More Blackout Danger

This blog has discussed, on many occasions, the danger of losing the electrical power grid through major solar storm or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. I believe the cumulative threat is higher than airline highjacking for which we spend tens of billions on the TSA. 

Here is a story from today’s Wall Street Journal on that topic: 

The director of the National Security Agency has warned that the hacking group Anonymous could have the ability within the next year or two to bring about a limited power outage through a cyberattack.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director, provided his assessment in meetings at the White House and in other private sessions, according to people familiar with the gatherings. While he hasn’t publicly expressed his concerns about the potential for Anonymous to disrupt power supplies, he has warned publicly about an emerging ability by cyberattackers to disable or even damage computer networks.

Gen. Alexander’s warning signals a growing federal concern over the capabilities of Anonymous, a loose affiliation of so-called hacktivist computer programmers who have launched a raft of high-profile cyberassaults against U.S. government and corporate targets such as Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and eBayInc.’s PayPal serviceSo far, the attacks have primarily served to embarrass companies and organizations, and cybersecurity experts differ on the extent of the threat posed by Anonymous.The group has never listed a power blackout as a goal, but some federal officials believe Anonymous is headed in a more disruptive direction. An attack on a network would be consistent with recent public claims and threats by the group. Last week, for instance, Anonymous announced a plan to shut down the Internet on March 31, which it calls Operation Global Blackout

Think about it: We would, literally, be back to 1880 but without the 1880′s infrastructure. Your car would not run after an EMP attack. Do you own a horse? Is there a grain mill run on water flow nearby? How would insulin and other critical medicines be kept cool without electricity? 

It is long-past time stop pouring money into the TSA (including a new TSA tax) and start focusing on these more serious threats. 

Oh Boy: A ‘Grope’ Fee

There is a new tax with the money earmarked for the TSA. The insiders in Washington say, “nothing succeeds like failure.” More money for the TSA is the epitome of that truism. Professor Reynolds and I are in complete agreement:

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and TSA critic who blogs at, slammed the fee as good money after bad — the TSA has been widely criticized for incompetence and abusive searches.

“I’m not against user fees,” Reynolds said. “But this is not a user fee. This is a fee for being used. I don’t think the TSA does any good at all. Every dollar that goes to them is a waste. More dollars is more waste. I think the TSA should be abolished.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Sen. Paul was not "Irate"

The Nashville Airport has released video of Sen. Paul’s incident with the TSA. There is absolutely no indicate he was “irate” as the TSA reported.

Sen. Rand Paul (sitting) and speaking on the phone.

There is also no question he is being “detailed” (the TSA says he was not detained). The end of the video clearly shows him being taken out of the airport’s “secure” area.

So, in my mind and in the minds of a number of legal experts who have opined on the subject, the TSA is in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution regarding travel by U.S. Senators and Representatives.

Many, including family members, have asked why I blog about this subject. It is because (perhaps because I fly so often), I’m watching our rights and the rule of law evaporate right before our eyes. I’m shocked the White House has defended the TSA’s treatment of Sen. Paul.

NYC’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote on a completely different topic yesterday:

This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.

Go back to ten years ago: Did you ever think you’d have to appear nude, take off your shoes, etc., etc. to get on an airplane? Did you think your car or bus would be searched by the TSA without probably cause?

The history of our world is that rights, once given up, are not easily regained. 

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TSA and Senator Rand Paul Incident

I got some disagreement with my Tweet (sent while I was at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport awaiting a flight!) on this subject, so let me clarify:

Sen. Rand Paul was detained by the TSA today. When that made the news, the TSA immediately responded with,

“We treated him like everyone else we ‘process.’”

Wrong again, TSA!

You know that thing you swore to defend (all federal employees take the oath), the Constitution? It says, in Article 1, Section 6, referring to Members of the Senate and House of Representatives,

They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Now, you and I may or may not like this (I have my concerns about our legislators being exempt from too many laws), but it is the supreme law of the land. 

This is why I have great concerns about the TSA and its ever-growing mission creep (searching cars, buses and trains). Even when it gets to HQ level (as the Sen. Paul incident did), they either don’t care about, or are oblivious to, the constitutional issues their behavior raises. To me, the trend is disturbing.

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2012 is an Election Year: Are We Going to Reform the TSA?

