DHS/TSA blink: Real ID is a bust

As I wrote in this post on January 7, 2016, Edward Hasbrouck is a consistently reliable source of information on all things security — and faux security. His excellent website, PapersPlease, is a breath of fresh air in the hothouse atmosphere of the travel blabbosphere. So it’s no surprise that he has been predicting from the beginning that the Department of Homeland Security’s attempt to impose yet more stupid regulations would fizzle. He said DHS would blink, and it has.

I’m talking about so-called Real ID and DHS’s insistence that after such-and-such a date (constantly changing) the TSA would no longer accept as ID driver’s licenses from a list of states that hadn’t acquiesced to DHS demands. In other words, DHS was claiming that you would be prevented from flying domestically if you held a driver’s license from a supposed rogue state (Alaska, California, Maine, Texas, etc.). I’ll let Ed tell the story:

Accurate public understanding of what’s going on is not helped by the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in official statements by its highest officials, on its official website have been telling out-and-out lies about what the law does and doesn’t require.

Many well-meaning and reputable but overly trusting journalists have allowed themselves to be used as conveyor belts for this DHS propaganda. The result has been a flood of authoritative-seeming news reports, many of them flatly wrong.

The essential facts are as follows:

In order to try to intimidate state governments into allowing their state driver licenses and ID databases to be integrated into a distributed national ID database (the REAL ID Act is about the database, not the ID cards), the DHS is threatening states. DHS intimates that at some future date set at the discretion of the DHS (not earlier than 2018, but that date has already been postponed by a decade since I first wrote about it, and could be postponed again) the TSA and its minions will start preventing people from flying if they show up at airports with ID from states that the DHS, in its discretion, deems insufficiently “compliant” with the federal REAL ID Act.

Hasbrouck goes on to say:

The DHS and the TSA have no legal authority to carry out this threat.

I repeat: DHS and TSA have no legal authority to carry out this threat. (Then again, I suppose one could argue, correctly, that both do lots of stuff for which they have no legal authority.)

Furthermore, Hasbrouck repeats what he — and I, and many others — have been saying for years: flying is a right, not just a privilege. Flying is a right:

The right to travel by air is guaranteed by explicit Federal law (“the public right of freedom of transit through the navigable airspace”, 49 US Code § 40101), by the Bill of Rights (“the right of the people… peaceably to assemble”, U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1), and by an international human rights treaty to which the USA is a party (“Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State [i.a. a country that is a party to the ICCPR] shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement”, ICCPR, Article 12, Paragraph 3).

There’s other information in the full column, and I urge you to go over to read it. Hasbrouck ends with this paragraph:

Right now, U.S. domestic travelers don’t need to do anything about their ID cards. However, they do need to tell Congress to repeal the REAL ID Act, and ask state officials to prepare to defend your rights and those of other residents of your state if the DHS and/or TSA try to interfere with Americans’ right to travel.

Right to travel. Our right. Get it?

(Thanks to Charlie Leocha and Edward Hasbrouck)

Cross-posted at ABombazine.

Sai tests legality of TSA’s new scanner policy

TSA activist and friend of the blog Sai, about whom we’ve written many times (plug “Sai” into the search box to get caught up), has already done so much to try to fight the abuses of the Transportation Security Administration. And here he is doing more. This guy, like Jon Corbett, is indefatigable.

Because I’m a little late with this post, and because Edward Hasbrouck has already so thoroughly covered Sai’s latest case, I’m going to excerpt some of Ed’s reporting and direct you to his website where you can read the complete entry. Here’s how it starts:

The real test of whether the TSA is above the law isn’t whether TSA or DHS officials, flacks, or lobbyists claim that there are legal procedures which (hypothetically) permit judicial oversight of TSA actions. The real test is what happens when real people object to specific conduct by TSA staff and contractors, or private parties such as airlines acting at the behest of the TSA, and ask the courts to review and decide whether the TSA or its minions are breaking the law or violating the US Constitution.

Nobody has done more to test the real-world limits of TSA lawlessness than our friend Sai, who has been waging a one-person, pro se legal crusade against the TSA for its disregard of the Constitution and of a variety of Federal laws providing for transparency, fairness, and due process. Sai’s pending lawsuits against the TSA include one of the most important challenges anyone has made to the TSA’s claims of authority for secret lawmaking, as discussed below.

Remarkably, and unlike most of those aggrieved by TSA general disregard for the law as well as more specific misconduct, Sai has even had some success. But that limited success gives a sense of just how outrageous is the TSA’s disregard for the law, and how far it has to go before the courts will rein it in.

