TSA watch: Confessions of a rogue Transportation Security Officer

“As a proud American, I served my country with loyalty and dedication in the aftermath of 9/11 by joining the TSA and the fight on terror,” the letter begins. “After publishing a book about the TSA and Airport Security, with full knowledge of the FSD and his assistants, I’ve now been targeted for removal along with the evidence, while the cover-up for the truth is in effect.”

The missive, sent from Transportation Security Officer William Touzani directly to the president, landed in my “in” box yesterday afternoon. I’m not the first person he approached with this story. He published the entire letter on CNN’s iReport a few weeks ago.

I guess no one at CNN took him seriously, and I’m not surprised. Have a look at his book, and you’ll see that it’s in need of a good editor. (And hey, I’m the first to admit, everyone needs a good editor — especially yours truly. It’s the bad editors you’ve gotta worry about.)

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Here’s a link to the book.

I followed up with Touzani because frankly, I didn’t believe him. He sent me two letters from his supervisor that left me more convinced he did work for the TSA and that he was being fired for speaking out. In a letter he shared with me from last March, a supervisor in Houston wrote that he had revealed sensitive security information that could have “severely compromised” the agency’s position.

But what, exactly, was he saying that made the agency so upset?

The point of Touzani’s rambling ebook is that the government profiled Muslim passengers for years, which he found offensive. But I doubt that’s what the TSA found offensive about his book.

For example, in chapter 17 of his manifesto, Touzani describes in great detail how sensitive security information is handled by the agency. These secrets can’t be given to officers on paper, should it fall into the hands of terrorists or “the media.” (The implication being that they’re one and the same.)

Problem is, the material is sometimes difficult to remember. He cites the example of TSA’s new explosive detection devices which are 100 times more sensitive than their predecessor. If he can’t take notes, how can he remember what he’s being taught?

Among other other revelations:

• Many of the security “breaches” at his airport involved TSA agents who were distracted and allowed passengers to walk through the wrong door.

• The leak of the Standard Operating Procedure manual a few years ago was no big deal. Most of that information could be gleaned from sitting at a Starbucks across from the screening area and taking notes. (Are you listening, terrorists?)

• Want to get a secondary screening? Buy a one-way ticket with cash, which sends up “two red flags.” That’s been widely reported by the media, but Touzani confirms it.

The most interesting part of Touzani’s book is called “checkpoint classics,” and it describes some of the more bizarre security issues and how they’re handled, from men with large bulges in their crotches to women who bare their breast at the checkpoint.

I think TSA has every reason to be concerned that one of its own agents has written a tell-all book that may have unwittingly exposed sensitive security information. But if that’s the case, then why not ask him to remove the manuscript? In none of the disciplinary letters he sent to me is there any mention of deleting this book.

That makes me think that Touzani is being singled out for something else — that while his revelations may be embarrassing to the agency, it is simply uncomfortable having an outspoken, pro-Muslim agent in their ranks.

But what do I know?

If you want to see things from a TSA agent’s perspective, Touzani’s book (you can view it for free online) is an interesting read. It also makes me wonder if it will renew the calls we’ve heard in the recent past to reform the TSA — if not eliminate it.

(Photo: G Tarded/Flickr)

32 thoughts on “TSA watch: Confessions of a rogue Transportation Security Officer

  1. Chris,
            The link you just posted takes us to the book cover, but not to the book itself.  Doing a quick search, I found that Amazon has it listed, but it is currently unavailable.  Do you have any other links? 

    I did read the pages this man posted about the discipline issues he has had with the TSA.  Only seeing things from his side, it does seem that he is being singled out for some reason……the collage he created doesn’t seem to be offensive to me.

  2. I did not vote because I do not agree with any of the options.

    TSA is so dysfunctional and corrupt it cannot possibly be reformed.  It absolutely must be disbanded.

    However, simply appointing private screeners who are under the control of the federal government and are bound to carry out the same policies already in place merely sets a different set of abusive thugs in charge of the same corrupt and oppressive policies.  Same s**t, different day.

    Truly private security operated by actual security professionals under control of the airlines, not the US government, is the answer.

    Airlines have a deep vested interest to protect their business and their property.  If planes are blowing up, they lose everything.  They would be powerfully motivated to provide effective security at far less than the $8 billion per year currently being spent by TSA. 

