approach to security — why one passengers may get a thorough search and swabbing and another may not. The TSA says it wants to keep terrorists on their toes by being unpredictable. Consistently screening every passenger, it argues, would give the bad guys a roadmap for their next attack.

Problem is, the agency is inconsistent when it shouldn’t be and consistent when it shouldn’t.

TSA has already said children’s shoes won’t be scanned for explosive devices. It’s also promised not to do any body cavity searches. An enterprising terrorist could recruit children to do Allah’s work and wedge a block of Semtex into an adult passenger’s body cavity to help them along. (And while you’re at it, how much would it cost to procure a fake military ID and uniform, so you could take the shortcut line?)

Now the agency is waiving obviously illegal items like drugs through its checkpoints, an action the majority of American air travelers almost certainly would disapprove of, but it’s firing agents for letting a couple of harmless bags slide.

Inconsistent? That may be putting it politely.

(Photo: Da Nthomas/Flickr)

Alaska Rep. Chris Tuck to holiday travelers: “All you have to say is, ‘I opt out'”

Alaska State Representative Chris Tuck has a special Christmas message for Alaskans: “You can opt out of the TSA full-body scanners”.

As advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners are rolled out at Alaska airports, Tuck is concerned  the TSA is overstepping its mission–and conditioning Alaskans to give up their rights.

In his video message, Tuck says “If you don’t want inappropriate pictures of you or your children taken and stored–or if you’re concerned about the possible health effects, then all you have to say is ‘I opt out’. It is your right.” Photo (right) by Stephen Nowers/Alaska Dispatch.

Tuck, who represents Alaska House District 29 in Anchorage, notes that opting out will trigger a TSA pat down. He offers advice for that as well: “If they touch you inappropriately, call the airport police.” (Related link from Dayton, Ohio)

“I’ve had heartburn about the TSA ever since they started,” admits Tuck.

“I think there’s undue fear being instilled in American citizens. The procedures we have are invasive and degrading. We need to speak up. And we need to opt out,” he said. (Related link from a “pat down” at LAX.)

Tuck wants to introduce legislation during the upcoming Alaska legislative session to mitigate the TSA’s invasive techniques against Alaskans.

“We need to make sure our law enforcement officers are monitoring the TSA screeners,” he said. “The definition of sexual misconduct in Alaska statutes makes it questionable whether TSA has the right to do perform invasive patdowns on Alaskans.”

“I think the TSA has purposely implemented invasive, degrading procedures, further pushing people to give up their rights and freedoms. And that includes the freedom to travel, which in Alaska underscores our Constitutionally-protected freedom to assemble,” he said.

This article first appeared in the Alaska Travelgram.

Why dressing down TSA agents is a good idea

In the past, a few congressmen like Rep. John Mica (R-FL) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have been thorns in the side of TSA. They have raged against the giant bureaucracy that the agency has become and the invasiveness of TSA searches. Today, other members of Congress from the Senate and House are joining the anti-TSA crowd.

Moreover, bills are being considered that will force TSA to change the way it behaves and how it interacts with the public.
Continue reading “Why dressing down TSA agents is a good idea”

John Pistole tells passengers to pound sand

I just finished reading TSA Director John Pistole’s response to the “We The People” petition to abolish the TSA, which has over 31,000 signatories.

Gee, does anyone else notice that the response pretty much tells the American people that (1) “I won’t comment on your request,” (2) “We continue to need to spend billions,” (3) “We are professional and highly trained,” (4) “Oh, and nice try. Think we’re going away? Let me tell you about our next ten years.”

Or, in other words, “pound sand.”

I run into this thought pattern frequently in large bureaucracies: “I’m too busy defending what I do now to even listen to anyone who has an idea to make it better.” I ran into it with a health insurer once. Paraphrasing: “You need to have a doctor resend information we already have back to us again because we never thought to check our existing records first and, sorry, that’s how it’s done.” With the IRS: “We need you to send information the IRS has in Utah to the IRS in Cincinnati because . . . sorry, that’s how it’s done.”

Mr. Pistole, with all due respect, you and your minions are broken records.

No, you do not have a highly trained, professional work force. You need go no further than daily headlines to prove my statement — theft, assault, rape, attempted rape, and wholesale lack of knowledge of your own procedures.

And as to the “ever-evolving threat,” you cite two instances that were left uncaught by the TSA. Probably not the best examples, sir. You would be better served to cite instances where you caught an actual terrorist threat (not a bottle of water). What? None, you say? Ten years, and you’ve caught none. Hmmm.

So let me make this clear: Don’t believe that I look to you or your agency to protect me. I don’t. I never did. I put way more faith in my fellow Americans, just regular folk, than I do your poorly trained, inefficient, and impossibly hidebound agency.

So please, don’t bother. Your trying, again, to placate us does nothing but show that you either live in a fantasy world or you’re a pathological liar. If the truth be told, chances between the two alternatives are 50-50.

In other words, “Dear John: pound sand.”

Passenger advocate and 800 number to the rescue!

In a heartwarming display of responsiveness to the passengers it has sworn to protect, the TSA is implementing yet another new procedure.