As I said, you can go over to Ed’s excellent site, called Papers Please, to get the full story. Warning that it’s white font on black background, which burns my retinas, but maybe you’ll find it easier to tolerate. (Apparently there’s a way on some computers to change the colors, so if you can do that, more power to you.)

Congratulations once again to Sai for his dogged and profound work in doing battle with this obnoxious agency. We wish him all good luck. You can also get detailed information directly from Sai here and help him out financially if you can. Here’s more detailed information from Sai about the current case.

TSA to force people through scanners

As many people have discovered from the latest news, the Department of Homeland Security has suddenly decreed publicly what anyone with reasonable observational skills knows they’ve been planning from the get-go:  that the TSA will, at whim, force passengers through the strip-search scanners.

I repeat that this has been the plan from the beginning. I said so at a now-defunct group blog where I used to write called Cogitamus, long before TSA News existed. Those who made predictions to the contrary have been proven wrong.

You have highly expensive technology — never mind that it’s been proven, repeatedly, to be ineffective — combined with a determined fearmongering campaign that induces people to believe there’s a terrorist hiding around every corner, along with five years’ worth of trying to force people into scanners, and you’re going to let passengers opt out?


It was only a matter of time, and now that time is here.

The news reports on this development quote the DHS directive (AIT stands for “advanced imaging technology”):

“While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers.”

Some passsengers. Which ones? Whichever the TSA decides. On whim, which is how they decide everything. (At least that part isn’t new.)

Run into an agent who woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Or just a power-tripper with a bad attitude? As before, they can make your life miserable. And to repeat, for the umpteenth time, 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, and never have been, as the TSA itself admits. So tired of hearing people lament that they were shocked to discover this at the airport.

Who do you think will be singled out for extra scrutiny, in addition to the random unlucky, that is? Use your imagination. (But remember — we don’t live in a police state! We’re free!)

Since the TSA has already defied several court orders pertaining to the scanners, I can’t imagine that the lawsuits that are coming over this latest policy will persuade them to do anything differently.

Oh, and the incessant, tedious credulousness of the media in reporting this development is also predictable. USA Today, Time Magazine, Fox, you name it — all are reporting that the scanners are good detecting hidden objects, when this has been proven to be false time and time again. Just one example, from SlashGear:

No more detailed explanation for the change is given. However, it seems likely that the scanners’ ability to single out metallic objects hidden around the body – and that might have been missed by a physical search from a TSA agent – is seen as invaluable for whoever security services believe presents a greater-than-normal risk.


Wrong, wrong, wrong. The scanners have a shit “ability to single out metallic objects hidden around the body.”

Congratulations, America. You’ve been lining up like sheep for the past five years, acquiescing to anything and everything the TSA has been doing, essentially answering, when they ask you to jump, “How high?” And now they’re demanding that you jump even higher.

Merry Christmas!

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)

Ft. Myers TV station airs accidentally accurate TSA logo

Gotta love this!

WBBH in Ft. Myers, Florida, apparently aired a report with a tweaked DHS/TSA logo behind the speaker. Instead of the letters “TSA” for, of course, “Transportation Security Administration,” only the letters “TA” appear. They represent, in case it has to be explained, “Tits and Ass”; and depicted on each side, if you look closely, are breasts and buttocks.

Thanks to our writer Amy Alkon for the story, which she got via Kevin Eck at Adweek. Hats off to the clever person who tweaked the logo, though I do have to wonder if it actually aired this way or if the image was changed afterwards for this still shot. Either way, the tweaked logo is a more accurate representation of the TSA!

TSA blows it again, terrorizes passengers in Miami

On Monday, November 9, 2015 — in other words, well before the attacks in Paris — the TSA, combined with the paramilitary forces of its parent agency DHS (Department of Homeland Security) did again what it does best: overreact, in an almost certifiably insane way, to a security “breach” at an airport, and then terrorize scores of ordinary passengers just trying to go about their business:

Paramilitary police in Miami force passengers to leave plane at gunpoint

On Monday evening, an American Airlines flight from Miami, Florida to Barbados was boarded by a paramilitary police unit wielding assault rifles, who demanded that passengers put their hands on their heads as they were forced off the flight.

Large sectors of the airport were effectively placed under lockdown during the operation. The gates of terminal cafes and restaurants were closed, leaving patrons locked inside by iron bars as police SWAT teams decked out in body armor and toting assault rifles swept through the terminal.

