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The intolerable TSA

I just got back from a trip during which federal security officials at the Orlando airport confiscated some peanut butter snacks from the family ahead of me. Two weeks ago, after flying back from Albany, I was distraught to open a suitcase – that I had checked! – only to discover that the Christmas presents my mother carefully wrapped had been torn open in a search by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.

Normally, I would not even think to complain about these events. I understand that a new world exists after 9/11 and that when it comes to ensuring public safety, what’s a little inconvenience? So what if that hungry family has to buy some new snacks after clearing security? So what if I have to spend an hour rewrapping gifts?

My equanimity, though, evaporated upon reading today how the TSA posted online a 93-page manual detailing some if its most closely guarded security secrets. The incident was said to be an accident, part of a solicitation for a contract, but that makes it no less infuriating. Here I – and millions of other air travelers -- are expected to go through hoops (shedding coats, jackets, shoes; surrendering babies for physical searches; allowing strangers to paw through our belongings), even as the officials entrusted with our safety do something that renders all those steps meaningless.

And therein likes the biggest danger. All along we have been told that there is a reason for all these silly things we are asked to do. Trust us, has been the implicit command of the TSA. Not likely.

By Jo-Ann Armao  | December 9, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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Comments

I didn't get through all of their top secret document. If you did, was there a section on how TSA personnel are to pull terminally ill cancer patients out of their wheelchairs and drop them on the floor of the airport? And how not to apologize? That's what they did in Hawaii to a friend of mine, on her way to the hospital for the last time. I just want to be certain the TSA personnel were just following orders to the absolute letter of their prescribed duties and were really, really protecting national security. Otherwise, I'm afraid they showed themselves to be inept, cruel, and callous bunglers.

Posted by: bflaska | December 9, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The policies are in place for a reason. The document's disclosure, per the article from your own newspaper, creates less of a security risk than a public relations problem. The article also states that if someone wanted they easily could have acquired the document through other means.

I know you need to write a posting for the web and outrage always sells but to claim that TSA can't be trusted because one individual posted something without properly redacting it is a bit ridiculous. People make mistakes, they can and most likely will be disciplined for it, but failing to properly redact one thing isn't cause for throwing the entire TSA under the bus or for claiming that the protections are now meaningless.

So save the faux outrage about how TSA can't be trusted and the policies aren't worthwhile.

Posted by: mde2s | December 9, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Armao-"infuriating" is not quite the right word to describe what has happened here-it is an ENORMOUS security breach-enormous. These former TSA Administrators and other selected DHS/TSA personnel who are saying "ah, no big deal" "aviation security has not been compromised" are simply non-comprehending idiots who are purposefully misleading the public.

The information in this SOP was ALL marked Sensitive Security Information (SSI) by regulation 49 CFR 1520-SSI is information prohibited from being released not only to the public, but to anyone outside the "covered entities" - a specifically designated group of entities-contractors who have undergone a security clearance working for the TSA and have a need-to-know such information, airport and airline security directors, and those who work in security for the regulated parties, lawyers who represent covered entities in litigation -a few other parties-that's about it.

The danger is that we KNOW the bad guys scour the internet for information on vulnerabilities within the transportation security system-particularly aviation security. The potential attackers of civil aviation will now have this entire document to study, and figure out how to penetrate and go around the counter-terrorism measures detailed within. This SOP will show to all who read it the vulnerabilities within the system.

You think this threat to our national security is exaggerated by the release of this document? An example is in order. In late 2001, US forces raided a safe house in Afghanistan. There they found a computer, and on the computer's hard drive they found an ENTIRE GAO REPORT ON U.S. AIRPORT VULNERABILITIES TRANSLATED INTO ARABIC. The entire report.

And now, post 9/11, we have TSA, the agency responsible for ALL transportation security policy, programs, and procedures in the US and abroad blithely and MINDLESSLY releasing an SOP on TSA checkpoint screening procedures, an SOP document that had been amazingly INTENTIONALLY PUT ON AN OPEN FEDERAL CONTRACTOR WHERE IT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE FIRST PLACE-AND HAD BEEN THERE FOR AWHILE-MONTHS PERHAPS? WITHOUT ANYONE AT THE TSA NOTICING.

Like I said, all of the know-nothings, the overpaid TSA managers and staff responsible for this horrific breach of aviation security should either resign or be removed from federal service-the breach is that serious.
In 2001,

Posted by: arrabbiato | December 9, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad that guy with the shoe bomb didn't have it in his briefs or we'd be totally stripping down.

Also, I've noticed the rules about liquids and shoe removal are not enforced at every airport. How can there be different standards in different places?

Posted by: mxyzptlk1 | December 9, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

I try not to fly anywhere unless I absolutely have to. I refuse to deal with the TSA agents in their rented uniforms and have very few people skills. Janet Napoloitano states our air transport corridors are safe. They may be but the performance of the TSA is sadly lacking.

Posted by: npsilver | December 9, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

The problem with the TSA and to a lesser extent police in the USA is that the job of a policeman or a TSA operative is not a minimum wage hamburger slapper.
If you employ higher level employees then they can make decisions and do not have to be driven by rote instructions.
Such people would make life better and safer

Posted by: duncancairncross | December 10, 2009 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Almost exactly two years ago, on December 28, 2007, Patrick Smith wrote an article in the New York Times titled, “The Airport Security Follies,” pointing out the nonsense behind airport screening procedures.

