TSA Has Refined Insecurity

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I don’t believe that the airport screening program has done anything to make us feel more secure. If anything, the TSA has replaced a tiny possibility of something bad happening with the absolute certainty that you will be hassled, virtually stripped, and potentially sexually violated. It’s as if we’ve found a way to take terrorism and replace it with something worse (sexual assault) so that people aren’t worried about terrorism anymore.

So, I did the American thing. I wrote my Senator, Richard Lugar (R-Indiana). To Lugar’s credit, he had is staff investigate by forwarding my letter to the TSA.

The good news: I got an answer (more on that later).

The bad news: Unfortunately, since the TSA appears to be quite vindictive, this may guarantee that the TSA will find some way to hassle me beyond reason on my next flight. I can see it already: “sir, you’ve been put on the no-fly list because you dared write your Senator about our systematic molestation system. Before you leave without getting on your flight, we have been ordered to scan you and give you a free enhanced patdown. We recommend you heed the advice of Bobby Knight.”

This is not the US. It's Ireland. It's illegal to photograph airport security in the US.

So, after a few months, the TSA actually replied, and Lugar’s office forwarded their reply to me. Ironically, I received the reply the same day (you can read it here) that a Federal court found that the TSA had ignored the law in rolling out naked scanners. Basically, the TSA’s reply made three points:

  • What we are doing is legal. Neener-neener.
  • People like it, and we have polls to prove it.
  • We are smart and John Pistole is a genius and has devoted his considerable intelligence to your best interests.

Where to start? First, people will always agree with security. If I poll the public and phrase the question right, it’s pretty easy to get agreement with unpopular policies:

[box type=”info”]Q: Do you support being shot in the head if it allows your family members to survive without being shot at all?

A: Yes, I’ll take a bullet to protect my wife and children.

B: No, please shoot my family starting from oldest to youngest.

C: Duh, I don’t know.  Can I watch those pop tart cats on YouTube now?[/box]

Second, just because it’s legal does not mean it is right. Slavery, debtor’s prisons, and beating your wife have all been perfectly legal in the US in the past.  We make laws to stop abuses. Until now, no government program has decided that systematic x-ray vision voyeurism and sexual assault are a good idea to direct at citizens.

Finally, John Pistole may well be the smartest man in the employ of the United States Federal Government. Being smart does not excuse policies that systematically sexually abuse, humiliate and ultimately replace a chance of something bad with certainty of something worse.

Here’s the letter that prompted this post:

TSA Response to Why Are We Groping People?

10 thoughts on “TSA Has Refined Insecurity

  1. LOL! I contacted my State Sentor (GA – Johnny Isakson) regarding a very upsetting TSA incident. Mr. Isakson (actually one of his staffers) contacted the TSA on my behalf. I received the EXACT same letter that you did in response. That was in March. Fortunately, I have not been singled out by TSA since that time (and I fly almost weekly for business). We must continue to let our elected officials know that we do NOT approve of the TSA nor their tactics. Thank you for standing up against this insanity.

    • Hope the incident wasn’t too terrible. That letter was HORRIBLE, and really confirms that the people running the TSA are not the same species of human as the rest of us.

  2. We are Freedom to Travel USA, an organization dedicated to regaining freedoms taken away from us by the TSA. We believe that suspicionless unwanted touching should not be a condition of travel. We believe that being subject to the equivalent of Peeping Toms without cause should not be a condition of travel. We believe that exposing ourselves to radiation, however small, should not be a condition of travel. We believe that merely the presence of medical metal, in and of itself, should not constitute “probable cause.” h t t p : / / fttusa. org

  3. Seriously, who authorizes the TSA to do this?

    Is it the Executive Branch or Congress? How is it legal, if at the same time, it breaks the 4th Amendment?

    John Pistole is not very smart if he is hiring idiots who feel that a 95 year old woman dying of cancer is a threat to fellow passengers. They justify it by the rules. What happened to common sense?

    The only thing professional about TSA employees is they know they are in trouble if they don’t follow the rules. -MOOO

    • @Paul – We just had a US Court of appeals rule that enhanced patdowns/naked scanners ARE NOT a 4th amendment violation. Same court decision that said that the TSA had not conducted adequate public Q&A before making the bomb scanner purchases.

  4. Hoosiers voted out a US Senator Hartkey because he objected to being searched at an airport. Give it up!

  5. Mike,

    Interesting response from your representative in the upper house of legislature, Mr. Lugar, transmitting correspondence addressing your privacy concerns in connection with the nature and scope of security screenings required of commercial airline passengers. I have several comments from a somewhat unique perspective.

    The Security Screenings Have Little To Do With Security

    The U.S. Transportation Security Procedures Reflect Domestic Societal Priorities

    Contrary to the histrionics by many on your side of the Pond, the States have not been the victim of a materially successful terrorist attack since the incidents on September 11, 2001. (see Note 1, below) Indeed, the alleged terrorist attempts (exploding undergarments, exploding shoes, etc.) have been – to the extent they were, in fact, actual terrorist attempts and not D&D (deception and disinformation) incidents staged by your intelligence community – laughably amateurish, at best.

