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.