2015 Airport Security Symposium – UPDATED

UPDATE: Open to the public, pay what you can. Doug says he realizes the $199 conference fee is out of reach for a lot of people.

Douglas Kidd of the National Association of Airline Passengers has organized this Airport Security Symposium for Tuesday, October 6, 2015, at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C. He’s lined up plenty of speakers, including Alaska state rep and TSA critic Sharon Cissna, consumer advocate and friend of the blog Charlie Leocha, one-man investigative research team Jonathan Corbett, security expert extraordinaire Bruce Schneier, and several of us who write for TSA News — Sommer Gentry, Wendy Thomson, and me.

The full list of speakers, agenda, and all details are here.

The day-long symposium goes from 9am to 6pm and features not only speakers but break-out groups, panel discussions, dinner, and an awards ceremony. It’s open to the public; so please, if you’re in the area or can be, do come and make your voice heard.

Here’s Doug’s description:

This symposium brings together passengers, security experts, and other interested parties to examine airport security from the passengers’ perspective.

The purpose of the symposium is to identify and address weaknesses and failures of current TSA policies and procedures, and develop practical solutions to the problems faced by passengers and security personnel, with the goal of improving both security and the passenger experience.

Doug has put a lot of work into this. He deserves all the credit. I’m participating because I think it’s important, not because I think we’re going to change anything. Sorry, but that’s my view. But you don’t win battles if you sit on your hands and do nothing. You win by fighting, no matter how long it takes. I have said in these pages countless times that I don’t think this battle will be won in my lifetime. So be it. I’m still going to fight it as long as I live.

And since education is a huge component of this struggle, a symposium like this is vitally important. If we’re going to enlist other people on our side in the fight for civil liberties, we have to tell them what’s at stake. Yes, I know we’ve been doing that at TSA News for four years now, and some of us have been doing it independently for even longer. But there are always new audiences to reach. And there are always people who until now have sailed through the TSA gauntlet unscathed. They still don’t get it. Will they ever? I don’t know. But we have to try.

I’m reminded, as I often am, by the searing, poetic words of Chris Hedges. These apply now:

“I want to succeed. I do everything possible to succeed. But that’s not finally what’s important. It’s important that you resist, because if you don’t resist, you are complicit with the obliteration of everything that is about justice.”

Another TSA agent charged with child porn

I get tired of having to write the same stories over and over again. Such as this one: yet another TSA agent caught with child porn.

We’ve written so many times about these kinds of crimes I’ve lost count. I try to keep track in the Master List of TSA Crimes and Abuses, but it’s impossible; no one person can do it all. Meanwhile, here’s the latest story:

A federal grand jury has returned a four-count indictment against as 27-year-old man from the North Houston area in relation to the sexual exploitation of a child, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Christopher Lynn Persky is charged with one count each of production, distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography.

. . . sent images of child erotica to an undercover agent using the chat feature on a known child pornography site. At that time, Persky allegedly provided his full name and further claimed to work for TSA, according to the criminal complaint. He is no longer employed by TSA.

Oh, well, that’s nice. He no longer works for the TSA. Wonder how many children he groped before he was caught?

But hey, that’s okay. It’s a small price to pay for security! After all, can’t be too careful, what with all those terroristy children roaming around! Thank god somebody’s groping them! It’s For Your Safety™ !

Please sign this fab TSA petition

Come on, folks, let’s get this up to at least 150 signatures. If we do, it’ll go live on the main White House petition site. It was written by our perennially creative contributor Chris Bray.

You may recall that we’ve tried petitions in the past, including one that went nowhere thanks in no small part to the fact that the White House’s site went down for several hours and they didn’t extend the petition-signing time to account for that. In other words, we got shortchanged.

Let’s not let that happen again. This time, the petition is a brilliant satire of the TSA’s behavior, especially the recent case of TSA supervisor Maxie Oquendo sexually assaulting a young woman at La Guardia Airport under color of authority.

Come on, let’s make this happen! I know most people can’t be bothered with this issue in general (boy, do I know it), but you can at least have a little fun with it. Sign the petition here. And then repost, tweet, disseminate however you like far and wide.

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)

On-the-job training, TSA style

I received a troubling email from a Freedom to Travel member today. I have her permission to publish it. So, without further ado, please be informed of on-the-job TSA training.

