Blogger Bob: “There is more to security than simply going through a checkpoint”

Editor’s note: I’ve restructured my Q&A feature a little. The questions are now yours. I’ll be soliciting queries for my next interview on Facebook soon, so please stop by and “like” my page.

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Bob Burns, a.k.a. “Blogger Bob” doesn’t need any introduction. I’ve been following his work at the TSA for years, and refer to it frequently on this site and in my weekly TSA Watch column.

A note about the format of this interview: These were reader questions, and I didn’t have an opportunity for a rebuttal. Your comments are always appreciated. I can be reached here.

I started our interview by asking him a question that’s been on my mind for a while: Could Burns cite one example of responsible TSA coverage, either in a mainstream media outlet or in a blog? He declined. “I’ve been around the PR pros long enough to learn at least one lesson,” he told me. “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.”

Alright, then. Let’s get to your questions.

From Mary Ellen Adamson: Does the TSA believe it is making America safer? Can you name any specific, recent threats that TSA has stopped?

Of course we are. We act as a huge deterrent for anybody thinking about bringing something on to a plane. Our officers find two guns per day on a slow day. Just last week, 20 guns were found nationwide. We also find items that resemble IEDs or IED components.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that someone wrapped their cell phone around a block of cheese with a thick cord, or was it a probe checking to see if we’d find something that resembled an IED? Also, FAMs [Federal Air Marshals] have interceded on many flights to stop aggressive actions by passengers.

How many times you have gone through the full-body scanner, asks reader Karen Cummings. Also, have you ever personally received an “enhanced” pat-down, and what did you think of it?

I’ve gone through a scanner a few times at the Transportation Systems Integration Facility (TSIF).

I only fly about five times a year, so I haven’t had the opportunity to go through one yet while traveling at the airport, but I wouldn’t opt-out in case you were wondering. I don’t fault anybody for wanting to opt-out, by the way… It’s a choice we’ve given passengers and they’re welcome to make that choice, but we will need to conduct alternative screening that can detect both metallic and nonmetallic items.

As far as the enhanced pat-downs, I’ve received pat-downs and have had no issue with them. Also, TSA’s top leadership received the pat-down prior to approving it, and they’ve been through AIT screening numerous times when they travel.

Sommer Gentry wants to know if you can describe proper procedure for an enhanced pat-down. And if not, could you please explain why not?

Unfortunately, I can’t go into detail on security procedures such as the pat-down because we don’t want to provide a roadmap to terrorists. I know you can see and experience them for yourself at an airport, but we just don’t make a practice of openly advertising all the details of our procedures in a public forum.

I can tell you that pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers. You can request that your screening be done in private, and you can have a traveling companion present during your screening if you like.

There have been reports of 500 agents being fired for stealing, says reader Richard Kline. What are the actual stats? Is there a plan to better train and compensate agents?

Between May 1, 2003 and January 2011, a total of 335 Transportation Security Officers have been terminated for theft. Keep in mind that number is for all theft, not just theft from passenger baggage.

While one theft is far too many, 335 is less than ¼ of one percent of the more than 130,000 TSOs hired by the agency since our inception. We have a zero tolerance policy on theft. It’s one of the quickest ways to get booted out of our agency.

Here’s one from Jeff Pierce: Why hasn’t the TSA closed off airport employee access to secure areas and subjected all airport and airline employees to the same screening as passengers?

It’s important to understand that there is more to security than simply going through a checkpoint. First off, anybody with access to these secure areas must have an access badge. In order to get one, you have to go through a background check.

We know better than most people that background checks are not a crystal ball. They just basically show you haven’t done anything wrong up until the time you obtained your clearance. That’s why we run these checks perpetually for all employees, have random employee screening for all airport employees, and have other layers of security in place to protect against so-called “insider threat.”

LeeAnne Pantuso Clark would like to know why passengers are threatened with fines if they enter into a TSA screening area, get selected for a random pat-down, and decide they would rather not fly?

Once a passenger starts the screening process, they must complete it. We do not want to provide terrorists multiple opportunities to penetrate the checkpoint only to “decide they would rather not fly” on the cusp of being discovered. As for fines, TSA has the legal authority to levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for cases such as this, but each case is determined on the individual circumstances of the situation.

Marianne Schwab asks: What are the most unusual items TSA officials have discovered in a pat-down?

The one that always comes to mind is when one of our officers found a baby alligator strapped to a passenger’s leg. He was trying to smuggle it into the States. That’s probably the last thing you would expect to find during a pat-down.

Here’s a question from Barry Goldsmith: How do you feel about alliteration?

Perhaps Peter Parker or Bruce Banner would have a better answer?

Several readers have asked why TSA won’t provide a full-body scanner machine for independent testing, and why the agency hasn’t had an independent scientific study of the threat of liquid explosives?

The advanced imaging technology TSA uses is safe for passengers. TSA has performed additional third-party testing to further validate compliance with national safety standards. Backscatter technology has been evaluated by numerous third party health experts including the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

TSA also recently posted radiation surveys of every backscatter unit used to screen passengers in U.S. airports, which confirm that each piece of technology operates well-within applicable national safety standards.

The 2006 liquids plot clearly illustrated the threat posed by liquid explosives. TSA’s security measures and technologies constantly evolve based on the latest intelligence to stay ahead of threats to aviation security, including explosives. Further, TSA uses bottled liquids scanner technology to screen medically necessary liquids brought through checkpoints in amounts greater than 3.4 ounces.

Emily Rose wants to know how you like working for the TSA.

I dig it. I’ve worked in many different positions at TSA and it’s an honor to be able to help educate travelers and defend the TSA. I believe in our mission and we have great leaders steering the way.

Judy Cloutier would like to know the qualifications for working at TSA. Also, how much training do agents get?

You can find the qualifications at and as far as the training, it never ends. You start off with a week of classroom training and then you have to complete on the job training with a mentor and pass certification tests prior to flying solo. From there, the training continues and each year, our officers have to recertify in order to remain in their positions.

Joan Hope wants to know why the TSA doesn’t profile. Wouldn’t that be preferable to the scans and pat-downs?

Profiling wouldn’t work for us. What does a terrorist look like? Take a look at one of my blog posts on this subject.

Carrie Phillips Charney wants to know why the dangerous liquids that are confiscated during the screening process are merely thrown into a garbage can in the security area? Doesn’t that put the screening area in danger?

Since the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006, TSA has been looking for effective ways to screen liquids in an expeditious manner. That technology hasn’t arrived yet, so we still have to adhere to limiting liquids.

We have the ability to test each and every liquid, but this would lead to wait times requiring passengers to arrive at airports several hours prior to their flight. So instead of testing each and every liquid, passengers have the choice of disposing of the items prior to the checkpoint, or surrendering them to an officer at the checkpoint.

When they’re surrendered at the checkpoint, they are placed in bins and disposed of. Of course if there are wires attached to the liquids in question or a strong smell or anything out of the ordinary is discovered, additional steps are taken.

As far as hazmat, TSA has a contract with Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) to dispose of hazmat in compliance with EPA regulations. Common items such as shampoos and water are voluntarily surrendered by travelers at the checkpoint, periodically collected and disposed of under individual state regulations. Usually this is coordinated through the state’s agency for surplus property.

Update (7:30 p.m.): Whoa, this interview was more controversial than I expected.

But the commenters are right. I deleted this post on my Facebook page (it’s since been restored) and I zapped a few comments here. They’ve been un-deleted, too.

Why? I felt the discussion had veered a little off-topic, with readers accusing me of going soft on the TSA instead of talking about Bob’s answers. Which is kind of odd, considering yesterday’s post and my track record of covering the agency.

Oh, who am I kidding? I was ticked off.

I shouldn’t have scrubbed this site of any comments. Sorry about that.

My goal was to put your questions in front of Blogger Bob. I could have predicted how he would respond to some of them; others, I wasn’t sure. At any rate, I thought he deserved a chance to speak. I’ve been pummeling his blog for a long time, and he’s been a pretty good sport about it.

Why didn’t I ask some of the more controversial questions submitted by readers? Because I wanted to send him answerable questions. I exercised some discretion. For those of you who were disappointed — well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

I want to thank everyone who cared enough to offer their feedback this afternoon.

The comments are open, as before.

116 thoughts on “Blogger Bob: “There is more to security than simply going through a checkpoint”

  1. Blatant lies:
    1. They revised gender groping rules months ago, Bob, and you know it.  You get someone of the same gender *if they have enough screeners of that gender available.*  And if you’re LGBT (1 out of 50 people), then you’re screwed anyway.

    2. If they have this magical liquid scanning technology, why are mothers having to drink their own breastmilk or otherwise being harassed about it? 

    3. John Hopkins issued a public statement that they received a cobbled-together prototype unit and were paid to test if the radiation output met the levels that were given to them.  They stressed they *never* said that it was safe for humans.  They simply said it met the given specifications.

    Disturbing Observation:
    Bob mentions hazmat but then says, “Common items such as shampoos and water are … periodically collected and disposed of under individual state regulations.”
    So if I’m reading that right, what Carrie says is true.  They just assume that bottle marked shampoo really is shampoo and chuck it in the garbage.  They only appear to use hazmat disposol for things that really are hazmat.

    Bob knows it is as much a farce as anyone else.

    And Bob, for goodness sake, you’re a redhead.  If you’re going through those cancer machines, you better have annual body checks by your dermatologist for skin cancer.

