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TSA security theater
August 20, 2008 12:03 AM   Subscribe

Two commercial pilots find themselves on the no-fly list. One pilot sues after having his flight privileges revoked, while the second pilot (and a five-year old sharing his name) note they can bypass the watchlist by checking in using their initials instead of their full names. TSA has also found themselves in the news this week for disrupting 40 flights and damaging 9 planes during an overzealous security check.
posted by grippycat (74 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're the government... and remember, they're here to help.

Wasn't this one of the constant quips made by the conservative icon Ronnie Raygun?

Now these same "conservatives" want us to believe that the government who they do not trust to regulate Wall Street, they do not trust to run schools, they do not trust to run healthcare, should now be to be trusted with far more complicated tasks while all the time being given greater control over the lives of ordinary Americans than ever before?

Isn't it ironic that it was "the conservatives" who nationalised airport security services and built the largest federal burearucracy since Johnson's Great Society.

And still they still bray about the "librul" boogeyman.
posted by three blind mice at 12:17 AM on August 20, 2008 [13 favorites]




Sorry about my poor writing ... I'm a product of government-run American public schools.
posted by three blind mice at 12:27 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm sick of reading about this shit. I want to do something.
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:49 AM on August 20, 2008 [9 favorites]


'That means he can't use an airport kiosk to check in; he can't do it online; he can't do it curbside. Instead, like thousands of Americans whose names match a name or alias used by a suspected terrorist on the list, he must go to the ticket counter and have an agent verify that he is James Robinson, the pilot, and not James Robinson, the terrorist.'
You don't even need to be on a watchlist for that. I can't do it, just because I need to take hypodermics on board for a medical reason. I'm afraid I struggle to see this particular issue as a big problem. Loads of people aren't lucky enough to be able to check in online, and it's a luxury to be able to do so, not a right.
posted by edd at 1:39 AM on August 20, 2008


Missing the point, edd. The whole point of the outrage is that the no-fly list is less than useless as a tool. Thus, security theatre.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:42 AM on August 20, 2008


I'm sick of reading about this shit. I want to do something.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:49 AM on August 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


What's the Homeland Security equivalent of "have a seat right over there"?
posted by knave at 1:43 AM on August 20, 2008


Not missing the point. I accept the (assumed) point of the post here, and the point of most of the links, but the article in that one particular case only mentions the circumventability of the list in one small section, and the vast majority of it is going on about how awkward it is for those particular people to not be able to use a ticket machine or check in online. Which I think is a rubbish point and people should be hearing more about the guy who is going to lose his job or the sort of business going on in homunculus's link, because complaining about having to talk to someone instead of just interacting with a machine is pretty weak. It's annoying, but it's not worth a CNN story, and I think it'll only turn people off the important stuff.
posted by edd at 1:49 AM on August 20, 2008


The sad truth is that a couple hundred people will probably have to die of criminally negligent homicide by the TSA, until something will get done.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


TSA seems to be operate as though they are answerable to NOBODY.

I'm American and have lived in Europe for about eleven years. I work in banking, and depending upon the job I'm doing at the time, there have been years when I'm in and out of the US for meetings as often as several times a month. Business Class flight to New York, Chicago or Washington, stick around for one, maybe two days, and then home.

But there have been times when I haven't set foot on US territory for years. Once I'd been out of the country for about three years, and flew to Chicago for a meeting. I was going to be in ChiTown for one meeting, then red eye it back to London (grueling, but it works as I'd rather be home).

So upon entry the Immigration Officer asked, while scanning my passport, how long I'd been out of the country. I sorta mumbled, trying to remember - I didn't recall they asked this question upon entry, I'd just taken a long flight from the UK and generally wasn't that alert as it was late for me, living on GMT and being used to waking at bankers hours (that's outta bed at 5AM folks).

He caught onto my confusion pretty quickly, asked me if I was ok then asked "What other countries have you visited before entering the US?"

Well, that did it. I travel constantly, both for business as well as holidays, and that year I'd been spending a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa. I explained that I travel a great deal, but he knew this as my passport had two extension booklets sewn into it; the damn thing was perhaps 1/2" thick and generally beaten to hell. I asked him how far back he wanted me to go but he did not appreciate the dialog. At all. In fact, I seemed to confuse him.

I'd accidentally handed him my health passport in addition to my US Citizenship document, and when he opened that he actually whistled giving a perfect impression of a yokel (as a country boy I can say that). I don't think he'd ever seen one before, as he carefully read - and commented - on almost every inoculation I'd gotten. He then asked "did you really need a Yellow Fever inoculation?"

Well, I'm a pretty easy going guy, never get too wound up about stuff, so I answered "Well, the cure was a bitch but from what I've heard the disease seems worse", trying to keep the mood light.

He gave a long, exasperated sigh like I swore at him or something and calls a colleague over. They both reviewed the visa stamps in my travel passport and, for some reason asked several times about a one year, multiple entry Nigerian visa. They kept asking how many trips I'd taken to Nigeria, and what I'd been doing while there. They asked several times about dates, contradicted each other when repeating what I'd just told them and gave me the distinct impression they were trying to confuse me and get me to contradict myself when I replied (in other words, they were trying to be slick but they weren't).

That year I had been in Togo as well, during the coup no less (which was a very interesting experience) and for some odd reason they not only KNEW ABOUT THE COUP - something that still surprises me to this day that someone at O'Hare would know about an African coup - but asked what I had been doing in the country, when I entered, left, how I traveled and where. This went on and one for several minutes.

With me standing there they went through my passport, and wrote down the various entry / exit stamps and Visas. I have no idea what they did with that inventory but I did notice they were using some kind of standardised form.

