Are new warning and tracking systems enough to make us forget about TSA agents’ misdeeds?

It’s been a “good news” kind of week for observers of our nation’s security apparatus. At least that’s how the government is spinning it.

But there’s plenty of bad news for travelers, too. More on that in a minute.

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On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had scrapped the color-coded terrorism alerts and was moving to a more “robust” two-tiered system called the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS).

The feds also issued a helpful guide (PDF) that explains NTAS. It’s an interesting read. It promises to only issue alerts “when credible information is available” and to include “a clear statement that there is an imminent threat or elevated threat.”

The implication, of course, is that under the previous system, there was sometimes no imminent threat and the warnings were vague. The guide also contains DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s favorite saying, which gives a lot of travelers the creeps: the Orwellian, “If you see something, say something.”

The TSA also had some good news of its own, if you can call it that. On Friday, it announced that it will offer a tracking number for every email and phone call, which will allow travelers to “follow-up on their security concerns if necessary,” according to the agency. The system was a requirement of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

My first reaction to the news was: They don’t already do this?

No wonder people aren’t hearing back from the TSA. The agency has no meaningful way to follow up with them. Let’s hope this fixes the problem.

There was plenty of bad news to counterbalance those two developments.

TSA agent charged for distributing child pornography
A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport was charged with distributing more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, according to court records. Federal agents also alleged that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

TSA agent admits theft
Dawn Nikole Keka, a former TSA agent at Kona International Airport in Hawaii, last week pled guilty to one count of theft in Honolulu District Court for stealing $200 from an undercover agent. The sting operation took place on the morning of March 11 after Japanese tourists complained to the TSA about missing money from their carry-on bags, according to FOX affiliate KHON.

Tri-Rail riders get the once-over in South Florida
After the Amtrak fiasco earlier this year, we though TSA would lay low on what it calls the “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Operation” or VIPR. But there they were last week at the West Palm Beach Tri-Rail station, scanning and patting down commuters. Was there a credible threat to Tri-Rail? No. TSA says it wants to help detect and deter any suspicious or dangerous activity in various modes of transportation. Does this mean they’re setting up checkpoints on I-95 next?

All in all, an interesting week. I’m not sure if the “good” news from TSA and DHS eclipses the other news.

What do you think?

59 thoughts on “Are new warning and tracking systems enough to make us forget about TSA agents’ misdeeds?

  1. A better headline might have been: “Can I find a way to use my personal bias against the TSA to put a negative spin on any positive news?”

    1. You know, Roger, I was JUST looking at the polling results and thinking to myself, “Good grief, who ARE these 7 people who think it’s been a good week?” before reading your post. Guess now I’m only wondering about 6. Thanks…

    2. A nice headline for your comment, Roger, might be: “Can I find a way to debase myself and my country by disrespecting my constitution in a public forum? Maybe I can also make a point of throwing away as worthless the rights millions died to procure for me!”

  2. Ha ha ha ha! Right, Roger, “positive news.” Yeah, because we’ve grown so accustomed to the TSA giving us “positive news.” Along with their positive practices. And positive record of positively harassing innocent people and positively failing to make us any safer.

    1. The trouble is the metric you’re using to judge the TSA. Instead of asking “Have I personally been inconvenienced lately?” Ask “Have any terrorist hijacked our planes lately?”

      As for “positively failing” to make us any safer, well that’s just stupid. Are you saying that if it was legal to carry weapons onto a plane that we would still be enjoying hijack-free air travel?

      1. Yes, Roger, and (for the umpteenth time) here’s your logic: ‘that giraffe deterrent I put on my lawn every day must be working, because I haven’t seen any giraffes lately.’

        Yep, because the TSA is shoving its hands down the pants of every Tom, Dick, and Harry, we haven’t had any bombs going off on planes. Even though we didn’t have any bombs going off before they started molesting us either, but that’s an inconvenient fact.

        1. Let me guess, you’re one of those people who insist we never landed on the moon despite overwhelming evidence, right?

          And it seems silly to have to point this out but giraffe lawn invasions aren’t a problem here in America, but you might recall a little event where some guys snuck weapons aboard some airplanes and flew them into some buildings….

          1. No, Roger, I’m not “one of those people who insist we never landed on the moon,” but I am enjoying your non sequiturs.