Wendy,

Last week I flew for work, SMF [Sacramento] to LAX [Los Angeles] and then SNA [John Wayne Airport, Orange County] to SMF. Both times I had new thugs being trained to “pat” down those of us who choose to opt out. On both occasions the trainees were not “patting” me down; it was a full-blown push-down.

After being patted down three times by the trainee in SMF I objected to the supervisor that enough was enough. After two more passes on the front of my body, I reached for my shoes. That almost got me in big trouble. I immediately dropped them as I felt the left hand of the supervising agent near my arm yelling at me to drop the shoes. The agent went to the chemical detection machine and didn’t return. (I’ve been the victim of that tactic previously, as well.) I was left standing until the supervisor saw the trainee walking away from her station and told her to release me.

On the way home, an agent about 6 feet tall and much larger than me began the pat-down. I had all I could do to stay standing. After the agent finished the back and two sides, I told her she was very harsh. She stopped and looked at her supervisor in disgust. That supervisor, Tom Barry, rudely stated that I “asked for it” and that “she is doing her job.” I said, “I did not ask for a push-down.” Barry cited that she wasn’t doing anything harsh. I said that was his opinion, and “yes it was harsh; I am a little person.”

He looked at the agent and ordered her to continue. That led to my hair getting pulled by the trainee. The latex gloves do catch hair.

The information above is not so much about the treatment, although I will be asking how hard they will be pushing in the future; it is about the new training method of teaching new agents to forcefully push on people’s bodies. I equate this to the same tactics the TSA used in past to get people not to opt out. My biggest fear is that they do this to my elderly parents and/or disabled people who will be pushed off balance. God, I hope they can catch themselves. I will be bracing myself in the future by putting one foot slightly in front of the other to maintain my balance.

Ah, the joys (not) of flying.

BDOs in Motion, TSA back-slapping on display

The Intercept has another article about the lunacies of the TSA. Jana Winter is the reporter covering the TSA over there, and she has an inside track to agency employees who feed her bits of information, including this latest: glossy, bi-monthly newsletters that highlight the yuckety-yuk jokes, clever quips, heartwarming tales, and literary pretensions of the blue-shirted crusaders. And not just any blue-shirted crusaders, mind you, but the hallowed voodoo readers, otherwise known as “Behavior Detection Officers.”

The name of the the newsletter is “BDOs in Motion.”

As you would expect, the pages are full of conformist corporate-speak about “team-building” and “reliability” and “individualized skill-sets” (nobody has skills anymore; they all have “skill-sets”). But also more charming entries such as “Surviving the Snow in Bangor, Maine.”

Hey, baby, your tax dollars at work.

There’s too much idiocy to excerpt; you can take a look for yourself. Oh, and notice how all the names and faces have been redacted. As someone in the comments has pointed out, why? If the TSA is so proud of its workforce and its (zillion-times-discredited) BDO program, why shield these people?

Speaking of comments, go on over to the Intercept and scroll through. There’s the usual complement of TSA apologists — Anything For Safety! — such as “General Hercules” and “Chico” (oy, what a pill). But, praise be, there are also a lot of readers excoriating the TSA and cataloguing its abuses. You might want to chime in.

Morrissey alleges sexual assault by TSA

British indie rock musician Stephen Patrick Morrissey — better known simply as Morrissey — became well known in the 1980s with his band The Smiths. He’s now 56 years old. And yesterday he filed a complaint against the TSA for sexual assault.

Welcome to the club, Morrissey.

Americans — and visitors to the U.S. — get sexually assaulted by the TSA every day. It’s standard operating procedure here. Americans accept it. Some of us have been trying to tell your compatriots about it for years and have usually been met with incredulity and ridicule. But since the UK is now adopting the worst practices of the US — including using the scanners that it already found don’t work — it’s only a matter of time before those heads in the sand pop out.

As Morrissey says:

“I went through the usual airport security procedure including the standup ‘scanner’, and all was well – no bleeps and nothing unusual.

“Before I could gather my belongings from the usual array of trays, I was approached by an ‘airport security officer’ who stopped me, crouched before me and groped my penis and testicles.

Of course. The blue shirt probably recognized you and wanted to cop a feel. (That’s if he was smart enough to know who you are, which is a tall order with the TSA.)

Well, good luck with that complaint. As always, “TSA takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and strives to treat every passenger with dignity and respect.” 

Ha ha — as millions of people have already discovered, joke’s on you!