Finally, after conferring they directly asked me why I was spending so much time in Eastern Africa.

"Banking business" I told them.

Both nodded like that vague, almost BS answer precisely explained everything, chatted briefly on a telephone with some brain master and then waved me though.

They didn't take me into a room, however this entire exchange did take well over fifteen minutes, perhaps longer. At least twice they conferred privately.

Now I've been detained in the past for various reasons by Immigration in more than one African countries (they usually want money, which is why when I was working in Africa I always traveled with several thousand dollars in American $100 bills). Immigration Officers are all the same all over, and I know I was damn close to being asked to step aside for "a word" there in O'Hare.

Thing is - I know what to do in Africa and how to handle it. I'm not sure what those guys would have wanted and what I should have done.

The TSA really seems to be out of control at times.

So my approach: I'm staying outside the United States as much as possible. And I'm a caucasian, American born citizen.
posted by Mutant at 1:57 AM on August 20, 2008 [46 favorites]


Really, it is awesome that anyone on the no-fly list can give a slightly altered version of their name and get on a flight. Seriously, that rocks.

It is even cooler that the TSA and the airline industry are blaming each other for this mess.

And, best of all, with gas prices sky rocketing and flights being slashed, this is really an ideal time for people to get so worked up about how much of a pain in the ass that air travel has become that they stop flying.

We should have this global economy thing out of the U.S. in no time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:14 AM on August 20, 2008


I'm staying outside the United States as much as possible. And I'm a caucasian, American born citizen.

I hear that mutant. I often fly into New York and despite the seemingly rigorous control at the border, once you get on the other side it is apparent that they pretty much let everyone in.

Which is so stupid about all of this. The TSA puts on this pro forma, big song and dance at the airport - "look at us, we're doing our part to protect Amurica, we have government issued guns and shoulder patches daggummit, you been to Africa? come with us" - whilst other federal agencies allow hundreds of thousands of people to walk across the border unobserved, unmolested, undocumented, and uncontrolled.

How does this possibly make sense?

My feeling is that it would just be easier and cheaper to just end the charade at the airport.
posted by three blind mice at 2:40 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, it's interesting to note (*sigh, wish there was an edit button*) that the pilot who circumvents the security with a name change appears to be on a "watch" list; the grounded pilot is on the "no fly" list.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has an interesting list of resources gathered from FOIA requests:

The documents establish that the TSA administers two lists: a "no fly" list and a "selectee" list, which requires the passenger to go through additional security measures. The names are provided to air carriers through Security Directives or Emergency Amendments and are stored in their computer systems so that an individual with a name that matches the list can be flagged when getting a boarding pass. A "no fly" match requires the agent to call a law enforcement officer to detain and question the passenger. In the case of a Selectee, an "S" or special mark is printed on their boarding pass and the person receives additional screening at security

There are two primary principles that guide the placement on the lists, but these principles have been withheld.

The "no fly" list was obtained in 2006 by 60 minutes and the National Security News Service - and shown to be 540+ pages long, including 80 year olds, convicts, and 14 of the 19 September 11 highjackers.

There seem to be few clear guidelines for the use of these lists by airlines or guarantees of the reliability of the data from the TSA, and despite four years of promises to take over all pre-screening, they still want the airlines to take responsibility for vetting passengers against their lists:

"[TSA administrator Kip ]Hawley suggested that airlines are avoiding improvements to their own systems, knowing that TSA will soon assume the responsibility...he sharply criticized airlines for telling some passengers that they are subject to extra security because they are on a TSA watch list."
posted by grippycat at 2:51 AM on August 20, 2008


Helping people? Liberal waste of your tax dollars.

Authoritarian Wank Material for Freepers? Good government.
posted by maxwelton at 3:45 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


homuniculus, that link was horrify, but sadly not surprising.

The TSA is a joke. All of these so-called homeland security measures are merely designed to frighten the populace so they think that the restrictions on our rights are justifiable. Just like the "threat alert" levels.

And people believe the hype. My boss told me a couple of weeks ago that he believes we are safer because of the Iraq war, because it "drained the swamp" of terrorism in the middle east.

I had to tell him to leave my office, I was so horrified, and I couldn't come up with words to respond.
posted by miss tea at 4:14 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


The story that homunculus linked to reinforces my belief that HSA has created a new, more secure and powerful career path for the thugs and sociopaths in our country. I'm sure they (both HSA and the thugs) are happy about that. The rest of us should be very unhappy about it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:02 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


And people believe the hype.

Yep. I was surprised by the stepped-up rhetoric of the Bush administration towards Russia.

But then it suddenly hit me: An international crisis might be a significant advantage to the candidate who is perceived as being tougher (with the terrrists), more experienced, and generally more American.

Hence, I predict a major international crisis prior to the elections, to the verge of an armed conflict with Russia and/or Iran. Probably Russia, because it would be easy to relay to Putin that this is all talk and that the US not really looking for a confrontation with Russia.
Meanwhile, the McCain strategy will focus on precisely this, i.e. casting Obama as inexperienced, not tough enough and vaguely un-American. Look out for sound snippets on CNN and FOX discussing which president would be better prepared to handle the crisis and generally creating an atmosphere implying that McCain does have a real chance (even though he is trailing in the polls). Look out for McCain's "crush'em if we must" rhetoric during the debates, whereas Obama's more balanced and thoughtful approach (which got him this far) will earn him no points.

