Friday, December 24, 2010

Latest arbitrary TSA target: thermoses

TSA is announcing new scrutiny of insulated beverage containers.

Full-bore lobbying effort by scanner manufacturers

The Washington Post demonstrates that the use of intrusive scanners is politics-driven, not security-driven:
Many of the scanner companies are also on pace to spend record amounts of money for lobbying this year on Capitol Hill, where they see potential problems as some lawmakers push for limits on airport-security practices. Top scanner businesses have reported spending more than $6 million on lobbying this year, records show. That doesn't include industrial giants such as General Electric, which also dabbles in scanning technology and has spent more than $32 million on lobbying this year.

The agency has purchased nearly 500 of the cutting-edge scanners - at $200,000 or more each - and plans to buy thousands more, meaning that any restrictions would pose a major threat to the industry's bottom line.

Faced with that threat, the industry made a strong lobbying push over the past two years to help derail any proposed limits, including legislation aimed at restricting or banning the use of full-body scanners by the TSA.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

TSA scanners aren't tested for radiation exposure

AOL News via Boing Boing:
For example, the FDA says it doesn't do routine inspections of any nonmedical X-ray unit, including the ones operated by the TSA.
The FDA has not field-tested these scanners and hasn't inspected the manufacturer. It has no legal authority to require owners of these devices -- in this case, TSA -- to provide access for routine testing on these products once they have been sold, FDA press officer said Karen Riley said...

Two-person teams from the Army unit performed surveys of the Advance Image Technology X-ray scanners at just three airports -- in Boston, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, she said. And that was all that the TSA asked the Army to do this year...

"APL's role was to measure radiation coming off the body scanners to verify that it fell within [accepted] standards. We were testing equipment and in no way determined its safety to humans," Helen Worth, head of public affairs for the Johns Hopkins lab, told AOL News.

"Many news articles have said we declared the equipment to be safe, but that was not what we were tasked to do," she added.

Sacramento-area pilot punished for YouTube video questioning TSA

An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security. ...

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 rhetorically.
Six law-enforcement officials showed up at the pilot's house to confiscate his gun.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The end of color-coded alerts

One of the most foolish DHS initiatives was the much-satirized color-coded alert of five colors. "Red alert" meant that there was a terrorist attack in progress, so was not of any informational significance: we'd be in front of our televisions rather than relying on the DHS website if this happened. "Blue" and "green" meant all clear, and thus was never going to be used: who wants to be held responsible if there's a terrorist attack when you've given the green alert? So we really had a two-color system, yellow and orange. And then, sometime in the Bush administration, someone upgraded us from yellow to orange alert, and we never went back down. So it literally conveyed no information whatsoever. The system has finally been dropped.

More on the breast-milk retaliation incident

An update on the breast-milk incident. Jonathan Adler finds TSA's response far from reassuring.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"What the TSA hasn't told us"

Nate Silver questions the TSA claims of few opt-outs. As we've previously noted, TSA, for the most part, has stopped much of its more-intrusive screening.

Reader mail - Logan Airport in Boston

Chris Bray writes us:
Love the TSA Abuse blog. Quick note on a personal experience: I went through a
TSA checkpoint at Boston Logan over the weekend, and saw the big blue
Rape-i-scan box at the checkpoint. I gritted my teeth, prepared to opt out and
be groped...and then got far enough toward the front to see that there were four
lanes, but only one with a Rape-i-scan. I just chose a line without the thing,
without any of the slackfaced TSA employees saying anything or looking like they
noticed, and sailed through a sullen and desultory screening. Meanwhile, people
who were dumb enough to *choose* the line with the x-ray box were raising their
hands in submission posture for their naked radiation experience, and getting
their free "anomaly" pat-downs. They looked miserable; I was on my way to my

I'm making too much out of a single experience, but it seems to me that we're
headed for a dynamic in which there are two TSAs: one for the people who choose
to submit to anything without limit, and one for the people who are willing to
make even the slightest effort to push back.

In any event, I can't imagine why anyone would *choose* the line with the
Rape-i-scan. But I think airports should have signs: "DEAR JIHADISTS: PLEASE

They're simultaneously abusive and useless, which is really quite an

Strategy World on security theater

Strategy World:
The main criticism is that many of the security measures adopted since September 11, 2001 have been more for show than for effectiveness. An increasing number of potential passengers are no longer flying because of these new methods, which have, so far, not caught a single terrorist. This is described as a sign of how effective the new measures are. But the new techniques would not have detected the "underwear bomber" of last Christmas, who secreted explosives in his underwear. Moreover, there have been many cases where passengers got weapons past security, usually by accident. ...

Another issue is the small number of terrorist groups actually capable of planning and carrying out an attempt to bomb an airliner. So far, attempts are being caught at the planning stage, which is largely a matter of intelligence and police work. 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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Journal of Transportation Security: Rapiscan doesn't work

Jerome Corsi reports about a peer-reviewed study:
A new peer-reviewed scientific study says the backscatter full-body imaging X-ray machines being used by the federal Transportation Security Administration could be fooled by terrorists who simply would mold explosives to conform to their bodies.