(Photo: “Morrissey crop tie” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia)

Cross-posted at ABombazine

Media continue to pamper the TSA

The more you read, the less you know.

News coverage of the Transportation “Security” Administration routinely accepts premises that are ridiculously exaggerated, breathlessly framing stories around falsehoods and fantasies.

And here we go again, with a story in the Tampa Tribune about the legal travails of TSA officers who are suing the agency over its supposedly unfair employment practices. Here’s how senior military affairs writer Howard Altman introduces his protagonist:

For four years, Angnel Blanco was a top employee with the Transportation Security Administration at Orlando International Airport.

She earned accolades as a behavior detection officer, using agency techniques developed by the Israelis to help locate illegal drugs and keep passengers safe.

Almost every word of that second sentence is false. The TSA has no formal role — none — that requires or allows it to “help locate illegal drugs.” Its function at the airport is to keep weapons and terrorists off of airplanes, full stop. TSA smurfs aren’t cops. They aren’t sort-of cops. They have no law enforcement authority. And they work for an agency that doesn’t exist for the purpose of being any kind of junior drug enforcement agency at all.

Judges have thrown out cases that resulted from TSA searches that turned up drugs and cash, ruling that the agency has no authority to conduct that kind of search (though they continue to flout the law and do it anyway). To the extent that the TSA has a role in illegal drug trafficking, their officers tend to be on the other side. The TSA’s “behavior detection officers” cannot lawfully be trained to “help locate drugs,” because they have no legal authority to do so.

Nor are the TSA’s pathetic behavior detection workers engaged in techniques “developed by the Israelis.” Israeli airport security is radically more invasive than the U.S. model, and is far more targeted on religion and ethnicity. Israeli security officials have rolled their eyes at the comparison, and with good reason.

As for the effectiveness of those eagle-eyed behavior detection officers, the Government Accountability Office found that TSA-trained BDOs’ ability to detect suspicious or evasive behavior is “the same as or slightly better than chance.” They are unambiguously worthless, which we’ve been pointing out for years. And years.

In just one sentence, then, a news report about the TSA is flatly wrong in at least three different ways.

Reporters, this is pretty simple: Those who work for the TSA like to tell dramatic stories about themselves. Trained by the Israelis! Standing on the front lines of the war on terrorism! Catching terrorists and drug dealers! Those stories are false, stupid, and pathetic. You should stop the practice of credulously typing them up as if they were in any way true.

TSA: “Careful what you say. You don’t like this? You respect this badge right here.”

Well, well, well, shock of shocks, we have yet another of our fine, upstanding blue-shirted civil servants who don’t know their own rules. Or who pretend not to.

As we’ve pointed out, with evidence, dozens of times: yes, you are allowed to videotape, film, photograph, audio-record, or sketch the TSA in action, including while they’re doing their “pat-downs.” It says so on the TSA’s own website:

TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping or filming at security checkpoints, as long as the screening process is not interfered with or slowed down.

But because so many TSA clerks like to throw their weight around, they often tell people they can’t videotape/photograph them. That’s what happened here, where the blue-shirted wonder not only lied to the young boy trying to videotape his own and his father’s pat-down but threatened him with the cops. In fact, the TSA tinpot dictator did call the cops. He also said, when the boy correctly pointed out that the TSA’s website indicates that videotaping is allowed, “Careful what you say. You don’t like this? You respect this badge.”

Yeah, we respect your fake badge.

Watch and listen.

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)

Another day, another passenger screwed by the TSA

Almost every day I receive emails from people telling me about their TSA experiences. They often wonder if they could have prevented the abuse meted out to them by dressing differently, talking differently, acting differently, flying out of a different airport, you name it. As I always tell them, no. You have no power over how the TSA treats you. The TSA has absolute power. Whether a TSA agent woke up on the wrong side of the bed one morning or is simply being sadistic, it has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them.

Yesterday I received an email from a man who, with his 17-year-old son, was harassed in Buffalo. He thought it had something to do with the location, since he said he hadn’t been bothered in Reno. Again, no. He just happened to be the victim of TSA whim, which rules everything when you fly. Don’t look for logic, I told him; there is none. There isn’t meant to be.

What the TSA did to him and his son — which, I might add, was illegal, but as I’ve written hundreds of times, the TSA does illegal stuff all the time — what the TSA did was to compel obedience. It was power for the sake of exercising power. It was to put him in his place, to show him who’s in charge. And as long as people keep choosing to fly, they are putting themselves at the mercy of this power. They are tacitly agreeing that the TSA should be in charge.

