Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Transportation Security

A little story in the Indianapolis Star this week:
Screeners from the Transportation Security Administration checked passengers at two Downtown city bus stops this morning, looking for weapons and suspicious behavior.

David Kane, federal security director for TSA in Indianapolis, called it a "VIPR" operation.

"It's called Visual Intermodal Prevention Response. We have plainclothes inspectors, blue-gloved uniformed security officers who are checking baggage, the behavior detection officers, and federal air marshals, which are the law enforcement arm of TSA."

Security stations were set up at bus stops at Capitol Avenue and Market Street, and Ohio and Meridian streets.

Some passengers were patted down or submitted to having bags checked.

TSA said the searches were "by-permission," meaning patrons could decline to be checked. Those who did would not be turned away, an official said, unless they otherwise appeared to be a security threat. TSA checks IndyGo bus passengers

The Transportation Security Administration is searching people getting on the bus. Does that set off any kind of alarm for you? It appears that the word "Transportation" in their name now really means any transportation. How soon will they start randomly searching Metro riders? Do you suppose they have the power to search you in your car? Where does this end?

My son and I had some experiences flying last week, and I'll tell you, these guys are something else.

Going into the terminal at National, my kid put his cell phone in the tray with his change and other things. We walked through the metal detector and waited for our stuff to go through the x-ray machine. As it came out, I don't know what happened, but the phone fell out of the tray and bounced on the floor. He picked it up and said to the x-ray operator, "You just knocked my phone on the floor."

The guy barely glanced up. He said, "I didn't see anything." That was that. The phone now does not turn off when you close it; it's busted. Later on our trip we got a complaint form. The TSA guy who gave it to us said it takes three to six months for them to decide how to respond. We'll send it in, just to see. What do you think they'll do? I don't either.

In Houston, we had a four-hour layover, and I called home. I stood off to the side, with my back to the room, talking with my wife on the cell phone. We were already in the secure area, you don't have to go through security when you change planes. Pretty soon I noticed that there were TSA uniforms all around me. I wondered if I looked suspicious talking on the phone, and then realized that it was the most unsuspicious thing in the world, a guy talking on the phone in an airport.

So about six of them came and set up a little table next to the agents' desk, while the passengers lined up to board. Then, this was unbelievable. A TSA guy would walk over to the front of the line and look at some people, then he'd point to somebody and they'd have to go over to the table to be searched, and TSA would go through his stuff. After a while they'd get another person, just whoever happened to be standing near the front. Never anybody from the back of the line, or even the middle, just the most obvious people in the front. By "obvious," I don't mean obviously terrorists, I mean like somebody who'd make eye contact with them.

One guy who had been searched came back and stood near the desk. He called to his wife, "I already went through that, I'm getting in the front. Come on up here with me." So the TSA guy got her out of line and took her over to be searched, too, as punishment for being married to a guy who sort-of-almost-kind-of complained about being hassled for no reason

This is the least effective security strategy you could imagine.

In Phoenix, I didn't see this, but somebody mentioned it right after it happened -- "Did you see that?" As we walked past the stash of seized items, two TSA guys were picking through the confiscated booze bottles, talking about what they were going to bring home.

This was also in Phoenix, there was a long line to get through security. We waited a long time, shoes in hand, ID and boarding pass ready. And then right when I got to the conveyer belt, this guy in a TSA uniform walked right up to the front of the line, right in front of me, grabbed a tray, and threw his stuff on the belt in front of mine. I said, "Hey, what's that about?"

He looked at me, sort of surprised-looking, and said, "If you don't like it, I'll go somewhere else." Then he went to the front of the line next to mine and did the same thing. Nobody said anything over there, and he just went through.

Remember, I wrote last year about the TSA feeding potential pie-bombs to soldiers at the airport. It was Thanksgiving week and they were taking pies away from people and giving them to the soldiers.

The question was: if they know they're safe enough for soldiers to eat, why do they take them away in the first place?

And don't forget a couple of weeks ago when TSA was warning us that they had broken up some terrorists' dry runs. Remember that? They were practicing smuggling parts of bombs onto airplanes, so they could assemble the bombs in flight. It was a lie. Watch that CNN video. Man, that is one scary little old lady, isn't it?

Security and liberty are known to step on one another's toes at times. And when you give someone power over other people, it is not unusual for them to take more. I think Phil Zimbardo has a best-seller out about that right now, doesn't he?

Oh hey, one of the most interesting things on the blogonet this week has been security expert Bruce Schneier's five-part interview with TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. It is a mostly candid interview, where Schneier comes at him with both barrels. Some of the answers are deceptive and/or deflective and some are of the "I can't tell you that" variety, but Hawley explains a few of the things they're doing, and hints that there are things we don't know about. Anyway, don't take my word for it, go read it yourself, all five parts together HERE.

I don't think Schneier knew that they have started searching people on buses, he didn't ask anything about that.


Blogger Tish said...

About that pie thing ... Everyone who plans to travel on Thanksgiving should buy or bake a pie and take it along to the airport, knowing that TSA will distribute the pies to needy service persons. What will TSA do when it finds itself administering an extremely large holiday give-away program to benefit soldiers on leave?

Long ago during the reign of the elder Bush, I was writing to soldiers deployed in Operation Desert Shield. I was in the quartermaster office of a VSO and the directors of my company gave me bunches of stuff to send to the soldiers to whom I was writing - mostly review copies of books that had been provided to them, but there was some other swag too. Being all veterans themselves, they had a pretty good idea of what kind of surprise packages the soldiers liked to get. (Boredom was a big issue for the Desert Shield troops.) When Hussein ignored Bush's deadline and Desert Shield became Desert Storm, all package deliveries stopped and packages that were en route were returned. If only the TSA had been there for me then!

August 07, 2007 12:42 PM  
Anonymous joltin' joe said...

"How soon will they start randomly searching Metro riders? Do you suppose they have the power to search you in your car? Where does this end?"

There's a war going on. The enemy has repeatedly signaled their intention to strike on American soil. We learned on Sept 11, we can't afford to laugh off such threats. Thus far, the administration has prevented attacks like the ones that have hit our allies.

Give'em credit.

August 07, 2007 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're at war all right, the wrong war. I'll give 'em credit for this:

How bin Laden got away: A day-by-day account of how Osama bin Laden eluded the world's most powerful military machine.

August 07, 2007 5:30 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

According to Fred Phelps, God is America's terrorist. When will the TSA begin looking for God in the bus station?

August 07, 2007 6:06 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

joltin' joe writes,

There's a war going on. The enemy has repeatedly signaled their intention to strike on American soil. We learned on Sept 11, we can't afford to laugh off such threats. Thus far, the administration has prevented attacks like the ones that have hit our allies.

Yes, there is a war going on and we still have not understood one very basic principle: it is not the object that is dangerous, rather it is the intention of the possessor of that object that is the danger. I carry a Micra Leatherman on my key chain; it has an inch and half knife among the 8 compact tool implements. If I forget to place it in my checked luggage, I can consider lost at the TSA "security" checkpoint.

What now passes for "security" is showcasing with special consideration given to not offending the religious sensibilities of a few.

Give'em credit.

When we get hit again, will we all be eligible for a 9/11 airline security tax refund? I did not think so...

August 08, 2007 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh we will be hit again somewhere somehow. It's just a matter of time until some religious nuts on a jihad kick find another weak spot in our defenses. Quite a few weak spots apparently remain even after all this time and money spent on Homeland Security. Bush just hopes it won't happen until after Hilary's inauguration.

August 08, 2007 8:09 AM  

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