  2. Well, this was a complete waste of time. This guy isn’t even a good shill for the TSA.

  3. Christopher, I’m disappointed.  Every one of these questions was posed in a way to make them a softball – to give him a way to provide a nice fluffy answer without really answering what we wanted to know.  I provided numerous questions on your Facebook page, and you chose the LEAST pointed one that I asked…one in which the answer was inevitable.  I didn’t even have to read his answer to know what he was going to say.  But it didn’t bring up the issue of rape victims who don’t want to have their genitals touched by strangers…it didn’t bring up parents who, upon having their young children selected for a “random” pat-down, choose NOT to allow strangers to “bad touch” their children.  He just provided the same BS answer that was bandied about the press when John Tyner was threatened with the fine, without highlighting the absurdity of not allowing people the option to walk away from an offensive physical grope without threat of an enormous financial penalty.

    And what of all of the other questions – the ones that so MANY of us asked on your page, Christopher?  What about the genital touching? Why did you not even bring that up?  It’s happening EVERY SINGLE DAY!  What about those of us with metal body parts, who can’t get through a checkpoint without a grope…who have to get a pat-down EVERY SINGLE TIME, blowing their 3% number out of the water? Why did you not ask him if they have found a single “prohibited item” in
    the folds of a woman’s labia, or a man’s testicles, which might explain
    why they are touching those parts of us every time we fly?

    I’m dismayed, Christopher.  I fed you many reasonable questions that the flying public wants to know.  Trust me, we don’t care how he likes his job.  We want to know why they treat us like terrorists, why they target the elderly and disabled, why they pat down celebrities who are obviously not terrorists, why they think it’s acceptable to perform offensive touching of children, grooming them for pedophiles. We want to hear them acknowledge that they’ve hired known pedophiles (so much for their background checks).

    Let’s hear it, Christopher. What’s the reason? Were you hamstrung in the questions you could ask?  Did they tell you that you could only ask fluffy questions?  Why did you give Blogdad Bob yet another forum to post his lies, here on this page where you’ve been such a staunch fighter against their abuse?

    I know full well that you are as against their sick practices as the rest of us who decry them in here.  So why did you do this?  Why give BB yet another platform for a puppy post?

    1. I had more than 50 questions; TSA asked me to narrow them down to 8. I had to make a difficult decision of which questions to include, and which ones not to include. I thought all of yours were good, but the one I used was the best.

      I felt it was necessary to include some questions from the “other” side — the folks who like the TSA and think it’s doing a good job. I wanted to make sure they were represented in this interview.

      I think Bob would give me the same courtesy.

      1. Blogger Bob is there to shill for the TSA – he would NOT give you the slightest courtesy and did not.  He gave you no answers you could not have discovered anywhere else in their literature.

        Sorry, Chris, but in this one I would have refused an interview that was limited to 8 questions . . . they work for us, remember?  Then I would have blogged all FIFTY and asked them why they could not answer the questions – was your interview written or oral?

    2. I don’t think it matters what questions he asked. Bob would have just replied with some vague non-answers he provided for the questions he was given. This article was a HUGE waste of time and probably only succeeded in making Bob feel all warm and fuzzy for having the opportunity to piss on the legs of Christopher’s readers and tell them its raining.

  4. Was that completely worthless or what?  “I can’t tell you anything of substance.” 

    The follow-up question about their seizures of guns and prohibited items is:   “Were any of those people determined to be a threat to commercial aviation and how many were prosecuted?”    the answer to THAT question, which I doubt you would get because he’d claim it was SSI – is the key to everything TSA does.   If they are NOT seizing people who were threats but who merely had prohibited items in their bags – then they have accomplished exactly zero. 

    We must keep people who would do us harm off aircraft- things are not inherently dangerous without a human being causing the bad event . . . e

  5. Where are all of the comments that were posted here?  Why have they been deleted?  There were several pointed comments in here about the lies in this interview.  Where are they?  What does the TSA have on Christopher, that he is doing this?  First, he ignores all of the valid questions that we posted on his facebook page, and lobbed only softballs.  Second, he deleted all of the comments in here that bring this to light.

    Christopher, are they threatening you?  Why have you, one of the most vocal critics of the TSA for the past several years, suddenly backed off?

    1. I was about to ask the same thing. This interview is typical ‘Blogger Bob’ spin, and it’s very disappointing to see the comments deleted.

      So, I want to know when TSA is going to answer questions honestly and truthfully, rather than with lies and propaganda?

      1. It’s disturbing to say the least.  It’s causing me to lose respect for Christopher.  He was the one journalist who was unflinching in reporting the truth about TSA, and not just repeating their party-line lies.  I can’t help but think that there is something going on here that we don’t know…this is not like him at all.

        1. Maybe this piece was written for the sole purpose of getting the TSA and DHS off his back for the little debacle caused when he posted links to a document that the TSA had released as “redacted” by putting little black rectangles over the “sensitive” bits – which were easily bypassed by any twit with half a functioning brain.

          Was that it, Christopher? Was this written because the TSA and/or DHS are blackmailing you?

          1. @b4a69c3a36fee390eb1d7caf3afa613a:disqus I can assure you no one from TSA is blackmailing me. 
            This was never intended, or billed, as a “hardball” Q&A, and I’m truly baffled that anyone expected me to go for Bob’s jugular in my first interview. 

            Bob left a comment on my last TSA Watch column, and I asked him if he would be interested in answering a few questions from my readers. I selected a few hard ones and a few easy ones, which represented a good cross-section of the reader inquiries.

            (Yes, there are a few TSA fans among my readers, and they deserved to have their questions included, too.)

            Going back over the queries I sent to TSA, I wouldn’t have changed anything about this interview. 

            It was an opportunity to put my reader questions in front of the TSA’s social media guy. He was a very good sport about it.

            Feel free to question my judgment — the comments are still open — but I’m just not comfortable putting any questions about gate rape and touching private parts in my first interview with Bob.

            There will be other opportunities to address those important issues with someone with a higher paygrade than Bob at TSA. It will be my interview, on my terms, in person with a tape recorder running.

            Will TSA allow that? I’ve been asking to interview John Pistole for months. I certainly hope they agree to it. After all, as a taxpayer, I’m funding this agency. 

            While they’re at it, they might consider processing the FOIA I filed a year ago.

          2. Christopher, if that’s the truth – if you meant for this to be a puff piece to give Bob another place to spew his pablum – then I wish you’d mentioned that when you asked for questions.  I also wish you’d mentioned the fact that you were going to actually pose our questions directly to him, using our full names.  While I have not been silent about my condemnation of the TSA and their horrific abuses, unless someone went to the trouble to find me, my full name was probably not known to the TSA.  Now it is, and I now I’m known to them as someone who actively fights against their abuse.  For all I know, my name is now on a TSA list somewhere, so that I will be treated to a punitive illegal detention and harassment a la Stacy Armato the next time I fly.  (And yes, I realize I didn’t have to respond here so vociferously, and yes I realize that sounds a bit paranoid, but then who would have believed that we’d reach this point in America, where our government is seizing control of our bodies just so we can travel?  I’m willing to put my name out there to fight this.)

            Had I known you were going to pose our questions directly to him, I would have worked harder on wording my questions so that you wouldn’t have to re-word them yourself.  I assumed (like many of us) that you were going to take our questions as suggestions for things to ask him yourself.  I actually really like the idea (although you might have just used first names), and I hope you will do this again.  But I would like to request that you let us know that’s the deal, and do minimal re-wording of our questions.  The question you asked using my name, is not the question I asked.

            I hear what you’re saying.  You did not see this as a hardball interview.  Well, that in itself is disappointing.  I still believe you missed a golden opportunity to do some true journalism that might have made a difference.  I also believe that you still do not accept the gravity of this issue.  Why on earth are you willing to do a fun puff piece with the lying mouthpiece of an out-of-control government agency that is abusing the basic civil rights of innocent Americans every day?  They deserve to be hit HARD until they stop.

            You didn’t want to get into the whole genital-touching thing?  What do you think is one of the most abusive things they do?  If that ONE THING would go away – if they would stop touching our privates – many of us would feel our job has been done.  Yes, the whole liquid/shoes thing is absurd, but at least it’s not physically abusive.  They need to stop the genital touching, and the targeting of elderly/disabled…and we can’t let up on them until they do.

            Please try to see it from the perspective of someone like me, who was sexually assaulted by the TSA solely because of my disability.  I’m reading this guy jokingly talk about alligators and alliteration, while telling us that they won’t even TELL us how they plan on touching our bodies.  That’s just….wrong.

            I know you agree with me.  We need you on our side.

          3. Why are Gate Rape and TSA’s Touching of Private Parts  during screening not #1 on your list.  These things are what the public is up in arms about.  This is what the Texas bill addressing these things is all about.  TSA screening abuses the Freedoms of people in the United States.

            The questions asked should have had greater impact.

            Sorry, massive fail Mr. Elliott.

