TSA / Homeland Security

13 Apr

Nobody is supposed to touch me where my bathing suit covers

in Law Enforcement, Terrorism, TSA / Homeland Security, WTF?!

Except the TSA?  Enough.  Enough!!!

TSA Frisks 6 Year Old.

You can watch the parents (the ones who posted the video) speak out here along with the token apologist “journalist”.

05 Jan

us immigration policy undone by teenage girls

in Immigration, TSA / Homeland Security

At $4 million per mile, who could ever imagine that the technological marvel that is a mid-sized fence could be so easily overcome?  Those brown folks must be breeding some super-cyborg schoolgirls to steal our jobs!

2 girls undermine entire US border strategy in under 18 seconds
30 Nov

Chicken or fish? Airline caterers exempt from TSA screening

in Corporatism, TSA / Homeland Security
please don't touch me sir

Image by otherthings via Flickr

It is said that given a sufficient timeline, even a blindfolded monkey could eventually crank out the complete works of William Shakespeare.  So while I find the mainstream media's latest obsession with TSA overreach nothing more than crass opportunism in exploiting a momentary twitter peak, I have been enjoying the catharsis of finally seeing air- and ink-time devoted to exposing this dark stain on our national identity.

In the wake of 9-11, we not only ceded airport authority to agents lacking any substantial training in either law-enforcement or civil liberties, but did so in such a manner as to effectively exempt then from oversight under the constitution-busting guise of 'national security.'  Anyone surprised by abuses, or the banality of evil "just following orders" vein of defense, should seriously consider a career in public relations.  Yet among the various accounts of those urine-stained, lead-vulvad and child molested victims of this behemoth, scant attention has been paid to the more telling question of who remains exempt from these invasions.

The Washington Post ran an article last week that broached this issue in terms of governmental officials (who must travel with their own security detail), soldiers (who may bring AK-47s on board but not nail clippers) and pilots (who must surrender the same butter knives issued during in-flight meals).  All of this we tolerate in the name of the ongoing farce that is airline travel.  But when it comes to airside caterers, we say, "let them pass, good sirs!"  Yes, the employees responsible for feeding us our stale bread and pretzel bags are required only to swipe their Port Authority ID through an unmanned turnstile to gain access to secured areas.  According to Salon's Patrick Smith:

Actually, this is something I wrote about, to no measurable reception, in a column over five years ago.  Little has changed since then. With all of the recent talk about airport security, this ought to be a bombshell of a story. Every media outfit in the country should be covering it. It undermines almost everything TSA has told us from the beginning about the "need" to screen pilots and flight attendants, and if there is a more ringing "let me get this straight ..." scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.

Since the TSA is clearly aware of the loophole, it is difficult to see this as anything other than the same selective myopia that lead to a crackdown on airport security while virtually ignoring the far more pervasive threat to our nation's maritime ports.  In that case it was the lobbying efforts of Walmart in using its economic influence to subvert efforts towards tighter port security insofar as “security requirements should not become a barrier to trade.”  Yet given the wasteful spending lavished upon aviation security, it is difficult to reconcile our unwillingness to subject multinationals to the same treatment demanded by the TSA.

Chomsky once noted that a democracy is a state whose central institutions are under popular control, whereas under capitalism, those institutions are under autocratic control.  When Bob's Catering Conglomerate can move freely about while I have to choose between a radiation bath or public hand-job, I have to ask which one we really are?

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20 Aug

More shenanigans from the TSA’s Keystone Screeners

in TSA / Homeland Security
TSA employee sleeping at Reagan National Airpo...

Image via Wikipedia

After September 1st, the TSA issued a new directive that airport screening must be related to airport security alone.  Meh:

That same screener started emptying her wallet. "He was taking out the receipts and looking at them," she said.

"I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl's or Wal-Mart," she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week.

She says she asked what he was looking for and he replied, "Razor blades." She wondered, "Wouldn't that have shown up on the metal detector?"

In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000. … She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. "That's my money," she remembers saying. The officer's reply? "It's not your money."

As the full article points out, there are laws against such fishing expeditions (not to mention that pesky little fourth Amendment thingee), so Why exactly do we let the TSA issue such ‘directives’ – as though they could pick and choose which constitutional tenets to obey?

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16 Jun

Bin Laden's Dirty Underwear and Civilian-Based Defense

in Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, Nonviolence, Surveillance Society, Terrorism, TSA / Homeland Security
From the photograher, Dean Shaddock: This was ...

