TSA

The truth about the TSA’s pointless knife fight

graja/Shutterstock
graja/Shutterstock
The Transportation Security Administration’s surprise announcement that it will allow small knives and previously banned sporting equipment on planes next month was met with concern and confusion from airline passengers and drew strong criticism from airline crew members and law enforcement representatives.

But mostly, it left the average air traveler wondering: Will my next flight be less safe?

This month, the TSA announced that starting April 25, it will allow passengers to bring small knives with non-locking blades shorter than 2.36 inches and less than half an inch in width, small novelty bats, ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and up to two golf clubs onto a plane. The move is intended to allow security screeners to “better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives,” according to the agency.
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Airport security can be better — and here’s how

1-IMG_0461It’s been more than a decade since the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems.

Almost from the beginning, a small group of activists have kept a vigilant eye on the agency. When TSA agents pilfered your luggage, they spoke up. When the blueshirts forced us through inadequately tested scanners, they said something. When agents treated us like prison inmates, they fired up their laptop computers and they wrote.
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A silent majority sounds off about airport security

Wang Song/Shutterstock
Wang Song/Shutterstock

Intrusive airport searches are just fine with a majority of air travelers. They also think the TSA has singlehandedly prevented a 9/11 repeat, and that critics of the agency’s current practices are nothing more than “anxious advocates.”

At least that’s the impression you might be left with if you read a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune and other surprisingly favorable mentions in the mainstream media. Even amid the sequestration slowdowns, we’re big fans of the TSA.

Connect the dots, and the conclusion is inescapable: There’s a silent majority of Americans who really do believe the TSA is the “gold standard” in aviation security, as the TSA’s John Pistole recently proclaimed. We’re safer today because of the TSA, and out in flyover country we feel nothing but gratitude toward America’s airport sentries, who are the last line of defense against terrorism.
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If you love the TSA, read this story

It happened again.

At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.

When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.
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Is there a better way to screen airline passengers?

scannedIf you look enviously at the TSA Pre-Check line whenever you’re at the airport — where pre-cleared air travelers breeze through the checkpoint without having to be scanned, remove their shoes or face a humiliating “enhanced” pat-down — then join the club.

If you ask yourself: “What sets them apart from me?” and the answer is, “Nothing, really,” then you’re well on your way to answering a question that has haunted aviation security professionals since 2009.

Is there a better way to screen air travelers than scanning them?
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3 reasons you’ll shut up after being humiliated at the airport

tsascanLike most infrequent air travelers, Vicki Burton just wants to get through security without causing a scene. So on a recent flight from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Miami, she obediently stepped into the airport’s full-body scanner, held her arms up, and waited for the agent to wave her through.

He didn’t.

Instead, a female screener was summoned to give Burton an “enhanced” pat-down. “My breasts were patted down right there in front of God and everybody,” she says. “I wasn’t even afforded the privacy of a screen. I was so stunned, I was just mute. What do you say without being arrested? What should I have done?”
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Can I tell you a secret about airport security?

hyxdyl/Shutterstock
hyxdyl/Shutterstock
If you think the American government keeps too many secrets, you should meet Jose Lacson.

Lacson lost his job as a federal air marshal in 2011 after allegedly disclosing “unauthorized” information to the public. The TSA says he published what it calls “sensitive security information” (SSI) in a website forum.

But here’s the interesting thing: In an appeal to his dismissal, Lacson claims the posts were fictional. The information referenced the number, deployment, and attrition rate of federal air marshals hired at various times and deployed at various duty stations, according to a report.

I repeat: Lacson says he made it all up.
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Look out! 4 things that get damaged at the airport

wheelchairTSA agents believe they are the last line of defense against terrorism, and that sometimes you have to break a few metaphorical eggs to keep America safe.

At least that’s the impression Norma Eigles came away with when she was recently screened at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in South Florida. Eigles, who was visiting relatives in Boca Raton, Fla., is 75 years old and has a knee replacement — an unlikely threat to aviation security.

“While I was being patted down, another screener opened my carry-on bag to remove my adjustable cane,” she says. “This was sent through X-ray again, and he then proceeded to unscrew the sections because he said he had to be sure there was no knife or sword in it.”
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Flying while female? 5 things to remember at the airport

Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock
Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock

On her last four trips through U.S. airport security, Anita Nagelis says she’s been pulled aside and subjected to a more thorough search by TSA agents, including an aggressive pat-down.

Nagelis, who works for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., doesn’t know why. She never set off a metal detector, isn’t on a no-fly list, and no suspicious items are ever discovered in her luggage.

“It’s so odd,” she says. “I don’t fit the profile.”

Or does she?
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3 troubling ways the TSA punishes passengers who opt out

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
If you don’t want to walk through a poorly tested full-body scanner or have a TSA agent belittle your anatomy before your next flight, then you still have the right to opt out and submit to an “enhanced” pat-down.

That’s exactly what I did on a recent trip from Orlando to Atlanta. Actually, I do it every time I fly.

But as I waited for a male agent — who would ask me to spread my legs, would touch my torso, rub the inside of my legs, and feel the back of my neck and arms — I began to understand what the TSA really means when it says it’s focusing its efforts on “intelligence-driven, risk-based screening procedures.”
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The TSA wants to be everywhere in 2013 — here’s why we shouldn’t let it

Photo by Nathan Hansen/Hansenlawoffice.com
Photo by Nathan Hansen/Hansenlawoffice.com
When the Minnesota Vikings faced off against the Green Bay Packers last weekend in Minneapolis, the big story wasn’t that the Vikings defeated the Pack to secure a wildcard berth.

It was, strangely, the TSA.

That’s right, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems was patrolling the Metrodome. Nathan Hansen, a North St. Paul, Minn., attorney, snapped a few photos of the agents before the game, and broadcast them on Twitter.

“I don’t think any federal law enforcement agency needs anything to do with a football game,” he told me yesterday.
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7 things you’ll love about the TSA

Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

It’s been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.

The Department of Homeland Security order — which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a “secret” TSA security directive — was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I’d see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA’s most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.

So you’d think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn’t have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.
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3 reasons the terrorists are laughing at us now (thanks, TSA)

Aaron Amat/Shuttestock
Nothing will wipe a grin off your face faster than a squad of Navy SEALs rappelling into your anonymous compound from a Black Hawk. But while Osama Bin Laden is dead and gone, and unable to mock America’s clumsy efforts to protect its planes from our Homeland-fueled fantasies, his disciples are more than capable of laughing at us.

And laugh they do. How could they not? We’ve given them a lot of material, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration.
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Are airlines responsible for America’s TSA disaster?

One of the more interesting reactions to last week’s post arguing that the TSA as we know it is dead came from a publicist for one of the airline trade associations.

In a polite but insistent email, he claimed I’d misunderstood the congressional testimony by one of his executives. The airline industry rep was criticizing government regulations — not the TSA — for being expensive, inconsistent, and reactive, he said.

It made me wonder: Why would airlines not want to be seen as criticizing the TSA? Everyone else is.
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