The TSA, And Others, Comment on Children Manning the TSA Checkpoint

Many have seen, and commented on, my posting — accompanied by photos taken by me personally — about the children manning the TSA checkpoint at State College, PA on April 28th.

At least one person thinks the photos were fakes or untrue. Go here and scroll down to “Darkumbra’s” posting.

The photos are in no way fakes, I took them myself. I was instructed by the woman in the TSA uniform in the photo to hand my driver’s license to the young man at the podium at the checkpoint. You can see (at far right), the woman in front of me whose DL is being examined.

Note the young man at the conveyor belt in background.
In foreground, is another non-TSA person looking at DL’s.
There were children all over the checkpoint both
in front of and behind the metal detector.

The TSA itself thinks this was just fine. Link to their comments on their website here, scroll down. The following is a quote from the TSA spokesperson:

In the same posting, ‘Blogger Bob’ states:

Osama bin Laden Dead, Threat Still Very Much Alive

There’s no doubt about it, the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden, and his death is a major success for the United States as well as the rest of the world. While his death is a huge blow to Al-Qaeda’s terrorism network, the threat of terrorism is still very much alive. [emphasis mine]

So, let us set aside the privacy issues and whether it is legal or appropriate to for the TSA to compel one to hand private information to a child. Here is my question to the TSA:

If the threat is so great … so great it justifies groping six-year old girlswhy is the TSA putting these children in harm’s way??!!

THE TSA CANNOT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS: That the threat is so great we have to be groped, viewed nude, take our shoes off, not take liquids on board, harass bus passengers, search people coming OFF trains, etc., etc. and it is OK to have children manning checkpoints.  

I’m going to ask the question again: Have you written your Congresspeople to get the TSA reigned in?  I have.

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A Mickey Mouse Agency

UPDATE: 9PM, Sunday, 5/8/11. I have written a new posting on this topic here.


I haven’t posted for a while about the Transportation Security Administration, even though they have been in the news recently over more of their grope searches of a 6-year old girl (story here ) and a former Miss USA (story here).

As a friend of mine recently stated, “if flying is so dangerous we have to be groping six year olds, then nobody should be flying.” Good point. 
Another point it seems to me is that if flying is so dangerous we have to be groping people, why are they allowing children to do their job of checking travelers? When I was checking in for my flight in State College, PA Thursday morning, I presented my ID and boarding pass to a young man I would guess was about eight years old. You can see him with the “magic flashlight” in the photo below. 
They also had children manning the conveyor belt that lead into the X-ray and on the other side of the X-ray and metal detector. Look closely at the photo below.
Children? Really?!
This is an agency that routinely violates our rights, hassles innocent people, and is unprofessional while doing it. 
My question: Why doesn’t Congress do something about this increasingly out-of-control agency? Now that Bin Laden has eliminated maybe we can have an intelligent look at airport security.

Welcome Pilots of America and AOPA members. Please feel free to look around the rest of the blog which is primarily about weather. 

Welcome Smart Money readers. 

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More on the Rapidly-Expanding TSA

From the New York Post

In a politically correct attempt at perfect egalitarianism, we’ve created a bureaucratic monster. And, like all bureaucracies, it really has only one imperative — not defending the homeland, but protecting itself and expanding its reach, in order to justify its $56,000,000,000 budget.

It doesn’t matter whether the administration is Republican or Democratic. It doesn’t matter who’s president. Poorly conceived and hastily created in the aftermath of 9/11, the leviathan DHS — with more than 200,000 employees, it’s the third-largest Cabinet department — is a conceptual and practical disgrace to the American tradition of ordered liberty.

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The Out-of-Control TSA

I know that some of my readers believe I post too-frequently on what I believe is a huge threat to the liberty of Americans: The Department of Homeland Security and its rogue agency the Transportation Safety Administration.

