Tag Archives: tsa

TSA Backtracks On The New Relaxed Rules, Thanks To Flight Attendants

Back in March, the TSA decided to go further with their historical lack-of-thinking-rules-through and not-trying-to-have-them-make-logical-sense by allowing certain knives and “sports sticks” on planes again, because — no kidding — Europe was doing it. Well, when the stewardesses heard about this, they got all up in arms because now that they don’t have to deal with drunken passengers wielding Swiss Army knives anymore, they don’t wanna start again.

TSA's small knives guide

This WAS going to become the new rule, but not anymore…


Because, screw the fact that it’s only happened once in history  — they were sober and wielding box cutters on 9/11, but still — it could happen again. Astronomical odds always trump passengers’ convenience, and at 2,000 pocket knives being confiscated every day by the TSA, that’s quite the trumping. Long story short, the TSA finally gave in to its wife, the International Flight Attendants Association, and had to go back and tell us kids that we’re too young to keep those Swiss Army knives after all. “As mommy pointed out, just because the European neighbors are doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s right for us.”

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TSA Updates Banned Items List To Make Even Less Sense

After 9/11, the shoe bomber and the liquid explosives plot, the TSA did what any unimaginative, reactionary organization would do: it banned anything that was used in a previous attack, despite the fact that box cutters, shoe bombs and liquid explosives were never attempted again.

Now that some time has passed since the turmoil of the early 2000s, since bin Laden is dead, and since more and more people are starting to wonder how much sense it makes to ban some of the things on the TSA’s list, the agency has decided to chill out a bit and let us bring knives and sports sticks on board airplanes. Well actually, the official reason is that the Europeans are doing it — seriously. (No word on what the TSA would do if the Europeans jumped off of a bridge.)

TSA's small knives guide

But not all knives: just ones with a blade shorter than 2.36″ … because you gotta draw the line somewhere, people! Of course, if the knife has a molded grip, that somehow makes it more dangerous, so that’s still a no-no. And box cutters, that’s still verbotten: sure, their blade is like an inch at most, but their effectiveness in plane hijacking has been proven, whereas Swiss Army knives’ has not.

For the sports sticks: you can bring golf clubs — which are used quite a bit to beat people up — but you can’t bring full size bats… only bats that are less than two feet long. Because if you’re gonna beat the other passengers, they at least want you to do it with equipment from a classy sport like golf, not thug-ridden, steroid-laden baseball.

Update, 5 June 2013: Nevermind.

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From TSA, via NPR

Most Americans Actually Think The TSA Is Doing A Good Job

This must mean that people are buying the security theater put on by the TSA, because that’s the only way these numbers make sense: according to a Gallup poll that hopefully comes from Bizarro world, 54% of Americans think the TSA is either doing an excellent or good job, and 76% think it’s very, or somewhat effective. If these numbers are true, it’s very clear that those who know better have done an absolutely abysmal job at informing the public about the TSA’s actual performance. Therefore, it’s up to you, the reader, to help the truth spread its wings. Some bullet points to mention to everyone you know:

  • In its entire 11 year existence, the TSA has detected a possible terrorist exactly one time, in January of 2012. Meanwhile, they let two real terrorists with explosives board planes, as well as failing to catch dangerous items like a stun gun and foot-long razor blades on regular people.
  • The Congressman who wrote the legislation to create the TSA wants it dismantled, because it’s become a bloated, ineffective bureaucracy which among other shortcomings, during tests in 2006, let 60% of explosives go through security.
  • He is joined by other Congressmen who want the TSA to be overhauled because “Today, TSA‘s screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.”
  • Almost all “security procedures” enforced by the TSA are reactionary measures taken just for show, designed mostly to make us feel safer: they check shoes for bombs, while terrorists could hide them in body cavities or in thin sheets on their person. Liquids over 3.5oz aren’t allowed, unless they’re of a medical nature — meaning terrorists would just have to get them inside of a medical bottle. Everyone goes through checkpoints, except the people who work at airports, who could be terrorists themselves or be easily bribed by some.
  • The two measures that do work have been reinforcing cockpit doors and making sure every piece of luggage on a plane is owned by a passenger.
  • Despite “no-fly” lists containing thousands of names, one terrorist made it on a plane due to not being on the list, and another made it on even though he was on the list.
  • The naked body scanners don’t work: they often fail to detect items and, at the same time, have a high rate of false detection. One guy even demonstrated how to easily get metal or explosives past them and then interviewed a former TSA agent, who admitted the scanners are more or less useless.
  • To top it off, the TSA harasses and embarrasses children and the elderly in the name of this fake security, because it has to keep up the charade.