  6. I will try this again, and hopefully my comment won’t be deleted yet again.

    I am very disappointed in this interview.  Many of us frequent flyers posted valid, reasonable yet direct questions on your facebook page…yet you chose only to lob softballs.  Even my question was re-worded to soften it.  Here’s how I actually asked it:  “Why arke passengers threatened with exorbitant
    fines if they enter into a TSA checkpoint, get selected for a random
    pat-down, and decide they do not want to have their bodies touched by
    strangers and would rather not fly? Shouldn’t passengers retain the
    right to decide who we allow to touch our genitals, without being
    threatened with huge monetary punishment if we decline?”The re-wording of my question made it so that Blogger Bob could answer it with the same BS answer that was bandied about the media when John Tyner was threated with an $11,000 fine for not wanting his junk touched.  I didn’t even have to read the answer – it was inevitable.  And it didn’t address the REAL question:  should innocent Americans have the right to decide who touches their bodies?  Shouldn’t we have the option of declining if we get selected for a “random” patdown, without threat of huge financial penalties?Trust me, none of us care if he likes his job.  None of us care what he thinks about alliteration.  We want to know if a single prohibited item has been found in the genitals of a traveler…and if not, why do they continue to touch our genitals at checkpoints every single day?  We want to know why the TSA keeps spouting that only 3% of travelers get groped, completely ignoring the many people, including me, who have metal body parts resulting in a pat-down EVERY SINGLE TIME we fly.  We want to know why they make a “game” out of touching children’s bodies in an intimate manner, thereby grooming them for pedophiles.  We want to know why the TSA HIRED pedophiles.And most of all, we want to know why one of the most vocal critics of the TSA for years has suddenly rolled over, and given Blogger Bob yet another platform to spout his lies.

  7. wow – yeah – what happened to the original comments?  I know this is Christopher’s blog but if you are going to be a journalist then a journalist should not be editing the reaction to the news when it has been presented as an open forum.  Please tell us that you simply deleted them by mistake since you are out of the country apparently in St. Lucia and just made a mistake- right? 

    TSA’s job is keep commercial aviation [and other areas but the subject of this the TSA as it relates to commercial aviation security] safe for travelers.  Instead of making the effort of keeping bad people off airplanes, they have decided to keep bad things off airplanes.  They – when tested by media and their own internal quality control – have done a bad job of doing that- with as many as 10-20% of pretend weapons getting through.  Blogger Bob touted that they catch 2 guns every day – great – did they prosecute ANY of those people for attempted air piracy?  I happen to know the answer is no – thus – NONE of those people with guns were a threat to commercial aviation security.

    “There is more to security than simply going through a checkpoint”

    Yeah?  What is it?  Oh, I know  – you can’t tell us because it might tip off the terrorists.  Ok – yep, sure thats it. 

    1. Thanks, Chris. Quite honestly, no matter which questions were asked, it is doubtful that we would hear anything new from the TSA in a public forum.

  8.  Chris, I’m disappointed (not in you, but in BB’s non-answers), but then that I suppose should have been predictable. Instead of answering a direct question (“why TSA won’t provide a full-body scanner machine for independent testing”), he obfuscates by saying the TSA has performed “third party” testing (if the TSA is performing the tests, they aren’t third-party, and certainly not independent). He blathers that “Backscatter technology has been evaluated by numerous third party health experts” without saying that these experts actually examined the machines themselves. Basically, as usual, the TSA pretended to answer questions and now can act all indignant if people raise these same questions, pretending they’ve been dealt with publicly.

    If the TSA is convinced these machines are safe for routine use by frequent fliers, then every TSA employee ought to be required to walk through them entering and leaving work every day – ALL of them, from the Secretary of Homeland Security on down. Let’s see how fast they’d backpedal if they had to get exposed to this radiation level twice a day 5 days a week.

    If Blogger Bob only had time to answer eight questions, what the hell is he doing all day, besides writing puff pieces extolling the virtues of TSA? Do we really pay civil servants for this kind of evasive crap?

  9. Disgusting. Nothing more than pandering to this jerk.

    What about the 25 screeners arrested so far this year for rape, child pornography, drug trafficking, theft, assault, gun violations and impersonating a police officer? Maybe the 23 security failures should have come up or the 4,000+ groping complaints including many from celebrities and legislators.

    I hope TSA paid for this fluff piece.

  10. Okay. So, mystery solved. I will admit to being relieved that there’s nothing nefarious going on (TSA threatening you with prosecution or some such thing)…but dismayed to learn the truth.

    Christopher, I’m one of your biggest fans.  Your blog gives the straight poop about travel, regardless of how unflattering it might be to a provider or company.  You have educated untold numbers of travelers how to avoid getting scammed, stiffed or stuck.  You have helped innumerable people who, without your intervention, would have unfairly lost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to dishonest travel providers.  You usually pull no punches, and call it like you see it.  And that has been true about your coverage of the TSA too…at least, until now.

    Allow me to explain why I (and MANY other frequent travelers – go check out FlyerTalk) are so disappointed.

    Some of us have been truly harmed by the TSA.  I myself was horribly assaulted just a few weeks ago – I had a TSO push so hard on my recent back-surgery wound that I cried out in pain (after begging her NOT to), and then rub my genitals in a way that nobody but my husband has done in 30 years.  As a victim of a long-ago rape, I cannot begin to tell you how traumatizing that was.  My elderly, disabled mother was prevented from using the restroom for over 90 minutes at a checkpoint, and then loudly, publicly SCREAMED at when she ended up urinating on herself.  Her still-tender wound from recent breast-cancer surgery was squeezed so hard she teared up.

    And that’s just my family.  What about all the others who’ve been harmed?  Nadine Hayes, who was arrested and prosecuted for attempting to bring on medically necessary and ALLOWED food for her 91-yr-old Alzheimer’s-inflicted mother?  Claire Hirschkind, a rape victim who was arrested, handcuffed and dragged across the floor for refusing to allow a TSO to touch her genitals?  Stacy Armato, who was detained, forced to miss her flight, and made to pour out her breastmilk, even though TSA’s own rules state that she should have been allowed to bring it onboard without being irradiated?  Phil Mocek, who was arrested and prosecuted for videotaping a patdown at a checkpoint, even though Blogger Bob himself has stated that doing so is allowed? 

    And that is just a small sampling of those who have been harmed.  What about the millions of innocent people who are treated like terrorists, forced to choose between dangerous radiation or an intrusive, disgusting physical molestation, just to visit distant family or pursue necessary job-related travel?  What about children who are forced to submit to pedophile-style “games” so they can be bad-touched by strangers?  What about the elderly and disabled, who are targeted for gropes far more frequently than anyone (except, maybe, for attractive young females)?

    We all deserved a hard-ball interview.  And that is not what you gave us.

    You only had 8 questions?  Why, then, include the throw-away “alliteration” question?  Why not ask him directly why thousands of travelers have reported that their genitals were touched, even though there hasn’t been a single report of a prohibited item being found in someone’s genitals?  Why reword our questions to give him a fluffy out?  Just look at my question. I didn’t want the TSA party line.  I wanted to hear him SAY that, once we enter the checkpoint, we lose our right to our own bodies.  I want the public to SEE that.  Maybe then, people will learn the truth about what’s going on at checkpoints.

    You’re right, you have been pummeling Blogger Bob, and the TSA, for a very long time.  And it is that very track record that leaves us shocked that you would do what you did here.  You had a chance, Christopher, to make a difference…to bring the truth out, and stop the lies and obfuscation that typically is found in his typical puppy posts.  We expected that from you.  And you let us down.

    Go back and read the questions on your Facebook page…and read your interview again.  I know you know what I’m saying.  Frankly I have a hard time believing that you didn’t realize it would be controversial.

    1. I don’t read flyertalk, so I’ll have to take your word for it. I submitted a list of about 15 questions from readers. TSA asked me to narrow it down to 8. I did. Bob missed his deadline, so as a way to make it up, he chose to answer a few questions I’d deleted. The alliteration one was among them.

      I think next time I’ll just ask my own questions.

      1. Christopher, I’m sorry if our reactions upset you.  I would be upset too if I were in your shoes.  But I hope that you are able to set that sting aside for a few moments, and truly hear us.  We are not saying this to attack you…most of us are regular readers and fans.  And I do believe that you meant to do the right thing.

        But you did fail.  Please don’t take offense at our saying this, and try to see the truth behind our words.

        It’s disturbing to learn of the constraints the TSA put on you for this interview, and knowing that does help me to understand and empathize a little…but honestly, not much.  I still feel that you could have worked harder on your 15 questions to word them so that they dug for the truth.  Every question you fed him ignored the harsh realities behind it, and left the opportunity for classic Blogdad Bob sanitizing and obfuscation. 

        Just look at how you reworded my question.  We already know that the TSA claims they do that to prevent terrorists from making repeated attempts at breaking through security.  But you failed to bring up the fact that their policy strips us of our rights our own bodies the moment we step into that checkpoint…something that should never happen to an innocent civilian on American soil.

        While it’s disgusting that they made you trim down to 8 questions, then replaced some of them with light questions that you’d deleted, that doesn’t surprise me – nor does it change the fact that so many throw-away questions were on your list to begin with.  You had only 15 questions!  Every one of them should have been a hardball.  While I can understand the temptation to include the “alliteration” one to lighten it up, this is NOT a light topic, and it shouldn’t have been included to begin with.  We’re being abused out here!  We’re being ASSAULTED!  Our elderly, disabled parents are being targeted for the crime of being elderly and infirm!  We’re being stripped of our most precious right – the right to our own bodies, to decide who touches them intimately.  It’s wrong, and we need hard-hitting journalism to shed light on it so it can be stopped.

