Published on 23 Dec 2013
As travelers board planes this holiday, please be aware of 12 actual banned items from the Transportation Security Administration.
December 24, 2013
December 3, 2013
Wendy McElroy thinks that the outrage over the new exit pods at Syracuse Hancock International Airport is misdirected:
There is yet another reason not to fly into or within the US. “Nazi-style detention pods” — that’s what opponents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have called the new “exit pods” being tested at the Syracuse (NY) airport. But the pods are not primarily a rape of civil rights. Their import is equally ominous but more subtle. Their main purpose seems to be profit rather than the flexing of arbitrary power, although the two are closely related.
A major change is occurring in one aspect of airport security. The change? The TSA will no longer be monitoring exit lanes at one-third of American airports; the TSA withdrawal is likely to extend to all airports over time. Exit lanes are the means by which passengers who have completed their travel leave the airport terminal. TSA agents had been policing the lanes to prevent passengers from walking the ‘wrong’ way and re-entering the terminal. Now that task is left to airport security because, as TSA deputy administrator John Halinski explains, ”We firmly believe that exit-lane monitoring is not a screening function, but rather an issue of access control.” Apparently, Halinski believes the ‘S’ in TSA stands for “Screening” because “Security” definitely includes access control.
The economics of the pod construction make sense only in two contexts. First, the airport wants to avoid or divest itself of unionized employees; unions have been a source of conflict in all areas of airport and airline operations. Second, crony capitalism. This is the faux capitalism by which profits do not result from productivity but from political connections, which often include bribes or kickbacks. The Syracuse Hancock International Airport official “sneak preview” of the security overhaul listed 17 local firms that will profit richly from the construction. Who do the firms know? With what financial incentives did they ‘purchase’ their contracts?
April 29, 2013
In Reason, Steve Chapman explains why bureaucrats rarely go out of their way to ease restrictions:
Once in a while, a government agency adopts a policy that is logical, hardheaded, based on experience and unswayed by cheap sentiment. This may be surprising enough to make you reconsider your view of bureaucrats. But not to worry: It usually doesn’t last.
In March the federal Transportation Security Administration surprised the country by relaxing its ban on knives and other items. Starting April 25, it said, it would allow knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches, as well as golf clubs, pool cues and hockey sticks.
That was before flight attendants and members of Congress vigorously denounced the idea as a dire threat to life and limb. It was also before two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon.
So it came as no great surprise when last week TSA announced it would retain the existing ban indefinitely so it could hear more from “the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts and other stakeholders.”
A more plausible explanation is that TSA officials grasped the old Washington wisdom: Bureaucrats rarely get in trouble for being too careful. But if there were a single incident featuring a passenger and a blade, the agency would be tarred and feathered.
Politicians love seeing their names in the newspaper or being mentioned on TV. Bureaucrats understand that such attention can be a career-limiting move. Therefore, no rational bureaucrat will want to be associated with any policy change that might lead to media attention.
December 26, 2012
Furthermore, do we really want to live in a world of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray scanners, and warrantless physical searches? We see this culture in our airports: witness the shabby spectacle of once proud, happy Americans shuffling through long lines while uniformed TSA agents bark orders. This is the world of government provided “security,” a world far too many Americans now seem to accept or even endorse. School shootings, no matter how horrific, do not justify creating an Orwellian surveillance state in America.
Do we really believe government can provide total security? Do we want to involuntarily commit every disaffected, disturbed, or alienated person who fantasizes about violence? Or can we accept that liberty is more important than the illusion of state-provided security? Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives. We shouldn’t settle for substituting one type of violence for another. Government role is to protect liberty, not to pursue unobtainable safety.
Our freedoms as Americans preceded gun control laws, the TSA, or the Department of Homeland Security. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference, not by safety. It is easy to clamor for government security when terrible things happen; but liberty is given true meaning when we support it without exception, and we will be safer for it.
Ron Paul, “Seeking Total Security Leads to a Totalitarian Society”, Eurasia Review, 2012-12-26
May 14, 2012
I too am incensed — but not surprised — when the TSA manhandles four-year old girls, children with cerebral palsy, pretty women, the elderly, and wheelchair users for humiliation, abuse, and sometimes theft. Any bureaucracy that processes 630 million people per year will generate stories like this. When people propose profiling, they are really asking for a security system that can apply judgment. Unfortunately, that’s really hard. Rules are easier to explain and train. Zero tolerance is easier to justify and defend. Judgment requires better-educated, more expert, and much-higher-paid screeners. And the personal career risks to a TSA agent of being wrong when exercising judgment far outweigh any benefits from being sensible.