The whole concept of a security checkpoint is ridiculous: if terrorists wanted to kill a couple of hundred people, they wouldn’t have to board a plane — all they’d have to do is detonate a bomb at the checkpoint itself, where hundreds are corralled in close proximity in the security line, by the very agency that’s supposed to protect us. The reason scenarios like this — as well as similar ones, like attacks on shopping malls — haven’t happened is because what’s really protecting us is not the TSA, but rather law enforcement and intelligence agencies (police, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc) who catch terrorists like the Times Square Bomber, before they’re anywhere near an airport.

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From Gallup, via Forbes

Naked TSA Protester Found Not Guilty

Back in April, a man stripped down to his birthday suit at the Portland airport in protest of what he felt was TSA harassment; his two-hour trial was yesterday. During, he explained that the TSA found traces of nitrates — which can be used for bomb-making — from a wipe of his clothing. Fed up with all the machines, tests and procedures that basically try to see people naked, he decided to “up the ante” and show them he wasn’t hiding any explosives. Airport police arrested him, but in Oregon, public nudity is recognized as a form of free expression, especially in the context of a protest. The judge declared him not guilty because of this, despite suggestions from the prosecutor that he came up with the protest angle after the fact.


Even if he was found guilty, he would’ve just had to pay a fine, not face jail time, since the misdemeanor was downgraded by the prosecutor to a violation. But, he may still have to pay an 11,000$ fine as well as be put on the no-fly list, because the TSA is investigating him for interfering with the screening process — apparently by proving to them that he wasn’t hiding anything. Maybe someone should organize a large-scale naked protest, to test the TSA’s resolve of treating everyone as a terrorist.

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From KGW and The Oregonian, via NPR

Airport Security Has Not Been Thought All The Way Through

When it comes to security theatrics, our willful suspension of disbelief is eroding:

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From Wulffmorgenthaler, via Laughing Squid

Airport Police Prefer Their Nudists To Be Of The Female Persuasion

Last week, a woman stripped naked at an airport gate (not a security checkpoint) after gate agents saw her smoking and told her to “put out her butt”. Denver police said they wouldn’t be arresting her.


Last night, a man stripped naked at an airport security checkpoint in protest, because he felt harassed by the TSA. Portland police did arrest him.

There are no details on why the woman was taken to a hospital instead of being arrested, but presumably she was some degree of crazy. Presumably, the man wasn’t. They were both protesting, the woman against smoking bans and the man against TSA harassment. Maybe they’re soul mates.

What’s interesting is that the guy got naked in Oregon, one of the few places where non-sexual public nudity is legal. Portland and a few other cities have introduced nudity bans, but nudity as a protest has been upheld to be legal even in those cities.

What’s also interesting is that these seem to be the first nude protests in airports, both within a week of each other. (Hopefully this becomes a very entertaining and frequent happenstance.) People have protested the TSA before with lack of clothing, but normally they’ve just stripped down to their underwear — probably to avoid getting arrested.

From Fox 31 Denver, TMZ and Komo News, via Slashdot and Forbes

Former TSA Agent Admits Airport Security Is A Joke

About a month ago, the TSA Out Of Our Pants guy, came to us with his crazy hair and microphone and said the agency’s naked body scanners can’t see anything at your sides, so you can easily take explosives and guns on board. Now he’s back, looking a lot like the Joker, and armed with an anonymous, disgruntled former TSA agent.


She goes by the pseudonym of “Jennifer” and her face is blurred out, though for some reason, her voice doesn’t seem to be altered at all. Blurred out TSA credentials are also shown, so presumably she’s legit. The highlights of the interview indicate that the entire operation is indeed just security theater:

  • The naked body scanners failed to detect things all the time, during testing and live use: guns, knives, bags of powder that were supposed to resemble explosive material, and of course, 12″ razor blades and stun guns. (This fact has also been discovered by the Germans before.)
  • Due to personnel shortages arising from huge turnover, the TSA uses agents that are untrained on the machines they operate
  • There’s a manual of Standard Operation Procedures that’s supposed to be present at every checkpoint, but “Jennifer” has never even seen it, much less read it

The former agent said she was appalled at this farce, so she exhausted her chain of command, then wrote her Congressmen in good whistle-blower fashion, after which she got fired. She implies the firing was related, but it sounds suspiciously like a post-hoc fallacy: would a Congressman really bother to get a TSA agent fired?