When I recently posted about their plans to use their “nude imaging” on people on the street, I received emails from readers that, well, just didn’t believe it.
Believe it!
Here is a report from Forbes,
The projects range from what the DHS describes as “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest” to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology currently used in American airports.

The 173-page collection of contracts and reports, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University, and Rapiscan Systems. The study was expected to cost more than $3.5 million.
One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements. In another program, the researchers were asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects an individual might have on his or her body at distances up to thirty feet.
“This would allow them to take these technologies out of the airport and into other contexts like public streets, special events and ground transit,” says Ginger McCall, an attorney with EPIC. “It’s a clear violation of the fourth amendment that’s very invasive, not necessarily effective, and poses all the same radiation risks as the airport scans.”

I’m astonished that people are not marching on the Capitol to protest this nonsense. Benjamin Franklin said, “People who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither.” 
Have you written your congresspeople?  
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Speaking of Radiation…

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation — 247 machines at 38 airports — after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

What a surprise. Tell me why we are putting up with this?

Details here.

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You may recall my posting regarding the TSA VIPR team searching passengers coming off a train at Savannah, GA last month, including video evidence of groping young boys. The video is here.

From Trains here is more on the story, including a chief of police that finally is willing to take on this thuggish behavior:

Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor said he first thought a blog posting about the incident was a joke. When he discovered that the TSA’s VIPR team did at least some of what the blog said, he was livid. He ordered the VIPR teams off Amtrak property, at least until a firm agreement can be drawn up to prevent the TSA from taking actions that the chief said were illegal and clearly contrary to Amtrak policy.

“Illegal.” I second that.

“When I saw it, I didn’t believe it was real,” O’Connor said. When it developed that the posting on an anti-TSA blog was not a joke, “I hit the ceiling.”

You may recall I held the story for four days because I thought it was a set up to make opponents of the TSA look bad (i.e., a planted fake tape). The story goes on:

O’Connor said he must take some of the blame because he did not more carefully observe what the VIPR teams were doing. He said the TSA had apologized repeatedly to him, but they must agree to firm restrictions before he will consider allowing them back on Amtrak property.

I salute Chief O’Connor. Now, where are all of the other local chiefs of police that are allowing this illegal nonsense to go on?

Here’s more:

The VIPR teams were rolled out on Dec. 12, 2005, then promptly pulled back two days later when it turned out that no one had informed numerous local governments. It was a fiasco. Several local jurisdictions said they had no interest and opted out, including the Washington Metro system. But teams, moving slowly, have apparently re-infiltrated surface transportation facilities. Unlike the TSA at airports, these teams have access to firepower. Although the TSA is not allowed to carry weapons, some armed Federal Air Marshals have been switched to ground duty.

One major unanswered question is: why? What purpose is being served other than to justify employment? You will certainly hear more about this in Trains.

They are setting up roadblocks, they are searching bus passengers, and they continue with the nude machines and grope searches at airports. There are news reports (see here for just one of numerous examples) that the TSA has set up or is setting up mobile vans to scan people on streets. Last year at this time, I wouldn’t have given that story any credibility, but given the TSA’s recent activities, I certainly do not rule it out.

I also want to salute Trains for its reporting on this issue. It is a mystery to me why so much of the media, which claims to take the Bill of Rights seriously, is virtually silent on the increasingly out-of-control TSA.

Have you contacted your congressperson?

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TSA’s Latest Outrage

I have been sitting on this story for several days because I simply could not believe it. I thought it might be a plant to make those of us who believe the TSA has evolved into a travesty look foolish for running it.

However, now that it has been reported by Drudge, Gizmodo, and others, here goes..

The TSA searched all of the passengers coming off an Amtrak train in Savannah. Keep in mind the TSA has no arrest powers (they have to call the local police to make an arrest) and they have no authority over drugs, etc. Their sole mission is safety of transportation.


In the photo above (a screen capture of a cell phone video at about the :40 mark) the TSA agent seems to be searching in the groin area of a 9-year old boy with his right hand. The entire video, about 55 seconds, is here.