        It’s probably good that you don’t read Flyertalk.  If you did, you’d see numerous fans of yours saying things like “If this was his best, he failed badly,” “I just lost every iota of respect I had for him,” “Where’s his journalistic integrity?” and “Even my late grandmother who was legally blind in both eyes could hit the softballs asked by Elliott out of the park.”  I’m sure that stings…and that is just a small sampling.  But there is truth there, if you can just set aside your emotions and hear us.

        As for me, I think you blew a golden opportunity…but I also think you meant well, and I’m still a fan.  Perhaps you just didn’t take it all as seriously as you should have…as seriously as those of us who’ve been truly abused do.  Hopefully our reactions will drive home the gravity, so that you won’t go light on them again.  We still need your voice out there.

        And next time, please bring the heat, like you should have (and could have) this time.  You’ve done it before.

  11. Chris, you dropped the ball big time on this one. 
    First, you should never have agreed to an interview with PR man. You should have insisted on interviewing someone with real authority who can and has taken the decisions that concern people. If they don’t agree, you call off the interview.Second, you should have insisted on the right to follow up questioning. That’s the most basic response to unclear or evasive answers. If they don’t agree, you call off the interview.
    I guess not everyone is a fearless clear-thinking natural journalist. 

    1. I’m so grateful for your clear-headed advice, and I’m looking forward to reading your interview with a high-ranking TSA official soon. Please be sure to include a link to it when it’s published.

      1. Sorry, Chris, but AKT is spot-on.

        The only person who’s time is not wasted by interviewing Shiller Bob is Bob.

      2. You are welcome Chris. However, you may not see that link from me – as I tried to tell you while you were not listening, refusing to do a job badly is also an option. 

        In free markets and other democratic setups it is common for ordinary folks to judge practitioners of specialized crafts. If I like Toyota and don’t like Nissan, it would be a sign of incredible immaturity for the latter to write me, “Let’s see what kind of car you build.” The same goes for ordinary persons judging actors, musicians, doctors, gardeners, poets, writers, carpenters, TV commentators, computer or automobile manufacturers, chefs, newspapers, etc., not to mention generals, senators, and presidents.

        Nevertheless, since you do take issues with how airlines, hotels, cruise, car-rental and insurance companies do certain things, I am looking forward to you starting your own companies in all of those businesses and show everyone what kind of job you can do. Please be sure to include those links as soon as available. 🙂

        1. Coincidentally, I’m starting an airline soon. But I’m going to use my own pathetically low journalism standards, and will be skipping the usual FAA certification process. Any critics of this interview will be offered free tickets on the inaugural flight. 😉

          1. Chris, as is obvious to almost everyone, you are no journalist. Most of us are not either, so that is not a fatal knock against a person. What becomes fatal is when someone who is not a mountain climber fancies himself as one and starts up on the Everest trail. 🙂 You are an ombudsman, used to extracting favors from hotel managers and airline reps by being nice towards them. That is a noble activity, obviously helps many people, and your approach does work with ordinary people who have the faculty of empathy and the authority to exercise it. However, you obviously lack the life experience to realize that being nice does not work with determined bullies, psychopaths on a power trip, etc., be they individuals or institutions. 

          2. Chris … Journalist get interviews with government and are published by international press website like CNN.

            Guess that makes you a journalist in my book degree or not.

            AKT where’s your blog, interviews and journalism degree…. ah not you and you had to resort to name calling too. Wow.

          3. It is not an insult or name-calling to suggest that everyone is not good at everything. As I have said repeatedly, I see Chris as a good ombudsman and as a poor journalist/interviewer. Others may see things differently, but most likely this thread did not accumulate 100+ comments because people liked the interview.

          4. Chris, You are an ombudsman because that’s what you mostly do; you are a good one too because you often do well, and you know it and admit it whenever you fail. Your actions as “journalist” do not show similar skill, honesty, or maturity. Consider demanding your tuition back—you have plenty of experience demanding refunds. 🙂 Or, if you wish, start acting like a serious journalist. That means choosing who you interview and how, and distinguishing good from bad, success from failure.

    1. Yes, “OH MY” is right.  Why does the TSA insist on touching these body parts?  What purpose is served? THAT’S what I wish Christopher had asked.

  12. Never ask ‘answerable’ questions . . .. Nixon never would never have resigned if all they asked him were ‘answerable’ questions . . .   its the ones you don’t WANT to answer that reveal character and truth.   By asking the unanswerable you seek truth. . . .  but I understand about why the reality is as it was . . . 

  13. Chris, Do you begin to see the danger of whipping up the great unwashed into an anti-TSA froth?  There’s no reasoning with some of these people, and they do NOT want to be confused by the facts. I hope this has been an eye opener for you.    

    1. And what facts are we denying, pray tell?  When’s the last time YOU had your genitals rubbed by a TSO?  I had mine rubbed just a few weeks ago.  So I ask again:  what facts are confusing us? 

      If you’re going to criticize us, back it up with something, not just rude potshots.

      And by the way, I can’t help but laugh at the “great unwashed” comment.  You consider frequent air travelers to be the “great unwashed”?  REally?  So WHAT’S the demographic of people who travel by air so frequently that we are sick and tired of being abused by the TSA?

    2. I know. Wanting facts and truth instead of spin and lies is just asking too damn much, isn’t it?

      Unfortunately for you, Grant, the rest of us don’t live with our heads in the sand like you do.

    3. Grant – honestly, did you glean any useful facts from anything Bob said?  just let us know . . . 

  14. Seriously?   How do you feel about alliteration?  LOL

    The fact that they won’t reveal how enhanced pat downs are done makes me wonder if part of the procedure is left up to the discretion of the TSA agent.  It would explain some of the more unusual pat-downs that we hear about.

  15.  I read this blog every day; I rarely comment, but this subject is particularly compelling.  I live and work in the Middle East,with frequent trips back home to the US, and a few comments/opinions (mostly “on-topic”) come to mind:

    1. The TSA is a government agency just like the IRS, Social Security Administration, etc.  Bob’s answers read like the FAQ’s on the IRS website, where they try to look like they have our best interests at heart.  They do not, and neither does the TSA.  I recall a quote; “There is no passion like that of a bureaucrat for his bureaucracy”.  Most TSA staffers do not appear to understand the mission, but they are trained to follow procedures.  When they confiscate your shampoo, it is not because they believe it is a threat; it is because their procedures include a 3-ounce limit rule. (I could go on about THAT subject, but don’t want to risk going “off-topic”.)

    2. I believe that expecting such a government agency to be able to operate at the level of Israeli security is unreasonable.  There are also historical and cultural differences.  Military service is mandatory for Israelis, and all are trained in the use of firearms and live with a heightened sense of the need for security.  My guess would be that Israeli security personnel get more than one week of classroom training followed by on-the-job training.

    3. Outside the US, there is no “opting out”.  To get to your gate, you go through the scanners.  Or you don’t go.  If you were to ask a European flyer “what do you think about going through the scanner?” you might as well ask “what do you think about stopping at red lights?”.  It is just the way things are done.  If they want to frisk you, they just do it.  However, I have found that the level of professionalism and competence of security personnel outside the US is much higher than it is for most TSA personnel.

    4. Among my many non-US friends, the TSA is the punchline to a bad joke.  They understand the need for security; but the capricious manner in which ever-changing rules are enforced show the rest of the world that the TSA is more show than substance.  And I don’t believe anyone is fooled by the TSA claiming that they don’t disclose their methods for fear of instructing terrorists.  Indeed, it is the terrorists who are instructing the TSA.  Let me share an example; a terrorist attempts to conceal explosives in a baby diaper – can you guess what the next TSA-prohibited item will be?

    5. I am thankful that the airlines that offer international service to the US do not rely solely on TSA personnel and procedures for those flights.  I am happy to submit to competent, professional, consistently-applied security measures to make sure I get home safely.  I also understand that there is no such thing as perfect security.

    Enough for now, I think.

    1. it would much more effective to conceal the explosive in an adult diaper .  . . then you prevent an entire class of persons from traveling by air in the US and elsewhere simply from embarassment . . . .  Score:  Terrorists 2, Free World 0. 

      1. Thank YOU for taking the time to read it, Caroline 🙂  And thanks to Mr. Elliott for giving us a lively forum for discussion.  It is encouraging to know that my opinions are not unique.

        (I changed my ID as there is another “Stephen” commenting on another subject)

  16. Did people really think he was going to come out and be flustered and say the TSA is out of control. Of course no matter what question you ask he’s going to give the party line. 

    I was a little disturbed by the number of people arrested, it’s over a long stretch of time, but that is still a high number.

  17. “Why didn’t I ask some of the more controversial questions submitted by readers? Because I wanted to send him answerable questions.”

    Well, I’m glad you restored the comments, but I’m still disappointed.

    If there’s one thing that must be done with TSA, it’s to ask the hard questions and demand answers. Going soft on them is what the rest of the media tends to do, and is what has lead us to this point in the first place.

  18. Nothing surprising here.  Blogger Bob spewed his usual bullsh*t, just like he does on the TSA blog (where he and his overlords routinely censor comments).  But perhaps that’s precisely the value of this Q & A.  We knew it was going to be nothing but spin.  And Blogger Bob proved us right.  He achieved a different kind of transparency — one that confirms that the TSA lies, obfuscates, backpedals, ignores, distorts, minimizes, dismisses, abuses, intimidates, harasses, and, oh, did I mention lies?

