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April 30, 2009 at 12:12 pm #71049
Interesting "piece" on ABCnews.com regarding the role of TSA
The TSA Nightmare: Airport Security
How Knives Get on Planes and Myths Dispelled About Those Airport Screeners
Column By RICK SEANEY
April 28, 2009 —
I can see it now: it's seven in the morning, but everyone on the plane is in a festive mood -- they're heading to Vegas! Why, there might even be some alcohol consumption going on. Whoo-hoo.
Then it happens: a passenger reaches into her carryon, and -- oops -- discovers a couple of small knives she'd forgotten were in there. The TSA screeners missed them. So she notifies a flight attendant, and the party is over. The plane goes back to the gate at Newark for a precautionary sweep. And the hours tick by &
Welcome to the sometimes tedious, often frustrating world of the TSA.
Is there an agency in the world with a dicier reputation than the Transportation Security Administration? Probably not as far as air travelers are concerned. Is this fair? Not exactly.
For more air travel news and insights visit Rick's blog at: http://farecompare.com
Believe me, the people of the TSA are well aware of their reputation -- as one employee says, "We have become numb to it." Still, the TSA's Greg Soule reminds us to look at the numbers: these security folks screen about 2 million people every day.
"Our officers and air marshals know they have to get it right each and every day in order to keep the airways safe," said Soule, a TSA spokesman.
But face it: security can be a royal pain.
Geoff Harris, a screenwriter in Los Angeles -- and a decidedly non-threatening-looking fellow -- has nevertheless been singled out for special "wand time" more than once.
"It's frustrating," he says, but what really irks him is all that time lost, just waiting around. "The TSA sets up all these special lines to make you think you'll get through faster, but it's like the lines at Disneyland -- it still takes forever."
I know what he means. I've been there, and I know you have, too. But, there's a lot of conventional wisdom about the TSA that really shouldn't be taken at face value. Let's try to dispel a few of these security myths.
Myth #1: The TSA is a transient force composed of people who can't find work elsewhere.
Reality: According to the TSA, more than 40 percent of its work force has been with TSA since its inception following 9/11 and transportation security officers spend an average of four years with the agency. Employee backgrounds include veterans, law enforcement officers, teachers and businesspeople.
Myth #2: The TSA doesn't do standard profiling because it is "politically incorrect."
Reality: Again, according to the TSA, they don't profile because it is not effective. "It is bad for security," Soule said. "We know that terrorist groups recruit from various age groups and people with a wide range of physical appearances. They recruit people who don't fit stereotypical terrorist profiles."
Myth #3: The TSA never finds anything really dangerous, because there's nothing to find.
Reality: According to a March article in the New York Daily News, people "think nothing of trying to walk onto planes armed to the teeth" and that includes loaded guns, and more. A TSA spokesman was quoted as saying, "Someone even once tried to bring a fully gassed-up power chain saw through a checkpoint."
Unbelievable -- though not quite as weird as the man caught carrying two live pigeons inside his pants -- but, that's another column.
Don't get me wrong: the TSA is not perfect. Yes, the screeners at Newark did miss the knives in the carryon (and yes, they've missed things before); those employees will be getting retraining (and by the way, it was not the TSA's decision to turn the plane around -- that is left up to the discretion of the pilot or airline). But there is no shortage of stories about other outrages -- such as the TSA screeners at Seattle-Tacoma who supposedly "lost" cremated remains -- that the TSA says, simply aren't true.
Meanwhile, the TSA is working on innovations they hope to have in place in the near future to cut down on some of the waiting-in-line time. For example, government techs are working on advanced technology X-ray machines that will eventually allow screeners to identify dangerous explosive materials which could be disguised as everyday liquids like lotions and such. And don't forget -- the TSA has already approved certain laptop bags that are screener-friendly, so laptops can stay in their bags. Time-savers, all.
I know some consider the whole screening process something of a joke -- I mean, just look at some of the comments on the TSA's own blog, which rather bravely makes them available for all to look at -- comments like: "What travelers see is really just a big show to instill confidence, yet little real security is being provided all the while people are being harassed&"
But remember -- the TSA's paramount mission is preventing another 9/11. So far, so good. Yes, I know some argue, it's not anything the TSA is doing -- it's the other safeguards, like reinforced cockpit doors that keep terrorists from trying again.
Maybe so, but the TSA says their mantra is, "not on our watch." And I think most of us are with them as we prove again and again by enduring those screening hassles every time we fly.