Image via Wikipedia

When you fly trans-Atlantic as frequently as I do, the trips tend to blur into one another.  One constant, however, is the frenetic and arbitrary suspicion I encounter at the U.S. entry points.  Be it drug-sniffing dogs, the Egyptian stamps in my passport, or the general contemptuous stares from under-trained TSA yahoos, there may as well be a sign above the jet bridge reading “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  Add the TSA’s plan to capture and track your airport movements through your personal gadgets, an air marshal program that costs approximately $200 million per arrest (the marshals themselves have been arrested with far higher frequency), the constant pillaging of our first, fourth and fifth amendment rights, and our $30 billion annual losses of public and private funds (countless billions more in its assault on the tourism industry), and you’ve got a boondoggle of paranoia combined with egregious corporate cronyism to produce a system whose expense is exceeded only by its utter uselessness.

Festering underneath all of this is the industries’ dirty little secret – that for all reforms elsewhere in law enforcement and intelligence, airport security is running the exact same playbook that failed so miserably to prevent 9/11.  You can put as many badges and blue uniforms you want on them, but the TSA are nothing more than the same old cast of players, spasmodically trying to dazzle us with their shiny new (yet demonstrably ineffective) props while phoning-in dialogue from the same, tired script.  This kind of expensive theater may have been appropriate in the weeks and months following 9/11, but it’s time we grow up.  The bottom-line is that none of this Madison-Avenue bravado is helping to capture actual terrorists - nay, of the 29,000 or so arrests from the DHS, nearly all were for unrelated charges such as counterfeiting, narcotics, and child pornography.  Of the average 50 or so of those arrested annually on “terrorist-related” activities (based on incredibly broad metrics) culminating in convictions, nearly all have resulted from investigations operating well outside airport jurisdictions.

Considering that 9/11 was an aircraft-centric attack (and planes always make attractive targets), our disproportional obsession with airport security (at the expense of more potentially catastrophic targets such as shipping ports, network infrastructures, etc.) had a certain short-term logic.  Yet as seductive as this may have been, the time has come to recognize that in the near decade since 9/11, not a single one of these airport security programs has withstood an independent investigation of its efficacy.  Rather, on the occasion that an actual terrorist – say, the shoe or underwear bomber – managed to pull off an attempt, what prevented casualties was not the billions we spend in anticipating absurdly-specific attack scenarios, it was not the endless hours of theater spent removing shoes, and it certainly was not the confiscation of a four-year olds play-do or the destruction of an old man’s rectal seton.  No, in each case it was not the TSA but us - fellow passengers who understand that sometimes our safety is in our own hands.

In the ad-hoc sense, this is the perfect example of civilian-based defense (open-source security in the modern vernacular) and I would not be the first to point out that this is generally a good thing.  After all, surrendering your security to a third party not only breeds complacency but dismantles our most effective means of front-line defense.  I believe moreover that this kind of self-determination fosters a more committed civic engagement while providing substantial returns on effectiveness.  Yet I would level the same criticism at civilian-based defense that I would at our “professional”  systems – namely that security must be carefully balanced with a clear definition of precisely what it is we are securing.  If we want to secure the safety of our physical bodies, whatever the costs, then marshal law is probably our best option.  If, however, we want to secure our right to life – that is, our right to preserve and freely participate in our socio-cultural system of choice – then we must be certain that our means do not dismantle our ends and become a causal factor in the very problem they purport to address.

Case in point is the FBI’s sudden realization that, thanks to programs like New York City’s ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign, all terrorists need to do is leave a harmless bag of underwear lying around in order to cause mass panic, disrupt commerce and distract law enforcement.  Ordinarily I would file this under the ‘no duh’ folder and move along.  But the fact that the chief federal law-enforcement agency of the United States has just figured this out – and that the media outlets find it newsworthy – demonstrates that after nearly ten years, most people still have little to no clue – no clue about who terrorists are, no clue why they hate us, and no clue how to fight back.

Authoritarian conceptions of security diminish our ability to protect ourselves.  At their core, ‘See something, Say something’ programs and their ilk are not only the worst possible perversion of civilian-based defense, but as evidenced by the panic they reap, are actually themselves a form of insecurity.  Even putting aside the fact that such campaigns have never once (repeat: not once) resulted in a terrorism-related arrest, the entire concept reeks of the same self-aggrandizement inherent to all forms of domestic counter-terrorism since 9/11 – that terrorism is somehow akin to conventional warfare and therefore remains the domain of government.  It is a nod to the fact that only an engaged citizenry can defend against a diffuse and nebulous network of attackers yet a simultaneous refusal to cede central authority in the solution.  It infantilizes people by providing the  illusion of open-source security without any of the concurrent tools and empowerment.  Worse, they come with the implicit admonishment that we should all remember our place in this conflict and leave security to the professionals.