Photos and videos posted to social media documented the egregious violation of passengers’ constitutional right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures. “There were very large machine guns, body armor, all of that,” one passenger told a local CNN affiliate. “Very, very frightening.”

Some 70 flights were delayed and nine were diverted as a result of the lockdown, which shut down two concourses for almost three hours.

And what was the cause of all this mishigas?

Dental tools.

That’s right, dental tools.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation later admitted that the passenger was a dentist, and that the “suspicious” bag he had been carrying contained nothing more than fillings and other dental supplies.

TSA spokesman Mike England said that the lockdown was conducted “out of an abundance of caution” as federal officials “worked with airport operators to direct gate operations to cease while the passenger was located.”

Oh, evil tooth implements! Fie, fie on you, I say!

Bad dentist!

Oh, well. Get used to it, people. This is the new normal. And after the attacks in Paris, it will only get worse.

Taking out my old-fashioned phonograph once more, people have shown, again and again and again, that they’re willing to put up with anything — and I do mean anything — for the illusion of “security.”

We’ve crossed the Rubicon. There’s no going back. There’s only spiraling downward.

Photo: Cheri F. McGuire/Twitter

Re TSA, WillCAD from FlyerTalk tells it like it is

I wish I knew this person’s real name to give him/her credit for this comment he/she posted at the chat forum FlyerTalk (FT). In it, he hits every nail on the head in a discussion with another FT member about the TSA. All I know is that he goes by “WillCAD” and says he hails from Charm City. (Yes, enough with the “he-slash-she”; people should be able to get it without going into fits over identity politics. He sounds like a guy to me.) Here’s his FT handle:

Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Baltimore, MD USA
Programs: Southwest Rapid Rewards. Tha… that’s about it.
Posts: 3,066

And here is his comment in its entirety (thanks to Susan Richart for alerting me to this):

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
I WISH I HAD THE ANSWER. I’d be like a public policy master of some kind.

There is an answer… in about 27 parts. Outside audits with consequences for specific individuals who fail. Get rid of the paramilitary trappings (uniforms, badges, “officer” titles, honor guards, etc) and treat TSOs like what they are, clerks. Establish clear, non-secret, totally transparent procedures and rules, take away discretion from the screeners, and introduce a radically shrunken prohibited items list. Cease trumpeting ANY discoveries other than weapons as “big catches” – it’s not a big catch if you find drugs when you’re supposed to be looking for weapons. Put big, clear nametags on every TSA employee and require them to give their full name to anyone who asks. Post rules about photography being permissible and other passenger rights big and clear in every airport, and especially in every TSA break room. If someone breaks the rules, FIRE THEIR AZZ! Etc, etc, etc.

You don’t need to be a public policy master to understand common sense and plain accountability.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
I hear the Isarelies do a pretty good job but that’s adifferent bowl of wax over there since the existential challenges are literally right in front of your face.

Israel’s bowl of wax includes no formal Constitution, and there are enough loopholes on the Basic Laws of Human Dignity and Liberty to drive a truck through.

Whether or not Israel does “a pretty good job” with its aviation security depends entirely on your point of view and personal experience. I haven’t experienced it directly, but suffice it to say, I’ve heard opinions on both sides.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
With us, it’s only the painful memory that keeps our vigilance.

No, what’s been keeping our vigilance for the last ten years or so has been continual fear-mongering by those in the government and those in private industry who have a vested interest (politically, financially, or both) in keeping our levels of paranoia, suspicion, xenophonia, and panic at a high enough level to achieve carte blanche when it comes to spending money and restricting liberties in the pursuit of some unattainable state of safety and security.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
My short answer is that they really need to broaden the safe traveler or known traveller program. Get people like us (frequent travelers) out of these ridiculous lines and subject the rest of the herd to scrutiny.

My first thought when I read something like this consists of two words, one of which is not printable on this site, and the other of which is “you!”

Only frequent travelers have rights? No way, pal. I may be an infrequent traveler, but I’m a full-time human-freakin’-being, and I have the same rights and freedoms as you have. I ain’t gonna pay some extortion money to keep the rights and freedoms I have. When it comes to purchased services or special privileges from a private company, I say, Pay more, Get more. But when it comes to Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms, I say, Millions for Defense* but not one penny for Tribute!

*In this context, I mean Defense against government abridgement of personal liberties, not against the way overblown danger of terrorism.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
Yes it costs money for us but unfortunately we got to pay for our freedom somehow.