    Government, on the other hand, loses nothing if planes blow up.  If fact, the government has increased in power, size, and budget dramatically since 911.
    Many government officials have made sizeable fortunes as a result of 911.  For the federal government, 911 was very good for business.

    Government has a deep vested interest in maintaining its power and financial interests.  Government officials have one overriding interest….to be re-elected or reappointed.  If an official is not re-elected or reappointed, he loses all his power and financial benefits.  Government officials are not interested in providing real security that actually keeps us safe.  They are interested in retaining power, increasing power, and increasing their personal fortune.

    The federal government will never put us first.  They will never be able to put aside their own greed and thirst for power in order to provide sensible, cost-effective security that actually works.  Truly private security, not merely privatized security, is the only hope.

    1. I agree 100% that airport screening needs to go back into the hands of the airlines. Airlines have a FAR more vested interest in ensuring their planes don’t get blown up.

      1. To a certain extent, that’s true, LeeAnne. And for an airline which cares about its employees (I could name one that says it puts its employees first, on the theory that well-taken-care-of employees will take good care of passengers and that will take care of the company) it’s probably 100% true.

        But think for a moment about the bean counters who run most airlines today – especially the legacies. If they calculated that losing a plane every third year to a terrorist plot was cheaper (cost of plane, payouts to victims’ families, loss of industry position and customer goodwill) than the marginal cost of “great” vs. merely “good” security, do you have any doubt that the bean counters would go for the “merely good”? And extending it further, if it was significantly cheaper to lose the occasional plane with “marginally effective” security instead of good or great, I suspect “marginally effective” and cheaper would win every time.

    1. Does anybody really care what Blogdad Bob has to say? He wouldn’t know the truth if it came up and grabbed his crotch. (Like the screeners at his employer do every day to innocent travelers.)

        1. That lipstick knife…yeah, REAL important to make sure that doesn’t get on a plane. Can you imagine the mayhem that thing could cause? :::rolling eyes::: The knife they gave me to EAT with in Business Class last month was more dangerous than that stupid little “knife”!

          What kills me is how people actually think this is doing anybody any good whatsoever.

      1. Well, I figured I’d give him an opportunity to make a fool of himself again.

        After all, I’m sure there’s still court jester positions out there to be filled.

  3. I think it is now time to Occupy TSA.  The same principles are at work here.  The greed of the 1% is forcing misery on the 99% of the rest of us.

    1. I would be happy to picket with you in front of TSA’s Headquarters at 601 South 12th Street, Arlington, VA.  I’ve already got my sign made, and it says “I’m not your porn star, TSA!”  The other side says “I was sexually assaulted by the TSA”.  Shall we set a date?  Next Saturday October 22, to give people time to plan? 

        1. What a poignant reminder of why the TSA’s mistreatment of innocent travelers is unconstitutional:  you can’t have freedom of assembly if you can’t assemble, and you can’t assemble without traveling.  This is why unimpeded travel within the borders of the US has been recognized as a fundamental though unenumerated right by our courts.   By preventing its opponents from reaching a protest, the TSA squashes our first amendment right to assemble and demonstrate. 

      1. If I was anywhere close, I’d be holding a sign that says “A TSA agent groped my 8 year old daughter.” Feel free to use my sign. And if you hold your cell phone up to a megaphone I’m happy to yell all sorts of derogatory phrases from here in the midwest.

  4. So, I have finished reading William Touzani’s book and I have many things that I want to bring up in response.  First, though, I want to thank Touzani for writing this book that I think can help the public understand exactly how the catastrophe that is the TSA looks from a screener’s perspective.  I have always felt that the secrecy surrounding screening procedures is monstrously unfair to travelers – we are forced to follow secret law and we are left to guess and imagine the worst when TSA refuses to tell us what the rules are.  John Pistole’s apparently never heard the first rule of security by obscurity: It doesn’t work. See slashdot.org/features/980720/0819202.shtml for details.

  5. In his book, Touzani frequently contradicts himself.  For instance, on page 46, he says “it would be useless for anyone to attempt out-smarting our screening procedures, as they are completely unpredictable. [snip] Much of the freedom given to officers to perform their job goes well beyond the teachings of the SOP.”   But on page 48, he says, “Our duties are very well defined and consistent regardless of external events. Our job has become a science and must be performed in the same way all of the time.” 