Why must it be this way? Perhaps there is some plausibility to the assumption that the government has failed to focus on the only demonstrably effective avenue of security because they simply have no expertise or awareness of civilian-based defense.  Suspending our disbelief for the time being, this would indicate such a tremendous oversight that we must seriously question the leadership in the DHS.  No, the more logical, albeit tremendously more cynical, explanation is that the continued focus on centralization is tied into the governments twin obsessions over ownership and indispensability.

With regards to the latter, the government is more than aware that it is running out of things to justify its present incarnation.  After decades of ceding political authority to international corporations and simultaneously eroding its own regulatory powers, security is virtually all it has left.  As we the people have defined the job, this is the state’s primary responsibility – to ask the people for help would be akin to an admission that they are not up to the task.  There is no such thing here as ‘change we can believe in’ – as in the final days of the Soviet Union, security-related expenses account for more than half of the national budget.  While this fact may be part of a far larger discussion that needs to take place, for the time being the government will continue to claim a monopoly over the means and direction of security.

Of course, the state is likely also aware that this need not be a zero-sum issue.  After all, an effective civilian-based defense requires coordination, training, study, planning, instititutionalization – all the things that government is really good at.  Yet while centralized bureaucracy may pursue such indispensability, it will find it nearly impossible to maintain ownership.  When those who wish us harm are unified only by ideology, security is affirmed only by articulating a counter-ideology; an explicit yet fluid vision of the world we would like to see and a set of principles by which this will be actualized.  And therein lies the contradiction of ownership – when real people are asked to provide for their own security, we are going to demand returns – we will not be content to view this as a permanent state of warfare, but rather insist on a proactive and sincere analysis of the underlying causes.  And this will seriously undermine the case for the corporatist, neo-liberal planet upon which those who control government now depend.

25 Jun

Fixing Airport Security

in Civil Rights, Police Abusing Power, Security Studies, Terrorism, TSA / Homeland Security

Nobody knows more about airport security that Bruce Schneier, and his work on subverting the TSA formed one of the central arguments of my doctoral thesis.  Bruce has a new essay up that is worth checking out – if for no other reason than the importance of keeping this issue alive:

book-sos-175wThe Constitution provides us, both Americans and visitors to America, with strong protections against invasive police searches. Two exceptions come into play at airport security checkpoints. The first is "implied consent," which means  that you cannot refuse to be searched; your consent is implied when you purchased your ticket. And the second is "plain view," which means that if the TSA officer happens to see something unrelated to airport security while screening you, he is allowed to act on that.

Both of these principles are well established and make sense, but it's their combination that turns airport security checkpoints into police-state-like checkpoints.

The TSA should limit its searches to bombs and weapons and leave general policing to the police - where we know courts and the Constitution still apply.

17 Sep

Homeland Security to open domestic spying office

in Civil Rights, Surveillance Society, TSA / Homeland Security

Without any congressional input, the executive branch has begun structuring a department to conduct domestic surveillance spying.  With a moniker that would make Orwell blush, the National Applications Office will have virtually unfettered access to classified intelligence data, including the ability to access inch-level spy-vs-you satellite detail to observe the citizens of the United States.  Snipped from their own website (emphasis added):

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) is the executive agent to facilitate the use of intelligence community technological assets for civil, homeland security and law enforcement purposes within the United States.  The office will begin initial operation by fall 2007 and will build on the long-standing work of the Civil Applications Committee, which was created in 1974 to facilitate the use of the capabilities of the intelligence community for civil, non-defense uses in the United States.

Despite opposition from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee that the program violates the Posse Comitatus Act, the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence & Analysis continued to assert that legal and civil rights oversight concerns were misplaced.  And rightly so, I mean honestly, who wouldn't trust such a forthright bunch?  Are these tactics part of the instruction they get when getting a homeland security degree?  Seriously ...

The committee has issued a request to Cherthoff to suspend the program until such time that congress can discuss it.  Though, since this project comes directly from executive loins, I don't see Cherthoff taking any action to intervene.

Hat tip to Granny Doc - I don't know how the hell the rest of us haven't heard about this yet!