Here is his email to me, in its entirety, with slight editing for punctuation:

I don’t fly much — I really have developed an aversion to flying.

I recently flew Southwest from Reno to Buffalo. TSA in Reno was fine — smiling, cordial, friendly.

My return from Buffalo, I found TSA to be the opposite — rude, unprofessional, bullying. I was fuming. I went through with my 17-year-old son. We had to go through a full-body imaging system. I have no objection.

Son gets pulled aside. I go through and wait for my carry-on to get scanned. Lots of TSA people milling about, yet it wasn’t that busy. TSA dude handling my carry-on asks if I’m with someone, and I tell him I’m with the young guy in the brown t-shirt (point toward him). TSA dude says they’re sending my carry-on back through scanner again. OK. Lots of confusion and TSA people bumping into each other. Someone comes back with my carry-on stuff — changed their mind about sending it through scanner, I guess. Then one of them says to me in a not very professional tone: “Why didn’t you tell us you were with someone ?” I suppose my tone in response was not what I’d characterize as submissive: “I did. I told you that I was with the kid in the brown shirt over there.” I’m confused. The TSA dude is holding my tray of carry-on and on top are two pairs of shoes. DUH!

So they carry my tray of carry-on over to a table I’m standing and someone with a metal detector goes through my stuff. Fine, no problem. Meanwhile, they take my kid to an open area and do a full-body pat-down. When this is finished my son comes back to where I’m standing in front of a table with my carry-on stuff in the tray. A second group of two TSA people come over and start again to rifle through my carry-on stuff.

The TSA agent starts asking my son questions:  what’s your business in Buffalo, what did you do here, who did you see here, and she keeps drilling down to information that is clearly none of her business. How many cousins do you have, etc. It’s clearly some sort of behavioral testing. She asks me for my ID. It’s in the tray with the rest of my carry-on stuff. I offer to pull it out for her, but she waves me away saying she’s going to do it herself.

She then proceeds to take out my money clip and goes through one by one every item, dollar, and card in my money clip — finds my driver’s license and then asks me if I’m the name on my driver’s license. They leave my carry-on stuff a mess in this tray that looks like it’s NEVER been cleaned — the bottom of it is filthy. That ends the interrogation and they just walk away. By then I’m steaming fucking mad as hell at our treatment and their unprofessional behavior. I don’t mind going through a serious, professional security check, but I DO mind being bullied, abused, and feeling like they aren’t doing a professional job but doing a half-assed job.

So, it appears that the quality of TSA professionalism varies greatly from airport to airport. Some are obviously a joke. So is there any web site I can look to research the quality of TSA professionalism by airport? I would have been better prepared to go through this bunch of bozos if I knew how rude Buffalo was going to be beforehand.

I suppose I volunteered to get extra special treatment because I wasn’t a submissive sheep in response to unnecessarily getting yelled at.

Well, just sharing my story and obviously venting. I don’t know if rudeness even qualifies as a TSA complaint, and I suspect that by complaining I’d probably get on some sort of suspect list. Really felt like I was in Stalin Russia or Hitler Germany!

As I told him, no, there’s no website where you can research the quality of TSA professionalism [sic] by airport. And even if there were, it would be meaningless. It’s not about professionalism. It’s about obedience training. They messed with him because they can. “Rude” is a wholly inadequate word for what they did to him and his son.

And “behavior detection”? Ha! We’ve written about this more times than I can count. TSA “behavior detection” is bullshit. It’s not only bullshit on its face, as anyone’s common sense can tell, it’s been proven, objectively, repeatedly, to be bullshit.

The TSA has no right to go through people’s money, wallets, personal documents. This, too, has been proven. But they do it anyway, over and over and over again.

Oh, and of course he can complain to his heart’s content; nothing will come of it. Neither will he be put on a “suspect list.” The TSA would like you believe they maintain such a list, but they don’t. They don’t have their shit together enough for that. They’re busy confiscating shampoo, water bottles, and mashed potatoes; how can they possibly spend time maintaining a list of people on whom they want to get revenge?

Besides, any victim will do. Whether they’re pissed off at you in particular, at a passenger from last week, or just at the world in general, if you drift into their crosshairs, tough luck. They’ll get their jollies one way or another.

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)