            Here are some other things it also should be silly to have to point out:
            the 9/11 attackers were allowed onto those planes thanks to the incompetence of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The 9/11 attackers didn’t carry bombs onto those planes, in their pants or anywhere else. The 9/11 attackers got into the cockpits of those planes, something that’s now impossible because the cockpit doors have been hardened, which could have and should have been done long before, as security experts from Bruce Schneier to Rafi Sela have said. No one has smuggled a bomb onto a plane in this country since 9/11, even before the TSA started its molestation campaign. Lockerbie happened in 1988 because of a bomb in the cargo — you know, cargo? That stuff the TSA is still letting on the plane mostly unscreened because they’re too busy sticking their hands down passengers’ pants.

            Rational Risk Assessment vs. Irrational Fear-Mongering (sheeple should avert their eyes):

            Chances of
            Car crash: 1 in 6,500
            Murder: 1 in 16,500
            Crossing the street: 1 in 48,500
            Drowning: 1 in 88,000
            Airplane crash: 1 in 400,000
            Even if terrorists were able to pull off one attack per year on the scale of 9/11, that would mean your one-year risk would be 1 in 100,000 and your lifetime risk would be about 1 in 1300.


            Try employing logic instead of succumbing to fear mongering. Or are you just dying for Uncle Sam to stick his fingers up your you-know-what?

          2. So your argument is that because the TSA’s methods are not guaranteed to prevent every possible security threat, that they “positively fail” to keep us any safer? Does that sound like a rational though to you?

            Your local police department cannot guarantee you won’t be robbed at some point. Does that mean they are a worthless organization? Should they stop patrolling the streets because they can’t stop every single crime?

            I commend you for taking the time to research some statistics, it means you are at least thinking and not reacting purely from emotion. However you fail to understand the impact of a plane crash is limited to little more than those 1 in 400,000 people you mentioned, but a plane brought down by terrorists is infinitely more powerful psychologically. That’s the POINT of terrorism. It’s what we call a “multiplier” in the military.

            And before you try to proclaim your use of logic, you might want to research logical fallacies. You’ll find one in there about the use of hyperbole. “Molestation campaign”. Honestly. It’s hard to take anyone seriously that talks like that.

          3. Ah, so you’re in the military. Aha. Yes, mon ami, I understand the point of terrorism, and you’ve succumbed to it. The point of terrorism is to incite terror in the populace. Mission Accomplished. Al Qaeda haven’t had to terrorize us; we’ve done it to ourselves. I should say that security cheerleaders such as you have done it.

            And your analogy with the police department doesn’t hold water: “Your local police department cannot guarantee you won’t be robbed at some point. Does that mean they are a worthless organization? Should they stop patrolling the streets because they can’t stop every single crime?”

            No, Roger, it means that just because crime occurs and police patrol the streets, they don’t, therefore, have the right to stripsearch me just for walking around on those streets. There’s something called probable cause you may have heard of. Though even that right is being eroded, as people in Philly, where stop-and-frisks are becoming the norm, can tell you.

            If you want to give up all your rights, one by one, to our overlords because you cherish the fantasy of 100% security, that’s your business. Give them up. But don’t force the rest of us to give ours up as well. We’re adults. We know we can’t live in world of No Risk. That world doesn’t exist.

            (Oh, and do you talk on your cellphone while driving? That’ll get you killed a lot faster than an attack by a bogeyman terrorist. Oops– there goes your argument that you’re concerned about safety.)

          4. You’re thoughts are getting less and less rational, so I was just going to abandon the thread….but I just had to come back and clarify this one thing:

            I’ve succumbed to terrorism because I support guarding against it? WHAT!!??

          5. Hi Roger,
            You don’t seem to have realized yet that arguing with the TSA-haters on this site is a lost cause. Their minds are made up and they’re not, by God, gonna be confused by anything you have to say. Just keep yourself safe from all those molesters out there, buddy!
            Grant 🙂

          6. Roger,

            Yes, you have succumbed to terrorism because you think 50,000 innocent people deserve to be sexually abused every day to help you feel safe from something that’s much less risky than your household ladder or a bag of peanuts. Yup, peanuts kill more people than those wascally wascally tewwowists. You have succumbed to terrorism because you advocate carving out special exceptions to the Bill of Rights for a drastically overblown statistical blip of a risk.

            As Salman Rushdie (a man who lived under a fatwa calling for his beheading) said, “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorised. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”

            You would benefit from reading Rushdie’s entire article at:

      2. Well, Roger. No terrorist will EVER hijack a plane again in the US, because the instant he pulls out his weapon, ever other passenger on that plane will jump on him and BEAT HIM TO DEATH.