If you look through some of the comments on my other TSA postings, you see the sentiment expressed by TSA apologists, “you don’t have to fly.” I reply with, they are checking people boarding trains and buses and they are setting up roadblocks for autos.  But, this reaches a new level of stupidity. They are leaving the train!

This is America. Since when to we have to put up with being searched, without probably cause, to travel??!!  Don’t tell me it is to keep us “safe,” they are leaving the train. 

Plus, do we really want to teach our children that public groping — for no apparent reason and by an agency that likely does not have the legal authority to do this (they are coming off the train!) — is something appropriate?

Have you written your congresspersons?  I have.

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The TSA Keeping Us "Safe"

The San Diego Port Authority states that weapons of mass destruction have been found in the U.S. Here is one of  several U.S. reports on the subject and a U.K. report is here. I don’t know whether these reports are true but one would think the news media would be reporting on this rather than the stories about “energy drinks,” the royal wedding, and the Grammies the “Today” show is currently airing.
Meanwhile, our crack DHS/TSA is focusing on the real threats to our security and safety:
Why do we put up with this?

Or, this?

My guess is that it is a lot easier to hassle the elderly than implement effective airport security, seal the border, and track down WMD’s.
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Don Phillips on the TSA

The March 2011 Trains has an article about the TSA by Don Phillips, America’s number one transportation reporter. It is on page 8 and it is well worth reading regardless of what mode(s) of travel you prefer.

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Killer Cream Cheese!!

The TSA is at it again.  This time, cuffing and arresting a man for — get this — having a bagel and cream cheese in a bag on a plane. Here are the details from two different sources.

When the TSA confronted him onboard he became “agitated” (wouldn’t you?), so they cuffed him and led him off the plane.

I guess since the TSA is never wrong, it never occurred to them to apologize and let him go on his way.

The TSA Strikes Back!

While the TSA isn’t very good at finding terrorists, they are good at harassing people who make fun of them. A pilot who (legally!) posted videos showing the gaping holes in airport security got a visit from the TSA.  Details here.

The YouTube videos, posted Nov. 28, show what the pilot calls the irony of flight crews being forced to go through TSA screening while ground crew who service the aircraft are able to access secure areas simply by swiping a card.
“As you can see, airport security is kind of a farce. It’s only smoke and mirrors so you people believe there is actually something going on here,” the pilot narrates.
Video shot in the cockpit shows a medieval-looking rescue ax available on the flight deck after the pilots have gone through the metal detectors. “This looks a little more formidable than a box cutter, doesn’t it?” the pilot asks.
Well, we can’t have people interested in real security can we?! (as opposed to “security theatre”)  Here’s what happened next,
Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff’s deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.
Here is his background:
The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade.
He is also a helicopter test pilot in the Army Reserve and flew missions for the United Nations in Macedonia.
Father south in California today, the intrepid TSA had apparently run out of salad bars to inspect and grandmothers to grope, so they apparently decided to take a field trip so they could see some “climate change.” Click to enlarge photo. 
Photo: Sign on San Diego
Have you communicated with your congresspeople yet?

UPDATE: Here is the video.

Killer Salad Bars

From CBS News:

(CBS)  In this exclusive story, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the latest terror attack to America involves the possible use of poisons – simultaneous attacks targeting hotels and restaurants at many locations over a single weekend. 

The plot uncovered earlier this year is said to involve the use of two poisons – ricin and cyanide – slipped into salad bars and buffets. 

“We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country,” said Dec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Dec. 6, 2010.

What next, grope searching garbanzo beans?

I don’t, for one moment, discount the threat that the U.S. faces. But, maybe if DHS focused our (yes, it is our money) resources on finding the specific individuals who might carry out a threat, as opposed to grope searching and nude-viewing of 70-year old grandmothers and the “homeland security threat” of ‘climate change,’ I could take them seriously.