Freedom isn’t free, but you don’t pay for it with money. If you’ve been buying boxes of New Freedom or Stayfree in the store, I’ve got news for you – that ain’t freedom you’re buying.

Although freedom has been purchased for us in blood, the true price of freedom is RISK, risk that someone will abuse their freedom to do others harm. That price cannot, MUST not, be borne by a few, but must be borne by all who wish to maintain their freedoms.

The money we pay for TSA doesn’t safeguard our freedoms one iota. In point of fact, we’re paying for our own government to destroy our freedoms and strip away our rights, all in the name of safety and security that are impossible to achieve.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
Devon suggestion is to outlaw hand guns altogether. No exceptions even in checked luggage. Makes it much easier to have a universal policy.

There already is a universal policy – firearms are prohibited in the cabin. What is banning firearms from checked bags going to accomplish? It’s a non-threat – passengers can’t access the luggage holds! I don’t know where you came up with this particular non-sequitur, but let me respond by saying that the price of tribbles on Benecia is on the rise, and the price of grapes in Carthage is on the decline.

Originally Posted by MelloncView Post
Third is to restrict visa allowances people from unfriendly countries. And stop pretending that we are about refugees defecting. The times of Elise Island and accepting the poor and the hungry are long over. We gotta be selective and smart about who we let in. Lastly I’d be in favor of folding the DHA into DOD, which has real soldiers and real powers. Just some suggestions.

Yipe. This paragraph is so full of…

Okay, I’ll just take it point by point:

1) Define “unfriendly countries.” And define the parameters you use to decide whose visas are denied based on their country of origin or citizenship. I believe we already have a list of countries put out by the State Department of those who are embargoed or are considered state sponsors of terrorism. But keep that xenophobia and bigotry up! I’m sure it keeps you warm at night.

2) We are still about refugees and always will be. The time of “Elise” island (by the way, it’s Ellis Island, Elise was Alex P. Keaton’s Mom on Family Ties) may be over, but the time of America welcoming those from other nations who wish to become Americans through hard work will never end. And we ARE selective and smart about who we let in. In fact, we may be a little TOO selective; skilled people from other countries who want to emigrate to the US often have a really difficult time getting in.

3) I have no idea what the DHA is, but if you’re referring to the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), then I think you’re out of your mind to want to fold it into the DOD (Department of Defense). The DOD encompasses the armed forces, which are used to defend the nation against armed invasion, and fights wars against other nations.

The DHS, on the other hand, is a …….ized agency cobbled together from domestic law enforcement and investigatory agencies. Ther is no way in hell I want the FBI – domestic national police force – to be part of the military. I even think it’s a tremendous mistake to have folded the US Coast Guard – a branch of military service tasked with defending US national waters – into the DHS.

The armed forces fight the country’s enemies. When you try to task them with policing the citizens of their country, they inevitably come to regard the citizens AS the enemy, and that’s when you get a military dictatorship or oligarchy or other form of tyrannical rule. The military should have no authority whatsoever over the people.

Nor should police forces be militarized into domestic occupation forces. Police forces in this country already tend to feel that they’re soldiers in a war, and they regard the citizenry as the enemy, which is why we have such a disconnect between the police and the people they’re supposed to be protecting and serving. The more militarized they get, the more they’ll feel like soldiers, and the more they feel like soldiers, the more they’ll act like soldiers.

Personally, I’d be in favor of abolishing DHS entirely and folding its constituent agencies back into the other federal departments from whence they originally came. The very name, Homeland Security, gave me chills from the first time I heard it, and not in a good way.

Well, this has been a rant, but let me sum up by saying simply that I completely disagree with everything you said.

Flying is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Anyone who says otherwise, just because the right to fly isn’t enumerated in the Constitution, is full of beans.
Bravo, bravo, bravo, a thousand times, WillCAD. I hope you see this. I would say I hope you’ll change some minds, but I already know from years of being at this that you won’t. It’s enough that you’re on the record with your eloquence and clear-sightedness. Thank you.

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)

Yet another report of TSA incompetence, Carraway re-assigned

In another repetitive story about the TSA’s failings, a “confidential” DHS report shows what many previous DHS and GAO reports have already shown, have been showing for years: the TSA misses prohibited items all the time. As a matter of course. From the Chicago Tribune:

ABC News first reported Monday that undercover agents were able to smuggle prohibited items, such as mock explosives or weapons, through TSA checkpoints in 67 out of 70 attempts. ABC cited anonymous officials who had been briefed on the inspector general’s report.