With the help of this (and Diebold), McCain will be elected and personally defuse the international crisis within 8 weeks of being sworn into office.
posted by sour cream at 5:03 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]



With the help of this (and Diebold), McCain will be elected and personally defuse the international crisis within 8 weeks of being sworn into office.


McCain has a private plane the wifey bought him, and since he doesn't even know how to use a computer I sincerely doubt he's questioned the rigors of online check-in. If he's even heard of the TSA I'll shit a brick.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:21 AM on August 20, 2008


Wow, I wonder if that overzealous security check was responsible for my flight delay yesterday. I flew American Eagle from ORD to DAL, but the 7:00 am flight was delayed and shifted to a different gate, even though there was a plane clearly parked at the initial gate.

In addition, we had an aborted take-off due to a go-around by some other aircraft in the area. That was interesting. About 10 seconds into the take-off roll, pilot just killed the engines, hit the brakes, and pulled off at the next taxi-way, then went back to the end of the runway and took off for real.
posted by hwestiii at 5:26 AM on August 20, 2008


Now these same "conservatives" want us to believe that the government who they do not trust to regulate Wall Street, they do not trust to run schools, they do not trust to run healthcare, should now be to be trusted with far more complicated tasks while all the time being given greater control over the lives of ordinary Americans than ever before?

Of course not. All that work should be handed off to private contractors, haven't you been paying attention? There are more private contractors in Iraq then soldiers now, for example. Private security contractors have been doing everything from protecting the state department to interrogating prisoners.

Of course, everyone knows the TSA is all about security theater and giving the government the opportunity to get right in people's faces and act all totalitarian (secret lists, arbitrary, random rules). It doesn't actually keep anyone safe, so of course that job can be handled by the government
posted by delmoi at 5:34 AM on August 20, 2008


Crossing the borders by land makes you a suspect as well:

The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:44 AM on August 20, 2008


Wow, I wonder if that overzealous security check was responsible for my flight delay yesterday. I flew American Eagle from ORD to DAL, but the 7:00 am flight was delayed and shifted to a different gate, even though there was a plane clearly parked at the initial gate.

(Geek mode on. BZAP!)

Probably not -- probably just a mechanical. But possible. Also possible that the plane was there but the crew wasn't, and the crew they had wasn't certified on the plane that was there, since AE has both the CRJ-700 and the ERJ-130/140/145. Between the East Coast Bad Weather problem, and the tropical storm in Florida, there were a lot of very late arrivals. Also possible -- your crew came in late enough that they weren't legal to fly. They moved to a plane that could depart now legally, and moved that flight (a later departure) to your plane. It's easier to move you between gates than it is to move the planes.

(Dude. ORD-DFW goes on real planes, not lawn darts. If you really want to fly to DAL, suck it up, fly WN, and fly out of MDW.)

In addition, we had an aborted take-off due to a go-around by some other aircraft in the area. That was interesting. About 10 seconds into the take-off roll, pilot just killed the engines, hit the brakes, and pulled off at the next taxi-way, then went back to the end of the runway and took off for real.

Most likely, the scenario was that you were cleared for takeoff, started moving, and the pilot flying noticed something -- quite possibly, the plane that landed ahead of you hadn't made it off the runway. The pilot not flying hasn't called V1, so the pilot flying is primed for "Stop". The abort is called, they brake, and find you're lucky -- no temp warnings, no engine warnings. So, for you, you go back around on the taxiway and try again. If you did overheat the brakes, you'd have to let them cool. If you really overheat them, you go get another plane.

Meanwhile, it takes longer to pretend to take off and stop than it does to take off. This means the guy landing behind you was expecting to see you gone, but you weren't. He did the right thing on a fouled runway -- fly the missed approach. You never fly a full published missed approach at ORD -- you start to fly the path, but the the TRACON will vector you around back into the landing pattern. How quickly they do this depends on how busy ORD is, how much fuel you have, and if it wasn't your fault, they'll try a little harder to get you in quickly.

Possibility #2. You were cleared to take off, but an aircraft landing on a crossing runway had to go around, and the tower or the pilot flying saw the airspace closing. In this case, you may not have had the plane behind you trying to land.

Possibility #3. A serious error. A plane was trying to land on the same runway that you were taking off from. The landing plane saw you there, and went around. The tower warned your pilot, and yanked the takeoff clearance. If this is the case, there will be paperwork. So far, nothing in the incidents database, but I doubt it would have made it that far. But check the papers, if it was a real near-miss, it'll probably be there.

ORD is busy enough that missed approaches are common. All you need is someone not getting off the runway quickly, and somebody else goes around. ORD tower controllers have been know to tell pilots to "position and hold, run 'em up, expect expedited clearance" to planes about to depart, to let them know that when they get the clearance, they need them gone as fast as possible. Worst is Transpac departures off of 30L, which will cross both the E/W runways. Worse, these are big planes, near MTOW, they're not fast. Getting the holes in the arrival pattern to accommodate them is a real pain.

ORD will become much better in November, where the new runway (9L/27R) opens, and the extension to 10/28 opens. This means three parallel arrival streams, and long haul departures will use 10/28, not 30L/14R.
posted by eriko at 6:12 AM on August 20, 2008 [9 favorites]


It really beg's the question. If this TSA employee is so incompetent and so ignorant to not be able to tell the difference between a ladder and a pitot air tube, what the hell is he doing inspecting aircraft for anything?

If some brown muslim had done this, he'd be in jail now for trying to sabotage the aircraft.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 6:28 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have trouble getting too excited about border controls, because why would a true patriot leave the US to begin with? (Other than to wage war against our enemies, and I don't think our uniformed heroes go through the TSA when returning victorious to the homeland.)