UPDATE:  Now we are evacuating airports because of stuffed chickens.

What Next: Grope Searching Trees?

Just when I think the whole ‘global warning’ thing cannot get any sillier (see below), I’m proven wrong.

At an all-day White House conference on “environmental justice,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that her department is creating a new task force to battle the effects of climate change on domestic security operations.

Speaking at the first White House Forum on Environmental Justice on Thursday, Napolitano discussed the initial findings of the department’s recently created “Climate Change and Adaptation Task Force.”
Napolitano explained that the task force was charged with “identifying and assessing the impact that climate change could have on the missions and operations of the Department of Homeland Security.” …

“How will FEMA work with state and local partners to plan for increased flooding or wildfire or hurricane activity that is more serious than we’ve seen before?”

What increase in hurricanes? Just check Dr. Ryan Maue’s hurricane index at Florida State University, the long term trend is decreasing hurricane activity (click to enlarge):

and, when Ms. Napolitano talks about “worse hurricanes than we have seen” she is making it up as she goes along. Remember all the forecasts right after Katrina (2005) of worsening hurricanes? This is Maue’s index that combines both number and strength of tropical storms (ACE index), click to enlarge.

Yes, there was a peak in 2004-2005 but the ACE index has since dropped to record lows since then, defying all of the dire predictions made in 2005.

With regard to wildfires in the West, it has been one of the wettest Decembers in history, with more rain and snow on the way. Below is a map of current flood (green tones) and winter storm (pink and blue tones) warnings in California.

Yes, the above map represents “weather” rather than “climate.” But there is no evidence (as opposed to speculation) that there is a “homeland security” threat from global warming.

The DHS, parent agency of the TSA, with this latest news (see two other postings below) strikes me as in desperate need of “adult supervision.”

Hat tip: John Todd.

TSA Followups

I’ve received a number of emails pertaining to the posting below about airport security.  The first includes this photo from NYC’s Penn Station at 7 o’clock this morning:

It depicts four of the TSA’s (TSA = thousands standing around) finest, well, standing around. My friend asks,
What can they do that dozens of NYC police and National Guard in battle attire can’t do?
He then answers his question with: mission creep. Exactly!
Another friend emailed me a link to several TSA-themed Christmas songs. This is my favorite:
and, there is another good one here, titled “Grandma Got Molested at the Airport” that does contain a couple of “adult” terms.

I appreciate the feedback!  Happy, and safe, holiday travels!

Finally, An Intelligent Article About Airport Security

In my “day job” as CEO of WeatherData Services, Inc., my speciality is mitigating the risks posted by extreme weather and environmental conditions. The same risk mitigation strategies apply to just about any hazard, including those that are man-made.

As a frequent business flier, I have written about the TSA’s “security theatre” on a number of occasions (for example, here and here) and on the TSA’s outrageous violation of our privacy rights with its new grope searches and nude machines (examples here and here). In spite of all of the theatre and inconvenience, security is markedly ineffective. Just yesterday, ABC News reported that a loaded gun a passenger forgot was in his carryon bag got through security in Houston (an airport with nude machines)!

Unfortunately, up until now, most media articles on the subject have been little more than rewrites of the TSA’s “talking points” for reporters. At last, The Washington Post has written a comprehensive article that looks at both sides of the issue. Some excerpts:

Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks and decades after hijackers first began to target passenger airliners, the United States has invested billions of dollars in an airport system that makes technology the last line of defense to intercept terrorists.

It has yet to catch one.

The result is an emerging consensus among experts and lawmakers that the checkpoint-heavy approach – searching nearly every passenger – may not be the most effective…

Some critics have given the labyrinthine airport security system the nickname “security theater,” saying it is riddled with loopholes. Airport workers are not screened daily, making them capable of passing into secure areas with weapons. Lines inside the terminal are vulnerable to a would-be suicide bomber. Packages sent as cargo go through a comparatively light screening process – one that is being tightened but was exploited by al-Qaeda operatives in October when they sent bombs hidden in printer cartridges.

