TSA watch: Exploiting 9/11 for fun and profit

Here we go again.

With just a few days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, everyone who stands anything to gain from the day is amping up the rhetoric.

Let’s start with this curious travel advisory issued yesterday by the State Department, which warns American travelers of “threat” posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates.

But read closely.

While we have not identified any specific threats from al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies to attack the United States or our interests on the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. citizens should be aware that al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies have demonstrated the intent and capability to carry out attacks against the United States and our interests around the world.

In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar. This Worldwide Travel Alert supplements the July 26, 2011, Worldwide Caution, and expires on January 2, 2012.

Uh, OK.

So they have no information about a possible terrorist attack. And the advisory doesn’t expire until Jan. 2, which is long after the 9/11 anniversary.

What, exactly, is the State Department trying to do? Scare us?

More of the same nonsense came this morning in a prepared 9/11 anniversary statement from Janet Napolitano, who admitted, “there is no specific or credible intelligence that al-Qa’ida or its affiliates are plotting attacks in the United States to coincide with the ten year anniversary of 9/11” but then went on to say the Department of Homeland Security was “at a heightened state of vigilance.”

We also have a few self-serving TSA statements made to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. The first is a congratulatory post entitled Tenth Anniversary Report Card on 9/11 Commission Recommendations.

In it, our favorite TSA mouthpiece, Blogger Bob, reminds the screened and scanned classes that his agency is just following orders by creating a “safe and solid layer of security” at our airports.

He adds,

Alone, each layer enhances security. Together, they provide a formidable defense that detects threats and deters potential attackers to keep the traveling public safe.

And we’re always testing new technologies and procedures to enable us to evolve with the threats while improving passenger security and privacy.

What he doesn’t say — and won’t say — is exactly how many terrorists this multi-billion dollar dragnet has caught. (The answer: zero.) He doesn’t say how much it has cost. (The answer: far too much.) He doesn’t say if the cat-and-mouse game we’re playing with the bad guys, banning liquids and gels and microwaving passengers, is winnable. (The answer: it isn’t).

Oh, never mind. TSA has turned up the volume on this anniversary. Here’s another post of stories remembering the events of that day from TSA agents’ perspectives. And another on a museum exhibit with 9/11 memorabilia.

There’s a reason the government is making a big deal of 9/11/11: Unless people believe that this is a somber national holiday, and that the terrorists are just waiting for us to let down our guard, what reason do our elected representatives have to keep funding the bloated bureaucracy that some say violates our privacy whenever we try to fly?

Truth is, 9/11 is just another day. By canonizing it the way the federal government, and specifically the TSA, wants to do it, we are handing an important psychological victory to the enemy. We are, in effect, saying the terrorists have won — they have changed the way we live and travel forever.

Instead of dressing in black and remembering what we’ve lost on Sept. 11, 2001, maybe we should do what the TSA doesn’t want us to. Maybe we should travel, and remember the freedoms that the terrorists couldn’t take away from us, and that the TSA will not be able to keep from us.

Perhaps we should also see the TSA in a more pragmatic way, as some suggest — as part of the problem, not the solution. The TSA thrives on our collective fear and paranoia, they say. And many critics also believe al-Qa’ida and its cohorts are delighted that America now more closely resembles a “papers please” police state than a freedom-loving republic.

That’s nothing worth celebrating.

(Photo: Ryan McC ullah/Flickr)

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Mickey Osterreicher

    I agree. Unfortunately the concept of a false sense of security is nothing new. “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Benjamin Franklin

  • s-

    One important thing – if you think we more closely resemble a “papers please” police state than a freedom-loving republic – you need to travel more. 

  • Dave

    Chris said we MORE closely resemble a police state.  We do.  We’re far from there yet, and Chris and some others of us are working to keep us from getting there.  You wouldn’t be among us, I gather.

  • Clare

    Bravo, Chris, you took many words right out of my mouth!