Vacation? There is a lifetime of experiences to be had right in this nation! Business? Buy American!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:36 AM on August 20, 2008


Seriously, if people are on the "terrorist watch list" as CNN and other cables have agreed to call it, what then? If people are really suspected of being terrorists, are they ever arrested? Are they under investigation? What value is there in just keeping them off planes and then sending them home? If they're so suspcious, shouldn't the FBI be chatting with them? And the Washington Post has a story today about the US compiling data on people crossing the borders by land, including some weird stuff about sharing the information with state agencies and private employers who want information for "hiring reasons." It is unclear what that latter reference means.
And does anyone have a copy of the no-fly list? Has someone managed to publish it? I haven't flown since Sept.11, for a variety of reasons. Since I was having trouble even before--I was routinely having my purse searched, every single time I went through--I wonder about flying now.
posted by etaoin at 6:41 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


(Dude. ORD-DFW goes on real planes, not lawn darts. If you really want to fly to DAL, suck it up, fly WN, and fly out of MDW.)

Because of the Wright Amendment SWA's flights between MDW (or much of the country not immediately contiguous to Texas) and DAL are required to make at least one stop en route, generally adding > 1 hour to the flight time compared to a not-stop. The Embraer's are evidently small enough to get under the legislation's 50 passenger lower-limit.

These are relatively new routes, and I'm not all that unhappy with my experience. I'm not all that hopeful of their long-term viability though. None of the three flights I've taken thus far have been anywhere near capacity.

Besides, where I work in Dallas, near the junction of 635 and 75, makes DAL the perfect for me, particularly on Thursday or Friday evening, trying to get to the airport for the flight home. 635 to DFW is generally a nightmare then. It takes me 20 minutes tops to get to DAL.
posted by hwestiii at 6:51 AM on August 20, 2008


There is no accountability in the TSA. Kip Hawley is obviously incompetent. The agency is all show and no go. Putting a wing on a Yugo isn't going to turn it into a Corvette, and the current no-fly list system is the equivalent of a huge bolt-on wing. Given the 9/11 attacks and the prospect of future similar attacks it is vitally important that the TSA capably and efficiently screen and search passengers, cargo and the like. However, they, like much of the rest of the Bush administration, cloak themselves in secrecy on the false claim of national security, while the real reason is to avoid uncomfortable oversight and accountability. Until the veil of secrecy is lifted, he agency's bureaucratic bungling and incompetence can't be overseen or corrected. They will continue to be better at inconveniencing the public than at protecting the public.
posted by caddis at 6:51 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


edd said: You don't even need to be on a watchlist for that. I can't do it, just because I need to take hypodermics on board for a medical reason. I'm afraid I struggle to see this particular issue as a big problem. Loads of people aren't lucky enough to be able to check in online, and it's a luxury to be able to do so, not a right.

edd, you're saying you can't print your boarding pass at home or use a kiosk at the airport because you need to take hypodermics on board? I thought all you needed to do is let the TSA drone at the x-ray machine know what you had. Not that you had to wait in line for an hour to get your boarding card and then go to TSA and get your bags inspected.

This isn't about the "luxury" of not standing in line to get your boarding pass. It is about the TSA assuming that you are a "person of interest" every single time you go to the airport because of this stupid watchlist and asinine "business rules" to determine a terrorist-like activity. Everyone in the US named David Nelson is on this list even though there was one David Nelson that was an evildoer. Every David Nelson is treated as a suspect.

The TSA (and the whole DHS) is the most incompetent government agency in the history of the US government. 4oz of shampoo = bad, 3oz of shampoo = OK. Take off your shoes. Mothers made to drink their own milk. Women with piercings made to remove them. 85 year old grandmothers felt up for contraband. Take your computer out of your bag, unless you have this special new bag. If you fly on a one-way ticket you get SSS on it. Unless you're a Platinum customer then you sail through. It is all theatre and not useful at all.
Administration apologists will say it must be working since there have been no attacks since 9/11. Bullshit.
posted by birdherder at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


If some brown muslim had done this, he'd be in jail now for trying to sabotage the aircraft.

No trying about it. This idiot successfully sabotaged nine aircraft. Each TAT probe will have to be pulled, fixed, recertified, and reinstalled. These probes are critical to operation of flight instruments, and it's a damn good thing that it was caught on the ground.

There's a lot of fragile stuff sticking out of an aircraft: probes, pitots, antennae, static wicks, trim tabs, etc, etc. It's no place to have morons yanking on things they don't understand.
posted by bitmage at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since you can bypass the watch list by checking in under your initials, I wonder if it'd be possible to get on a plane as O. B. Laden
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2008


One reason for the poor quality of employees at TSA is the fact that the Bush Adminstration deliberately designed the agency to undermine whistleblower protections and the right to unionize. When it comes to selecting criteria for TSA employees, the Bush Administration's actions indicate that it prefers authoritarianism and an anti-union attitude over simple competence.
posted by jonp72 at 7:18 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Recently, my husband (who is a musician) was touring the US. He was driving into NYC in a big, unmarked, rented white van, the back of which was filled with the scary-looking wires and electronics equipment he carries around with him as part of his pedal board/loop rig.

As he approached the Holland Tunnel, his bass player was filming him with a video camera given to him by his manager, so he could create “on the road” dispatches about the tour to post on his website. They’re getting close to the tunnel, which bass player is now filming. My husband, who drove a cab in NYC for 13 years before becoming a musician, is narrating.