    So, which is it?  Are screeners following a procedure?  Or do screeners have individual discretion to make a passenger’s life hell because they feel like it?  The majority of the text leans toward the view that screeners can do almost anything they want to, as evidenced by these choice passages: 
    “Any TSA officer [sic] has the right to subject any passenger to secondary screening at any time. [snip] The officer can ask the passenger to return and and submit himself or his belongings for additional screening without any justification whatsoever. ” (page 53)

    “Muslims were regularly scrutinized more by officers and even put through secondary screening for no reason but their Muslim appearance.” (page 58, but note that Touzani says these abuses have stopped because TSA forbids profiling and now monitors the screeners to catch them if they single out Muslims.) 

    “I witnessed officers making unnecessary checks on politicians and other dignitaries just to get attention.  I personally believed that such high-profile individuals should have special escorts to prevent abuse and excessive screening.” (page 68)

    “Officers are always happy to perform a baggage check on beautiful women and celebrities.[snip]  A TSA officer[sic] has the right to search any bag of his or her choosing while the passenger is still at the checkpoint.” (page 82)

    1. I’m not sure Touzani is so much contradicting himself as he is just flat out confused about his time with TSA.

      I mean, TSA wants travelers to be confused by all the nonsensicle rules, so why would it be any surprise that TSA agents are, too?

  6. If you want to talk about inequality in the travel industry, let me tell you about my last 9 hour flight across the Atlantic.  Two rows directly behind me, there was a family with two kids.  One was about two but the other one was five or six.  Both children babbled and screamed for at least 7 of these 9 hours.  One of them (the older one) loudly yelling “mama” who happened to be RIGHT beside him.  Although we often have to hear about people being tolerant, this crossed all boundaries about being reasonably tolerant.  These two children disturbed over two hundred people for 7 hours.  Wearing headphones and having the volume turned up was not loud enough to drown them out.  These parents had not taught their kids anything about being quiet at any time (there was no excuse for the 5 year old in particular) and made even if they did make a belated effort to do so on the plane, it is too late to teach them for that flight.

    When I and hundreds of other people pay a lot of money to fly across the Atlantic and two parents who do not take the time and trouble to even begin to teach their kids to act in a civilized fashion can take over the entire flight for over 7 hours (probably over 8 hours) by virtue of their exceptionally poor parenting and equally ill behaved kids, that is an inequality!  I realize that the focus of the article is about the “so called” elites, but I’d far rather have people board before me, have free liquor in the lounge and get upgrades rather than depend upon the hope that there aren’t any parents and kids from hell on my flight.

    I would have gladly personally paid $500 or a thousand dollars as my share of the costs to land that plane and kick those people off.  They can swim across the Atlantic as far as I’m concerned.  They have no right to travel when they are that ill behaved.

    Any of you “self righteous” parents out there can stuff it.  This was horrible and there was no excuse for it.

    1. If they had gone to the bathroom for 25 minutes, then at least they would have been arrested and strip searched upon arrival (assuming you were coming to the US).

      I would hope someone would have a quiet conversation with the parent(s) to ask them to try and get their kids to be quieter. The 2 yr old is tough.

  7. The link worked but the page is somewhat confusing.  Same for the book.  Read quite a bit about how wonderful and caring Touzani is/was only to find that only one thing was actually new to anyone who has read Chris Elliott’s blog.  Some of the posters were sort of interesting.  Most of airport security outside that I’ve been through is much easier on travelers.  The funny one was at Naples, Italy.  My passport picture shows me as about 70 pounds heavier and less ash blond (white) hair.  Airport security has uniforms covered with gold braid and medals.  The man checking my documents kept looking at a screen, looking at my passport, and military retired id.  Back and forth while scowling and staring at me.  Reminded me of grade school nuns.  So I just kept non-blinking blue eyes staring at him while he played angry beady eyed bird.  Went on long enough, about three minutes, that his supervisor came over to see what the problem was with me or my documents.  Rarely the metal detectors in Europe are set off by my surgically enhanced body part.  Asked why in the UK.  Answer was  the USA has the settings to high.

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