    CNN is doing a commemorative series in the lead-up to 9/11.  The video under the tab called “absurdity” gives the perspective of a security expert.  Amid all the hype, he cuts right to the chase:


  • John

    The TSA and Napolitano are covering themselves. If an attack happens — heaven forbid! — they can say, “Well, we warned them.” The other reality is, if an attack happens because someone got something through TSA, all the critics will then jump on the agency and say it didn’t do enough. And while TSA screeners may not have caught any terrorists, I wonder how many they have prevented from even trying. I’m not necessarily a fan of the agency, but as a frequent traveler, I put up with what it puts me through because my goal is not to get a video on YouTube, but get to my destination. So far, so good.

  • Doctor K.

    TSA’s screening record is dismal. I hear a lot of pontification. Giive me less talk and more careful screening. Also, pay more attention to lists of passengers who should not be permitted to board.    Chris, you have nailed the TSA properly.  It is better to be quiet and then act when needed vs issuing routine statements and being routine in passenger scrutiny.  Alan

  • Janice

    I couldn’t agree with you more and I believe I’ve said for years that the terrorists have won.  One man, the shoe bomber, altered the way MILLIONS fly.  One man.  All of these security measures are a joke and our fellow passengers have proved it, i.e.., we now speak up when we see something on a flight.  The Shanksville crash proved that.  There is no telling how much money has been wasted just in lost productivity because we waste so much time in the airport.  But, the “rich” people who fly private planes are evil?  I think they are the smart ones and should be applauded for not flying commercial.  I promise you that if the driving time is 10 hours or less, I will drive before I even consider looking at a flight – I waste less time driving that distance than I do trying to fly it.  Then you read the article on FlightAware about a plane’s technology outstripping our pilots ability to react to a problem and it certainly gives one pause.  And, yet, I don’t know how to effect change except by not flying.  Such a helpless feeling . . . .  And, to think, flying used to be an adventure and a treat.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Until our elected officials are treated the same as the rest of us at the airport, these things will never change. 

    Every politician has been bought and paid for by a corporation and lobby. The people mean nothing to them anymore.

  • Kaleta26

    Rise & get a clue everyone!  Napolitano and Holder need to GO! The entire judicial, congress and executive needs to go now….to protect America….NoBama impeachment proceedings must begin…this guy is a sleazebag con man from the gay baths of Chicago….who murdered his past lovers and is an illegal to boot.  Do you know that Michelle is a disbarred attorney?  Do the research…the deep reading…please…..time is running out!!!!!

  • cjr001

    “What, exactly, is the State Department trying to do? Scare us?”

    Well, the government has been perfecting the art of fear-mongering for the last 10 years.

    “his agency is just following orders”

    And by following those orders, Blogger Bob deserves to be hauled off to jail with the rest of ’em.

    “We are, in effect, saying the terrorists have won”

    And our government has been perfecting that message over the last 10 years, too. Every day, TSA reminds America that the terrorists have won.

  • cjr001

    “all the critics will then jump on the agency and say it didn’t do enough.”

    As one of those critics, I say you’re 100% wrong.

    The mistaken belief by people like you seems to be that terrorism can be entirely prevented. It cannot.

    You will die in a plane crash, and several times over in a car crash getting to the airport, before you would possibly be at risk from an actual terrorist attack via plane.

    “I wonder how many they have prevented from even trying”

    Considering that TSA cannot even prevent guns and knives from getting through security, cannot prevent liquids and other ‘contraband’ from getting through, you honestly believe a terrorist has been prevented from trying by all of this nonsense?

    Are you really that gullible? So far, so awful.

  • Meyerl1

    May I also point out, after having recently been in Israel as well as various European airports, they seem to manage to do just fine with security without having everyone take off their shoes. How can the Israeli’s, known for their tough screening, find a way to screen without the necessity of forcing people to take off their shoes??????

  • http://DontScan.us Wimpie

    I find it hard to comprehend how this nation fought and won the most terrible war in the history of mankind (WWII), disarmed two militarized enemies, successfully installed democracy in those tyrannical nations, and then started the most ambitious economic expansions in our nation’s history in the same period of time we have been fighting an ill-equipped enemy in Afghanistan and battling a recession at home.

