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The TSA fun began last Monday and lasted through the whole week. Fun might be the wrong word — it was a second consecutive week of PR nightmares after last week's debacle - but at least we got through five whole days without a top organization official having to resign or being fired. Baby steps.
It started with the appearance of travel politics stories based on a recent inspector general report showing that TSA had failed to identify 73 airport workers — that's 7 times 10 plus 3 airline workers — who should have been flagged as terror concerns. The agency neglected to do background checks on a bunch of people who had access to secure airport areas, so airline employees and airport vendors who have actual real life connections to terrorism slipped through the cracks. TSA thought the airports were going to do those checks successfully, but the airports didn't at all, and so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The short version of this story - and if you follow travel politics at all you've already heard about it - is that the acting administrator for TSA has been reassigned after ABC News revealed that TSA screeners flunked 67 out of 70 trial runs where investigators tried to smuggle fake explosives through airport security. That's about a 5% success rate. The investigation more broadly concluded that TSA had made zero significant improvements since a 2009 review, which had itself pointed out enormous flaws.
To give you a sense of what the public reaction has been like, CNN published an article by a pilot yesterday asking "Is TSA security a complete failure?" and it was probably one of the kindest things written about the fiasco. The responses write themselves: if TSA agents are not making us any safer, why have we spent the last 14 years going through nonsense lines, pat-downs, scans, secondary scans, explosives sniffers, backroom questioning, etc. etc?
TSA / Bad Ideas / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
There are small TSA screw-ups, like screwing up a PreCheck procedure. There are big TSA screw-ups, like publishing classified info in the dumbest way imaginable. And then there are the screw-ups that make you sit up, kind of tilt your head sideways, and ask yourself how anybody could be so bad at their jobs.
A TV station in Texas did some digging about possible security vulnerabilities at DFW and found what might be generously described as a total clusterfuck: "lost and stolen airline uniform shirts, an entire FedEx pilot's uniform, missing TSA badges and even a federal flight deck officer's credentials and badge, which allow a pilot to carry a gun on a plane." And that was just one airport. The station uncovered similar problems, specifically having to do with lost badges, across the country.
LAX / TSA / Weird News / Celebrities / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
Some guy walked away from TSA at LAX yesterday, and when police confronted him, he... kept going. Lots of shouting ensued, and eventually the man was tased. Normally this would be your standard airport security story: how the hell did a guy get deep inside the terminal before security brought him down, why is TSA so bad at everything, and so on.
Except because the incident happened in 2015 in a public place, and because everything and everyone is horrible, the whole thing was documented on social media. And because it happened in LAX, celebrities were involved.
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TSA has contracts totalling $1.2 billion with four different companies to maintain its machines. Last year it spent about $251 million making sure its super-irritating scanners and its somewhat-less-irritating bomb detectors were at least working. Maintenance seems like a reasonable thing to do, and is the minimum you'd expect in exchange for the hassle that U.S. travelers go through.
Except a new report from the Office of Inspector General has revealed that, oh by the way, officials from TSA have no idea if any of the maintanance work is keeping the machines working. Take the next step, and the logical conclusion is that officials from the travel security agency don't know if the machines themselves are working properly. Because why would they?
Why are they so bad at everything?
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Last Friday a lunatic - we think it's fair to call him a lunatic - walked into Louis Armstrong International in New Orleans and began trying to hack up the place with a machete.
He used anti-wasp spray to keep security officers at bay, and it would later be discovered that the bag he was carrying was filled with Molotov cocktails. The attacker managed to badly injure a TSA worker before finally being brought down by a sheriff who was in the area.
And therein lies the debate that started on Monday: what would have happened had the armed officer not been there? TSA personnel are trained to handle rampages, and this article describes some of the tactics they used (one guy blocked the machete with a piece of luggage while travelers fled the area). But the only thing that stops an attack like this in its tracks is a well-aimed shot, and TSA agents aren't armed.
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Either the TSA is actively trolling the American people, or these guys actually are so incompetent they could screw up a one car parade.
You guys obviously know about PreCheck and PreCheck lines, and you've probably heard about how some airports send passengers randomly into the PreCheck line to speed things up. The idea is that if you randomly send every 10th or every 20th passenger through expedited screening, what are the odds that the person you randomly selected is actually a terrorist? Want to guess how this turns out?