This story is nothing new. We’ve publicized the earlier DHS and GAO reports many times. This latest report is noteworthy merely for the percentage — 67 out of 70 — which is slightly higher than what the Red Teams have been finding all along.

More important than the farce of airport security, however, is another familiar story: knives, razor blades, inert grenades, knitting needles, hockey sticks, scissors, lighters, sunscreen, shampoo — none of these things are going to bring down a plane.

I don’t care that the TSA misses these things (after all, they’re busy confiscating all those scary cupcakes, jars of explosive peanut butter, tubes of Terrorist Toothpaste, canisters of bomby baby powderbeltswatchespursespaperweights, and perfume; forgive me — I know I’m leaving out lots of other scary stuff). They’ve been missing them for years. For over a decade. Yet miraculously, planes haven’t been blown out of the sky left and right. Duh!

And so acting chief Melvin Carraway, who temporarily replaced Molester-in-Chief John Pistole earlier this year, is now being “re-assigned.” Who cares? Another goon will take his place. And none of the TSA’s practices will change. The proven-to-be-worthless scanners will remain. Knives, knitting needles, scissors, etc. will still get through. People will still be bullied, harassed, robbed, and assaulted to get on a plane. If anything, the groping will increase.

Go over to that Chicago Tribune article and read the comments section. Most of it is the usual cesspool of inane “Red Team! Blue Team!” sniping, with a dollop of race-baiting thrown in for good measure. A few people get it — that the National Security State in general and the TSA in particular are meant as forms of social control. But most people, as usual, are either mired in their own muddy political ideologies or afraid of The Big Bad Terrorists Hiding Around Every Corner .

Shoshana Hebshi settles lawsuit against TSA, Frontier Airlines

Shoshana Hebshi, the Ohio woman who was handcuffed, hauled off a plane at gunpoint, and strip-searched in a jail cell — all without probable cause — has settled her lawsuit against the TSA, Frontier Airlines, and other government agencies.

We’ve written about Shoshana Hebshi several times, in 2012, 2013, and 2014. It’s taken all these years for her to get a settlement. Her suit also named the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and other officials who were involved in her violation.

The American Civil Liberties Union helped Hebshi file the lawsuit. The announcement of the settlement is at the ACLU’s website. Excerpt:

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement in its lawsuit filed on behalf of Shoshana Hebshi, a mother of two who was pulled off an airplane at gunpoint, arrested, strip-searched, and detained. The case was brought against Frontier Airlines and several government defendants.

The ACLU charged that Hebshi, who is of Saudi Arabian and Jewish descent, was singled out at Detroit Metropolitan Airport because of her Middle Eastern name and appearance. Hebshi was never accused of any wrongdoing, and a federal judge twice denied defendants’ attempts to have her claims thrown out.

“People do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they step onto an airplane,” said Rachel Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “This settlement sends that critical message, and will help protect future passengers from having to endure what Shoshana went through.”

There is, still, no word on the fate of the other two, so far unnamed, men who were abused along with Hebshi. I’m guessing they were sufficiently humiliated and afraid to come forward, especially because of their ethnicity; and who can blame them?

Hebshi was traveling home to Ohio on September 11, 2011, after visiting her sister in California. She was seated next to two men of South Asian descent whom she did not know. When the flight landed, armed agents boarded the plane and arrested all three of them. Hebshi was held in a jail cell, forced to submit to a humiliating strip-search, and detained for hours. She later discovered that she had been pulled off of the plane after fellow passengers became suspicious of the amount of time each man spent in the restroom. All three were later released without charge.

As I’ve written before about this case, the other passengers on the plane are almost as guilty as the government goons who violated Hebshi and those two men. “If you see something, say something,” DHS tells us (that sentence is even trademarked, if you can believe it). God forbid you should spend “too much time” in the bathroom. You could be a terrorist!

The head of the Wayne County Airport Authority continues to defend the actions of everyone  involved in abusing Hebshi:

Airport police “acted quickly and responsibly, and followed appropriate protocols in responding to a request for help from one of our airline partners,” Authority Chief Executive Thomas Naughton said in a release. “I strongly support their actions. We remain committed to vigilantly protecting the safety of the travelling public.”

Someone needs to take him down a peg or two.

Congratulations to Hebshi, even though $40,000 is a paltry amount for what she went through. And, of course, this settlement does nothing to stop the abuse going on at the nation’s airports every day. If you want to help put a stop to it, please donate to TSA Watch.

(Photo courtesy of Shoshana Hebshi)

(Cross-posted at ABombazine)