David Kirkpatrick

July 26, 2008

The TSA is a joke

The boondoggle of a national agency that is the Transportation Security Agency, a part of that larger waste of government funds, the Department of Homeland Security, is proving to be quite inept at doing anything but waste the time of, and harass, US travelers.

Now don’t get me wrong, changes needed to be made after 9/11, but there was no reason not to work within the existing framework and effect a solution.

The concept of “homeland security” all sitting under one roof, so to speak, and working hand-in-hand sounded great, but like most bureaucracies, in practice it’s incompetent and a colossal waste of taxpayers money. If this agency had been created under a Democratic administration the GOP would be howling. Since it appeared under the pen and auspices of the Bush 43 regime, GOPers are silent and this is one more reason honest conservatives are ready to bust the party up for its own good.

I’ve blogged about problems with the TSA and Homeland Security (notably here and here) thanks to the careful attention the good people at the Cato Institute pay to this issue.

And then I find this story:

Last spring, shortly after airing a news report that embarrassed the TSAand the Federal Air Marshal Service, CNN’s investigative reporter Drew Griffin was suddenly placed on the TSA’s terrorist watch list. Last week, CNN ran a follow-up piece. Anderson Cooper interviewed Griffin — a reporter who had suddenly moved from telling an important story to being part of it.

The day after the Cooper-Griffin exchange, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas) formally called for a probe into the TSA’s seemingly vengeful act. Jackson Lee asked DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff the following:

“My question is why would Drew Griffin’s name come on the watch list, post-his investigation of TSA?” Jackson Lee said.

“What is the basis of this sudden recognition that Drew Griffin is a terrorist? Are we targeting people because of their critique or criticism?”

Chertoff hedged, saying it was not his “understanding the reporter was put on [the list]” but that Griffin may share a name with someone put on the list.

Which is almost impossible to believe. Unless you are willing to accept that someone else coincidentally named Drew Griffin was discovered to be a terrorist almost seven years after 9/11 but within a week or two of CNN’s March 2008 air date.

To anyone who isn’t trying to finger-plug the sieve in the aviation security wall called TSA, the answer to Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee’s question is quite clearly “yes.” The TSA does target people who critique or criticize the TSA.

And this is what Griffin worked on to cause his “problem” with the TSA. A story covering Jeffrey Denning, a former Dallas SWAT team member and former Federal Air Marshal who detained a man legitimately on the terrorist list and after trying to get higher-ups in the Homeland Security chain to come and process the potential terrorist found the end result very discouraging:

Surely, now that alarm bells have been sounded inside the uppermost echelons of six U.S. federal agencies — DHS, TSA, FAMS, ICE, JTTF, FBI — and with a match hit on a terrorist watch list, Anwar Al-XXXXX would be under intense scrutiny and taken in for further questioning. At least in theory he would be.

Unfortunately, that proved to be only theory.

Denning explained what happened next: “They [i.e., DHS/JTTF and the airport police] couldn’t get an ICE agent to the scene so I was asked to examine [Al-XXXXX’s] travel documents. This struck me as odd because I have no training in examining travel documents. None of the Federal Air Marshals have received training that I’m aware of. Finally word came back from the MOC [Mission Operations Control]. They said, ‘we’ve been waiting on the FBI. We can’t get them to verify. Let him go.’”

Denning followed orders.

Watching Anwar Al-XXXXX pick up his bag and disappear into the throngs of travelers at Reagan National Airport, Denning told me that he thought to himself, “I seriously hope this guy doesn’t show up on the evening news.”

Anwar Al-XXXXX did not show up on the evening news. But Jeffrey Denning did. Last week, CNN aired a three-part piece in print, on TV, and on its blog that focuses on Denning’s witch-hunt-like plight.

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