  19. Wow.  I’m shocked by the attacks on Christopher’s judgment and journalistic abilities by people who are frequent commenters and supporters of the column.  The reality of this situation is Chris could have gone in there guns blazing and asked BB, “Why does the TSA touch genitals?” and the response still would have been meaningless and fluffy.  BB is not authorized and will never give any reply other than a fluffy and meaningless one – it is his job.  Instead of lambasting poor Christopher for lobbing softballs, look at this as his attempt to garner goodwill with the TSA so that maybe someday he can ask the tough questions of a person within the agency who can give him something other than fluff.  I would love to know the answers to the hardball questions but can acknowledge that BB will never be the one to give the real responses.

    1. Okay, I hear you.  And I’ll buy that.  I think I’m mainly ticked off that we just didn’t know.  Many of us were expecting him to go in with his typical fervor on this topic, and this softball interview caught us by surprise.  We also didn’t know that our questions were going to be posed directly to BB…I would have definitely have worded mine differently.

      I’m still a fan and supporter.  And I’m quite sure that Christopher can handle the criticism with his usual aplomb.

  20. “I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the
    Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
     “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
    effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and
    no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
    affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
    persons or things to be seized.”

    I once took that oath above as a Federal employee – even for a summer job and take it so seriously that I believe it applies to me nearly 30 years later. I wish our Supreme Court, Federal Judiciary, Congress, Presidents and TSA officials so seriously considered their oath. The Constitution works by guiding us to paths where police work is more efficient and effective, resources are used to do the principle job of the government, and a sense of Citizenship is fostered where people will heroically defend the country as they did on Flight 93.

    When we deviate from the Constitution and our oaths, things break down and the People themselves go from simply being watched to ones who need to be watched. I hope blogger Bob thinks about it – I am sure his heart is in the right place – I just wish their heads were.

    1. I’ve taken that oath four separate times – and the main threat now is from people who think that their desire to be safe overcomes their obligation as a citizen to preserve liberty . . . ..  are you listening Judy?   The risk to personal safety is an unwritten and clear risk in a free society that someone who dislikes a free society will take a whack at us just because . . . .giving up our freedoms in order to be safe does not make us either safer or more free . . . .

  21.  Provable BS by Blogger Bob – 

    Statement:  “The 2006 liquids plot clearly illustrated the threat posed by liquid explosives. TSA’s security measures and technologies constantly evolve based on the latest intelligence to stay ahead of threats to aviation security, including explosives. . . .”

    Truth:  The 2006 plot was merely when the press reported on the threat.  As far back as the Bojinka plot in 1999 terrorists have wanted to blow up airliners using liquid explosives mixed on board an aircraft.  TSA was created in 2002.  What changed between 2002 and 2006 pertaining to an aircraft on board mixed explosives plot that changed the risk?  Nothing – zippo.  All that changed was that the PRESS reported on a plot in Britain – TSA knew or should have know about the threat of mixed onboard explosives since its creation in 2002.  So what event caused the TSA to limit liquids to 100ml?  Was it the threat or was it the reporting of the threat?

    THAT is a legitimate question.  That simple event shows that TSA reacts to press reporting of threats and not actual threats.   

    We can move along to shoe bombs causing shoes to be removed – or underwear bombs results in pat downs and enhanced scans – but the THREAT existed long before someone tried to pull it off.  If TSA or any foreign government had something as simple as DOGS sniffing for explosives walking through a terminal likely both Richard Reid and the underwear bomber would have been caught sitting in a chair waiting to board.  No ‘CIA’ style intelligence needed- just the trained nose of a canine. . . . 

    1. It’s all smoke and mirrors.  And yes, they admitted they knew about the (infinitesimally tiny) risk of liquid explosives.  To say the TSA is reactive is an understatement.  What happens when some bozo tries to light his hair on fire?  Will we then have to get shaved before boarding??  Oh, well, the sheeple will fall right into line.

    2. I mentioned this briefly in my post above.  I happened to have a flight out of Manchester (my home town in England) to the US 3 days after the discovery of the liquids plot.  The backlog of cancelled flights had cleared by then, but no rules for liquids had yet been established.

      We were not allowed any carry-ons, so we had to check everything, including purses, laptops, etc.  As this was a security issue, the airline did not charge us extra.  We were given a clear plastic bag into which we could put a wallet, medication, passport and boarding passes.

      After initial security, we were frisked again on the jet bridge.  We were not allowed anything in our pockets, but we could carry magazines and books purchased in the terminal.  But no pens; my wife had bought a Sudoku book and pencil, but the pencil was confiscated on the jet bridge (fortunately, she was able to borrow a pen from an FA on board).

      But regarding the subsequent liquids rules, as an engineer, I look at numbers.  You can get about 5 of the 100ml containers in a baggie, so 500ml (1/2 liter) total.  So 4 people can get 2 liters of any liquid on board a plane.  I have read various opinions on whether it is actually possible to create a liquid bomb on a plane, but let’s assume it must be, for it to be a credible threat (credible enough to inconvenience millions of travelers worldwide for 5 years).  In that case, limiting each person to 500ml of liquid has not eliminated the threat.

      As Bob rightly states, “profiling wouldn’t work for us”, so there is little chance that the TSA would be able to identify the 4 people, each carrying their contribution of liquids.

      So if the threat is credible, why has the TSA not invested in technology to detect explosives and their ingredients?  I remember going through a “puffer” machine a few times; I wonder what happened to them?  Surely 5 years and $40 billion (I have read that the annual TSA budget is over $7 billion) are enough time and money to develop such technology.  But as I mentioned in my previous post, the TSA is a government agency, so that is probably $5b for the “A” and $2b for the “TS” 🙂

      1. Stephen, the puffer machines — another billion-dollar boondoggle — were scrapped because they didn’t work.  Here’s an article from Homeland Security News:

        TSA Puffer machines pulled from service
        Published 28 February 2011
        The high-tech $150,000 Puffer machine was designed to blast passengers with a puff of air and then analyze the particles it shook loose searching for any sign of explosive materials; the dirt, debris, and humidity commonly found in most airports rendered the units useless and were determined to rarely work; after spending nearly $30 million to buy and maintain 94 Puffers, TSA last year retired them from service . . . .

        1. I’m not sure the puffer machines were ever truly given a chance to work. Yes, the government spent $30 mil on them.

          But more than that has been spent in lobbying efforts by the companies who make the pornoscanners. The government has spent far more than $30 mil on buying the pornoscanners, and they are just as ineffective.

          Yet, the government will be buying even more of them because there are companies willing to throw some money back at them.

          Given time and money, I’m pretty sure the puffer machines could have become more efficient and effective. But they didn’t have lobbyists in their favor.

          1. I’d be amazed if they didn’t have lobbyists in their favor.  The same war contractors that manufacture the scanners also manufacture tons of other phony-baloney “security” technology.  According to the article, the puffers were tried in airports repeatedly and kept either breaking down or coming up with false positives.

            Of course, our current dunderheaded procedures are also always coming up with false positives.

            Bottom line — these technologies are constantly being introduced to further line the pockets of their manufacturers and to further abuse us.  Down with all of them.

          2. I’m sure there were *some* lobbyists, but certainly not enough with the kind of money to throw around as the makers of the pornoscanners have, or there would still be development with the puffer machines.

  22. Chris,

    As someone who presented some questions on your FB page to Bob, I appreciate that you took the time to conduct the interview. While my questions weren’t directly answered, his lack of direct answers – as others have pointed out – are what’s most telling.

    While no hiring system is air-tight, the fact that they’ve terminated several hundred employees for larceny is probably an indicator that their screening system of their own employees isn’t sufficient. The irony is, of course, that this is the same group of people tasked with screening the entire flying public. As someone who has had items pilfered by a TSA agent, I’m deeply disturbed by the rampant unprofessionalism, and criminality, displayed by many agents (to be fair, some are very good).

    In regards to the health concerns related to the AIT machine, Bob cites several studies but a link is only provided to the TSA published data (not exactly unbiased). In fact, the TSA just recently admitted that their own analysis of the radiation levels were off by an order of magnitude of 10x.

    As someone who is exposed to AITs on a weekly basis I still am not comfortable with the data presented.

    So, I opt-out. Bob goes to great pains in his responses to say that opting-out is a passengers right. But I, personally, have experienced several occasions where TSA officers have acted in a hostile manner towards me, and aggressively questioned me, for my reasons of opting-out. I’m sure Bob would say that those agents are not following protocol and to fill out a comment regarding their behavior on and an airport customer service manager will follow-up.

    But do they? I have no idea. There’s no accountability, from a consumer of the system’s standpoint. Submitting a comment into the TSA is a black hole.  I’m the one who gets hassled, groped, and unreasonably searched, I have a right to know that my complaints were addressed.

    And finally I had to laugh at the response to the question regarding disposal of potentially hazardous liquids and gels (seized from the site). Bob dismisses this by saying “Common items such as shampoos and water are voluntarily surrendered by
    travelers at the checkpoint, periodically collected and disposed of
    under individual state regulations.”

    If they are common items, and the TSA knows they are common items (which they more or less default to based on their disposal methodology) then why are they seized in the first place? This is a fantastic example of the nonsense the traveling public is exposed to by the TSA.