My experience with TSA agents reaffirms every negative comment expressed in that article and this forum. The core problem, of course, is not even enforcement of the incredibly dumb practices the public is expected to endure in the name of "security." The core problem is this: Find some real issue that needs to be dealt with--like airline security. Establish a bureaucracy, public or private. Pay the absolute minimum wage possible, thereby ensuring your recruitment pool will be the absolute bottom of the barrel. Make sure you hire mostly young people with no perspective on who they are or what they are supposed to be doing. Hire people who have had no experience dealing with people, must less administering them. Give these bottom-of-the-barrel cretins virtually unlimited authority over average, law-abiding Americans. Give these ignoramuses the authority, on any whim, to seriously disrupt lives and to subject decent citizens to criminal prosecution if they dare protest mistreatment.

And then be shocked, shocked to discover that you have put in charge of a vital function a bunch of strutting martinets whose combination of incompetence and arrogance staggers the human mind and makes them more of a danger to the traveling public than the terrorists they are supposed to be ferreting out.

Remember: Subjecting average citizens to uncalled for scrutiny does not mean these people are really doing a fine job. It means exactly the opposite. Every resource that is being expended harassing that average citizen is a resource that is NOT being spent finding the real threats. That is the ultimate and frightening irony of the corrupt TSA.

Posted by: tbarksdl | December 10, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Since the only reason I now travel is to out-of-town video shoots, I always carry a video camera or two, plus a laptop, in my carry-on bags, and typically have one or two tripods in my checked bag. I expect to get all my stuff searched on every trip. If anything, I'm grateful that U.S. "security theater" people don't ask me all the insane questions I've been asked when carting video gear in and out of countries with flakier governments than ours.

The two things I *wish* would happen:

1) More training, so that the TSA screeners can tell the difference between bomb material and my Audio-Technica wireless lavalier mic units and stop wiggling their delicate microphone elements. This shortens their lives considerably. And more than once they've just about destroyed the foam windscreens. (Good thing I carry spares.)

2) I'm sure my tripods look like rifles or something in my checked bag: all those long tubes! But please, TSA people, try *real hard* not to break the leg-release levers or head tension screws again, okay? Maybe breaking my gear helps secure the U.S. against terrorist attacks, but I don't see how. (These are not delicate pieces, BTW. They're rugged, commercial-grade Manfrotto tripods and fluid panheads.)

Also, the Crocs I chronically wear due to my diabetes have no metal in them. They're 100% plastic. So are the flip-flops I wear in place of the Crocs at times. But still, I take them off for you while you're doing your power trip thing. I hope it makes you happy.

Apology to the people behind me in the security line: I *need* all that gear and the laptop. I'm not occupying four bins because it gives me pleasure, but because that's how many it takes to put all my stuff through the xray scanner in the approved manner. If you're in a desperate rush, late to make your plane, please let me know. The only time I won't let you go in front of me is the rare occasion when I'm in a major rush myself.

Whatever. In 2005 I flew 28 times. In 2008 I flew six times. This year, so far, only twice, with no other trips planned.

By cutting travel, I'm doing my part to increase airline security, right? And since all the major airlines complain that they carry coach passengers at a loss, and jam their planes so full that it's hard to breathe, it's obvious that they, too, would just as soon not have me as a customer.

Posted by: roblimo | December 10, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Ms. Armao for this short but sweet article. Let's remember, this the same TSA that allowed investigators to smuggle bomb parts through checkpoints in NINETEEN different airports. There was no accountability then, and I suspect there won't be any now, either.

We're being told to put our trust and faith in an inept, supremely intrusive, quasi law enforcement government agency which is not accountable for any of its actions.

Sorry, not happening.

Posted by: sfachime | December 10, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

TSA has but only one purpose. To show to formerly free citizens what it is like to be subjects.

Posted by: liberty_rocks | December 10, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"So save the faux outrage about how TSA can't be trusted and the policies aren't worthwhile. "

The battery in a laptop computer has a higher energy density than a stick of dynamite. The chemicals within are known as dangerous and explosive.

Until they ban laptops and their batteries from airplanes, the TSA's policies cannot be trusted.

Posted by: frantaylor | December 10, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

As many who have commented here stated overtly or implicitly, when the people are afraid, the government can do pretty much whatever it wants to do and the people be damned. All for our protection, of course. Their paternalism is scary.

That they could subject us to such indignities as must be experienced in air travel and not have qualms of conscience says a lot about our government. That we put up with in it says even more about us.

Posted by: flamingliberal | December 10, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

The TSA is, after a all, a huge expensive bureaucracy created in a knee jerk feel-good response to a horrific attack that was not in any way the fault of Screeners working on September 11th, but the fault of huge bureaucracies.

Posted by: dan62 | December 11, 2009 6:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad that guy with the shoe bomb didn't have it in his briefs or we'd be totally stripping down.

Posted by: mxyzptlk1
.................................
Just imagine a system where Americans have identification cards that can not be faked and only those without cards are scrutinized? Couple this with random searches of the holders of the identification cards?

No far better the insanity where everyone is harassed and those that should be scrutinized are not.

Posted by: bsallamack | December 14, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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