From Vanity Fair:

As you stand in endless lines this holiday season, here’s a comforting thought: all those security measures accomplish nothing, at enormous cost. That’s the conclusion of Charles C. Mann, who put the T.S.A. to the test with the help of one of America’s top security experts.

The article demonstrates the TSA accomplishes nothing. And, it doesn’t even talk about how it is diminishing our constitutionally-protected rights.

It is long past time to disband the TSA and turn it back over to private contractors. Far less cost and probably better security.

Instead, “Infowars” is reporting that Congress is going expand the non-airport activities of the TSA. Even though I have written them all once, I’m going to contact my Congressional delegation again about this ridiculous expansion of a ridiculous agency. And, I’m going to start looking for candidates that promise to put a stop to this nonsense.

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TSA Protecting Us From Killer Cupcakes

Gee, this one is just too easy to make fun of.

Even though foods can be brought through security, the Keystone Cops in Vegas confiscated a cupcake (yes, just one) because the frosting was “gel-like.”

Video and details at the link.


Hat tip: Drudge Report

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My Favorite Posting: Children Working the TSA Checkpoint

Over the last few days, I have been featuring — because of the second anniversary of this blog — the 5 most popular postings.

You might wonder which is my favorite post: It is this one about children manning the TSA checkpoint in Pennsylvania.

Child using ultraviolet light to check the ID of the woman at far right.
Photo (c) 2011 Mike Smith

A few have wondered why I cover the TSA in a blog that is primarily about weather and related topics (like climate). The reason is that much of what I have done in my career is about managing risks related to weather. So, managing other risks is of interest to me.

The U.S. faces a real, and serious, threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, the TSA is a hugely expensive, arrogant, and ineffective agency that puts our civil rights in danger. The TSA is designed for “security theatre” — the illusion of effective security rather than creating genuine security. If it were the latter they would, for example, subject the workers that service the aircraft to daily ID checks. After all, if a terrorist got a bomb in the baggage compartment of a plane, there is nothing the passengers could do. However, if a passenger gets a gun or knife in the passenger compartment, the passengers can — and would — fight back.

Lest you believe the above theoretical, the following is quoted from a security consultant at Delta Airlines:

Less conspicuously, terrorists have started to infiltrate the airlines and airports themselves. Rajib Karim, for instance, worked as an IT specialist for British Airways. But inspired by al-Qaida YouTube preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, Karim offered to help al-Qaida sneak bombs aboard planes at London’s Heathrow airport, and claimed to have support from sympathetic airport workers. The airlines and airports barely conduct employee background checks, Brandt claims — and of course, none of those employees need to go through a “porno scanner,” get a pat-down or have their luggage rifled through.

Consider for a moment: If the threat of aviation terrorism is go great the TSA has to strip search 85-year old women in walkers and detain a pregnant woman and confiscate her purse because the purse had the design of a gun on it, what in the world are children doing working in this “high risk” environment?! To me, the photographs in my original posting showing children checking ID’s, working the X-ray, etc., sum up the absurdity that is the TSA better than mere words ever could.

Hope you have enjoyed the “replay” of the most popular postings of the first two years of the blog.

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Ten Things the TSA Should Change on Its Tenth Anniversary

Agree with every one of them.

However, I would add #11:  Abolish the agency altogether and go back to the private sector people we had before September 11. This would preserve security, greatly decrease costs and stop much of the institutional arrogance.

Many are starting to agree — from Republicans in Congress to George McGovern.

According to Rep. Paul Broun,
Americans have paid $60,000,000,000 funding the TSA and they are no safer than before 9/11. 

Rep. John Mica goes on to say,
We are safer today, but not because of the TSA. It’s because the American people will not allow an aircraft to be taken over…

No one ever envisioned 4,000 administrative personnel in Washington, D.C. 

For more, go here. I believe the future of the TSA should be an issue for the 2012 Presidential candidates.

Speaking of Private Jets…

…it is amazing how fast one’s attitude toward the TSA changes when you have to sell your private jet and frequently have to fly commercial. The latest from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill:

Now, if she and her colleagues would show the same concern for the rest of the flying public.

ADDITION: A friend emailed and reminded me that when McCaskill still had her private jet, she referred to the TSA searches as “love pats.”

ADDITION #2: “I will not lift my skirt for you!” A story of a woman’s experience with the TSA in Houston on Tuesday.

