Are new warning and tracking systems enough to make us forget about TSA agents’ misdeeds?


It’s been a “good news” kind of week for observers of our nation’s security apparatus. At least that’s how the government is spinning it.

But there’s plenty of bad news for travelers, too. More on that in a minute.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had scrapped the color-coded terrorism alerts and was moving to a more “robust” two-tiered system called the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS).

The feds also issued a helpful guide (PDF) that explains NTAS. It’s an interesting read. It promises to only issue alerts “when credible information is available” and to include “a clear statement that there is an imminent threat or elevated threat.”

The implication, of course, is that under the previous system, there was sometimes no imminent threat and the warnings were vague. The guide also contains DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s favorite saying, which gives a lot of travelers the creeps: the Orwellian, “If you see something, say something.”

The TSA also had some good news of its own, if you can call it that. On Friday, it announced that it will offer a tracking number for every email and phone call, which will allow travelers to “follow-up on their security concerns if necessary,” according to the agency. The system was a requirement of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

My first reaction to the news was: They don’t already do this?

No wonder people aren’t hearing back from the TSA. The agency has no meaningful way to follow up with them. Let’s hope this fixes the problem.

There was plenty of bad news to counterbalance those two developments.

TSA agent charged for distributing child pornography
A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport was charged with distributing more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, according to court records. Federal agents also alleged that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

TSA agent admits theft
Dawn Nikole Keka, a former TSA agent at Kona International Airport in Hawaii, last week pled guilty to one count of theft in Honolulu District Court for stealing $200 from an undercover agent. The sting operation took place on the morning of March 11 after Japanese tourists complained to the TSA about missing money from their carry-on bags, according to FOX affiliate KHON.

Tri-Rail riders get the once-over in South Florida
After the Amtrak fiasco earlier this year, we though TSA would lay low on what it calls the “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Operation” or VIPR. But there they were last week at the West Palm Beach Tri-Rail station, scanning and patting down commuters. Was there a credible threat to Tri-Rail? No. TSA says it wants to help detect and deter any suspicious or dangerous activity in various modes of transportation. Does this mean they’re setting up checkpoints on I-95 next?

All in all, an interesting week. I’m not sure if the “good” news from TSA and DHS eclipses the other news.

What do you think?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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