The proper reaction to screening horror stories isn’t to subject only “those people” to it; it’s to subject no one to it. (Can anyone even explain what hypothetical terrorist plot could successfully evade normal security, but would be discovered during secondary screening?) Invasive TSA screening is nothing more than security theater. It doesn’t make us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. Even more strongly, security isn’t our society’s only value. Do we really want the full power of government to act out our stereotypes and prejudices? Have we Americans ever done something like this and not been ashamed later? This is what we have a Constitution for: to help us live up to our values and not down to our fears.
April 25, 2012
Amy Alkon on yet another blatant attempt by the TSA to lord it over passengers, especially the young, weak, and vulnerable:
Chris Morran on Consumerist excerpts a Facebook post from a Montana mom, Michelle Brademeyer, who was flying home from Kansas with her two young children and their grandmother. Grandma apparently triggered some alarm at the checkpoint, and was forced to have a seat and wait to be groped by an agent. That’s when the 4-year-old ran over to give Granny a hug. Sweet — until the TSA went all police state on them. The mother writes:
[. . .]
First, a TSO began yelling at my child, and demanded she too must sit down and await a full body pat-down. I was prevented from coming any closer, explaining the situation to her, or consoling her in any way. My daughter, who was dressed in tight leggings, a short sleeve shirt and mary jane shoes, had no pockets, no jacket and nothing in her hands. The TSO refused to let my daughter pass through the scanners once more, to see if she too would set off the alarm. It was implied, several times, that my Mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.
My child, who was obviously terrified, had no idea what was going on, and the TSOs involved still made no attempt to explain it to her. When they spoke to her, it was devoid of any sort of compassion, kindness or respect. They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs. She screamed, “No! I don’t want to!” then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction.
That is when a TSO told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter a “high-security-threat”.
[. . .]
The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying. When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist…
A third TSO arrived to the scene, and showed no more respect than the first two had given. All three were barking orders at my daughter, telling her to stand still and cease crying. When she did not stop crying on command, they demanded we leave the airport. They claimed they could not safely check my daughter for dangerous items if she was in tears. I will admit, I lost my temper.
Finally, a manager intervened. He determined that my child could, in fact, be cleared through security while crying. I was permitted to hold her while the TSO checked her body. When they found nothing hidden on my daughter, they were forced to let us go, but not until after they had examined my ID and boarding passes for a lengthy amount of time. When we arrived at our gate, I noticed that the TSOs had followed us through the airport. I was told something was wrong with my boarding pass and I would have to show it to them again. Upon seeing the TSO, my daughter was thrown into hysterics. Eventually, we were able to board our flight.
Terrorize ‘em young and they stay terrorized, pliable, and afraid to confront authority. It won’t be long before the TSA is Tasing ‘em before they can run away (if they don’t already have that power).
April 8, 2012
Writing in the Guardian, Naomi Wolf discusses the ways the US government has incorporated sexual humiliation into their toolkit for dealing with both prisoners and innocent people:
In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.
Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”
[. . .]
Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.
The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.
[. . .]
The most terrifying phrase of all in the decision is justice Kennedy’s striking use of the term “detainees” for “United States citizens under arrest”. Some members of Occupy who were arrested in Los Angeles also reported having been referred to by police as such. Justice Kennedy’s new use of what looks like a deliberate activation of that phrase is illuminating.
Ten years of association have given “detainee” the synonymous meaning in America as those to whom no rights apply — especially in prison. It has been long in use in America, habituating us to link it with a condition in which random Muslims far away may be stripped by the American state of any rights. Now the term — with its associations of “those to whom anything may be done” — is being deployed systematically in the direction of … any old American citizen.
January 31, 2012
Jim Harper sifts through the evidence in the “Destroy America” Twitter case:
The Department of Homeland Security has been vague as yet about what actually happened. It may have been some kind of “social media analysis” like this that turned up “suspicious” Tweets leading to the exclusion, though the betting is running toward a suspicious-activity tipline. (What “turned up” the Tweets doesn’t affect my analysis here.) The boastful young Britons Tweeted about going to “destroy America” on the trip — destroy alcoholic beverages in America was almost certainly the import of that line — and dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe.
Profoundly stilted literalism took this to be threatening language. And a failure of even brief investigation prevented DHS officials from discovering the absurdity of that literalism. It would be impossible to “dig up” Marilyn Monroe’s body, which is in a crypt at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
[. . .]
Other facts could combine with Twitter commentary to create a suspicious circumstance on extremely rare occasions, but for proper suspicion to arise, the Tweet or Tweets and all other facts must be consistent with criminal planning and inconsistent with lawful behavior. No information so far available suggests that the DHS did anything other than take Tweets literally in the face of plausible explanations by their authors that they were using hyperbole and irony. This is simple investigative incompetence.
If indeed it is a “social media analysis” program that produced this incident, the U.S. government is paying money to cause U.S. government officials to waste their time on making the United States an unattractive place to visit. That’s a cost-trifecta in the face of essentially zero prospect for any security benefit.