    As a very frequent traveler based in NYC I want nothing more than to have a secure air transit system. Unfortunately, the TSA does not provide that. They’ve become a government behemoth trapped in the momentum of their own unimpeded growth. They are not policed nor held accountable for their actions. They’ve questionably kept us safe since their inception (no one knows if it was a result of their actions or simply that no one has tried, and those that have tried couldn’t pull it off) they’ve done so at the risk of the basic tenants of our civil liberties.

    Respectfully submitted.

  23. Christopher seems to generally be as outraged as 90% of the American public when it comes to civil liberty violations by the TSA. However, he seems to be sleeping with the enemy in this particular case. I get that sometimes you have to use finesse when dealing with a tough opponent, but I agree that he went too far in this case. Handing over your blog to a propaganda machine like TSA in order for them to spew their rhetoric to your loyal readers was a mistake. We’ve heard their BS before…what we haven’t heard from them is the truth, or answers to the tough questions. If they won’t agree to provide the truth, then you should decline the interview. Agreeing to their interview demands in order to simply get the interview yields nothing, and it costs your credibility. If you think that making friendly with Blogger Bob is going to lead you to bigger fish who will be willing to answer the tough questions, you are naive.

    Christopher, you compounded your mistake by deleting the posts that called you out on your poor handling of the interview. You also showed tremendous indignation at the posts that questioned your decisions. You managed to come off a lot like the TSA itself, which seeks to silence and disparage its critics.

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog. This is the first post I’ve ever made, which gives you an idea of how strongly I feel about this topic. I’m not ready to write you off yet, but I’m extremely disappointed with the whole thing — the softball nature of the interview, the fact that you named the questioners without their consent, the way you rewrote some questions to make them less confrontational (but still attributed it by name), the fact that you deleted negative posts, and the tone of your responses to some readers. I’ve lost some respect for you, to be quite honest.

      1. So, Christopher – how about an article telling us what you’ve learned from the Blogger Bob Boondoggle?  You have fans out here who are confused and concerned.  We trusted you to have our backs when it came to the TSA, and you didn’t.  And when you got called on the carpet for it, you got mad at us!

        So far, your responses indicate that you stand behind what you did, and disagree with your critics in here.  But do you still, now that you’ve had a chance to think about it?  Now that you’ve seen the sheer number of your fans and supporters that feel the same way?

        I’m glad that Sam Tyree brought up one of my biggest issues:  the fact that you didn’t inform us ahead of time that you were going to use our full names in your article…and, worse, that you were going to reword our questions, so that our names were now attributed to questions that we didn’t ask.  I’m grateful that he saw the problem with this.

        I still believe that you meant well.  But did you think that part of it through?  Are you really surprised that we didn’t appreciate that?

        What do you have to say now?

        You have an opportunity to win back some respect, if you really want to.  Do you?

        1. Sorry, LeeAnne. I hate to disappoint you again, but there will be no more articles on this. Although I’m thinking of giving Blogger Bob a guest column every week, in place of TSA Watch. (Just kidding, Bob, I know you’re reading this, you handsome guy, but I don’t do guest posts on this site.)

          LeeAnne, if you and the other well-meaning critics of this interview can really “lose respect” — whatever that means — over one interview comprised of your own questions, there’s probably nothing I can say to change your mind.

          Yep, I paraphrased a few reader questions. Some were simply awkwardly worded.

          And yes, I used real names. You’re talking to a journalist on his Facebook page, and you expect anonymity? Let’s pause for a moment to consider the absurdity of that expectation. A journalist. On Facebook.

          If the TSA is allowed to continue violating our civil rights, it will be because we turned on each other. And that’s exactly what’s happening now, much to the delight of those who would want to install more scanners and impose new rules on the traveling public.

          The decision, Sam and LeeAnne, is yours entirely. Every moment you take your eyes off the true problem, you’re giving the bad guys aid and comfort. 

          The interview is what it is. It is your interview; these were your questions. 

          Maybe, just maybe, your anger is misdirected.

          1. “It is your interview; these were your questions.”

            And yet, YOU chose to lob the softballs.

  24. Christopher it’s gotta be tough for you to read some of these comments – especially the ones that appear to attack you.  I can empathize with some of the comments; they wanted their questions asked or at least more questions that dealt with ethical issues.  But I’m surpised at all of the comments who state they “lost respect” for you after one interview they were disappointed with.  Are they forgetting all of the hard work you’ve put into advocating for your readers on countless instances?  Clearly their choice, but ridiculous nontheless.  I’m 100% positive you’ll have additional opportunities in the future to ask more questions of the TSA. 
    At least you’ll have a strong backbone after this.  We look forward to reading your next column!

  25. Ok … I’m going in the opposite direction of almost everyone else… Chris great job on getting an interview with someone at the TSA. It was nice to see how they look at the world regardless of if I agree with it. Also, it was an interesting twist user reader questions instead of your own. I like how you chose questions that leave the chance of dialog staying open instead of asking questions that would have not only caused the interview to be cut short but also eliminated any possibilty of a future interview.

    For everyone else … get over it. Its Chris’s blog, his site and his career. If you want to ask the hard questions get your own site but good luck on getting an interview or having someone actually stay around to answer anything from you. Especially if some of you asked the vulgar questions you posted on the site.

    Hopefully Blogger Bob will continue to address concerns in the future and give Chris the chance to slowly move the needle or educate the public on why it isn’t being moved.

    1. Bob addressing concerns? How about Bob be honest and truthful for once, instead of being evasive, giving spin, and telling outright lies.

  26. Folks, let’s keep tabs on this:

    Details Emerge on House FY 2012 DHS/TSA/CBP Funding Bill

    The House of Representatives has begun consideration of the fiscal year 2012 funding bill for DHS and its component agencies. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved its draft version of the measure on May 13, and the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the measure Tuesday morning.

    In advance of full committee consideration, House leaders have released the committee report accompanying the bill. The report includes additional details on specific funding levels and congressional direction on a number of important areas, including TSA staffing, AIT deployment, EDS upgrades in airports, and passenger processing at international gateway airports.

    The House measure proposes $5.225 billion for aviation security, a slight increase over FY 2011 levels — $4.155 billion for screening operations and $1.068 billion for aviation security direction and enforcement. The measure proposes to continue a cap on TSA screener personnel at 46,000 FTEs. In addition, the legislation proposes a total of $472 million for the purchase and installation of explosives detection equipment in airports – down from the $541 million provided in FY 2011.

    This is different from what Napolitano proposed, according to a past article:

    Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the TSA’s proposed budget for fiscal 2012, which raises spending 5.7 percent, to $8.1 billion. Much of the $459 million increase would go to hiring another 3,270 employees, for a total TSA work force of 58,401, most of them screeners.

  27. Chris, I would be interested in hearing more about how other countries – Israel in particular – handle airport security. @f0f17823481ba47c6c692a7af52b5ccd:disqus made good observations about the level of professionalism exhibited by security there and elsewhere. Maybe an interview with some of them would elicit more information and less, um, emotion? Meanwhile, hang in there. I think this will be a fabulous case study for future Communications seminars. 🙂

    1. As we’ve discussed on this blog several times, the Israelis are, indeed, vastly better trained than TSA minions, but they still rely heavily on racial and ethnic profiling.  If you go with an American tour group you’ll be asked a few cursory questions, if that, and waved right through.  If you’re the wrong race or ethnic group, you’ll be given the 3rd degree.  And if you’re a political activist, forget it.  You’ll probably be strip-searched in a back room.

      And again, the Israelis have accepted the risk of bombs going off elsewhere in their country, just not on planes.  They still have attacks on buses, in markets, etc.  We can never achieve 100% Security and No Risk, despite the fevered fantasies of TSA apologists and scared sheeple.  

      Life includes risk.  So even if no bomb goes off on a plane ever again anywhere in the world, there are still millions of other places where bombs could theoretically go off.  We can’t stop and question every person everywhere every minute of the day.  This obsession with airplanes is foolish and blind, and entirely an expression of 9/11 victimology.

  28. Bad news:

    Antigroping bill pulled after TSA threat

    Score this one: US 1, Texas 0.
    Bowing to political pressure in the state and by federal regulators, Republican Texas Senator Dan Patrick, sponsor of a bill in that would make intrusive patdowns of the genital area by the TSA a criminal offense, withdrew it when he realized he would not have the votes he needed to pass it . . . .

    1. I’m really lost …
      You scream that something that the TSA is doing in unconstitutional even though it isn’t (Sorry but inspections, which is what TSA checkpoints are, have been repeatedly ruled by the SCOTUS as constitutional.) and scream that the government is violating the constitution.
      But when Texas attempts to violate the constitution (the supremacy clause) and fails, you say it’s a sad day.
      Are you or aren’t you for the constitution?  Would you like me to send you a copy so you aren’t following someone else’s rhetoric but your own knowledge?

      1. Nein, liebchen, I have my own copies of the Constitution at hand.

        Yes, I know SCOTUS has approved the shredding of the 4th Amendment (though it has yet to rule on what the TSA is doing now, which is more than “searching”), just as it has approved other abominations throughout history.  That doesn’t mean it’s right.  

        If you think the Constitution allows the TSA to grope our genitals, then I’d say you have a strange understanding of the document.