“So,” he says while bass player videotapes the tunnel, “The Holland Tunnel. I used to hate driving through this thing when I was a cab driver. Speaking of cab drivers, did I ever tell you the story about how my good friend at the cab fleet, “Red,” who I worked with for 5 years or so, turned out to be Mahmud Abouhalima, one of the guys who blew up the World Trade Center the first time?”

Just as he’s launching in to this story, lights flash behind them. They’re pulled over by several angry and suspicious-looking cops, who inform them that they are not allowed to film the Holland Tunnel or any other infrastructure in the city, because they might be terrorists. Now they aren’t terrorists, but they are scruffy-looking musicians who have been driving around America in a rented van for 3 weeks – a rented van full of strange-looking black boxes and dangerous electrical cords.

When the cops open the van and see this, they order husband and bass player out of the van. “If you’re musicians, let’s see what you’ve been videotaping,” says one of the cops. Of course, what they were just videotaping was the Holland Tunnel, with my husband reminiscing about his good friend Mahmud, who actually WAS a terrorist. Oh dear.

Fortunately, bass player has the presence of mind to sneakily rewind the tape as he’s handing the camera over, so what they get is boring footage of the band setting up in Cleveland, or something. And my husband had documents proving who and what he was. But I really wonder what would’ve happened if they’d seen that video.
posted by staggering termagant at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


This post, by Abbas Raza at 3quarksdaily, is worth a read.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:29 AM on August 20, 2008


Citizen Premier: "I'm sick of reading about this shit. I want to do something."

Try to assemble 100 people that are in this list, call the press and try to get on a plane.
posted by zouhair at 7:34 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the TSA pretty much a half-joke before 9/11 -- a step above hotel security, but three steps down from real police/army?

The post-9/11 terrists are evvywhere panic led to immense amounts of money and effort being put into beefing up airport security, but all of this was built on a half-baked, half-assed system of quasi-competent people, all of whom got shuttled up the ladder when the floodgates opened.

Imagine what would happen if some international crisis tomorrow suddenly made toll booth operators crucially important to national security. Suddenly you have 20,000 new toll booth operators, all being managed by the same old infrastructure, and suddenly wielding massive amounts of power and influence. The same people that can't figure out how to make change for a dollar today would be, a week from now, in charge of 20 people and coordinating "security" for major interstates.

They grafted a massive budget and a lot of manpower to the Howard Johnson security staff and asked them to take care of the nation. That this strategy doesn't work doesn't come as much of a shocker.
posted by Shepherd at 7:35 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


My wife and I live in Michigan. We just got married last year. My wife had eagerly put in a change of name with the Secretary of State here, and she had a piece of paper stapled to her driver's license.

For our honeymoon, we were going to go to New York City and live it up for a few days! Our flight was from Metro in Detroit to Newark in Jersey. Our flight back was the reverse of this. Thinking ahead, I told my wife we should bring our marriage license/certificate. This was a good idea, but almost not good enough.

We hand the agent our tickets, we hand them our drivers licenses. "What is this?" the lady asks of the paper on my wife's license.

"Oh, we just got married, and I changed my name already, and this is what the Secretary of State put on there."

The woman stands and ponders for a minute. "Do you have anything to prove that?"

Disgusted, but not at all shocked, I pulled our marriage license out of my backpack. "We brought this because we thought this might happen..."

The woman stood there and thought harder.

HOW IS A NOTE FROM THE SECRETARY OF STATE AND A FREAKING STATE ISSUED AND STAMPED MARRIAGE LICENSE NOT ENOUGH????!!! ARE WE REALLY LYING ABOUT WHO WE ARE THROUGH OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS?

She went to go talk to someone. She came back. She waved us through.

Ridiculous. But admittedly I felt so much safer (that last sentence was sarcasm).
posted by mrzer0 at 7:36 AM on August 20, 2008


TSA didn't exist prior to 9/11. It is a direct result of it. Prior to that, I think all airport security was handled locally by each airport. The creation of TSA was designed to eliminate that patchwork and impose a uniform security regime over the whole commercial passenger aviation environment in the U.S.
posted by hwestiii at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2008


A good friend of mine worked for the DHS a few years ago as a contractor developer. Apparently, the no fly list database was/still is an MS Access database that was sent around via email. Gotta love government technology.
posted by blahblah at 7:39 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Somewhere in a cave, Osama and his buddies are having a big, hearty laugh, amazed at their success.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Transportation Security Administration was founded in November 2001. Before that the security screening was done by private companies who contracted with airlines, terminal companies, or airport operators depending on who owned the airport.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:44 AM on August 20, 2008


Because of the Wright Amendment SWA's flights between MDW (or much of the country not immediately contiguous to Texas) and DAL are required to make at least one stop en route, generally adding > 1 hour to the flight time compared to a not-stop.

I thought the Wright Amendment was a dead letter -- because I knew about the RJs on ORD-DAL, and the MD80s from STL-DAL and MCI-DAL. But, yeah, doesn't seem that WN does MDW-DAL yet.

Shame. I can certainly understand wanting DAL over DFW if you're in Dallas proper.

Everyone forgets why the Wright Amendment happened. Fort Worth and Dallas both wanted scads of Federal money for airport expansion. The Feds said. 'No, we're not going to build two big airports that close to each other. Pick one." Dallas said, of course, Love Field. Fort Worth said, of course, Amon Carter Field. They argued.

The Feds said "No money." They got over it. They realized that they would have to build a shared airport. They also realized that the Air Carriers weren't going to want to move. So, the Wright Amendment, and a new airport -- Dallas-Fort Worth International.

Everyone moves. Deregulation happens. Southwest stops being a small intrastate airline, sues to be able to stay at DAL (wins -- as long as DAL is open, they can stay.) They then start announcing interstate service.

