David Kirkpatrick

November 24, 2010

Holiday air travel food for thought

Not only is the TSA a ridiculous bureaucratic mess that isn’t making anyone any safer at airports or in the skies, plus it’s now turned into an organization demanding organized “legal” molestation. It’s also very possibly damaging your health if you want to avoid the unwanted groping.

From the link:

As millions of U.S. travelers get ready for the busiest flying day of the year, scientists still can’t agree over whether the dose of radiation delivered by so-called backscatter machines is significantly higher than the government says. This is despite months of public debate between the White House, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and independent scientists.

Full-body scanners have been installed at many U.S. airports. The machines use either low-energy, millimeter wavelength radiation, which is harmless, or X-rays, which can potentially be hazardous. X-rays can ionize atoms or molecules, which can lead to cancerous changes in cells. Even if the government has significantly underestimated the dose of radiation delivered by an X-ray scanner, it is likely to be relatively small.

And more:

In April, four scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a public letter to the White House warning that the government may have underestimated the dosage of ionizing radiation delivered to a person’s skin from a backscatter machine by one or two orders of magnitude. The scientists, who have expertise in biochemistry, biophysics, oncology, and X-ray crystallography, pointed out that the government’s estimate was based on radiation exposure for the entire body. During scanning, the majority of radiation will be focused on the surface of the body, meaning a more concentrated dose of radiation is delivered to the skin.

January 14, 2010

Transportation Security Administration — protecting with perverts

Filed under: et.al., Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:40 pm

Or so it seems from a recent TSA job posting with this tagline —

‘A Career Where X-Ray Vision And Federal Benefits Come Standard’

From the link:

That’s the slogan the Transportation Security Administration is apparently using to entice people to apply for jobs as airport screeners. Now that they’re preparing to expand the use of whole body imaging scanners, which can produce moderately detailed nude images of travelers, maybe they should consider a tagline that doesn’t sound like it’s designed to recruit voyeurs.

Hit the link for a screenshot of the actual ad. And just to be clear, I’m using the word “protecting” very, very loosely in the header.

December 29, 2009

Out of this list of security predictions for 2010 …

… from PC World, here’s three I’d like to see come to pass:

* The FBI issues tens of thousands of security letters to get records on individuals without warrants. Congress investigates and is appalled at the FBI’s “underreporting”. The FBI promises to do better (see 2009, and 2008 and 2007….). The 4th amendment continues to erode into meaninglessness.

* Real ID dies a deserved death and is abandoned in 2010. The brain dead idea of better-security-via-universal-ID unfortunately persists despite the enormous number of identity theft victims created by over-reliance on SSN.

* The Transportation Security Administration stops wasting billions of dollars in traveller delays by confiscating water bottles and removing shoes. Instead it focuses on real threats based on rational risk assessment, not security theater based on movie-plots (hat-tip Bruce Schneier). OK, unlikely, but I can dream, can’t I?

(Obviously that last one went out the window with the terrorism attempt over Christmas.)

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.