No, it won’t stop bullying, harassing, and groping people, but it will install an 800 number that you can call next time you get bullied, harassed, or groped.

Coming on the heels of the brave attempt by two Congressmen to add another layer of bureaucracy to your travel adventures, the TSA is seeing their bet and raising it.

Rather than the “passenger advocate” the Congressmen want to plant at various and sundry checkpoints, the TSA will establish a hotline starting in January. If, according to TSA spokesperson Kristin Lee, you need help, you’ll be able to call this hotline ahead of time. It will, presumably, give you the same information already available on the TSA’s website and which its employees routinely ignore when it suits them (as, to cite just one example, Stacey Armato discovered last year when she tried to take bottles of breast milk through the checkpoint; she’s now suing.)

Quoting the TSA’s Kristin Lee:

This hotline will give passengers direct access to guidance and information specific to persons with disabilities or medical conditions, which they will be able to call before flying. Additionally, TSA regularly trains its workforce on how to screen travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and has customer service managers at most airports to answer questions and assist passengers.

Ms. Lee doesn’t address the nettlesome fact that the Amputee Coalition of America is unhappy with TSA and has charged that abuse and disrespect are rampant. Or that this four-year-old boy, Ryan Thomas, was forced to remove his leg braces and crawl through the checkpoint. Or that a mentally disabled man named Drew Mandy, age 29, was likewise humiliated – separated from his parents and his pants probed because he wears adult diapers. (Oh, the TSA also confiscated Mandy’s six-inch plastic toy hammer because it was, apparently, a dangerous weapon.) Or that Andrew Ian Dodge had his colon cancer scar, “from crotch to sternum,” kneaded and prodded just in case he had a bomb sewn into his stomach.

There are more accounts of how well the TSA “trains its workforce on how to screen travelers with disabilities and medical conditions” here.

If only Ryan Thomas, Drew Mandy, Andrew Ian Dodge, and the members of the Amputee Coalition of America had had an 800 number to call. Think how happy that might have made them.

But I guess you can’t please everybody.

(Photo: LiminalMike/Flickr)

TSA Pre-Check rolls out in Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ho, ho, ho, just in time for the holidays, the TSA is making a list and checking it twice.

And if you’re well-off, and fly First Class, and fly a lot, and fly with certain airlines, out of certain airports, at certain gates, and are a U.S. citizen who’s already a member of existing U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI, and pay an extra fee, and don’t mind giving more personal info for the TSA to store in its databases, you can get on that list and might – might – be ushered more quickly through the checkpoint.

See – no hoops to jump through at all!

As the TSA trumpets in its latest press release, TSA Pre✓™ (yes, don’t forget that nifty little trademark symbol!) is expanding to Las Vegas.

Party on.

But, as with so much in life, there are no guarantees:

If TSA determines a passenger is eligible for expedited screening through the TSA Pre vetting process, information will be embedded in the barcode of the passenger’s boarding pass. TSA will read the barcode at the checkpoint and the passenger may be referred to a lane where they will undergo expedited screening, which could include no longer removing the following items; Shoes, 3-1-1 compliant bag from carry-on, Laptop from bag, Light outerwear/jacket and Belt.

TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening.

So after you fork over extra money (and good luck finding out how much in TSA’s voluminous verbiage on this new program) and sign up, you might breeze on by the rest of the hoi polloi, who, alas, being too stupid or too poor or too in-the-wrong-lane-at-the-wrong-time-at-the-wrong gate or who just don’t fly very often, will still have to go through the same scope-and-grope procedures as ever.

But what’s a little Divide-and-Conquer among friends? Just get me to my gate on time!

More TSA scanners are coming — are you ready for your close-up?

Despite the fact that most Americans, now that they’ve had a year to assess the TSA’s scope-and-grope procedures, are opposed to the strip-search scanners, and despite the fact that the TSA has already spent billions on them (at $150,000 to $180,000 a pop), the agency has just announced that it is increasing the number of scanners in airports and outfitting some of them with this newfangled ATR — Automated Target Recognition — software.

ATR is the software that presents so-called Gumby or stick-figure images instead of the anatomically graphic images that the machines have been presenting heretofore. As described by TSA spokesperson Pat Ahlstrom, the original images — and the ones still seen on machines that don’t have ATR — are “graphic, no doubt about it.”

So far, ATR is being installed only on millimeter wave scanners, not backscatter, or x-ray, scanners. The latter have raised health concerns among scientists, physicians, and passengers because they haven’t been rigorously tested. (Then again, neither have the millimeter wave scanners.)

And don’t forget — as has been reported countless times and admitted by TSA administrator John Pistole himself, just because you go through the scanner doesn’t mean you won’t also be pulled aside for a grope. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

So next time you go to the airport and stand in line at the checkpoint, get ready for your close-up! You might be able to see your own Gumbified image on the screen right in front of you. Unless you’re forced through a backscatter machine, in which case your privates are anything but to a TSA agent sitting in an undisclosed location.

Sorry we can’t reveal it — that would be SSI.

(Photo: Michael Heilemann/Flickr)