April 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm #71067
Whole body Imaging at Airports
 Whole-Body Imaging Set to Replace Metal Detectors at Airports
The Transportation Security Administration has decided to replace the walkthrough metal detectors at airports with whole body imaging devices. Such devices enable a virtual strip search that produces detailed naked images of individuals, including females and young children. The technology provides little additional security beyond other screening techniques, including magnetometers, physical examination, and baggage inspection. It is an extraordinarily invasive technique that is disproportionate to its use. EPIC had recommended that the future funding of this program should be suspended.
According to a report in the New York Times on April 6, 2009, Robin Kane, Acting Assistant administrator, Office of Process Technology, stated that "initial results from pilot tests at some checkpoints at 19 airports in the United States" was positive and the TSA wanted the devices to become the standard checkpoint detectors replacing the metal detectors. Kane has also stated that passengers had given positive feedback.
The TSA had initially announced that millimeter wave passenger imaging technology would be a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening. Earlier, in February this year, the TSA changed its stance by stating that the use of millimeter wave technology would be the default but it would continue to give the option of metal detector screening and a pat-down searches to passengers who do not wish to receive the millimeter wave screening.
Although the TSA has stated that privacy is ensured through the anonymity of the image and it would never be stored, transmitted or printed, and it will be "deleted" immediately once viewed, the FAQs for the Secure 1000, one of the scanner models, state that the images acquired with the system can be saved on the system's hard disk or transferred to floppy disk for training and legal documentation and the stored images can be recalled and viewed on the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics. The Fact Sheet for the ProVision Whole Body Imager from September last year states that the scanner would soon to be deployed at Miami, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Indianapolis, La Guardia, Tampa, Newark, San Juan and O'Hare airports.
Earlier this year, President Obama had signed the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act which contained a grant of $1 Billion for Aviation Security. The law granted the sum for the "procurement and installation of checked baggage explosives detection systems and checkpoint explosives detection equipment." Thereafter, the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano testified before the House Committees on Homeland Security. In her testimony, she stated that a directive had been issued towards reviewing transportation security.
In October last year, while adopting a resolution on allowing the use body-scanners for the screening of persons, Members of the European Parliament stated that the draft measure could not be considered mere technical measures related to security as they have a serious impact on the fundamental rights of citizens and conditions for a decision had not been met due to lack of information. Attention was drawn to the fact that the technology had the potential to force air passengers to undergo "undignifying treatment" and the possible storage of data. The Members also asked the Commission to carry out a fundamental rights impact assessment as well as consult with the European Data Protections Supervisor, Article 29 Working Party and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.
TSA - Whole Body Imaging:
Joe Sharkey, Whole-Body Scans Pass First Airport Tests, April 6, 2009:
Electromax International, Inc. Rapiscan Secure 1000 FAQ's:
TSA Tests Second Passenger Imaging Technology:
TSA Continues Millimeter Wave Passenger Imaging Technology Pilot:
ProVision Whole Body Imager Fact Sheet:
ProVision Whole Body Imager FAQs:
Testimony of Secretary Napolitano:
Body Scanners at airports:
MEPs say that fundamental rights are under threat:
Draft EC Regulation Supplementing the Common Basic Standards on Civil Aviation Security [Annex to Regulation (EC) No. 300/2008]:
Spotlight on Surveillance- Plan to X-Ray Travelers Should Be Stripped of Funding:
EPIC's Page on Air Travel Privacy:
X-Ray Backscatter Technology and Your Personal Privacy:
TSA's page on Backscatter:
April 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm #71065
PERHAPS useful information for the frequent fliers...
80,000 on TSA’s ‘cleared’ fliers list
A government list of “cleared” fliers, developed to cut airport hassles for people whose names are confused with suspects on the terrorist watch list, has grown to 80,000 names, records show.
The additions to the Transportation Security Administration’s “cleared list” reflect an influx of requests from people asking to be removed from the watch list. The watch list database has expanded 32 percent since 2007, to more than 1 million entries. The cleared list has grown because about 99 percent of the fliers seeking to be removed from the watch list were never on it, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the TSA.
Most believed they were on the watch list after encountering screening problems at airports, often because they were mistaken for someone on the watch list, said Jim Kennedy, who heads the program that handles requests to get off the watch list.
“We do have times when the individual who’s standing in front of us is a very close match with a person who is on the watch list,” Kennedy said. The cleared list allows airline personnel and TSA officers to know that “this individual with this government-issued ID is not the individual we’re looking for.”