Everyone freaks. AA announces a bunch of flights to DAL -- they don't want to use DAL, but if someone is flying DAL-XXX, who's going to fly DFW-XXX? CO follows. Fort Worth, in particular, is pissed -- Amon Carter/Greater Southwest International was closed, and Alliance lost all service, after DFW was opened, now Dallas is going to have local service.

Well, everyone sues everyone over the broken deal. Jim Wright (later Speaker of the House) gets the Wright Amendment passed, which limits airports within 80 miles of DFW to flights only in Texas and the states immediately touching, except for planes of less than 56 seats. Everyone goes back to DFW, except Southwest, who just works the system.

Later, the Shelby Amendment passes, which adds three more states, and allows modified A/C under 300,000 pounds, as long as they comply with the 56 seat restriction. AA builds out a dozen F-100 "executive seating" -- with 56 first class seats.

Dallas and Southwest keep fighting. The Wright Amendment isn't dead, but it's dying. Three more states were added (not IL, though) and flight restrictions go away in 2014. You can now ticket directly, before, you had to have two flights.

The part of the deal to keep DFW alive -- the gates at DAL were cut, from 32 to 20, and no more can be added until 2025. Assignments are currently 16 WN, 2 AA and 2 CO. If any of them open a gate at any airport withing 80 miles that they do not already have gates at, they lose gates at DAL, one to one.

This part of the deal *serious* pissed off Jet Blue and NorthWest, who basically see it as a way to keep them out of DAL. Expect more lawsuits.

The "right" answer for keeping DFW as the primary airport? Close DAL.

The problem? DFW isn't that close to Dallas or Fort Woth. An answer is better transit. Transit in Texas as a long and glorious history of utter failure. See THRSA for details. The *biggest* opponent of high speed rail in Texas?

Southwest Airlines, of course.

In the whole DAL/DFW mess, the only innocent victims are the passengers.
posted by eriko at 7:44 AM on August 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


"edd, you're saying you can't print your boarding pass at home or use a kiosk at the airport because you need to take hypodermics on board? I thought all you needed to do is let the TSA drone at the x-ray machine know what you had. "
Yup, the computers ask, and if you say you do you're told to check in manually. I'm not fancying risking lying to the computer, for obvious reasons to anyone reading this thread.
I never actually bother mentioning it to the people at the security screening - none of them ever care either way.
posted by edd at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2008


It really beg's the question.

Not to get grammar TSA screener on you, but please tell me you did this (these?) on purpose.
posted by Challahtronix at 8:07 AM on August 20, 2008


hwestiii and kirkaracha -- my mistake. So what happened to existing airport security when the TWA was created? Was it dismantled, or were all these contractors just sort of bootstrapped into the new system?
posted by Shepherd at 8:07 AM on August 20, 2008


I want to do something.

Please stop. Think first. Long and hard, if possible.

Because the standard next to steps after I want to do something are "this looks like something" and "therefore we must do it".

Which is more or less one of the causes of the current mess.

In the mean time, I'm missing a wedding coming weekend because I'm not going to fly to the US.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:28 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


TSA didn't exist prior to 9/11. It is a direct result of it. Prior to that, I think all airport security was handled locally by each airport.

Exactly.

And, like the incompetence of the previous private contractors, the TSA continues to do a 'bang-up' job.

Examples:
March 2006: TSA Screeners Fail Federal Bomb Test

August 2008: Oversight of Airport Screening 'A Waste'
"A government program to find gaps in airport screening is 'a waste of money' because it doesn't follow up on why screeners failed to spot guns, knives and bombs on undercover agents...A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report obtained by USA TODAY says Transportation Security Administration inspectors posing as passengers do not record why individual screeners failed to spot weapons. The TSA ran 20,000 covert tests at the USA's 450 commercial airports from 2002 to 2007, and the results ought to be used to improve screening, the report says....Results of the covert tests are classified, but recent reports made public have alarmed lawmakers. A November GAO report said investigators repeatedly smuggled liquid explosives and detonators past airport checkpoints in 2006. An internal TSA report said screeners in Los Angeles and Chicago airports missed fake bombs on agents in more than 60% of tests in 2006."
posted by ericb at 8:33 AM on August 20, 2008


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America writes "Other than to wage war against our enemies, and I don't think our uniformed heroes go through the TSA when returning victorious to the homeland."

Actually they do: "Troops returning from war zones wearing battle fatigues are forced to unlace their boots to walk barefoot through metal detectors at TSA screening stations. "


blahblah writes "Apparently, the no fly list database was/still is an MS Access database that was sent around via email. Gotta love government technology."

It's a simple flat database of names. Why spend a bunch of money when everyone has email and Access (or Base)? Especially considering the database needs to be read by assorted airlines and other non-goverment organizations.
posted by Mitheral at 8:45 AM on August 20, 2008


Re the Wright Amendment, it appears to me to simply be protectionism for American Airlines. Given the disparity in size between the two facilities, I don't see how opening Love to unrestricted flights in any way threatens the primacy of DFW anymore. Twenty years ago, maybe but not today. Love is too small and too landlocked to really be any serious competition to DFW. My sakes, it has fewer gates total than any single terminal at DFW.
posted by hwestiii at 8:46 AM on August 20, 2008


This is all part of the Conservative destruction of the commons, too. Fly on a corporate jet or other private aircraft and laugh at your new serfs and peasants in their security pens being abused by the overseers you are making them pay taxes to support.
posted by jamjam at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2008


Re the Wright Amendment, it appears to me to simply be protectionism for American Airlines.