WND obtained an advance copy of the report, titled "An evaluation of airport X-ray backscatter units based on image characteristics," in which University of California scientists Leon Kaufman and Joseph Carlson demonstrated that packages of explosives contoured to the body or worn along the sides likely would not be detected by TSA X-ray units built to "see" hard edges and anatomical features, and used primarily to image the front and back of the body.

Sunday update: Boing Boing has a link to the full paper itself.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Harvard Law students challenge TSA

Harvard Law Record:
Two Harvard Law students have filed a federal lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration that claims the use of "nude body scanners" and new enhanced pat-down techniques at airport security checkpoints are unconstitutional. ...

Pradhan said a TSA agent put his fingers inside the waistband of Pradhan's pants, felt his groin, and lifted his buttocks.

"They run their hand all the way up [to a person's groin] , and they don't necessarily stop," he said. "They'll go all the way up until – well, they go all the way up."

TSA public relations

A satire from Popehat.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Relative risk

Mark Bennett (via Infamy or Praise, which does an extensive round-up of commentary on the TSA controversy):
Never mind that Heathrow is outside TSA’s bailiwick. Let’s run the numbers supposing that Al Qaeda had succeeded in 2006 in killing 1,500 people on flights leaving US airports. There were 50 other commercial air travel fatalities in 2006 (the Lexington Comair crash), so a successful Al Qaeda domestic-travel megaplot would have raised the number of fatalities to 1,550. There were 724,733,000 passenger emplanements in 2006. So if such a plot had succeeded the risk of getting on a plane in 2006 would have been 2.13 in a million. The same year there were 1.42 fatalities per million highway passenger miles, so getting on a plane in 2006 (if the imaginary domestic plot had succeeded) would have been about as dangerous as driving 150 miles.
Even in that nightmare scenario, for trips longer than 150 miles, it would have made more sense to fly than to drive. As much as Thiessen and the rest of those who are willing to give up freedom and dignity for a little more safety hate it, the risk of terrorism is not that great. That sixty-six percent of Americans polled recognize such gives me hope.

TSA patdown "game" a counterproductive lesson for children

Raw Story:
An expert in the fight against child sexual abuse is raising the alarm about a technique the TSA is reportedly using to get children to co-operate with airport pat-downs: calling it a "game".

Ken Wooden, founder of Child Lures Prevention, says the TSA's recommendation that children be told the pat-down is a "game" is potentially putting children in danger.

Telling a child that they are engaging in a game is "one of the most common ways" that sexual predators use to convince children to engage in inappropriate contact, Wooden told Raw Story.

Children "don't have the sophistication" to distinguish between a pat-down carried out by an airport security officer and an assault by a sexual predator, he said.

The TSA policy could "desensitize children to inappropriate touch and ultimately make it easier for sexual offenders to prey on our children," Wooden added.

More evidence scanners turned off

As we discussed before, it's a mistake to call Opt-Out Day a failure because so few opted out of being scanned. (Jacob Sullum claims that it "fizzled"; the Hit & Run commenters correct him.) I have to consider it a success because the protest encouraged the TSA to informally modify their policies to reduce the number of scans taking place by turning off the machines. This doesn't appear to be because of the fear that the lines would be unmanageable on Thanksgiving Wednesday. This weekend I flew roundtrip DCA to LAS and back, and at both airports, despite manageable lines, none of the security checkpoints had scanners operating. There was no line Tuesday morning at LAS, but the scanner was roped off.

Jonathan Adler asks whether the TSA backed down and compiles other evidence of scanners being shut down.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Say no!"

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution, the best economics blog out there:
Here is what New York State's Office of Children & Family Services recommends that you tell your children about inappropriate touching:
  • You are special and important.
  • Your body is your own.
  • You have the right to say "NO" if someone wants to touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, afraid or confused.
  • There are parts of your body that are private. You have the right to say "NO" to anyone who wants to touch your vagina, penis, breasts or buttocks. You have my permission to say "NO" even if that person is an adult ... even if it's a grown-up you know.
  • Pay attention to your feelings. Trust your feelings about the way people touch you.
  • If someone bothers you, I want you to tell me. I promise that I will believe you.
  • If someone touches you in a way that does not seem right, it is not your fault.
Children need to know that the safety rules about touching apply all the time, not just with strangers ... or with men ... or with baby sitters. In many cases ...children are sexually abused by people they know and trust [including] authority figures....
Also, abusers seldom need to use physical force...Unfortunately, abusers can use threats successfully because children are taught to believe and obey adults.
Excellent advice for children and for adults.
Authority figures, for example, may also use threats of violence to engage in abuse against adults, for example, "you will be blown up unless you let me touch your genitals and take naked pictures of you." 

TSA supervisor facing charges for sex with 7-year-old

WPTZ (h/t M.P.):
[Jason] Beauharnois was a supervisor for the Department of Homeland Security's TSA at the Burlington Airport. He has since been suspended without pay.