Want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes? The Washington Post can at least get you started:
From the editors:
“Top Secret America” is a project nearly two years in the making that describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
When it comes to national security, all too often no expense is spared and few questions are asked — with the result an enterprise so massive that nobody in government has a full understanding of it. It is, as Dana Priest and William M. Arkin have found, ubiquitous, often inefficient and mostly invisible to the people it is meant to protect and who fund it.
The articles in this series and an online database at topsecretamerica.com depict the scope and complexity of the government’s national security program through interactive maps and other graphics. Every data point on the Web site is substantiated by at least two public records.
January 3, 2012
Charles C. Mann visits the airport with security guru Bruce Schneier:
Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.
To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.
[. . .]
From an airplane-hijacking point of view, Schneier said, al-Qaeda had used up its luck. Passengers on the first three 9/11 flights didn’t resist their captors, because in the past the typical consequence of a plane seizure had been “a week in Havana.” When the people on the fourth hijacked plane learned by cell phone that the previous flights had been turned into airborne bombs, they attacked their attackers. The hijackers were forced to crash Flight 93 into a field. “No big plane will ever be taken that way again, because the passengers will fight back,” Schneier said. Events have borne him out. The instigators of the two most serious post-9/11 incidents involving airplanes — the “shoe bomber” in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” in 2009, both of whom managed to get onto an airplane with explosives — were subdued by angry passengers.
[. . .]
Terrorists will try to hit the United States again, Schneier says. One has to assume this. Terrorists can so easily switch from target to target and weapon to weapon that focusing on preventing any one type of attack is foolish. Even if the T.S.A. were somehow to make airports impregnable, this would simply divert terrorists to other, less heavily defended targets — shopping malls, movie theaters, churches, stadiums, museums. The terrorist’s goal isn’t to attack an airplane specifically; it’s to sow terror generally. “You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”
December 24, 2011
December 20, 2011
April 18, 2011
Julian Sanchez notes a fascinating parallel:
Batman’s archnemesis the Joker — played memorably by Heath Ledger in 2008′s blockbuster The Dark Knight — might seem like an improbable font of political wisdom, but it’s lately occurred to me that one of his more memorable lines from the film is surprisingly relevant to our national security policy:
You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan.”
There are, one hopes, limits. The latest in a string of videos from airport security to provoke online outrage shows a six-year-old girl being subjected to an invasive Transportation Security Administration patdown — including an agent feeling around in the waistband of the girl’s pants. I’m somewhat reassured that people don’t appear to be greatly mollified by TSA’s response:
A video taken of one of our officers patting down a six year-old has attracted quite a bit of attention. Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures.
While I suppose it would be disturbing if individual agents were just improvising groping protocol on the fly (so to speak), the response suggests that TSA thinks our concerns should be assuaged once we’ve been reassured that everything is being done by the book — even if the book is horrifying. But in a sense, that’s the underlying idea behind all security theater: Show people that there’s a Plan, that procedures are in place, whether or not there’s any good evidence that the Plan actually makes us safer.
April 7, 2011
The TSA just got another rave review from a traveller who got the full treatment and didn’t like it:
Yesterday, I was touched — in my opinion, inappropriately — by a TSA agent at LAX.
I’m not going to talk about it in detail until I can speak with an attorney, but I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours replaying it over and over in my mind, and though some of the initial outrage has faded, I still feel sick and angry when I think about it.
What I want to say today is this: I believe that the choice we are currently given by the American government when we need to fly is morally wrong, unconstitutional, and does nothing to enhance passenger safety.
I further believe that when I choose to fly, I should not be forced to choose between submitting myself to a virtually-nude scan (and exposing myself to uncertain health risks due to radiation exposure), or enduring an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his hands in my pants, and makes any contact at all with my genitals.
When I left the security screening yesterday, I didn’t feel safe. I felt violated, humiliated, assaulted, and angry. I felt like I never wanted to fly again. I was so furious and upset, my hands shook for quite some time after the ordeal was over. I felt sick to my stomach for hours.
This is wrong. Nobody should have to feel this way, just so we can get on an airplane. We have fundamental human and constitutional rights in America, and among those rights is a reasonable expectation of personal privacy, and freedom from unreasonable searches. I can not believe that the TSA and its supporters believe that what they are doing is reasonable and appropriate. Nobody should have to choose between a virtually-nude body scan or an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his or her hands inside your pants and makes any contact at all with your genitals or breasts as a condition of flying.
H/T to occasional commenter “Da Wife” for the link.
February 22, 2011
Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent along this link:
A modern Romance novel
He grasped me firmly but gently just above my elbow and guided me into a room, his room. Then he quietly shut the door and we were alone. He approached me soundlessly, from behind, and spoke in a low, reassuring voice close to my ear. “Just relax.”
Read the whole thing.