    Compare what we accomplished between 1941 – 1951 to 2001 – 2011. Now consider how we have made 9/11 a way of life.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Because the hippies won’t let us do what needs to be done in Afghanistan–namely, just dropping bombs and taking it over. 

    Our soldiers aren’t allowed to fire unless fired upon, even in the face of a credible threat. Why? Because the news crews with them will portray these brave soldiers as criminals instead of heroes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    What I fail to understand is why the US is under-utilizing our military in this time?  Isn’t it their job to “…protect (us) from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”?

    Dismantling TSA and replacing them with well-trained guard and reserve, carrying weapons and walking around with both bomb and drug sniffing dogs would be a tremendous deterrent w/o violating the rights of the rest of us?

    I’d be perfectly fine with having a dog sniff my luggage while I wait for my plane.  Heck, given what happened in the UK, how about we let them smell the cargo going onto those planes as well?

    The whole thing is a farce, to say the least.  I’m still shaking my head over the fact that while Napolitano was my governor, she screamed louder than anyone that the Feds weren’t doing their job to keep our borders safer, but now that she’s in charge of security for the entire country, we’re being told the border is safer than it’s ever been.  How’d you imagine that happened, Janet? Magic?

    It was in the Sierra Vista Herald this week that someone came down here from Washington to tout their message that we were safer than ever and saying, in front of Gov. Brewer that SHE was the fear monger.

    Napolitano used to send monthly bills to the Feds to reimburse the state for taking care of the border.  Brewer does the same thing and Napolitano refuses to acknowledge them.

    The folks inside the beltway don’t want to get it.  There’s no money in it.

  • Cynthia Kruger

    If you get rid of the Congress who will be left to impeach Obama?

  • ButMadNNW

    Terrorism is about being unpredictable and striking when least expected. Launching a new attack on the anniversary of the old attack is neither of these things. Yes, the TSA is exploiting the anniversary; which, frankly, is disrespectful to those who died on that day. But sadly, I’m not surprised.

    I live in California. For a couple years after 9/11, almost every time I was preparing to go to Disneyland for the day, my mother would pipe up with some vague warning about a heightened terrorism alert level or such. My response has never changed in 10 years: “Look, if I don’t go to Disneyland – if I change my plans because of fear – they won. And heck, if I get blown up at Disneyland, at least I died having a good time!”

  • LeeAnneClark

    Wow. What a nutter. Whacko debunked conspiracy theories, anyone? Yeesh. Are you also a believer in Xenu the Galactic Warlord?

  • LarryB

    It seems to me that the security theater does more to satisfy the people who are most afraid – that is to say the people who never or seldom fly and who live in places that face minimal risk.

    What ever happened to “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”? Oh, wait, that came from that crypto-socialist FDR, so it can’t possibly be of any value. It’s not as if he did anything to help us win World War II. (/sarcasm)

  • cjr001

    I was going to say something earlier, but I didn’t think it was worth responding to a grand conspiracy theorist.

  • cjr001

    We didn’t ‘take over’ in Germany and Japan after WWII, either. So I don’t see how that ‘strategy’ does you any good.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Chris, you could have used “{fill in the blank here}: Exploiting 9/11 for fun and profit”.  The TSA is only one of many organizations/agencies capitalizing on the deaths of 3000 people.  I’m not so sure about your “canonizing” statement, although I do understand it in context.  I pause on December 7th every year (as I do on September 11th) to remember “the day that will live in infamy”; maybe not canonization on my part, but somber reflection.  For “somber national holiday”, we’ve already got Memorial Day, unless it’s been co-opted to advertise cars or other such dreck.

    I’m sadly disappointed in our president, a former constitutional lawyer, for his wholehearted complicity in curtailing our constitutional rights by allowing Napolitano and Pistole to trample the Constitution in the name of “security”.  I’m not sanguine about the prospect of a different president in the office changing things, either. 