Of course, any large organization is going to have an employee who ends up being charged with a sex crime. Even if TSA engaged in expensive screening for its employees to weed out potential sex offenders, that screening would be imperfect—and it wouldn't make the unnecessary, costly, and counterproductive intrusiveness of its current search policy any better.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Airplane II anticipates the Rapiscan

Like the Rapiscan itself, NSFW. Via Economic Policy Journal:

The media sneers at you

Hit and Run and Popehat document the media mavens calling you crybabies for daring to complain about TSA policy. Missing from any of their analyses: any evidence that any of this "enhanced" searching is useful or beneficial at the margin or otherwise.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Former police chief: pat-downs punitive, ineffective

Homeland Security Watch (2009) via Gizmodo:
We have asked TSA to find the tools terrorists use and prevent both from boarding a passenger plane. We have unintentionally created an agency that now seeks efficiency and compliance more than any weapon or explosive.

While returning my computer and shoes to their proper places, I watched the screening line at BWI. I thought about the haphazard events surrounding the security screening process. As I watched the screening officers, I wondered what information drives their decisions. Left only to my observations, I concluded that their decisions were entirely random, and likely based upon three criteria: passenger load, staffing, and whim.

I was left to conclude that I am not screened because I look like a terrorist. I am routinely screened because I look like someone who will readily comply. I decided then that my next invitation to enjoy additional screening would be met with more inquiry.

Backups at TSA screening increase risk of terrorist attack

ABC News via Goldberg @ Atlantic:
Among the possible targets in the suspected European terror plot are pre-security areas in at least five major European airports, a law enforcement official told ABC News. Authorities believe terror teams are preparing to mount a commando like attack featuring small units and small firearms modeled after the Mumbai attack two years ago.

The State Department issued a highly unusual "Travel Alert" Sunday for "potential terrorist attacks in Europe," saying U.S. citizens are "reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure."

One scenario authorities fear is a repeat of the 1985 attack on the Rome and Vienna airports, when Palestinian extremists threw grenades and opened fire on travelers waiting at ticket counters injuring 140 and killing 19, including a small child.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stalking conviction not disqualifying for TSA position

As we learn from WBS-TV after a TSA agent is arrested for sexual assault. (via @drudgereport)

3-year-old girl searched by TSA because of her tantrum

From CW39; Tribune Co. may take down the YouTube video.

Polls shift

Policy opposition to the TSA has been muted because of repeated polls showing something like 81% of Americans support the new screening methods. Of course most Americans don't fly, and most Americans hold opinions even when their only information on the subject was prompted with a pollster's question. Even I, someone who has been annoyed with the TSA since 2002, was alright with the naked scanners—until I learned that they weren't any more effective than a standard metal detector, that they had potential radiation problems, and that they were considerably slower than regular metal detectors. Well, good news. The "don't touch my junk" publicity has shifted public opinion dramatically. According to Zogby via WWF,
The implementation of full body scans and pat downs by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as part of security enhancements at our nation's airports will cause 48% of Americans and 42% of more frequent fliers to choose a different mode of transportation when possible, a recent Zogby International Poll finds.

Overall, 61% of the 2,032 likely voters polled from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22, oppose the use of full body scans and TSA pat downs. Republicans (69%) and Independents (65%) oppose in greater numbers than Democrats (50%).

Of those polled, 52% believe the enhanced security measures will not prevent terrorist activity, almost half (48%) say it is a violation of privacy rights, 33% say they should not have to go through enhanced security methods to get on an airplane, and 32% believe the full body scans and TSA pat downs to be sexual harassment. This is in line with frequent fliers (fly more than once every 3 months), as 53% say the enhanced measures will not prevent terrorist activity, 48% believe it's a violation of their privacy rights, 41% say they should not have to go through it to get on an airplane, and 35% believe it is sexual harassment.

While roughly the same amount believe the full body scans and TSA pat downs are necessary to keep the country safe and prevent terrorist activities on airplanes (34% of frequent fliers vs. 29% overall), frequent fliers are more likely to feel that the enhanced methods are not needed because metal detectors and bag screenings are working fine (33% to 26%). Just 16% of frequent fliers say no one has an absolute right to fly and if people don't like the security measures, then just don't fly compared to 20% of everyone polled.

The Zogby poll also finds when given a choice, likely voters will choose full body scan over the TSA pat downs (48% to 7%), but 42% would rather have neither. Frequent fliers feel about the same.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"The TSA Needs to Opt Out of Tweeting"

Gizmodo finds TSA tweets creepy.

Menstruation and the TSA

Joe Sharkey @ New York Times via Dark Politricks:
I’m getting a lot of questions about the new security regime, including some pointed ones from women. Do the imagers, for example, detect sanitary napkins? Yes. Does that then necessitate a pat-down? The T.S.A. couldn’t say. Screeners, the T.S.A. has said, are expected to exercise some discretion.
A traveler writes Gladrags about her experience with that "discretion":
This email isn’t going to be as polished as I would normally send, but I’m upset and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else (if I can stop it).

I recently traveled via air, and was subjected to that new scanning device. “No problem,” I thought. I was wearing jeans and a linen tanktop, bra, panties, and one camouflage pantyliner.

I’m a rule follower, so I never have any problems at the airport. Not this time. I was stopped, and then held for 15 minutes while they tried to find a female supervisor. I couldn’t get to my bag, my shawl or my shoes; just standing there while the TSA agents kept me in one place.