    Whilst Americans seem put upon by the potential for terrorist activity, the experience of the States to date does not begin to approach the level of terrorism experienced for decades in the U.K., until recently, at the hands of the IRA and its supporters (among other malcontents). The U.K. certainly took (and continues to take) reasonable precautions to thwart terrorist incidents, but has never adopted policies and procedures in the nature of those you report experiencing at the hands of your TSA.

    On the other hand, if you visit the U.K., Israel, France, Germany – all of which have experienced terrorist incidents and resultant casualties orders of magnitude greater than those experienced by the U.S. – you may find our airports and other public facilities disquieting, as they are commonly, if not routinely, patrolled by young men and women in uniform armed with automatic weapons.

    The societal distinction is interesting:

    Citizens of the States place a greater value on individual rights than on collective security. In most other countries, at least at the margin, the converse is true. If a U.S. citizen notices suspicious conduct by a particular individual, he or she tends not to report it, at least until and unless the suspicious individual happens to appear at the citizen’s boarding gate. After all, the prevailing principle guiding individual behaviour in the States is: The innocent have no obligation to others, and security is government’s problem exclusively. Should law enforcement use deadly force and inflict “collateral damage,” those U.S. innocents caught in the crossfire will have redress for substantial damages in your civil trial courts.

    Outside of the States, the relative interests are balanced quite differently. As in the States, the innocent may have no affirmative obligation to others, but governments “advertise,” quite prominently, that they are ready, willing and able to use whatever force may be necessary to maintain collective security. And, generally, redress for those innocents caught in the crossfire is more limited. [Automatic weapons made by Heckler & Koch, IMI, Ltd., FN Herstal, etc. commonly employed by security forces in Europe generally have fire rates of between 500-1200 rounds/minute (depending on model and configuration), a virtual guaranty that their employment unavoidably will result in “collateral damage.”]

    The TSA “Dog And Pony Show” (to borrow one of your colloquialisms) Is, Perhaps, Routine Law Enforcement

    From the perspective of an outsider, the TSA policies you find so objectionable seem “much ado about … hmm … very little.” The obvious question is the one you never ask your Mr. Lugar: How many actual or suspected terrorist arrests have been effected by these policies relative to the number of arrests for drug trafficking, weapons possession (by persons not suspected of terrorist intent, simply members of criminal syndicates travelling to or from one place to another), contraband smuggling (either smuggling of items that, given your patchwork of jurisdictions, are legal in one and not another, or international smuggling with the intent to avoid payment to your revenue authorities), etc.?

    The relatively early career of your Rudi Giuliani is very insightful in this regard. He theorised that focusing police attention away from serious crimes and, instead, on the apprehension and prosecution of minor offenders would both resolve the serious crimes in the ordinary course and materially reduce the crime rate. The dramatic, indeed, precipitous, decrease in crimes of all types in New York as a result of his policies speaks to their efficacy. Giuliani’s genius was his recognition that the apprehension and prosecution of minor offenders would lead to their incarceration (thus removing them from society and their ability to commit additional minor offences), but – more importantly – to the inevitable discovery of evidence implicating them in more serious crimes, making those crimes easier to solve and reducing the serious crime rate.

    Certainly, the TSA policies of which you complain, are not necessary since, as discussed above, other countries with terrorist risk much greater than that in the U.S. have not found it necessary to employ them. The real question is: Is the true motivation of the TSA security policies a generalized government crime control measure?

    John Pistole Is Not A Genius; He’s An Idiot

    Mr. Pistole apparently authorised Mr. Hearing to respond to Mr. Lugar – a representative of the upper legislative chamber, if I understand correctly – without reviewing the response in advance. Mr. Hearing makes an admission – damning to anyone with significant experience in the world of intelligence. (This is a world I know all too well, as I personally am subject to a “beyond salvage” finding by your intelligence community. This is why you will find this correspondence (and my true identity) impossible to trace. Whilst a U.S. or U.K. “beyond salvage” finding no longer carries with it the assassination attempts that, at one time, were inevitable until successful, it does mean that the person so sanctioned ceases to exist as a practical matter. It is, for example, impossible to obtain gainful employment if the national authorities tell prospective employers performing criminal background checks that your record is “unavailable.”) Hearing writes that Pistole’s vision is to evolve TSA into an “intelligence-driven” organization. This is not a “throw-away” term; it means that Pistole intends to integrate TSA into your intelligence community, and you should assume he means both prospectively as well as retrospectively. Hearing – to the extent that his views accurately reflect Pistole’s TSA policy – is saying that TSA intends to become a source and method of intelligence.

    [Indeed, if you pursue, under your Freedom of Information Act, further clarification or, particularly, disclosure of TSA’s policies, almost inevitably you will receive a response basing refusal to disclose the information you seek on the exemption for “sources and methods of intelligence.”]