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Uncomfortably Close to the 19th Century

My whole career is about managing and mitigating risks. To do that effectively, one must size up the worst risks and put the emphasis on major risks that might reasonably occur. 

Two postings down, in the comments, I talk about U.S. society and U.S. government failing to deal with enormous risks while we put far too much emphasis on smaller risks. Turns out I’m not the only one thinking about the close call with this week’s solar flare.

We need to stop spending tens of billions on the TSA’s nonsense and the EAS and start hardening our electrical infrastructure. Think about it: Another Carrington Event and we are back in the 19th Century without the 19th Century infrastructure (i.e., gristmills that run on the currents from streams to make bread).

From Wikipedia

More on the Cancer Risk from the TSA’s Nude Machines

How did the United States swing from considering such [cancer causing] X-rays taboo to deeming them safe enough to scan millions of people a year? …
Because of a regulatory Catch-22, the airport X-ray scanners have escaped the oversight required for X-ray machines used in doctors’ offices and hospitals. The reason is that the scanners do not have a medical purpose, so the FDA cannot subject them to the rigorous evaluation it applies to medical devices.
Still, the FDA has limited authority to oversee some non-medical products and can set mandatory safety regulations. But the agency let the scanners fall under voluntary standards set by a nonprofit group heavily influenced by industry.
As for the TSA, it skipped a public comment period required before deploying the scanners. Then, in defending them, it relied on a small body of unpublished research to insist the machines were safe, and ignored contrary opinions from U.S. and European authorities that recommended precautions, especially for pregnant women. 

Finally, the manufacturer, Rapiscan Systems, unleashed an intense and sophisticated lobbying campaign, ultimately winning large contracts.

The TSA’s nude machines: Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, lack of privacy, diminished liberty, and an enhanced threat of cancer for those of us who travel frequently. Who could ask for more?
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What We Didn’t Hear Yesterday

Now that we have begun a new decade since the attacks of 9/11, I believe it is time to take a fresh look at the TSA and airport security.

As a person who has spent an entire career developing techniques to save lives and manage risks, the expenditure of $57,000,000,000 on airport security is at best excessive and at worst largely a waste.

What do I mean as “excessive”? Given that cockpit doors are locked and that passengers would fight back against any attempt to hijack a plane, spending that amount of money — given the far more serious threats we are hardly addressing — is nonsensical.

We just saw 46 deaths and (preliminary estimate) $15,000,000,000 in damage due to weak Hurricane Irene. Just imagine what a category 4 hurricane (which occurred in 1938) could do to the Northeast given today’s population!  Want $10/gallon gasoline? Just put a cat 3 or greater hurricane into the Houston Ship Channel. We have put too many fuel production eggs in that basket. These are just two examples where some smart planning and investment of small sums could greatly lessen our society’s vulnerability.

And, there are huge — huge — threats that are not even on most people’s radar. A giant solar storm or an EMP attack would, given our complete lack of preparation, take us back to 1870. That’s right, 1870: No electricity. Our homes and businesses would be dark, our modern autos would not run, we could not pump gas and your local pharmacy would quickly run out of medicine. The power would stay off for months.

As Sen. John Kyl said in 2005:

The Sept. 11 commission report stated that our biggest failure was one of ‘imagination.’ No one imagined that terrorists would do what they did on Sept. 11. Today few Americans can conceive of the possibility that terrorists could bring our society to its knees by destroying everything we rely on that runs on electricity. But this time we’ve been warned, and we’d better be prepared to respond.

That was six years ago and nothing has been done.

There is a bill before Congress to address this threat by reinforcing the electric grid that I believe should be passed immediately.

It is time to stop the expansion of airport security and the TSA. That is fighting the last war.

We need to direct the vast sums of money for new TSA body-scanning machines into better disaster preparedness and fixing these huge vulnerabilities.

Woman Gropes TSA Agent

While I certainly do not condone this (the classic “man bites dog” story), it is easy to understand the level of frustration out there. It is interesting she was charged with “sexual assault.” That’s what I thought the TSA was doing to us!

A very significant part of the problem is that there is no logic or reasoning when you go into the security area — and it is very frustrating. Take yesterday…

When I travel, I take a small MacBook Air which is less than half of the size (by volume) of a standard laptop. It does not have an internal hard drive. According to the TSA’s web site,

Electronic items smaller than the standard sized laptop should not need to be removed from your bag or their cases. It’s that simple.