Legislation in Congress would combine the TSA’s cleared list with similar lists maintained by other agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, creating a single, “comprehensive cleared list” for use across the government. The measure, which has passed the House of Representatives, would require that the new list be shared with all federal agencies that use the terrorist watch list.
“This would assure that individuals that go through the redress process are not stopped as potential terrorists by other federal agencies,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said in a House speech.
The growth of the cleared list shows the need to change the watch-list process, said Kareem Shora, head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “It is great to have the redress (system) and the cleared list, but these are baby steps. They’re not catching to the giant leaps in the size of the watch list.” He and other critics want stricter standards for deciding who goes on the watch list. The list is based on “nominations” from intelligence and security agencies, such as the CIA and FBI, which use a “reasonable suspicion” standard to decide whether a person’s suspected links to terrorism are strong enough to put him in the database.
“No one wants to be the person who was too cautious about nominating names … so every name ends up on the list when only a handful should be,” said Tim Sparapani, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Recent data-quality reviews by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which runs the watch list, have culled tens of thousands of entries, each representing a separate “identity” for a terrorism suspect.
The reviews help prevent innocent travelers from being inconvenienced and ensure that the list is an effective anti-terrorism tool, said spokesman Chad Kolton. “Law enforcement wants current and accurate information,” he said. “It doesn’t help anyone to have information in there that’s outdated or inaccurate.”
April 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm #71063
NOTHING overwhelming but
A nice collection of information mostly from TSA to PERHAPS make your experience at the airport somewhat less stressful...
April 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm #71061
Sarcastic humor (?? I think) from the TSA blog http://www.tsa.gov/blog/ where the blogger is making some effort to "brag" on the new scanning device being placed at an airport near you...
Lotion is designed to keep you smooth, but apparently not smooth enough to fool our Millimeter Wave (MMW) machines. Recently, a passenger concealed a 4 oz. bottle of lotion on their person for the sole reason that it was expensive and they didn’t want to lose it.
Of course, many of you are saying, “Thank the heavens for the TSA. Without them, a harmless bottle of lotion would have made it onto an airplane. “
While the sarcasm is expected, what you don’t know is our intelligence has shown us that terrorists with dry flaky skin are unable to fulfill their missions. So it’s vital to keep all lotions off of airplanes.
I kid, I kid, but on a serious note, what if it wasn’t lotion? What if it was liquid explosives, or a block of plastic explosives?
April 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm #71059
I don't think they will stop a determined and clever terrorist. They are only there to prevent the casual idiot from doing dumb stuff, and for making us feel safer.
May 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm #71057
Hmm. I hear you, but frankly , I'd just rather not fly if I can avoid it.
I've flown to Europe and elsewhere since 9/11, in fact I even booked a flight on the morning of 9/11, but I keep my carryon items to a bare minimum and check everything. This is just against the grain for me. I've always been a minimalist traveler, one suitcase kind of guy, and I've always carried it on so the airline couldn't lose or destroy it. Now in these days of collective pants-wetting and hand-wringing, I'm forced to trust the airlines with my belongings. I'll fly when I absolutely have to, but buses, trains and cruise ships are now my first choice of conveyance.
May 5, 2009 at 7:38 pm #71055
Congressional Research Service Report
Title: Airport Passenger Screening: Background and Issues for Congress
Over the next several years, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will likely face continuing challenges to address projected growth in passenger airline travel while maintaining and improving upon the efficiency and effectiveness of passenger screening operations. New initiatives to expand the role of TSA personnel beyond screening operations, as well as initiatives to improve screening efficiency and effectiveness through the deployment of new technologies, will likely require additional investment. In addition to annual appropriations of $250 million in FY2008 and FY2009, a portion of the $1 billion identified for aviation security in the stimulus measure (P.L. 111-5) has been designated for acquiring and deploying technologies to screen passengers for explosives. However, policymakers and aviation security planners have not yet agreed upon a well-defined strategy and plan for evolving airline passenger and baggage screening functions to incorporate new technologies, capabilities, and procedures to more effectively and efficiently detect potential threats to aviation security. Ongoing challenges to maintaining and improving upon screening functions include: addressing the potential impacts of projected airline passenger traffic growth on screening operations; optimizing screening efficiency and minimizing passenger wait times; addressing potential airport space constraints for screening checkpoints and equipment; improving the capability to detect explosives at passenger checkpoints; optimizing inline explosives detection systems for checked baggage; developing strategic plans for addressing screening technology and human factors needs; and defining the funding requirements to implement these strategic plans. A number of initiatives related to passenger and baggage screening are currently being evaluated by the TSA. These include tests of new passenger checkpoint layouts and field testing of next- generation checkpoint technologies for detecting explosives, including explosives chemical trace detection devices, whole body imaging systems, and advanced technology (AT) X-ray capabilities.