Nope.

DFW opens: 1974
Wright Amendment put into force: 1979
AA starts hub operations at DFW (and ORD): 1981

If anything, it was protection for Braniff, who hubbed out of DFW from the start of DFW's existence. AA moved in with the Wright Amended already in place after Braniff went bankrupt. (For months after the bankruptcy, you could see all the Braniff aircraft parked off of terminal 2W (Now terminal B)

If anything, the current form of the agreement is protectionism for Southwest Airlines, who gets 3/4 of the gates at DAL. But the original agreement wasn't focused on airlines, it was focused airports -- the point was to make DAL, FTW and GSW unable to compete with the massive DFW project, which was primarily being funded by taxpayer money, and the whole point of DFW was that the feds weren't going to pay to expand three airports with limited space. They'd get one, or nothing.

Southwest has very cleverly turned this into not only an AA argument, but into a fortress lock on DAL itself. It's not that SW can't get access to DFW -- indeed, the offer has been on the table forever, renewed with large concessions after CO stopped hubbing at DFW. But SW knows they've got the sweetheart deal, even better, with the gates limited, they know they don't have to worry about competition or overcrowding.

The end-game of the Wright Amendment is one fabulous piece of political akido by SW, and the bonus is everyone now blames AA for the whole thing.
posted by eriko at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, as to the topic of the post.

The no-fly list is one of the stupidest creations ever in the history of security. Say you're the bad guy. You have thirty recruits to try and take over a plane. How do you get them on board?

Send them on vacation. Watch. The TSA will *then tell you* which of your recruits they've discovered by refusing to let them fly, via the no fly list.

So, now you have a pool of recruits that you *know* will pass the no fly list test! Send them on a trip every couple of months, and you'll get advanced notice if the TSA is starting to roll up your organization.

Brilliant!
posted by eriko at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Anyone remember when you could buy or sell a ticket in the want-ads?
posted by hortense at 10:27 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid I struggle to see this particular issue as a big problem. Loads of people aren't lucky enough to be able to check in online, and it's a luxury to be able to do so, not a right.

I guess we're going to have to just agree to disagree about one of the most basic principles of how and why government exists, what the reasonable limits are upon it, and what the natural state of man is.

Personally, I view man as naturally existing in a state where there are no restrictions upon him aside from that which the universe imposes (gravity, need to eat) and those that other men can place upon him through superior force. As a result of that belief I contend that nothing the government "lets" me do is a luxury or - as is most commonly bandied around in these conversations, often about driving - a privilege.

Not being my great uncle Cleetus, the government is in no position to afford me privileges and you can describe it more accurately by saying there's thing is does and does not stop me from doing.

Now, I am okay with the fact that living in society entails trading some liberties for some additional security. Theoretically our government asks me not to take things by force from weaker or less well-armed individuals and in exchange will prevent others from doing the same from me. I have to get a driver's license before getting behind the wheel of a car, which is an inconvenience but helps to insure the other people in cars around me have a certain standard of competence.

However to suggest that the government I live in, which is theoretically a representative one, can just institute pointless and demonstrably ineffective restrictions and people are going to say "well that was just a luxury so big whoop if you can't do it" is flat-out offensive. The TSA continues to operate with little or no oversight and institute policies that limit the lives of citizens without any reasonable examination of the tradeoffs involved.

Too much of our security and restrictions are driven by "why not?" rather than "why?"
posted by phearlez at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


eriko: So, now you have a pool of recruits that you *know* will pass the no fly list test! Send them on a trip every couple of months, and you'll get advanced notice if the TSA is starting to roll up your organization.

It's actually a multi-pronged approach. Enforcing the no-fly list is only one part of the strategy. Another part is identifying potentially dangerous elements and putting them on the list. Such as people giving advice on the internet on how to outsmart the TSA or just generally acting un-American.
posted by sour cream at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2008


Goddammit.

Not being my great uncle Cleetus, the government is in no position to afford me privileges, and you can describe it more accurately by saying there's thing things is it does and does not stop me from doing.
posted by phearlez at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2008


I'm Canadian, so I would guess that I'm by definition "un-American."

Crap. I travel south a lot too.
posted by illiad at 12:25 PM on August 20, 2008


So you're from Canada, eh?

Isn't that where they speak French?
posted by sour cream at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2008


So you're from Canada, eh?

Isn't that where they speak French?


And we have lots of oil. Merde!
posted by illiad at 12:37 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "no fly" list was obtained in 2006 by 60 minutes and the National Security News Service - and shown to be 540+ pages long, including 80 year olds, convicts, and 14 of the 19 September 11 highjackers.
That's discouraging.

I mean, 0 would be perfect, but 19 would be understandable as well. Yet 14 is worse that both ends.
posted by cotterpin at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is there even a "no-fly" list at all? If someone is too "dangerous" to be allowed on an aircraft, why are they still walking the streets? Wouldn't arresting all of them be a better idea than letting them wander free?

Oops, sorry. I forgot what country I lived in for a moment there. Carry on.
posted by tommasz at 1:14 PM on August 20, 2008


Flying is a wretched way to travel anyway. All it saves is time, and, with cancelled flights and whatnot, that saving is no longer guaranteed.

When I travel, the journey is as valuable to me as the destination. I only take airplanes when someone else buys the ticket.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2008


tommasz: Wouldn't arresting all of them be a better idea than letting them wander free?