When going through security at Boston’s Logan Airport yesterday, the laptop was pulled out of my case (fine), swabbed for bomb chemicals (fine), put back through the X-ray again (fine). I do not dispute the TSA’s right to do those things and I had no problem up to that point.

Then, the security guard (who looked and talked like Puddy in “Seinfeld”) came up to me and gave me an unnecessarily harsh lecture about how you are supposed to take computer out. I respectfully told him the TSA web site says otherwise. He said I was wrong. I, respectfully, told him he needed to look it up: that small computers do not need to be taken out of the case. He then added, “We’ll we’re going to pull them out every time at Logan!”

OK — if it is essential to our national security that laptops be pulled out they should need to be taken out of the case everywhere and every time.

One really gets the impression they are individually making it up as they go along. As long as this type of arbitrary and, at times, disrespectful conduct toward the traveler continues, so will these unfortunate confrontations.

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Mother Arrested for Not Wanting Her Daughter Groped

Here is the story:

A 41-year-old Clarksville woman was arrested after Nashville airport authorities say she was belligerent and verbally abusive to security officers, refusing for her daughter to be patted down at a security checkpoint.
Andrea Fornella Abbott yelled and swore at Transportation Security Administration agents Saturday afternoon at Nashville International Airport, saying she did not want her daughter to be “touched inappropriately or have her “crotch grabbed,” a police report states…
The arrest comes on the heels of public outrage over a video showing a pat-down of a 6-year-old girl at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The April video prompted a new policy that took effect last month in which airport security screeners must try to avoid invasive pat-down searches of children.

Note they use the TSA’s term “pat-down” rather than what it is, a grope. Since I wasn’t there, I don’t know whether the mother crossed the line into truly being belligerent or was simply defending her daughter. When I opted-out in Memphis Monday, the matron was upset with me even though I was entirely within my rights to do so. So, when the TSA people turn nasty, it is easy to understand how the parent might respond in kind.

I’ll be going through security in Nashville tomorrow. Can hardly wait.

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Who Provides the Security at Security?

Having had a small amount of money stolen from me at a TSA checkpoint (Ontario, Calif., if you are interested), I take notice of these increasingly frequent stories about the TSA stealing from passengers — to the point they are almost becoming routine.

Here is another interesting post from a passenger whose wallet was stolen while he was in the nude-o-scope (with his hands up in the “surrender” position). Of course, the TSA didn’t find the culprit, the airport police did. Which begs the question: Just why is the TSA there if not to provide “security”?

The vulnerability of my belongings (in addition to the health risk of being bombarded with X-rays) plus my displeasure at being photographed through my clothes is why I “opt out” of the nude-o-scopes when I’m passing through an airport where they are in use.

Headline: "Do TSA procedures mean the terrorists have won?"

Short Answer: Yes.

More from NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel:
Through my work I travel to some of the busiest airports in high-risk areas. Just this year I have been in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, France, Italy and many other countries. But I have yet to feel so angry, so embarrassed or so scrutinized as I did going through airport security for a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to New York’s JFK while visiting home. 

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Every Time I Think the TSA Can’t Go Any Lower…

…they do something like this.

A woman has filed a complaint with federal authorities over how her elderly mother was treated at Northwest Florida Regional Airport last weekend.
Jean Weber of Destin filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security after her 95-year-old mother was detained and extensively searched last Saturday while trying to board a plane to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.
Her mother, who was in a wheelchair, was asked to remove an adult diaper in order to complete a pat-down search.
“It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” Weber said Friday. “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”

Between using children at gate security and abusing the elderly, why is this agency still in business? It is a mockery of American values. Lets turn airport security back to private contractors as a lesson to federal agencies that they cannot treat abuse the people that pay their salaries.

I’ve written my entire Congressional delegation. Have you?

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More FEMA Incompetence

There are few government agencies more incompetent than FEMA or the TSA. It is no coincidence they are both part of the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security.

Here is yet another example of how FEMA gets into a disaster area and, too often, makes things worse. And, note, they don’t offer to reverse the absurd ruling. They put the burden on the homeless victims to go through the appeals process.

We keep hearing Congress wants to cut spending and make government run more efficiently. I recommend they take a close look at DHS in general and FEMA and the TSA in particular.