        1. Eric, exactly. It’s not the TSA that’s keeping us safe. It’s hardened cockpit doors and the quick thinking of passengers. Passengers foiled the Crotch Bomber, not the TSA. Passengers foiled the Shoe Bomber, not the TSA. Of course passengers have also overreacted to toilet paper shards in the bathroom (scroll up) and to Orthodox Jews praying together and to other things, but we can’t have everything.

          The TSA consistently fails its own Red Team tests, letting all manner of supposed contraband through (guns, knives), while it’s busy groping passengers and treating us all as criminals. And their groping and pawing and stripsearch scanners still won’t detect PETN. And somebody could just set off a bomb in the arrivals/departures concours, à la Moscow’s Domodedovo anyway.

          But the facts don’t count for the TSA apologists. They love their fantasies. They’re authoritarians at heart. I guess they think they’re starring in an episode of “24” or something.

          1. @Lisa,

            So you are saying something the TSA had no control over is now their fault?

            Both the underwear and shoe bombers boarded their respective planes in airports outside the US (Amsterdam & Paris) where the TSA has no presense and no control over what happens. I am very thankful the passengers on those flights were attentive and reacted to prevent a disaster. But how can you say the TSA is not “protecting” us using examples where they had no possible way to influence the situation?

            So the statistics stack up like this:

            Terrorists who made it on planes from airports where the TSA has scanned them = 0.
            Terrorists who made it on planes where the TSA did NOT scan them = 2

            If you look at only the statistics, it appears the TSA is doing a better job than the entire rest of the world.

            Your example of giraffe deterent is flawed. Sure, I can put that on my lawn along with many other products and waste my money if the problem I am trying to deter is not present in my part of the world. Unfortunately, terrorists are a world wide problem. Just because we have been lucky enough (with or without TSA involvement) to have not had a terrorist successfully take over a plane that departed from a US airport since 9/11 doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.

          2. For about the hundredth time, of course terrorists are out there. Of course there are people planning to blow things up and murder people in the U.S. We all know this. And we all know that sooner or later somebody’s going to succeed. But stripping and groping us at airports, searching our bags at subway entrances, spying on peace activists, building monolithic surveillance edifices, and in however many other ways taking a dump on the Constitution isn’t going to prevent it.

            (Of course, questioning and changing U.S. foreign policy might help, so that we’re not invading and occupying other countries, and kidnapping and torturing people, and bombing civilians with drones, thus encouraging America-hating sentiment, but let’s pretend these things aren’t happening.)

            Keep yammering on your cellphones while driving, folks, and then hypocritically bleating about “safety.” Keep buying your guns and shooting each other, while bellowing about “rights.” Keep hyperventilating over the infinitesimally small chance that you’ll be hurt in a terrorist attack, while ignoring actual dangers that already exist. Keep thinking that A Terrorist Is Hiding Around Every Corner! And keep hanging on to your childish fantasy of 100% security. When the TSA starts crawling up your you-know-what, I know you’ll be happy. Because, after all, It’s For Your Safety!

          3. I never said I agree with all of the policies of the TSA. Actually I think most of them are way too overreaching and need to be scaled back. I also don’t feel that the US policy of sticking a finger into every perceived problem in the world is good for anyone. And I never talk on my cell phone while driving (but have been hit by someone who was while I was crossing the street. Since the phone was up to her face she couldn’t see me. It apparently is a “right” to talk on the phone anytime and anywhere so she doesn’t think it was her fault that she hit me while I was crossing with the walk light in a marked crosswalk).

            I have studied statistics enough to know that nothing is 100% no matter how hard anyone wants to believe and I am happy with a slightly better chance of survival than pure randomness. So maybe, just maybe, the TSA has been successful in deterring terrorists from wanting to get on a plane just enough that we have not had an incident.

            For everyone who dislikes the current state of power the TSA seems to have, why not vote out those in office who support the status quo? But I guess that would mean the voters would have to think and that would be too hard.

          4. “But how can you say the TSA is not “protecting” us using examples where they had no possible way to influence the situation?”

            Because we know the porno-scanners would not have detected the material used in the attempted underwear bombing anyways.

            Because all manner of supposedly illegal items – large knives, etc – get past TSA every day.

            Because we, as a country, prefer to take the wrong approach to security with just about everything we do.

            Because TSA terrorizes innocent people far more than it deters and prevents terrorism.

  3. The TSA is such a miniscule part of the travel experience. What I find more annoying is the new ticket generating cameras. Locals know where they are but the tourists get stung for $100 bucks a shot. Once cops become criminals, they lose all interest in protecting out of towners. San Francisco police only solve 25 percent of the many murders that occur there, but solve 100 percent of the cases involving street sweeper parking. I note that your favorite Orlando gas station is up to $5.69 a gallon.