Now, I don’t want this to be about bad TSA agents; they were doing their job, they were as delicate as they could be, etc., etc. But what ultimately happened is that I was subjected to search so invasive that I was left crying and dealing with memories that I thought had been dealt with years ago of prior sexual assaults.


Because of my flannel panty-liner. These new scans are so horrible that if you are wearing something unusual (like a piece of cloth on your panties) then you will be subjected to a search where a woman repeatedly has to check your “groin” while another woman watches on (two in my case – they were training in a new girl – awesome).

So please, please, tell the ladies not to wear their liners at the airport (I didn’t even have an insert in). I’m a strong, confident woman; I’m an Army vet (which is why those camo liners crack me up), I work full-time and go to graduate school full-time, I have a wonderful husband, and I don’t take any nonsense from anyone. I don’t dramatize, and I don’t exaggerate. I’m trying to give you a sense of who I am so you won’t think that this is a plea for attention, or a jumping on the bandwagon about the recent TSA proposed boycott.

I just don’t want another woman to have to go through the “patting down” because she didn’t know that her glad-rag would be a matter of national security.

Roger Ebert on the TSA

Roger Ebert's Journal:
I'm almost always treated kindly by TSA agents. Let's face it. In Chicago especially, they know who I am. Nobody any more ever says to me, "You know who you look like?" I look like Roger Ebert, the guy with the missing jaw and the bandages around his neck, that's who I look like. They don't give me a pass, but they're nice. I go through the machines and get the pat down. At Palm Springs airport not long ago, a TSA agent was eying the gauze around my neck suspiciously. I made a mental note: Tell Chaz to bring along gauze and tape in case the bandage is removed and has to be replaced. Because if I look like the Phantom of the Opera now, you don't want to see me with my bandage off.

Meanwhile Chaz and Millie. my care provider, are trying to get through security with my medicines, my cans of liquid food, stuff like that.

"Have Bikini, Will Travel"

NBC Los Angeles via Glenn Reynolds:
"I'm wearing my bikini," Corinne Theile said as she unbuttoned her overcoat outside the terminal to reveal a black two-piece. "It's not that I'm concerned, it's that I feel like the TSA is making travelers feel uncomfortable, and I feel like we can have security measures that don't make people feel uncomfortable.

"Every time I go through security I always say, 'I don't even know why I got dressed this morning.' I end up taking off belts, jewelry and everything else off anyway," Theile said.
In Theile's case, it seems to have worked.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opt-Out Day Review

You'll see a lot of press about how noone opted out; the TSA Twitter account is retweeting like mad all the people happy about how quickly the lines went today. A closer review reveals that the the TSA turned off many backscatter machines—there was no need to opt out, so no one opted out. It goes very far to demonstrate how unnecessary these machines are: if the machines were really critical for safety, rather than for public relations, then one hopes TSA wouldn't play with our safety so. But when push came to shove, the TSA was more concerned about the threat to its illusion of security theater, rather than the threat of an attack by terrorists.

If it's good enough for courthouses and the White House...

I share the opinion of this TPM reader:
I'm a lawyer. I go through security checkpoints all the time. Went through one at the local criminal courthouse this morning. They x-rayed my stuff, sent me through a metal detector, and then had me come back through it to pick up my stuff when they were done looking at it on the monitor. Done. 30 seconds. The lawyer's line at the courthouse is ever-so-slightly less rigid than the general public line (if it's obviously my belt buckle setting off the detector, they've never made me take it off; they've learned to accept that lawyers often keep calendars on their smartphones so we don't have to check them before entering the building, though they check to make sure the ringer is off), but even the general public line is pretty much what we were used to pre-9/11. X ray machine. Metal detector. Wand if they can't quickly figure out what's setting off the detector. Pat downs only if you're still setting off the detector and nothing's visible. 45 seconds or a minute, tops. And you know, a rather substantial percentage of the people who go through the line to get into a criminal courthouse are people out on bail, some of whom are actual dangerous criminals. And a lot of the others are people who are witnesses to crimes whose presence is not exactly welcomed by the criminal element. Honestly, this new TSA genital-feeling stuff goes further than I've ever had to go through to even go into a *prison.*
I've been to the White House and within five feet of the president without anyone sticking their hands in my waistband.

Woman: Orlando TSA agents singled me out for my breasts

Eliana Sutherland recently flew from Orlando International Airport and told Local 6 she felt the two male TSA workers were staring at her breasts and chose her for additional screening because of their size.

"It was pretty obvious. One of the guys that was staring me up and down was the one who pulled me over," said Sutherland. "Not a comfortable feeling."

Experiences like Sutherland's have been reported across the country.

"TSA is overreacting"--which is what the terrorists want

Jim Harper @ Politico:
‎TSA is overreacting. That’s exactly what Congress asked it to do—and it’s exactly what terrorists want Congress to ask for. The better approach now is no change to domestic air security from the status quo of a year ago.

In 99 million domestic flights over the past decade, transporting seven billion U.S. travelers, there have been zero bombs snuck on to planes and detonated. (The one failed attempt came from overseas.) Common sense calls that a risk that’s near zero.