        1. No the Constitution and SCOTUS allows the government to conduct inspections. By definition, the TSA is conducting an inspection and not a search. A search is targeted against an individual or entity because there is a suspicion that they have violated the law. An inspection is a non-targeted review conducted for a specific goal (for example a DUI checkpoint). TSA has argued that they are inspecting using the most reasonable means to prevent weapons and contraband from entering the secured area of an airport.
          In all of this yelling and screaming, I haven’t heard a single person come up with a viable plan that will keep explosives, knives and guns out of the secured area of an airport beyond what they are doing now.
          Dogs are a great plan until you realize the number of dogs required, the time required to train those dogs, the capabilities of the one center that trains them for both DOD and Homeland Security, the expense of the training, the expense of the upkeep for the dogs and the expense of maintaining skilled handlers. It isn’t a viable plan.

          1. John, you say, “TSA has argued that they are inspecting using the most reasonable means to prevent weapons and contraband from entering the secured area of an airport.” But the experiences LeeAnn described above are not “reasonable” by any reasonable definition of the word, and they are distressingly common.

            I’m sure cavity searches would make us even safer! Would they be considered reasonable, too? Does the end justify any means? 

            As Lisa said, the SCOTUS has gutted the Fourth Amendment, but that doesn’t mean we should acquiesce to the loss of basic liberties and the demise of common sense. 

          2. “In all of this yelling and screaming, I haven’t heard a single person
            come up with a viable plan that will keep explosives, knives and guns
            out of the secured area of an airport beyond what they are doing now.”

            Here’s a question: why are you so concerned about knives and guns?

            There will not be another 9/11. There will be no hijacking of planes because cockpit doors are now secured.

            So why do you – and TSA – want to spend so much manpower, time, and money in a wasted effort to prevent things from getting on a plane that will not bring down a plane?

            As others have rightly pointed out: why are you so focused on bad things, and in the process treating everybody like criminals, rather than focusing on bad people?

          3. And I see my last question is another one that the TSA supporters refuse to answer.

            Much like they refuse to answer where their own line is that cannot be crossed with regards to invasive security measures.

          4. Actually cjr I’m not a board troll and I don’t live my life looking at updates from Chris’s blog. I just didn’t see your question but don’t let facts get in the way of your opinions. 
            The answer to your question is that the secured cockpit is not bulletproof. A person with a gun can shoot through the door or the thin walls on either side and still hit a pilot which would bring down an aircraft (not opinion fact. My neighbor is a commercial pilot). Also while not the “explosive decompression” of Hollywood fame, poking holes in an aircraft at altitude does very bad things to the occupants of said aircraft (O2 generators don’t last indefinately) and the structural integrity of said aircraft especially if the pilots are unable to descend because they are injured.  So, ceramic guns are only second to explosives hidden on the body on my list of concerns.

          5. Good now we’re even since I doubt your law degree. Contact AOG (that woudl be the Assoc of Graduates the USMA, West Point’s official name, alum association) they can confirm I have a Cullum Number (that would be the number given to every graduate of USMA). I’m also a mechanical engineer certified by the State of NY so failure modes and analysis is something I understand.

          6. No actually #3 would be irrational people that don’t want security at airports, make stuff up to justify their feelings and claim without proof that people are lying.

          7. By all means, find me one person who has claimed that they want no security at airports. Because that certainly has never been said in these threads, yet you are not the first person to make such a twisted claim. Does that make YOU a liar as well?

          8. “In all of this yelling and screaming, I haven’t heard a single person come up with a viable plan that will keep explosives, knives and guns out of the secured area of an airport beyond what they are doing now.”

            Then you haven’t been paying attention, either here on this blog, or anywhere else, where we’ve discussed this innumerable times.  And you’re obviously unfamiliar with Bruce Schneier, Rafi Sela, Richard Roth, Stephen M. Lord, Gavin de Becker, Ben Wallace, and the dozens of other actual security experts who’ve weighed in on these procedures and pronounced them for the abusive, worthless security theater that they are.

            We do, however, appreciate the condescending phrase “yelling and screaming” to describe reasonable discussion and statements supported by logic and empirical evidence.  It’s so telling when the security cheerleaders chime in with their little fillips of derision. Why not just cut to the chase and tell us all to bend over and spread ’em?

          9. Lisa … All of those people and additional ones like Ned Levi on Chris’s sister blob Consumer Traveler have a common theme. Current procedures are “security theater” and don’t work (but doesn’t Blogger Bob’s statement that they are seizing weapons at checkpoints disprove this statement?) and we need to rant and rave about how they violate the Constitution, which they don’t.
            Not a single one has said “we need to do it this way” and present their viable plan. I have seen one or two that say we need to follow Israel’s methodology which to a certain extent I agree with until you look at implementing it on a US scale (in short the counter-argument goes something like this … Israel has fewer airports than the US has in just the New York Area. I saw somewhere that air traffic for the three big New York Airports exceeds air traffic for all of Israel. In order to secure every US checkpoint in a style and manner consistent with Israel security your labor pool has to increase by something like two-fold. Your labor pool also has to go from skilled to unskilled and that increases costs on an individual basis by something like 50%. You also have to profile the entire person which means including stuff like race and country of origin which we can’t do in the US, just ask the LA or Cincinnati police departments.)
            I’m not a big fan of the current processes in place at US checkpoints. I’m also not a security expert. I’m just a West Point grad that knows one or two things about defending areas and doing so within the boundaries of the US Constitution. I have looked at this and at one point actually started to write a “There’s a better way” article for a blog I write for occasionally. I literally spent hours studying the publically available material on what the TSA was doing and why. Sadly, I couldn’t find a method that would keep everything that the politicians have tasked the TSA to keep out of the secured areas, which could be implemented in the near future (1 – 2 years), and wouldn’t drive costs to an unacceptable level.
            As part of this review, I also looked at the arguments against current processes and procedures. Interestingly, I found a lot of primary material that stated opinions about x or y but nothing with facts. For example, one doctor stated that in his opinion the radiation from ATI scanners would cause cancer but didn’t supply any facts to support that (For example, ATI scanners admit x-rays in the dose amounts and a study by this researcher found that in a group exposed to this amount of x-rays the likely hood of cancer increased by x%). It was just his opinion.   
            I wish there was a better way. I hope someone can find it. Until then, the TSA procedures are the best we have.

          10. How about this — live your life like a human being with dignity?  Instead of like a coward?

            If the Brits had behaved like this during the Blitz, they never would’ve gotten through it.  Bombed almost every single night for 9 months straight.  And what did they do?  Got up every morning, cleared the rubble, mourned their dead, and moved on.

            There is an infinitesimally small chance of any of us being involved in a terrorist attack.  You have more of a chance of getting struck by lightning (1 in 500,000).  Or getting killed in a traffic accident (43,000 fatalities a year in this country), especially if you talk on your cellphone while driving (most of the people posting here)– oops, there goes the argument that you’re concerned about safety.

            The 9/11 victimology in this country is pathetic.  Many more people around the world have died from and are at greater risk every day from terrorism than we are.

            And, no, for the hundredth time, I’m not in favor of Israeli-style security.

            Groping people’s genitals isn’t making any of us safer.  Why can’t you admit that?  There were no bombs going off on planes even before this molestation regime was instituted.  And while you’re getting your privates pawed, most of the checked luggage is going through unscanned, unsearched (unless it’s to steal valuables, at which the TSA is also adept).

            Answer the question Sungold and many of us have posed about cavity searches.  Why not?  You’re in favor of everything else.  After all, don’t you want to be safe?  Isn’t that the next best step?  I’m sure many people would be just fine with that.  I know; I’ve talked to some of them.  They don’t deserve the term “citizen.”

          11. Lisa … I’m sorry but you are incorrect. This enhanced search was brought about when a bomb brought on to a Delta airplane under someone’s clothing failed to detonate. Nothing in place then would have found that device and nothing in place now except for the enhanced pat down and ATI would find it. The pat down is the same process that has been used for years in Europe (reference the one I received in Belfast 2 years ago).

          12. You are referring to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Crotch Bomber.  The scanners and punitive groping — not the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced search” — were conveniently instituted after he was allowed onto a plane due to, once again, the incompetence of our intelligence agencies.  He is a mentally disturbed man who never had a chance in hell of detonating a bomb.

            The scanners, most of which are manufactured by Rapiscan (how appropriate), already existed; they were discussed in the Bush administration, when, irony of ironies, the consensus was that Congress and ordinary people would never put up with them.  Michael Chertoff, the head of DHS under Bush, who went through the revolving door to become a lobbyist for Rapiscan, pushed for their implementation right after the hyped-up Crotch episode.  Quel coincidence.

            As numerous security experts have attested, the scanners and gropefests wouldn’t have detected Abdulmutallab’s so-called bomb, and won’t detect PETN.  Here’s just one account:

            Italy, which has far more experience with terrorism than this country does, has already dumped them as ineffective.

            I have been frisked by the police.  What the TSA is doing isn’t frisking.  Which is only one reason why law enforcement so despises the agency.  Talk to a cop or FBI agent; they’ll tell you.  They hate the TSA even more than I do.

            I await your answer on body cavity searches.

          13. We’re talking about the guy who ignited a bomb designed by an experienced bomb maker that by the grace of god fizzled instead of blowing up right? Doesn’t sound like he didn’t have a chance in hell on igniting a bomb. He did ignite a bomb it just luckily fizzled instead of blowing up.