    Thanks for writing a thoughtful article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Follow the money.  Who says we should be scared?  No one, not one credible voice.  Only the 9/11 profiteers: L3, Rape-iscan, Michael Chertoff, and Janet Napolitano who’s lobbying for more power and cash, want you to be afraid.

    I say we should win the war on terror once and for all.  We can do it today: just stop being terrified.  Stop it.  Especially when the risks are miniscule and the cost to our national identity is enormous.   These are a few dozen lunatics who live in caves ten thousand miles away – you’re way more likely to be killed by lightning, so stop cowering under the bed in fear. I’m not afraid, not of terrorism nor of the TSA.  I will fight the TSA with everything I have until they stop their disgusting obstacle course of power-mad absurdities and sexual humiliation.

  • Carrie Charney

    I do travel a lot and, so far, the US is the worst. Canadians and Europeans are avoiding, if at all possible, making connections through the US.

  • Carrie Charney

    But we did drop the A-bomb and learned that we should never stoop to that again.

  • Fred D

    “Every politician has been bought and paid for by a corporation and lobby. The people mean nothing to them anymore. ”

    So true.
    People who don’t believe this and think that their vote actually counts are too far lost to even realize what’s going on in this country. Their objections and complaints (whether justified or not) don’t mean anything either.

  • Glen from Saskatoon

    Of course they have to ramp up the rhetoric… if the TSA were ever disbanded there wouldn’t be enough  enough Wal-Mart and Costco stores to give all these people jobs as door greeters and receipt checkers…

  • Fisher1949

    DHS and its abusive stepchild, TSA, have consumed nearly a Trillion dollars and cannot demonstrate one true success. Their “value” has been an illusion fostered by their own self-serving propaganda that is intended to scare citizens into supporting an endlessly expanding budget.

    This is equivalent to NASA asking for billions so they can continue to protect us from rogue asteroids. The logic being that since earth hasn’t been hit since the Cretaceous period then NASA is doing a great job. Therefore, we must give them more money next year or we’ll all die in an asteroid shower.

    DHS and TSA have been effective at stripping us of our rights. Incredibly, in less than a year it has managed to convince millions of Americans that it is acceptable to digitally strip search and fondle the genitals of their children. No one would have believed this last year and yet here we are, forced to endure complete subjugation, including submitting our bodies to a government clerk because spineless politicians have been bullied into this by a power hungry bureaucracy only interested in furthering its own fortunes.

    Much of this agency has been nothing more than a jobs program for the otherwise unemployable and far too much power has been consolidated in this agency. Its functions overlap or conflict with the missions of other agencies with more mature management structures and more competent personnel. Had the FBI and CIA not withheld information from each other, the 9/11 tragedies could have been prevented, we did not need yet another dysfunctional agency. DHS and TSA have done more damage to American liberty than any Al Qaeda and need to be abolished.

  • http://www.dmuth.org/ Douglas Muth


    You may have had a point somewhere in your post, but your personal attacks aimed at the original poster obscured it.  Words and phrases such as “people like you” and “gullible” hide whatever your message was, and instead make you look like a jerk.

    If there was an “don’t like” button for your post, I’d have clicked it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Just a side comment: The average traveler has stopped more terrorists that TSA (Think Christmas Day bomber…)

  • Geographer

    How very true … connecting through the US subjects a traveller to an absurd level of harassment.   But even worse, if you travel internally within Europe and need to show a US passport, you will be assured of a special “welcome”;  extended interrogation etc.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    “Price tag has been high” – Omaha World-Herald side piece to a 9/11 piece in today’s paper:  http://www.omaha.com/article/20110904/NEWS01/709049904#price-tag-has-been-high

    Corroborates the $1 trillion number used by @facebook-100002384496916:disqus 

  • cjr001

    I’ll take being a jerk over being a child molester and sexual predator, as TSA employees deserve to be called.

    You are fool if you think TSA keeps us safe or is preventing any terrorist. And you’re a damn fool if you defend them.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Meyerl1, we’ve discussed this many times, but I think you might be new to Elliott Blog.