  4. From actor Wil Wheaton:
    “I don’t feel safe. I feel violated, humiliated, and angry.
    Yesterday, I was touched — in my opinion, inappropriately — by a TSA agent at LAX.
    I’m not going to talk about it in detail until I can speak with an attorney, but I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours replaying it over and over in my mind, and though some of the initial outrage has faded, I still feel sick and angry when I think about it . . . .”

    But oops! There I go again — another anecdote! Can’t have that scruffy “anecdotal evidence” mucking up the pristine discourse. Legal cases only, please. If the story doesn’t fit, you must acquit! All hail, noble TSA!

    1. Lisa, you’re a nut job. For a start, Wil Wheaton posts hyperbole all the time (if you are even remotely familiar with his work.)

  5. Wow, they were on Tri-Rail? I go through that station on a fairy regular basis; I suspect someone on TSA’s team wanted a South Florida vacation.

    1. Logan, the appropriately named VIPR crews have been all over many different transportation hubs around the country — bus, rail, subway. Here’s the TSA’s own pabulum press release:
      And I have many other accounts in my files. Chris has also posted some at this blog. Forgive me if I don’t dig them up now, as I’ve done it so many times already for the naysayers and security cheerleaders. It does get wearying.

  6. I don’t see what’s so “good” about a new terror warning rating system or the fact that the TSA is now putting tracking numbers on commmunications to help with follow up. Does anyone actually think they’ll use those tracking numbers? Even they are saying they will only use them “if necessary”. As for the rating system, it’s a joke now (haven’t we been under Level Orange for years?) and looks to become more of one. Who would trust the TSA’s warnings, when they treat everyone who wants to fly somewhere as a potential threat?

  7. @Roger, you’re entitled to your opinion. Whether you like my headline or not, I think we can all agree on one thing: It’s great that we live in a country where we can voice our opinions about our own government without the threat of being thrown in jail and tortured. (At least, for now.)

      1. Yes, Brooklyn, we talked about this when the story first appeared (last week? can’t remember now). But hey — just listen to the security cheerleaders and sing along: “It’s All Good! This Is America! We Are A Democracy! Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”

      2. I saw that last week. Maybe I should have said, “It’s great that we live in a country where we can voice our opinions ONLINE about our own government without the threat of being thrown in jail and tortured.”

        At the airport … that’s another story.

  8. TSA and VIPR seem to be fixated on bus depots and train stations in my home state, Florida, for the time being. Lovely!

    Whatever happened to probable cause, innocent until proven guilty, the right to be secure in your person, and oh yeah, *freedom*? Freedom to move about the very country in which you live and to whose government you pay taxes?

    And no cookie for you if you spout something to the effect of “Nine-eleven! That’s what happened!” As my grandparents–who knew a thing or two about being threatened and terrorized by real, actual bombs that were routinely dropped on their town during WWII–used to say: “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

    Too bad that in here in the States, you’ll only see that dictum on coffee mugs and t-shirts, because truly embracing its wisdom and applying it to one’s own life would entail admitting that we are all mortal; that there is no such thing as absolute security; and that doing otherwise–namely, *not* keeping calm and *not* carrying on, but rather, handing over the very rights and freedoms America is supposed to stand for in exchange for the fantasy of being 100% safe and protected–is tantamount to admitting that the terrorism carried out by the terrorists has terrorized us all. To admitting that they’ve won.

    They’ve certainly beaten Roger.

  9. Thieving TSA agents with criminal records — that’s nothing new. But I’m deeply concerned about VIPR. When I interviewed an ACLU lawyer for a Washington Post story a few months ago, he said the next step might be checkpoints on the highway. If that happens, he said, then we really have moved a step closer to becoming a police state.

  10. Chris, yes, the VIPR teams are beyond troubling — and predictable. Of course you already know how some of us have been shouted down in other venues for daring to suggest that these bullsh*t measures are not only ineffective but violate bedrock Constitutional rights (and worse, for using the “p” word!)

    But as Tocqueville shrewdly put it almost 200 years ago: “A nation that asks nothing of government but the maintenance of order is already a slave in the depths of its heart; it is a slave of its well-being, ready for the man who will put it in chains.”

    There are millions of Americans who are just salivating to be put in chains.

  11. From Forbes magazine back in March:

    Documents Reveal TSA Research Proposal To Body-Scan Pedestrians, Train Passengers

    Giving Transportation Security Administration agents a peek under your clothes may soon be a practice that goes well beyond airport checkpoints. Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets . . . .

  12. Regarding the screener who was arrested for child pornography – wait, all TSA screeners are creating and viewing child pornography. How come this guy is the only one in jail?

    I’m so not surprised about the arrest of this evil pervert. What other kind of man would take a job that involves forcing teenage girls into a strip-search machine so he can gawk at their nude bodies all day long? The TSA is sexually abusing people all day every day. This arrest is notable only for the sheer irony that this disgusting pervert has been getting paid for getting his jollies looking at naked kids with machines that our taxes paid for.

  13. Toilet Paper Scare Prompts Evacuation of Alaska Airlines Jet

    It turned out to be toilet paper remnants, NBC News reported.
    A flight attendant aboard Flight 508, which originated in Seattle, discovered a tissue containing a “white dust,” Alaska Airlines Spokeswoman Bobbie Egan told NBC News.
    As standard practice, the flight crew radioed ahead to John Wayne Airport and the plane was met by a hazardous materials team, Egan said.
    The 151 passengers and six crew members evacuated safely.

    Al Qaeda are laughing their asses off.

  14. Another episode in the annals of Our Security Overlords Love To Waste Our Money And Screw Us In the Bargain:

    9/11 Responders To Be Warned They Will Be Screened By FBI’s Terrorism Watch List (EXCLUSIVE)

    WASHINGTON — A provision in the new 9/11 health bill may be adding insult to injury for people who fell sick after their service in the aftermath of the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, The Huffington Post has learned.

    The tens of thousands of cops, firefighters, construction workers, and others who survived the worst terrorist assault in U.S. history and risked their lives in its wake will soon be informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s terrorism watch list, according to a letter obtained by HuffPost . . .

    “Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?” he asked. “In all the things I’ve seen out of Washington, this probably takes the cake.”

    . . . “I think Congressman Stearns is stabbing at pettiness. He’s a buffoon,” Feal said. “We get sicker and die, and they’re going to disseminate a letter wondering whether we’re terrorists or not.”

    1. I’ve been out of town the last few day, so I haven’t had much of a chance to keep up on things.

      But I did read this one, and it’s truly disgusting.

      And, let’s face it, if this is allowed to proceed for 9/11 responders, it’ll be allowed to be used with others, as well. How’d you like to get a background check before your insurance is allowed to kick in? You could be a terrorist, after all.

      No, this isn’t tin-foil hat stuff. Some of us predicted that TSA would expand well beyond it’s initial purpose, and it has – all the way to American highways.

      Yet, people still think all is well. 🙁

  15. PSA from DHS & TSA

    Year-to-date statistics on airport screening from the Department of Homeland Security:

    Transvestites 1,133
    Hernias 1,485
    Hemorrhoid Cases 3,172
    Enlarged Prostates 8,249
    Breast Implants 79,350
    Natural Blondes 3
    Terrorist Plots Discovered 0

  16. I just want to give a positive shout out to the TSA agent in Fort Lauderdale International last Wednesday. She allowed my obviously pregnant wife and I to use the family lane to be screened. This lane has the traditional metal detector screening.


  17. I watched Dr. Strangelove for the first time this past weekend. Is it just me, or do the actions of the TSA remind you of the “duck and cover” instructions given to school children during the cold war? Useless procedures and policies aimed at uniformed and frightened masses.

  18. TSA is merely part of our very own home-grown KGB, which started when Homeland Security was set up. Welcome to 1984.

  19. From Amy Alkon: “Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.”

    1. Oh Pulease! She shoved her hand four times into the woman’s vagina??? It’s novellas like this that make people tune out.

      1. Jjweldon, perhaps you haven’t been keeping up. ‘S okay; every reporter has a different beat, every citizen has different interests, and not everyone can keep up with everything. So I’ll repeat what I, and other journalists, have been reporting for 18 months now: these stories aren’t new, they’re not anomalies, they’re not of the “one bad apple” variety. They are common. They are common stories of common assaults that are being perpetrated on thousands of Americans every day.

        Chris Elliott, Amy Alkon, Daniel Rubin, Jennifer Abel, to name a few, are all journalists and have been compiling accounts of passenger stories. So has the ACLU. So has EPIC. So have I. Oh, but hell — they’re all lies, right? Yeah, we have nothing better to do every day than make sh*t up. So we fabricate stories like these.

        Ask Sommer Gentry what happened to her. She’s posted it enough times, using her real name, on this blog and dozens of others. She was sexually assaulted by a TSA goon. Like thousands of other people.

        You don’t want to believe any of this? Fine. Don’t. Doesn’t change the facts.

  20. “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
    -Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

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