Underwear with hidden messages for the TSA

Metallic-ink-printed shirts and underwear remind TSA scanners about the Fourth Amendment. [Cargo Collective via Refinery29 (via @laurakstyle)]

Adam Savage: TSA scanners missed my 12" blades

A NSFW rant about misplaced TSA priorities.

"Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro"

Another reason to protest hard against the TSA intrusiveness: it will spread if the government thinks it can get away with it here. The Hill:
omeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says terrorists will continue to look for U.S. vulnerabilities, making tighter security standards necessary.

“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on "Charlie Rose."

“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?”

TSA agents go through woman's wallet

Daniel Rubin:
At what point does an airport search step over the line?

How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account?

Remember to ask for clean gloves before your groping

TSA agents wear gloves for their protection, not yours, and they're exposing you to the bacteria of other passengers when they reuse gloves. And don't settle for "different" gloves from TSA pockets, since those pockets are swarming with bacteria.

Moaning deters groping

My TSA Horror Story suggests imitating Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally":
Since most Americans seem to be uncomfortable with gay people “up close and personal” I welcomed the pat down. I moaned with the neck & shoulder stroking and wiggled (in what I hope was a delicious fashion - it’s hard to fake gay I’ve found) and asked if I should drop my pants or just open them so they could look…never got to the 2nd point of “resistance” - I could have one testicle and been carrying loaded bananas in my pants as far as that agent knows.

TSA detains photographer

Errata Security blog:
I took pictures of the "advanced imaging" machines that see through your clothes – the machines that are the subject of so much controversy lately. I was quickly besieged by TSA agents shouting at me to stop taking pictures. I was then detained while they tried to figure out what to do with me.
TSA regulations permit photo-taking, as they must. The TSA agent told him "Not all parts of the government are accountable to the public, especially the TSA."

A similar incident in Hartford.

TSA Speedo protestor in SLC

Salt Lake City TSA confronts blogger who strips to Speedo, writes "SCREW BIG SIS" on his back.

"Baggage Handler" badge

Has the TSA touched your junk? There's a foursquare badge for that! (via @ableimes)

TSA harasses breast-feeding mom who asks them to adhere to their own guidelines

She missed her flight. [Ph.D. in Parenting blog]

TSA misleading about radiation effects?

Jason Bell via We Won't Fly:
[E]ven though the dose may actually be low, these machines are capable of much higher radiation output through device failure or both unauthorized or authorized reconfiguration of either hardware or software. ...

With respect to errors in the safety reports and/or misleading information about them, the statement that one scan is equivalent to 2-3 minutes of your flight is VERY misleading. Most cosmic radiation is composed of high energy particles that passes right through our body, the plane and even most of the earth itself without being absorbed or even detected. The spectrum that is danger is known as ionizing radiation and most of that is absorbed by the hull of the airplane. So relating non-absorbing cosmic radiation to tissue absorbing man-made radiation is simply misleading and wrong.

Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues. Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!

There also appears to be unit conversion error in the Appendix of the report, which was recently cited by the FDA in response to the UCSF scientist's letter of concern, which might mean that the relative skin dose is 1000-fold higher than the report indicates (pg Appendix B, pg ii, units of microSv are used in an example calculation, when it appears that units of milliSv should have been used). I attempted to contact the author, Frank Cerra, to query whether this was a computational mistake or an unexplained conversion; however, none of his web-published email addresses are valid and there was no answer by phone. I cannot rule out that a conversion factor was used that was not described in the methods, and would welcome confirmation or rebuttal of this observation.

Finally, I would like to comment on the safety of the TSA officers (TSO) who will be operating these machines, and will be constant 'bystanders' with respect to the radiation exposure. The range of exposure estimates is a function of where an officer stands during their duty, what percentage of that duty is spent in the same location and how often the machine is running. A TSO could be exposed to as much as 86-1408 mrem per year (assuming 8 hours per day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks per year and between 30-100% duty and 25-100% occupancy, as defined by the Johns Hopkins report), which is between 86%-141% of the safe exposure of 100 mrem. At the high end, if for example a TSO is standing at the entrance of the scanner when it is running at maximum capacity, then that officer could hit their radiation exposure limit in as few as 20 working days (assuming an 8 hour shift). While we may not be very happy with our TSOs at the moment as the face of these policies, we need to keep in mind that they really should be wearing radiation badges in order to know their specific exposure (especially for those officers who may also have to receive radiation exposure for medical reasons).

TSA workers hate touching you because they think you're disgusting

The Daily Mail summarizes for British readers.

"Conservatives share blame for TSA's 'freedom fondle'"

Gene Healy @ Washington Examiner:
"[I]n 99 million domestic flights, transporting 7 billion people, precisely zero domestic travelers have snuck an underpants bomb onto a plane.

"TSA is not good for the gander"

Freddoso @ Examiner:
It's obviously a waste of resources to pat down these public officials, but I think we need to do it anyway. Unless they are subjected to the same level of harassment and inconvenience that ordinary people experience, they'll just go on imposing new layers of harassment and inconvenience. It doesn't make us any safer from terrorists, but it will make us safer from the TSA.
See also Professor Bainbridge.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A graphic history of US airline security

TSA Gone Wild

New Yorker airline security cartoons from the last 70 years

Via @normative.