    Though Israel has eliminated terrorism on planes, they’ve learned to accept it in other venues — buses, cafes, marketplaces. Bombs still go off there.

    There is no such thing as 100% security, anywhere.  The belief of so many Americans that there is, is why they’re willing to bend over and spread ’em every time an authority figure tells them to.  They cherish the fantasy of security more than the reality of life.  Life entails risk.

    The Israelis also rely heavily on racial and ethnic profiling.  If you’re with an American tour group, for example, you’ll be ushered quickly through. If you’re the “wrong” racial or ethnic type, you’ll get a thorough going-over. And if you’re a peace activist — forget it; you’ll be strip-searched in a back room.  Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

  • Lisa Simeone

    “Because the hippies won’t let us do what needs to be done in Afghanistan–namely, just dropping bombs and taking it over.”

    Oh, brother. Would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. “The hippies.” You do realize this is 2011, right?

    And yeah, let’s just slaughter as many people as possible. Better yet, let’s drop a nuke. That’s the ticket!

  • Brooklyn

    Oh, please – bomb them back into the stone age, right? Just what we need to prove that we are indeed at war with the entire Muslim world!  The one lesson we learned – and needed to learn – from 9/11 is that you can’t win by having the biggest guns; when people feel that they have nothing left to lose and that because of you and your allies, their children have no future, they will stop at nothing to destroy you. I hope that in their position, I’d have the courage to do the same.

  • Brooklyn

    Nonsense! The EU and the Schengen region have a separate line for passport checks, just as Americans returning home have a separate line from non-Americans.  Yes, it’s longer than for the locals, but we are, after all, the outsiders in Europe and they have a far harder time getting into the US. It’s a good lesson for us to be in the same line with all the other non-Europeans, but too many of us think we deserve special treatment wherever we go.

  • Eric

    I don’t think a TSA agent could cut it as a receipt checker.  1. You have to count how many items are in the cart.  2. They’ll actually be fired the first time they steal something out of someone’s cart.

  • frostysnowman

    My family and I were supposed to fly to Disneyland in CA on September 13th, 2001 but of course we didn’t make it because air traffic was grounded.  But we went the next week and the guy from Delta who rescheduled our flights couldn’t believe we were ready to get on a plane so soon again.  There was no way we were going to let the terrorists makes us feel trapped in our homes, never to fly again.  Now I don’t want to fly because of the TSA, not the terrorists.

  • Decent_American

    If I had a nickle for every time I have heard a TSA agent utter the words “It’s for your own safety” while at the same time doing just the opposite, I would be a millionaire. This bloated, worthless money pit of a federal agency needs to go. PERIOD. We aren’t “safer”, we are just more inconvienced .

  • Linda

    I disagree that the US is the worst on airport security.  Departing Amsterdam a few months ago on a US-bound flight, 100% of passengers got BOTH the evil scanner and a pat-down.  And security was at the departure gate – so no opportunity to purchase water before boarding.

  • Kathiecoull

    I’ve written in this space before and really, really want to share it with all of you people out there who are po’d with the TSA.
    I used to travel alot. So did my husband. The last airplane trip I took was from Guadalajara, Mexico to Bologna, Italy. That was in March 2010. I haven’t used US airspace since my Guadalajara-Vancouver, British Columbia trip, because that involved going through Houston. 
    Since TSA has gotten even weirder in the ensuing years and months, I have developed a new costume for my pass through security.
    I have a number of full length dresses that I wear all the time around my home and out to shops in the neighborhood. I am a 17 year survivor of breast cancer. I wear a prothesis. On my next trip I plan to wear one of my long dresses and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE!
    If I go through security with the prosthesis and the bra, they will make me take it off, right? What else can they make me take off? The fat on my belly and my behind? Well, I wish they would.
    Hey, all you nice people out there, give me some feedback. Is it a good idea? Sort of a nice way of saying “Up yours!” Can it be considered plain bad manners, as in offensive to all the other people on line? Or a major case of Civil Disobedience?

    @cbff6d5757db53d90745feaa415a2fac:disqus Kathie, who no longer lives in Mexico.