The TSA Blog and 1984

Are government bloggers citizen advocates or are they PR staff required to parrot the agency line?
I’ve been thinking about that in reference to the growing controversy about “naked scanners” and groping by agents of the TSA.

Despite the countless stories by those who have been groped at TSA checkpoints, “Blogger Bob” of insists that it’s never happened:

“Also, there is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports. You have a professional workforce carrying out procedures they were trained to perform to keep aviation security safe.”

This is so contrary to reality to boggle the mind. It’s insulting, really. Who are you going to believe? The growing number of citizen reports (including video) or some anonymous agent of the government?

Blogger Bob also states that their naked scanners won’t be storing the pictures they take of you. Despite the fact that the very same machines were used by the US Marshals. And pictures from those machines are now online at Gizmodo.

It’s disappointing. Blogger Bob, whoever he/she is, serves the public not Janet Napolitano. They should offer facts and information, not obvious and incredulous spin. I’ve been impressed that the TSA has a blog, which is brave, but to use it as a propaganda tool is an embarrassment.

We citizens have a right to honest information from government employees, not PR bullshit.

It’s a slippery slope that the TSA is on. This debasement of language (“enhanced patdowns”) and willful deceit by government agents is a really bad development.

That hand on your groin – merely an enhanced patdown! And don’t worry about those machines scanning you. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia…

I think if Orwell wrote 1984 today, Winston Smith would be a TSA blogger.

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Adriel Hampton

Joe, I’d say that the language from all quarters has strained credulity. But I agree wholeheartedly with your concerns about PR from the TSA. The former Homeland Security chief is directly profiting from screening techniques that are ineffective, invasive are will likely at some point be found illegal. I pity the blogger.

Blogger Bob

Hi Joe. Have you been “groped?” If so, please provide the details and I’ll investigate. Also, are you aware that TSA does not use the same machines as the US Marshal Service? Same technology, different manufactures.

People are regurgitating what’s being said by others who haven’t done their research and it leads to posts like yours.

That’s what’s truly disappointing.

Blogger Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

Peter Sperry

There is also the very real question of the use of federal funds for propaganda. It is illegal. The Bush administration was called on the carpet for videos made by HHS that GAO maintained violated this law. Having read Bogger Bob’s work, it would be difficult to understand how GAO could classify the TSA blog as anything but propaganda.


So I have a little skin in this game as I know Blogger Bob personally and he’s probably one of the best public servants I’ve met. Plus he’s from Ohio like him and have same humor and like same bands.

And I used to work at DHS and spent 6 months on assignment at TSA.

TSA is in such a hard position on all of this…makes me reflect on government in general on how it is hard to engage.

For example, there was a fascinating 20-page article in Vanity Fair in 2005 that I think showed some of the difficulty. This person had built 4 of largest data mining private companies in the world worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He never worked for gov’t – got all information from other private companies, etc.

He went to DHS to help them on data mining and everthing got held up for privacy reasons which baffled him as DHS still had less information/data mining than the companies he created.

Kind of a damned if you do…damned if you dont…imho

Joe Flood

Blogger Bob, it’s rather absurd to imply that we’re only allowed to believe things that have personally happened to us. The great thing about the internet is that it empowers citizens to get the facts themselves rather than trusting some all-knowing entity.

You work for citizens, right? And when citizens complain that they’re being groped, your answer is that it didn’t happen? This denial of the obvious is why people don’t believe you.

Since you don’t think that people are complaining about being abused by agents of the TSA, here are some links for you to enjoy:

Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter from the Atlantic, gets groped

John Tyner targeted by TSA after refusing “groin check”

Pilot humiliated by groin check

Southwest Airlines: people getting partially molested at checkpoints

Amarillo woman sues after breasts exposed by TSA

Cancer survivor gets scar kneaded by TSA

New Hampshire grandma gets felt up

This is just a sample of the more than 268,000 results if you do a search on TSA groping. These reports come from journalists, pilots, parents, grandmothers and other ordinary folks. They’re from newspapers, blogs, TV reports and elsewhere.

But I’m not supposed to believe this because I haven’t been groped. I’ll decline your invitation to experience the cold hands of the TSA at an airport checkpoint.

Also, the TSA uses the same technology the Marshals use but a different manufacture? That’s supposed to be reassuring? It’s the same technology! That’s like saying, “I’m going to take a nude photo of you with my iPhone but I swear I’m not going to keep it.”

Bonus link: why I don’t trust the TSA with naked pictures.

TSA agents joke about penis size of coworker

Dannielle Blumenthal

I work for TSA’s sister agency (I am not representing them here), I know Blogger Bob, and I know he is for real. He is just trying to do his job, which is to represent the organization on a controversial issue. The social media strategy can be reviewed on its own merits, but I don’t think it’s fair to attack him personally.

Also, while I understand the concerns and the anger expresed here, it takes huge guts for TSA’s folks to engage the public not only on the blog, but also here in GovLoop. I don’t know of any other government agency that has been so bold.

Let’s wish them well, because they do mean well, and are struggling to manage an enormous responsibility in an incredibly difficult environment where the stakes are unbelievably high.

As far as the accusation about propaganda goes – If you look at the accomplishments of the people who are making these decisions – again – it is easy to namecall and be suspicious and all of that – but they do have decades of proven, often thankless, grueling public service behind them. They may not always have made the right decisions, but at least they got in there and tried. And their work lives are full of scary briefings, where they have to look at the threats staring us in the face and make the call.

I don’t believe for one second that any DHS leader has a secret strategy that involves profiting from the sale of scanners.

Also, I do not believe that DHS is out to win popularity contests. I would not want to be the one listening to furious Senators day and night and reading angry articles, letters and emails. I am not involved in creating or communicating this policy but I can imagine the enormous pressure to back down. And although I disagree with it, I respect the integrity of the people who are making the call. They are good people and they have an incredibly tough job. And so do the people who have to communicate about the policy in a way that satisfies both their internal and their external stakeholders (meaning, the boss, all the people the boss has to coordinate with, and the public.)

One day we’ll be looking at this whole thing as a communication case study.

Adriel Hampton

Dannielle, your last point deftly skirts the issue of former Homeland Security chief Chertoff directly profiting from implementation of the scanners. We cannot advocate good government, then turn around and ignore and excuse corruption. Yes, it is unfair in most cases to demonize front-line TSA employees, and, yes, the TSA as an agency and as a reflection of the federal executive government is heading down a dark path.

Dannielle Blumenthal

If you have real proof, then bring it. Otherwise it is wrong to besmirch someone’s reputation.

I am familiar with the former Secretary’s work and he was incredibly dedicated to the mission.