The full video:

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From TSA Out Of Our Pants, via Slashdot


The TSA’s Naked Body Scanners Are Even More Useless

We’ve seen before that the naked body scanners which the TSA uses to prevent underwear explosives from getting on planes are just an awful piece of technology. Besides blatant privacy and decency issues, they had three technical strikes against them:

  1. Tests show that they’re horribly unreliable: false alarms all over the place and they get confused easily
  2. They miss bomb-making components
  3. They can’t see inside body cavities

Naked body scanner


Now, a fourth problem was made public in a video of an odd guy with a microphone, headphones, and crazy hair reading cue cards which claim you can get anything through the scanners, as long as it’s at your side. The poorly-delivered commentary, peppered with “jokes”, says this is due to a design decision that in hindsight is pretty stupid: both the objects detected and the background are black, while the person is white. Which works well if the object is in front or behind the person, because it’s a black object on a white figure. But if the object is to the person’s side, it’s a black object on a black background.

Scan from a millimeter wave machine


To test this theory, the guy sewed a pocket on the side of his shirt, put a metallic box in it and tried it at two different airports: he made it through the scanner both times. The box was empty, but it could’ve been filled with all kinds of things banned from airplanes: razors, a lighter, explosives. In the video below, you can kinda see him going through: he left a camera on the entire time, but the camera went through the x-ray machine, so he’s out of sight for some time, then re-emerges with the box still in his pocket. There’s obvious potential for sleight of hand to fool the viewer into thinking the box went with him when it actually didn’t, but he’s strange to the point where he seems earnest. And if he did succeed, then the implications are staggering mediocre at best.

Firstly, this is the kind of thing that can be fixed with a simple software update of the machines: change the background color to pink — problem solved. In fact, due to complaints about the whole naked-picture aspect of the machine, their software is in the process of being upgraded so that it only shows cartoon figures instead of actual people; objects are then shown in yellow. That alone should fix the issue, but even if it doesn’t, the TSA agent would just have to take side shots in addition to the front and back ones.


The newer scans from the millimeter wave machine


Still, the machines have been used for a couple of years now, and the TSA didn’t detect this major flaw in its procedures. Technology can always be improved, and in time the naked body scanners will work perfectly; but a poorly managed agency that draws the ire of tens of millions of people will not be fixed by better toys. This isn’t the first time the TSA wasted billions of dollars on technology that does little more than put on a front designed to lull the public into a false sense of security. In fact, the agency is such a momentous failure and gigantic source of frustration that Congress wants it overhauled, the Representative responsible for its creation wants it gone, so does presidential candidate Ron Paul, and on the White House website’s petition system, the petition to abolish the TSA was the third most popular one — legalizing marijuana was first, of course. The TSA responded to the petition saying the gate rape is for our own good and if we want it to stop, all we have to do is stop hijacking planes.


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From TSA Out Of Our Pants, via Slashdot

Ron Paul Is Raising Cash To Abolish The TSA

The latest of Ron Paul’s moneybombs has a goal of raising 250k$ as a rally to end the TSA — in the unlikely event that Ron is elected. This comes on the heels of Ron Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul being detained by the TSA on January 23rd. (Rand is short for Randal and used to go by Randy — he is strangely not named after the libertarian queen, Ayn Rand.) The naked body scanners at the airports, which are notoriously unreliable, picked up an anomaly in his leg, so the TSA wanted to do a pat-down. Rand refused and offered to go through the scanner again, but the TSA wouldn’t have any of that. Eventually, they let him go through security again, but not until he missed his flight.


Ron Paul introduced legislation in Congress in 2010 that would remove immunity for federal employees (like the TSA’s) from actions that regular people can’t take — actions like groping and taking pictures with x-ray glasses. He reintroduced the bill in the current Congress.

Ending the TSA is nothing new, either: thanks to the well-documented theatrics of airport security, a petition to abolish the TSA was the fourth most popular petition on the White House’s website; the head the TSA answered the petition and said he thinks his job matters. The Congressman who created the TSA though, disagrees; as do Congressional Republicans, who called for an overhaul of the mammoth failure of an agency.

If you want to donate to the End The TSA Moneybomb, you can do so at Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign website.

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From Ron Paul, via USA Today

The TSA Finally Detected Explosives

On the last day of 2011, after never stopping a single terrorist in its decade-long existence, after waving through security the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Mythbusters guy carrying footlong razor blades, someone with a stun gun, and a whopping 60% of explosives during a security test, the TSA finally got a win: it stopped a guy with explosives.

What the TSA sees in an X-ray machine


And how did they catch him? Not with naked body scanners or pat downs, but with the regular X-ray machine: something in his baggage looked suspicious and it turned out to be military-grade explosives. Now, there may be a wrinkle in the fact that the guy is a member of the military, and he was returning from Christmas vacation with his family in west Texas to his military base in North Carolina. So the whole thing could be nothing. But in any case, the fact that they even found the explosives is a huge milestone for the TSA. Like a really old person figuring out how to work a webcam. Good on you, TSA!

From AP