            I think cavity searches would cross the line especially since I’m not aware of a single bomb or bomb plot that used a bomb carried inside the body unlike the other threats the TSA is attempting to defend against.

          14. I don’t know why they’d “cross the line” since everything else the TSA is doing apparently isn’t crossing the line.

            As for the hiding of all sorts of contraband in body cavities, that’s been going on for only, oh, centuries.  Want a few recent examples?  Let’s see if these links all go through:





            5.  And just for good measure:

          15. I read those articles. Did you or just the headlines?
            Because if you read the article you would find that being in the body dampens the blast and makes the bomb less effective. You’d also find that they needed an exterior detonator which current ATIs would find.
            I’m not saying that this isn’t the next step and I’m not sure what TSA will do when it becomes a common tactic. I do think that SCOTUS would find that a body cavity search was to invasive for a security screening and outlaw it.

          16. Yes, darlin’, I read the whole articles, esp given that I’ve had them in my files since forever, but thank you for your concern.

            Perhaps this needs to be spelled out:  hiding the makings of a bomb in a body cavity doesn’t mean that the thing has to be detonated while inside the body.  Components could, theoretically, be hidden in body cavities and assembled outside.  That’s the point.  Far-fetched for sure, but no more so than the idiocy of assuming every shampoo and perfume and hand lotion bottle contains the makings of a bomb.

          17. Oh and Lisa I have a DD214 that says I’m not a coward. I haven’t attacked you personally. Why do you feel the need to start attacking me?

            As of yet NO one, to include you, has come up with a better plan than what the TSA is doing now.

            How about instead of calling people names you present your plan?

          18. As I, and others, have stated umpteen times:  Intelligence.  Police Work.  The same things used to fight other crimes.  Responsible intelligence, responsible police work, responsible behavioral profiling (not the laughable BDOs and SPOT and FAST programs the TSA now uses, which are simply further ways to bully and harass innocent citizens).

            And, I repeat, living one’s life.  You face a hundred risks more dangerous than The Terrorists every day.  Yet, presumably, you still get up in the morning and go about your business.  If you want to cower and give up your rights because you’re afraid The Terrorists are hiding around every corner, fine; but don’t give up ours as well.

          19. Ah responsible intelligence…. The same intelligence community that just seconds earlier you complained was incompetent. Who’s doing it under what constraints? What’s your fallback for the lone wolf that they miss? Who is funding the additional people? Where are they based? Who can they look at? What means can they use?
            Responsible police work … So now you are inviting the police to investigate me simply because I fly. I thought you were against that?
            Responsible behavioral profiling  … What’s that since you don’t like the current program or the Israel program? Where does the training come from? How about the added funding to retain officers once trained?
            Interestingly, the program you so hate is one of the more effective programs that the TSA has and has literally resulted in thousands of arrest (yes but no terrorist so far).  It just limited by funding.

          20. Lone wolf??  You can’t live in a world of No Risk.  It doesn’t exist.

            What’re you gonna do when somebody detonates a bomb in the arrivals or departures concourse, à la Domodedovo??  Another question I’ve asked repeatedly that the security cheerleaders refuse to answer.  Strip-search us at the airport entrance?  On the highway leading up to the airport?

            Give up this fantasy of 100% security.

            And I have never denigrated responsible police work or responsible intelligence.  I do denigrate the Mickey-Mouse operation that TSA is, including their “effective programs” as you put it, that have resulted in arresting schlubs who’ve gotten caught with meth or other bs the TSA has no business AND NO AUTHORITY to search for.  You want to catch drug mules?  Then find probable cause and go through legal procedures.  Instead of using ordinary traveling from Point A to Point B — which, yes, is a fundamental right — to conduct unwarranted search and seizure.

            What a load of crap. The TSA is seizing nail clippers, pen knives, and shampoo, and sticking their hands down people’s pants, all so you can pretend they’re doing something useful.

          21. The false and unfounded premise is that we have to do something.

            The guns that TSA finds? They are almost universally carried into the airport unintentionally by ordinary folks with no bad intent.

            And when something does slip through, the TSA reminds us that “There have been a number of additional security layers
            that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from
            causing harm with box cutters. They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals,
            hardened cockpit doors, flight crews trained in self-defense and a more
            vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to

            These security layers would prevent someone from causing harm with box cutters. Why waste resources looking for and confiscating box cutters?

            If you’re so terrorized by the minuscule risk of a terrorist attack on an airplane (even in 2001, getting on an airplane was safer than driving from Houston to Dallas) that you’re willing to let TSA goons grope you, I have a suggestion: leave the flying to those of us who understand the risk and are willing to accept it.

          22. Mark … Last time I checked, 19 box cutters on 4 planes lead to one of the largest public disasters in the country’s history.  I would think that you would want to prevent that.
            The answer to your question is the philosophy of defense in depth that Blogger Bob talked about. You defend against a threat in multiple ways in order to keep a single failure from bringing down the entire system.  Businesses use the same philosophy on mission critical pieces.

          23.  I would think that you would want to prevent that.”

            Secured. Cockpit. Doors.

            Your Honor, I rest my case.

          24. Businesses use the same philosophy on mission critical pieces.

            Unlike TSA, businesses consider the cost of their security measures; unlike TSA, businesses are accountable to their owners.

            TSA’s security measures are costly—both directly and in opportunity cost (resources could be used elsewhere for greater marginal increases in safety)—and make sense only if one either a) is irrationally afraid of the risk of a repeat of 9/11; or b) likes being groped by strangers.

          25. Mark  … you and I finally agree on something! TSA measures are costly but one of the things that business have to consider (and I assume that the TSA does as well) is the cost of failure. In this case, the cost of failure is high and so you have to defend more in depth.

            I would say that the fear of another terrorist incident on an airplane isn’t irrational since its happend twice since 9/11 on transatlantic flights and at least twice where it was stopped prior to being initiated (liquid explosives and toner).

            So Mark what’s your plan. You say that the resources could be put to better use. Where and doing what?

          26. But it is irrational: nobody was killed in either of the two attempts that were stopped by passengers and crew, and even if both of them had succeeded air travel would still be much safer than highway travel. The expectation that air travel should be safer than it is is unrealistic, unreasonable, and infantile.

            Put the resources to better use: making our highways safer, educating people about the Fourth Amendment, feeding hungry children….

      2. “Sorry but inspections, which is what TSA checkpoints are, have been repeatedly ruled by the SCOTUS as constitutional.”

        Got a single case cite for the proposition that what the TSA is doing at a checkpoint is something other than a search?

        1. Well Mark you’re the lawyer not me so I would guess you would know that this hasn’t made it to the point that there is any case law.

          I just go by the very large signs at TSA checkpoints that outline that it is an inspection, the note on the sign that by entering the checkpoint you consent to the inspection, the case law taught to me years ago by JAG and the fact that no lawyer has been able to get a single Federal jurist to issue a TRO against the TSA.

          1. Calling something an inspection doesn’t make it “not a search.”

            TSA “inspections” are unquestionably searches. And they’re warrantless. But those who fly consent to them.

            Unfortunately, after 40 years of fear—fear of crime, fear of drugs, fear of terrorism, fear of whatever boogeyman the government wants us to fear—most of us are conditioned to consent to whatever the government wants us to consent to.

            Incidentally, by “West Point Grad” did you mean that you graduated this West Point?

  29. Chris, if you get a chance, you should ask this question again, since he didn’t answer it at all:”Why hasn’t the TSA closed off airport employee access to secure
    areas and subjected all airport and airline employees to the same
    screening as passengers?”His response explained what they are doing, but didn’t explain why they DON’T screen airport employees as though they are passengers.

  30. Worst-Case Thinking Makes Us Nuts, Not Safe
    By Bruce Schneier 
    CNN May 12, 2010

    . . . The new undercurrent in this is that our society no longer has the ability to calculate probabilities. Risk assessment is devalued. Probabilistic thinking is repudiated in favor of “possibilistic thinking”: Since we can’t know what’s likely to go wrong, let’s speculate about what can possibly go wrong.

    Worst-case thinking leads to bad decisions, bad systems design, and bad security. And we all have direct experience with its effects: airline security and the TSA, which we make fun of when we’re not appalled that they’re harassing 93-year-old women or keeping first-graders off airplanes. You can’t be too careful!

    . . . Even worse, it plays directly into the hands of terrorists, creating a population that is easily terrorized — even by failed terrorist attacks like the Christmas Day underwear bomber and theTimes Square SUV bomber.

    . . . worst case thinking is a way of looking at the world that exaggerates the rare and unusual and gives the rare much more credence than it deserves.

    1. Lisa–that’s it in a nutshell. Fear-factor thinking. Most of us who aren’t pilots probably secretly harbor an easily exploited nervousness about being trapped in a projectile, thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

      TSA-type efforts in the mall, bus stations, at arena-crowd venues, at high school graduations, (the possibilities are endless)?—we’d be appalled at our cowardice. Up in the air, not so much. Now though, the infrastructure has been purchased, and contracts for personnel are being renewed and expanded– so our march forward into “security” policy acceptance can be assured until further notice. I don’t mind being wanded, luggage inspected, and being carefully scrutinized personally, but the furtherance of a civil service force of infinite duration at our airports simply does not serve us well. This is an endeavor without end. And one that will expand unless we stop to reassess now.

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