It is patently obvious that you cannot do that because some of the people on the list are only 8 years old.
(But they'll grow up in no time, so you cannot really take them off the list either...)
posted by sour cream at 1:22 PM on August 20, 2008


- something that still surprises me to this day that someone at O'Hare would know about an African coup -

You were surprised--are still surprised--that a customs official in one of the busiest airports in the world may have processed some Togolese people before you got there? You were surprised that a person who chose to work in customs might be interested in international affairs? Why?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:10 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm convinced that the TSA is simply one more brick in the "government is completely incompetent" wall that Bush and his cronies have been building since day 1. No Child Left Behind, Katrina, TSA, etc.

Continually get the government in the news for obstructing the daily lives of civilians, and soon people will clamor for this to be done by the private sector, which is exactly what Republicans want. Destroy the government by building it up. It'd be brilliant, if it wasn't working so well.
posted by graventy at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why spend a bunch of money when everyone has email and Access (or Base)? Especially considering the database needs to be read by assorted airlines and other non-goverment organizations.

Yes, but doesn't the database need to be updated constantly? Names need to be added, and (in theory, haha) names need to be deleted. If everyone has email copies of various versions of the list, it will sow confusion and problems.

Also, if you can email the list to someone, you can easily email it to 60 minutes, or a terrorist group.

I'm not a computer database expert, but even I can see how emailing around Access databases is ludicrously bad. There has got to be a better way, something involving password access to view it at the very least.
posted by marble at 4:14 PM on August 20, 2008



My boss told me a couple of weeks ago that he believes we are safer because of the Iraq war, because it "drained the swamp" of terrorism in the middle east.

It is not terrists that terrorize me. It is people such as miss tea's boss that do.
posted by notreally at 5:25 PM on August 20, 2008


Why spend a bunch of money when everyone has email and Access (or Base)? Especially considering the database needs to be read by assorted airlines and other non-goverment organizations

Yes because emailing the database is so terribly secure.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:37 PM on August 20, 2008


marble writes "There has got to be a better way, something involving password access to view it at the very least."

I don't know. You need something local otherwise you are faced with the choice of shutting down the airport or opening an attack vector for terrorists every time screeners can't reach the centralized list. Something available to 1000s of people, many of them minimum wage employees, isn't going to remain a secret regardless of distribution method. Regular releases with date version control would minimize the impact of out of data information.

After all if one is going to have a ineffective system one should at least make it easy for your end users to work with if only to reduce support calls. I can tell you from experience that between 5 and 10% of average users will forget their passwords every time they change it and passwords that don't expire are laughably insecure.

nathan_teske writes "Yes because emailing the database is so terribly secure."

There are of course ways to make mail secure. Or you could go with a secure website download. However I'd like to think the implementers went with this solution because they knew the list couldn't be secured so why make people jump through a bunch of security theatre hoops to use it. IE: Secrecy of the contents of the list wasn't a design goal.

Which I guess brings us back to how crazy the scheme is in the first place. False positives are rampant (wasn't it Senator Kennedy who was caught up in this net?), there is no significant testing, listees can often bypass no fly status with childishly simple things like buying tickets under middle names or initials, name is hardly a unique key space, one's no fly status is easily testable with zero consequences besides missing a flight, and security through obscurity (which is what a "secret list" is) only works as long as you're obscure.
posted by Mitheral at 6:20 PM on August 20, 2008


I don't know. You need something local otherwise you are faced with the choice of shutting down the airport or opening an attack vector for terrorists every time screeners can't reach the centralized list. Something available to 1000s of people, many of them minimum wage employees, isn't going to remain a secret regardless of distribution method. Regular releases with date version control would minimize the impact of out of data information.

LOL. Yeah, like that's gonna happen. Too late. It's already out of control the way it's designed.

It's actually not hard to create dumb terminals with secure public key encryption access at security checkpoints, all of which could access secure databases completely off the Internet (even most CC merchants used in places like gas stations don't use the Internet to send their data). It's much harder to try to do version control on thousands of separate databases floating around god knows where.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:39 PM on August 20, 2008


It's actually not hard to create dumb terminals with secure public key encryption access at security checkpoints, all of which could access secure databases completely off the Internet

If by "not hard" you mean "not hard if you know what you're doing." But clearly lots of people don't know what they're doing. Those gas stations computers and ATMs are designed by the same people who made those horrible voting machines, but the consequences of a few people stealing a few thousand dollars here and there is much lower then the consequences of a few people stealing a few thousand votes.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on August 20, 2008


In other news: New Guidelines Would Give F.B.I. Broader Powers
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on August 21, 2008


"Put me on a better list."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2008


If by "not hard" you mean "not hard if you know what you're doing." But clearly lots of people don't know what they're doing. Those gas stations computers and ATMs are designed by the same people who made those horrible voting machines, but the consequences of a few people stealing a few thousand dollars here and there is much lower then the consequences of a few people stealing a few thousand votes.

The difference is that, when you're passing a database file around, you're depending on everyone who receives it to understand how to handle it, but they can really do whatever they want with it, as long as it's in the wild. The people who would install terminals is a much smaller group, and presumably you could hire IT separate from TSA. IOW, it's easier to hire qualified techs to do the install than to expect all the low-level people who would handle the database file to become versed in network security and best practices.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:05 PM on August 21, 2008


It's the difference between depending on policy or technology to handle the list. It's probably better to depend on open technology with well understood encryption than to depend on TSA employees. If the system is more or less open in how it operates, there's little chance for people to get sneaky with it, because it would be exposed to anyone who touches it, and that could be a rotating list. I mean, I can design this thing without thinking too hard or too long, and it would work a lot better than what they have now, and it would likely cost less in the long run. Then again, the whole idea of a no-fly list is repulsive to me, but if you're going to do something like this, do it right.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2008


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