A new report, published last week by Homeland Security, revealed that the system sent a notorious felon and terrorist through a PreCheck line. This guy was so famous that he was recognized by sight by the officers in the PreCheck line. They alerted their supervisor, who of course ordered the officer to let the terrorist continue on his way. Stellar work from start to finish from America's exquisitely staffed airport security agency.
The TSA's response, by the by, is that it "takes its responsibility for protecting the traveling public very seriously." Feel better?
TSA / PHL / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
You guys don't like to hear this, but most of your complaints about TSA are kind of bullsh*t. Sometimes the stories are true but silly: it took an extra 5 minutes to get through line, the TSA agent didn't smile enough, etc.
Other times the tales come from conspiracy theorists who are looking for a way to finally prove that airport security is part of a secret plot to domesticate the American sheeple in preparation for a takeover by black United Nations helicopters. Those descriptions all but universally turn out to be questionable.
Then there's the story that's currently making the rounds, which has now reached legitimate news outlets like the Associated Press. Roger Vanderklok is a runner in his late 50s who was going through security at PHL two years ago on his way to a Miami half-marathon.
Naturally he was carrying energy bars and a sports watch, which he had wrapped in a PVC pipe so they wouldn't get crushed. Something happened at the checkpoint, he didn't like it, he asked to file a complaint, and he ended up arrested and in a holding cell for around 20 hours without being allowed to contact the outside world (including his wife, who couldn't find him).
A judge eventually dismissed the case, and of course there's a lawsuit in play now. That's not the interesting part.
Here's a feel-good story to ease you into the holidays.
The Obama administration is preparing to issue a new set of guidelines that will for the first time ban national security agencies from conducting profiling based on race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. There are already rules going back to 2003 banning racial profiling by most parts of the federal government, but those rules don't apply to national security agencies and don't encompass religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. These new guidelines are aimed at shoring up those oversights.
All well and good, unless you're the TSA, and part of your job is to apply extra scrutiny to people originating in places like Syria and Yemen just in case they're terrorists. In that case you'd be kind of screwed, unless you could get an exemption from the new restrictions. Want to guess how this story ends?
TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / Carry-On Baggage / Carry-On Luggage / Holiday Travel / → All Tags
You thought the TSA was going to lighten up for the holidays. You read on Jaunted that the agency was letting passengers bring ice skates and even pies on board planes. Elsewhere you may have heard that top TSA officials were looking to loosen existing restrictions on some liquids for some travelers. Overall it seemed as if limitations on carry-on baggage were moving in the right direction.
How about instead of that, the TSA just goes ahead and bans all carry-on luggage over the holiday season? No exceptions. How would that suit you?
The TSA is making its annual "please don't make holiday travel more miserable than it already is" push, in which the agency begs travelers not to bring obviously prohibited items into checkpoints for at least the next few months. TSA officials try something like this every year, and it usually more or less completely fails. The problem isn't with the airport security organization, for once. The kind of person who tries to bring chemical-soaked sparklers on board an airplane - real example - just isn't the sort of person who reads TSA-related press releases. Or any press releases, really.
And yet here we are. This year the agency tried to get attention by throwing together a press event at just a single airport, gathering reporters for a show-and-tell at JFK. That's not a terrible idea as far as PR goes, because local reporters always need stories and this way things are easy for them. You give them a press kit, you issue a statement, and everyone is done in time for happy hour. We're not sure it'll actually make a difference, in the sense that we're pretty sure it won't make a difference. But it was a mildly entertaining show, and so you might as well know it happened.
Time for another edition of "People are Idiots, and That's Why We Can't Fix TSA." True story.
Many years ago DHS received a Congressional mandate to secure the nation's airports, which the department duly implemented by putting up TSA checkpoints everywhere. Critics of the agency almost immediately began to complain about its uselessness - "security theater" was a popular catchphrases - and some went so far as to accuse TSA of actively conspiring to destroy America.
After a while TSA responded with: "Listen, we can't just shut down inspections because Congress won't let us. How about instead we establish this new PreCheck system, where for only $85 you can pass a background check and breeze through security?"