May 7, 2009 at 6:33 pm #71053
I once made it safely to my destination, only to discover that I had had my swiss army knife in my carryon all along! I thought I'd report it to TSA, just as an FYI that this had happened. You know, cuz a real terrorist might get overlooked some day.
Instead of a "thank you" for the heads-up, I was repeatedly accused of bringing a knife on when I should've known better. After speaking with two coworkers, I discovered that they had had identical experiences at the same airport. So, I got online and found the main TSA phone number. I called and reported it, though the phone attendant didn't sound real enthused.
All three of these instances were innocent mistakes, and mistakes can happen. But if we are forced to take off our shoes, jackets, belts, and other accessories, get "randomly" wanded, and to only bring water purchased at inflated prices at the airport, then dammit! these mistakes should NOT happen! And when they do, TSA better damn well not treat the innocent victims like criminals for doing their civic duty and reporting them.
Also: travelers beware: souvenir snowglobes count as contraband. I had one (purchased inside an airport) in my carryon and forgot about it on my return flight. I almost had to throw it away. Thankfully it was a small airport (ironically the same one mentioned above) and they let me get back into my checked bag.
May 22, 2009 at 11:22 am #71051
New Rules for boarding the airplane
Flying Soon? Dust Off That Middle Name
Perkins, Ed -
Does your passport or driver's license include a full middle name that you normally don't use? If so, you'll have to include that name the next time you fly within the United States -- and by December if you fly overseas. That new requirement seems to be sneaking up on a lot of unsuspecting travelers, and, apparently, unsuspecting airlines as well.
The requirement comes from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the same friendly folks who brought you taking off your shoes in a security line and limiting your carry-on liquids. The idea is supposed to make it easier for travelers, airlines, and TSA to avoid ID confusion and hassles at airports. Because the master lists of questionable travelers are apparently in full-name format, TSA wants to make sure that travel documents conform to its list. The new requirement was supposed to go into effect on May 15 for domestic travel, but when I spoke to people in the industry (before May 15), some expected it to pushed back a month or so.
As I understand it, the basic principle of the new rule is that you must travel under your name as it appears on the ID you use to get on a flight, which generally means either a passport or a driver's license domestically; a passport or a passport-derived "enhanced" driver's license internationally. The import:
-- When you make a flight reservation, each airline is supposed to get your full name and pass it along to TSA.
-- Moreover, said a TSA spokesperson, your ticket and/or boarding pass should also be in your full name.
The new requirement poses no problem for you if your passport and driver's license are issued in the form that you normally use in travel. For many, that means first name, middle initial, and last name, or just first and last if you have no middle. As long as you ticket with the name on your ID, TSA won't give you any problem.
But if your official documents include your middle name but you don't use it for travel arrangements, you could be in for some grief:
-- If you have significant differences between ID and usual travel names -- maybe some married or separated women or anyone who has legally changed his/her name -- you may face some hassles.
-- If your frequent flyer registrations don't include your full name, presumably you'll have to re-register each so that your program name matches the name on your tickets and boarding passes. The airlines I spoke with said "no problem," because they worry more about Frequent Flyer numbers than names. But I wonder.
-- Even more troubling is the possibility that you'll have to change one or more of your charge cards. These days, you often have to show the card you used to purchase your e-ticket to an agent when you check in for a flight, and you could encounter a problem if the names don't agree.
As of last week, the situation seemed to be fluid. One airline spokesperson told me that although his airline would collect the full-name info, it wasn't sure it had to use full names on tickets and boarding passes. That, of course, is the opposite of what TSA told me, but apparently the question is subject to some doubt. Airlines also assured me that, if full-name ticketing is required, they will notify frequent flyers about making any changes that might be required. And TSA has announced it will be lenient in case of small differences, at least at first.
It's far too early to see whether boarding agents will require conformance of the names on charge cards and tickets/passes. Apparently, nobody had even thought about this problem.
Clearly, given the uncertainties, you should view this report as a "heads up" rather than the last word. If and when I find a true last word, I'll report it. Meanwhile, be prepared for some confusion. And be grateful if you had the foresight to have your ID issued the way you normally use your name.
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