ABC producer: "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing."

ABC News video:
"The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around. It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate."

TSA Hill demonstration counterproductive

“The dumbest part: they did two pat-down demonstrations – male on male, and female on female,” the House staffer said. And they used a young female TSA volunteer “and in front of a room of 200 people, they touched her breasts and her buttocks. People were averting their eyes. The TSA was trying to demonstrate ‘this is not so bad,’ but it made people so uncomfortable to watch, that people were averting their eyes.”

“They shot themselves in the foot,” the staffer continued.

Outwitting the TSA

Matt Kernan (via @jbarro):
And then came the most ridiculous scene of which I’ve ever been a part. I gather my things – jacket, scarf, hat, briefcase, chocolates. We walk over to the staff entrance and he scans his badge to let me through. We walk down the long hallway that led back to the baggage claim area. We skip the escalators and moving walkways. As we walk, there are TSA officials stationed at apparent checkpoints along the route. As we pass them, they form part of the circle that is around me. By the end of the walk, I count 13 TSA officials and 2 uniformed police officers forming a circle around me. We reach the baggage claim area, and everyone stops at the orange line. The Supervisor grunts, “Have a nice day,” and leaves.

In order to enter the USA, I was never touched, I was never “Backscatted,” and I was never metal detected. In the end, it took 2.5 hours, but I proved that it is possible. I’m looking forward to my next flight on Wednesday.

Body scanners don't work

New York Post:
The body scanners coming to your local airport provide marginal benefits -- if any -- in detecting weapons and explosives hidden on travelers. They aren't worth the cost in money -- let alone in civil liberties.

Despite what their proponents would have us believe, body scanners are not some magical tool to find all weapons and explosives that can be hidden on the human body. Yes, the scanners work against high-density objects such as guns and knives -- but so do traditional magnetometers.
And the scanners fare poorly against low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids. Care to guess what Abdulmutallab's bomb was made of? The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it's not clear that a scanner would've detected that device.

"The TSA wants you to know they’re not thugs, which is why they’re confiscating your camera"

Jim Treacher rounds up some TSA intimidation regarding filming of overaggressive searches. He also catches the TSA blogger in a lie.

"Body-scanner makers spent millions on lobbying"

USA Today:
L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of the machines to the federal government, spent $4.3 million to influence Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005, lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Last year, the company spent $5.5 million on lobbying.

Its lobbyists include Linda Daschle, a prominent Democratic figure in Washington, who is a former Federal Aviation Administration official.

Rapiscan Systems, meanwhile, has spent $271,500 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. It has faced criticism for hiring Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, who has been a prominent proponent of using scanners to foil terrorism. Officials with Chertoff's firm and Rapiscan say Chertoff was not paid to promote scanner technology. It spent $440,000 on lobbying in 2009.

The government has spent $41.2 million so far on Rapiscan's machines.

British Airways Chair scoffs at TSA rules

Huffington Post:
"We need to keep passengers safe, but there's also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out," said Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst in London.

The requirement to remove shoes for screening, for example, was "the knee-jerk reaction after Richard Reid." The newest metal detectors would sense any metal such as wiring in shoes, he contended.

Many of the security rules are in place because of history rather than real risk, agreed Todd Curtis, a Seattle-based security expert at

"Shoes get special attention because of their potential to hide explosives, but there are literally thousands of other items that do not get such screening," Curtis said.

He noted that laptops must be taken out of your bag for inspection, but not notebook computers, which have much more capacity than most shoes to carry explosives.

Potential $11,000 civil fine for opting out twice

[A]ny would-be commercial airline passenger who enters an airport checkpoint and then refuses to undergo the method of inspection designated by TSA will not be allowed to fly and also will not be permitted to simply leave the airport.

That person will have to remain on the premises to be questioned by the TSA and possibly by local law enforcement. Anyone refusing faces fines up to $11,000 and possible arrest.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lawsuit: TSA agents pulled down tank-top and laughed at exposed breasts

So alleges the amended complaint in Lynsie Paige Murley v. United States. "One male TSA employee expressed to Plaintiff that he wished that he would have been there when she came through the first time, and that 'he would just have to watch the video.'" The case is No. 10-cv-124 in the Northern District of Texas, assigned to Judge Mary Lou Robinson. The US denies the allegations in the complaint but is not required to (and does not) explain an alternative version of events in its answer.

Groping results in flight being canceled

A US Airways pilot with hip replacements tells his story. Not clear if US Airways passengers were told why their plans were ruined.

An Express Jet pilot who simply refused screening may not be so lucky; his job is "on hold."

Obama takes hard line defending TSA

David Freddoso:

Latest word from President Obama:
At this point, the Transportation Security Administration, in consultation with our counter-terrorism experts, have indicated to me that the procedures that they've been putting in place are the only ones right now that they consider to be effective against the kind of threat that we saw in the Christmas Day bombing.
How about actually adding terrorists' names to the terror watch list when their activities are reported? That would have prevented last year's Christmas Day bombing. And it seems much more "effective" than molesting all of us and our children.
If Obama wants to go down with the TSA ship, the new Republican House should make him. It's time for reform -- let him veto it and pay the price.
Freddoso also has video of Ron Paul: "We have been too submissive." Read the whole thing.