    Any “genius” in Mr. Pistole’s position would not have countenanced any mention of “intelligence” in response to Mr. Lugar’s inquiry on your behalf.

    Inquiry of any information technology professional will confirm that Hearing’s assurances of “strict safeguards” are, at best, wildly overstated, incapable of proof, and beyond the authority of TSA to control. I am certain your NSA, as well as our SIS, have ready access to the data and information Hearing asserts is “protected.”

    Most tellingly, however, in his third paragraph, Hearing effectively discloses that the TSA procedures are a classic intelligence “funnel.” He says, “Many people with similar concerns … are more comfortable with other modes of transportation … ” The U.S. intelligence community, like that of every major country, needs a method to separate the proverbial wheat from chaff. This is why secure encryption was opposed for so long, and why export of secure encryption algorithms from the U.S. is still unlawful. The assumption was that secure encryption would only be used by people with something to hide, thereby minimising the Internet traffic to be closely monitored by the ELINT/SIGINT services. (This assumption, of course, proved false when – astonishingly – citizens desired to protect their banking and credit card information.)

    Similarly, TSA wants to force all terrorist risks off of commercial airlines to the extent possible. It is difficult, if not impossible, to screen adequately all of the citizens who fly on commercial aircraft daily. The implication of Hearing’s statement that certain travellers are more comfortable with other modes of transportation is that the cohort of such travellers will include a disproportionate share of terrorists and criminals. Whilst monitoring available alternative transportation methods – private jet aircraft, for example – is not an insignificant challenge, it is certainly more viable than attempting to screen all commercial aircraft passengers, particularly since the concentration of terrorist and criminals “funnelled” to private jet charters will be higher.

    (For the record, if I choose to travel – which I do only very rarely – I travel by chartered jet. I do not fly on commercial carriers because I am on the “heightened security” list. (Yes, there is a “no fly” list, but it is very limited. There is a much broader “heightened security” list of persons who (along with many of their fellow travellers) are subject to “heightened security,” not always because the passenger is perceived as a threat, but because knowledge the passenger may have might make the passenger an attractive hostage. (In my case, just to give a few examples: Chemical warfare research performed by the U.S. (using private, overseas contractors) between 1951 and 1965 (which, of course, the U.S. has said ceased with execution of the Chemical Weapons Convention, except for the fact that the U.S. military has filed numerous patent applications for manufacturing process patents (for the agents I am aware of) as late as 1998); High-purity elemental fluorine manufacturing technology (licensed by companies in which I was a principal for lawful manufacture of high-purity chemicals for the electronics industry, but that also has applications for nuclear weapons manufacture); The identity of agents and “assets” of the U.S. intelligence community and their assignments (including some former high-ranking German scientists who might be subject to prosecution for alleged war crimes during the period September 1, 1939 – May 8, 1945), etc.)

    Indeed, my travel choices are limited as many of my business “partners” will no longer accompany me on a commercial flight since any association with me guarantees they will be subject to “heightened security,” and because the flights sometimes are delayed as other passengers – who would not otherwise be detained in security – are subject to “heightened security” because I am on-board. You cannot consider the search of a 95 year-old grandmother or a young child in isolation; the degree of scrutiny depends on who else is on the plane with them.

    Regards,

    Robert J. LaPorte, Ph.D.
    London

    Note 1:

    A colleague, who was, at the time, serving as a CEO of a moderate-sized company in the U.S., told me that he confronted his father, a former general officer responsible for military intelligence for one of the U.S. armed-services, right after “9/11.”

    “How could you have screwed-up so badly? How could this happen?”

    “Son, you’re a CEO, right?”

    “Yeah, so?”

    “Well, if you believe the news 19 out of 20 hijackers got through.”

    “Yeah, so?”

    “So, when was the last time you called a meeting and had 95% attendance? When was the last time you had a project – any project – come in within 5% of budget?”

    “Umm … ”

    “Look, we may have over-estimated the quality of (U.S.) airline security procedures, but did it ever occur to you that there may have been terrorist threats, much more serious than the aircraft attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and possibly the White House or the Capitol, that we successfully thwarted?”

    “Umm … ”

    “We don’t advertise our successes. There may have been other threats that, if successful, would have been much worse. You’ll never know.”

    [The U.S. intelligence community still refuses to release the composition of the invisible ink used by the Germans in World War I.]

    • I guess it would be nice to consider that the “TSA” actually does good things to stop terrorism on airplanes.

      The data seems to suggest otherwise. http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2011/01/tsa_threat_detection

      70% failure rate in finding guns going through X-Ray machines. All this for what? $6 billion annually?

      I would rather the $6 billion be spent on intelligence gathering, so attacks are stopped before they happen, as your colleagues in the UK have done on numerous occasions.

      So, if the intelligence community is indeed stopping things before they happen, great. What we are doing to each other at airports is just a small victory for terrorism. Put up the white flag, they won.

      Fear has won.

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