“After 9/11, the attacks failed because of the poor skills of the terrorists rather than anything we’ve done,” said Rafi Ron, former security director at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. “In every one of these later attacks, the security checkpoint was overcome by terrorists who took advantage of the loopholes.”

If the sentiments expressed in the Post’s article seem familiar, they are exactly what I, and many other experts, have contended for years. As the article points out, the terrorists have “won” — we are curtailing our freedoms and spending hundreds of billions for little or no gain.

The article points out that the British are going to relax the silly liquids ban but the U.S. thinks it is “too soon.” That’s absurd. Either the chemistry exists to make liquid bombs on board an airplane or it does not (I’m in the latter camp). Timing ( = political theatre) has nothing to do with it.

I have written my congressional delegation as well as key congresspeople in other states. I have also written the airlines. Have you? I believe that it is only through sustained pressure from voters and airline customers that we will get intelligent and effective airport security.

Close the Washington Monument!

So says airline security expert Bruce Schneier.

…I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.
An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?  [emphasis mine]
An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

Having experienced the insanity of the new procedures myself returning from Charlotte  Thursday, I highly recommend this article from Schneier regarding where we should go from here.

If you agree, please call or write your elected representatives and the airlines. Only public pressure will get this changed. Otherwise, our spouses and children will still be dealing with this three decades, or more, from now.

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"Gentlemen, We’ve Got to Protect Our Phony Baloney Jobs!"

C. Northcote Parkinson, in 1958, published “Parkinson’s Law,” based on his experiences with British Civil Service. His writing explains how a bureaucracy’s primary aim is to grow itself. Here are a few details from Wikipedia:
[Parkinson] assigns to the term a mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time. Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting his law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while Great Britain‘s overseas empire declined (indeed, he shows that the Colonial Office had its greatest number of staff at the point when it was folded into the Foreign Office because of a lack of colonies to administer). He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.”  
“Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs!”

That immortal line from Blazing Saddles along with Parkinson’s Law came to mind when I read that DHS’s Janet Napolitano believes we need to extend the nude machines and grope searches. According to The Hill, she said,

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

I thought America was supposed to be a free country?

A number of people have justified the TSA’s destruction of our rights with, “If you don’t like it, don’t fly.” Once they take over buses, trains, and ships how are we supposed to get there? Is that the America in which you want to live?

The TSA says that they had to increase scrutiny of passengers November 1 because of the toner cartridge threat (of course, that overseas, and was air cargo). Hmmm.

Last Sunday’s The Simpsons had a scene where news media executives in New York conspire to create a phony crisis. More and more the DHS/TSA ratcheting up security far out of proportion to the threat has the feel of a power grab completely unjustified by any real-world analysis of the risks.  Phony baloney jobs, anyone?

If you haven’t already, please contact your congressional delegation, the White House, and the airlines and register your displeasure.

UPDATE,  Saturday morning: Strategypage comes to the same conclusions.

But politicians get little praise for intel efforts, while airport security is very visible. The biggest problem is that airline security is more of a political than security issue. The U.S. is willing to cut intelligence agencies in order to provide more “security theater” for passenger screening. For a politician, it’s better for their careers, even if it puts the passengers at more risk.

Translation: Even though it violates our privacy rights and is less effective security, the politicians believe they are protecting their phony baloney jobs!

UPDATE 2, Saturday Afternoon: The New York Times comes to the same conclusion:

Whether or not these explosive devices [the toner cartridges] were ever actually operable remains a matter of dispute, just as it remains a mystery that the enemy — if as powerful as portrayed — has not contrived a single terrorist act on U.S. soil since 9/11. What is not in doubt is an old rule: Give a bureaucrat a big stick and a big budget, allow said bureaucrat to trade in the limitless currency of human anxiety, and the masses will soon be intimidated by the Department of Fear.