Separately, let's not call it the "Christmas Day bombing." Even with all the failures, it was a success: metal detectors, no-fly-lists, and bars to terrorist funding and immigration forced al Qaeda to resort to kluged underwear bombs that didn't work and were carried by not very intelligent people who had to be willing to set fire to their crotch. It was the "Christmas Day attempted bombing," and passengers stopped it—and nude screenings and gate rape wouldn't have.

"Rape Survivor Devastated by TSA Enhanced Pat Down"

PNC-Minnesota describes an opposite-sex gate rape:
“He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength. He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped."

Dave Barry on his groping

Dave Barry gets a groping after his virtual strip search results in a "blurred groin." [Also: NPR]

Nature photographer groped because of his artificial knees

Nature photographer George Lepp was groped twice when the swab sample registered a false positive. He reports losing almost an hour.

"TSA Agents Took My Son"

Agent to protesting mother: "You need to adjust your attitude and do as you are told." (Update: perhaps fabricated. Not cool.)

"Flight Attendant Forced to Show Prosthetic Breast During Patdown"

WBTV via Village Voice:
She says two female Charlotte T.S.A. agents took her to a private room and began what she calls an aggressive pat down. She says they stopped when they got around to feeling her right breast… the one where she'd had surgery.

Pat-down Backlash: Child groped during pat-down? What are the rules?

"She put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?'. And I said, 'It's my prosthesis because I've had breast cancer.' And she said, 'Well, you'll need to show me that'."

Cathy was asked to show her prosthetic breast, removing it from her bra.

"I did not take the name of the person at the time because it was just so horrific of an experience, I couldn't believe someone had done that to me. I'm a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work." ...

A T.S.A. representative says agents aren't supposed to remove any prosthetics, but are allowed to ask to see and touch any passenger's prosthetic.

Unpleasant surprise in Dayton

A mother of an infant says she was sexually assaulted by a TSA agent in Dayton as part of the "enhanced pat-down."

Krauthammer and Will on the "Don't touch my junk" issue

Must-reads from Charles Krauthammer and George Will on John Tyner's "Network" moment:
The theory - perhaps by now it seems like a quaint anachronism - on which the nation was founded is, or was: Government is instituted to protect preexisting natural rights essential to the pursuit of happiness. Today, that pursuit often requires flying, which sometimes involves the wanding of 3-year-olds and their equally suspect teddy bears.

What the TSA is doing is mostly security theater, a pageant to reassure passengers that flying is safe. Reassurance is necessary if commerce is going to flourish and if we are going to get to grandma's house on Thursday to give thanks for the Pilgrims and for freedom. If grandma is coming to our house, she may be wanded while barefoot at the airport because democracy—or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; anyway, something—requires the amiable nonsense of pretending that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like.

American Traveler Dignity Act

Rep. Ron Paul:
I warned at the time of the creation of the TSA that an unaccountable government entity in control of airport security would provide neither security nor defend our basic freedom to travel. Yet the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats then in Congress willingly voted to create another unaccountable, bullying agency-- in a simple-minded and unprincipled attempt to appease public passion in the wake of 9-11. Sadly, as we see with the steady TSA encroachment on our freedom and dignity, my fears in 2001 were justified.

The solution to the need for security at US airports is not a government bureaucracy. The solution is to allow the private sector, preferably the airlines themselves, to provide for the security of their property. As a recent article in Forbes magazine eloquently stated, “The airlines have enormous sums of money riding on passenger safety, and the notion that a government bureaucracy has better incentives to provide safe travels than airlines with billions of dollars worth of capital and goodwill on the line strains credibility.” In the meantime, I hope we can pass this legislation and protect Americans from harm and humiliation when they choose to travel.

Obama defends "frustrating" pat-downs

Just doesn't get it. [USA Today]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fun with Playmobil

A Dan Solove photoessay (via David Bernstein).

"Comply With Me"

Penn Jilette might press charges

I love Penn Jilette:
They sent a guy over and I said that I'd like to register a complaint. I insisted on his name and badge number. I filled it out with my name. The supervisor, I think trying to intimidate me, asked for my license, and I gave it to him happily as he wrote down information. I kept saying, "Please get the police," and they kept saying, "You're free to go, we don't need the police." I insisted and they got a higher up, female, supervisor. I was polite, cold, and a little funny. "Anyone is welcome to grab my crotch, I don't require dinner and a movie, just ask me. Is that asking too much? You wanna grab my crotch, please ask. Does that seem like a crazy person to you?" I had about 4 of them standing around. Finally Metro PD shows up. ...

The cop, the voice of sanity says, "What's wrong with you people? You can't just grab a guy's crank without his permission." I tell him that my genitals weren't grabbed and the cop says, "I don't care, you can't do that to people. That's assault and battery in my book."

The supervisor says that they'll take care of the security guy. The cop says, "I'm not leaving until Penn tells me to. Now do you want to fill out all the paper work and show up in court, because I'll be right there beside you."

"TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urine"

Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach.

“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.

San Diego TSA arrests passenger who strips rather than be groped

Sign On San Diego:
Rather than a pat-down, Wolanyk decided to strip down -- to his shorts, actually Calvin Klein bicycle-like shorts, according to his lawyer, Jason Davis of Orange County.

"I was not willing to be molested again," he said. "I figured that this way everyone would be happy: I don't get scanned or groped, they can verify that I'm not a danger to anyone and the line would actually move more quickly because those pat-downs take time. "
Also arrested: a companion of Wolanyk who filmed the event. See also: Examiner.

"TSA Agents Absolutely Hate New Pat Downs, Find Them Disgusting And Morale Breaking"

Tech Dirt (via Julian Sanchez):
Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me, said in my presence as I patted passengers down. These comments are painful and demoralizing, one day is bad enough, but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments. If something doesn’t change in the next two weeks I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting.

TSA pointlessly humiliates amputee

Not mentioned in the retelling by Jothy Rosenberg: after all that pointless humiliation, the TSA didn't do anything to actually verify that the prosthetic wasn't a bomb.

Ineffective virtual strip-search machines are a "victory for lobbyists"

Tim Carney in the Washington Examiner:
The degradations of passing through full-body scanners that provide naked pictures of you to Transportation Security Administration agents may not mean that the terrorists have won -- but they do mark victories for a few politically connected high-tech companies and their revolving-door lobbyists.

TSA confiscates nail clippers from armed soldier returning from Afghanistan

Relayed by Erick Erickson at Red State.

Remember: November 24 is National Opt-Out Day

Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic (via Professor Bainbridge):
November 24th, as many of you already know, is National Opt-Out Day, when airline passengers should refuse to submit themselves to those privacy-invading, genital-picture-taking, radiation-delivering back-scatter imaging machines now installed at many American airports. By telling the TSA agents in charge that you "opt-out" out of the back-scatter (at which point, the TSA agents, if my experience is typical, will yell, "We got an opt-out!," causing everyone standing on the TSA Checkpoint Coiled Line of Death to look at you funny), you will be subjecting yourself to a fairly thorough frisking, as detailed in this post. But I believe that opting-out saves you exposure to radiation, and allows a federal government employee to share in your humiliation (while on the one hand -- or in both hands, as the case may be -- your genitals are being groped by a low-paid federal government employee, it is no great pleasure -- and certainly no elevating spiritual experience -- to be the one who frisks people's crotches in an airport, which is why I hope National Opt-Out Day causes hardworking TSA employees to tell their bosses, "Enough.")

"Heads up, got a cutie for you"

Flyer Talk:
Last week, one of my flying partners (Captain with Skywest) was going through security at DEN with his 18 year daughter. As his daughter approached the detector, the TSO working the NoS said on his headset, "heads up, got a cutie for you."

Bruce Schneier: TSA Scans "Won't Catch Anybody"

Popular Mechanics:
Q: The machines have shown up in the wake of the so-called underwear bomber, who tried to blow up a plane with chemicals stored in his briefs. Would this technology have stopped him?
A:  The guys who make the machines have said, "We wouldn't have caught that."
Q: Has there been a case since 9/11 of an attempted hijacker being thwarted by airport security?
A: None that we've heard of. The TSA will say, "Oh, we're not allowed to talk about successes." That's actually bullsh*t. They talk about successes all the time. If they did catch someone, especially during the Bush years, you could be damned sure we'd know about it. And the fact that we didn't means that there weren't any. Because the threat was imaginary. It's not much of a threat. 



I started this weblog in November 2010 to catalog TSA abuses.

I have nothing against effective airport security. But that's not what we have: rather, we have security theater. The requirement of shoe removal and the bans on carrying liquids onto planes are insults to the American public that serve no conceivable purpose other than to lull the public into a false sense of security.  And the TSA has gone even further, with virtual strip-searches (exposing passengers not just to the loss of dignity, but to radiation with uncertain health effects) and offensive pat-down groping. You can shout about the underwear bomber all you want, but TSA didn't stop the underwear bomber, and the new detection mechanisms wouldn't do so, either. On September 11, 2001, the dynamic changed, and passengers learned that they were the last line of defense against terrorists in airplanes. And every terror attack on an American passenger jet since the first three hijackings of September 11 has been stopped by American plane passengers, not by the TSA.

My name is Ted Frank. I've visited the White House and stood within five feet of a president without anyone needing to stick their hands down my waistband, but that is not good enough for the TSA. I've wasted hours of my life standing in lines created by pointless TSA procedures; I've been groped by TSA officials; I even missed a flight once because I was pulled aside for a punitive TSA pat-down after I'd been waved through security because I dared to complain that the TSA X-ray operator was spending time joking around instead of inspecting baggage at a rate faster than one bag a minute.  And enough is enough.

Our elected officials have no idea how offensive this is: Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi don't fly commercial, and other elected officials who do, such as John Boehner, get waved through the security lines. Hillary Clinton says she'd never put up with such a search—but she doesn't have to. The people need to let their representatives in Washington know that the money we're wasting on the TSA, instead of on border security, is unacceptable.

35-minute line at IAD