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Last Wednesday TSA agents at Burbank detected a loaded gun in the carry-on of rapper Todd Anthony Shaw, known as Too Short or Too $hort depending on how stuffy you are. This kind of thing happens quite a lot. Almost always, the travelers are immediately cited, and often they're even allowed to proceed to the plane.
In this case Mr. Short walked slowly out of the airport in his socks, recovered his valet-parked car, and returned two days later with his lawyer. At that point he received a misdemeanor citation for possession of a loaded handgun in a public place. This entire incident, with all due respect, is batshit crazy.
You've probably heard about the Internet of Things: the idea that everything you own is going to be online. Your fridge will be able to talk to your car will be able to talk to your pacemaker.
You also may have heard that it's going to be a total cyber-security disaster. Today's hackers are able to get into your laptop or desktop. Tomorrow's hackers will be able - by definition - to get into everything. Right now they're able to damage your data. In the future they'll be able to damage actually existing things in the real world. Unless you're very, very, very careful, putting any device online could get you very easily hacked.
Now, knowing what you know, how likely do you think it is that TSA is using machines that are easily hacked?
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As you know because you've been following along, the new TSA fees that we've been trashing since 2010 went into effect earlier this month. They had been jammed up for years by airlines - more on that below - but the administration finally managed to get them passed. The old caps, which had been set at $2.50 per flight segment with a $10 roof for a four-flight round trip, were abolished.
Would you believe that TSA may have taken advantage of the new situation to collect fees even higher than what Congress allowed? That's the argument being made by airlines, who are now suing the security agency. Game on.
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There's no shortage of domestic and international travel politics stories floating around. There's the potential for a new Cold War because of the MH17 downing. There's the 24 hour FAA ban on flights into Tel Aviv. There's even the ongoing nonsense about how airport security officials are threatening to confiscate electronics that run out of battery power during trans-Atlantic flights, which is something that happens literally all the time.
But this story about hiking airline security fees is - rightly - driving people absolutely out of their minds. We flagged this for you last month as a heads up, but we've actually been tracking these legislative efforts since 2010. The Obama administration has tried to raise the fees that travelers pay for security through the normal budget process, outside the normal budget process, and probably at least once via occult wizardry. Every time it was justified as a way to make people travel more, which is not a very good argument because it's not how supply and demand works.
Until mobile devices somehow magically charge themselves throughout your journey—you’re going to need a spot to plug in and charge up at the airport. The concourses and terminals have gotten a little bit better at adding ports and plugs, and now it seems like there’s a push overseas to add even more spots to charge up before your trip.
With that pesky new requirement regarding devices to be operational at airport security airports in London are pushing to get more options available to flyers.
Very quickly - before we get to the travel news in this post - can we just make a simple request? As you're about to read, airport security is getting bumped up across the world. This happened just as the 4th of July weekend kicked off. So things are going to be hectic enough without you idiots grinding checkpoints to a halt by trying to smuggle actual, real life, exploding fireworks on board airplanes. For fuck's sake.
Now that that's out of the way.
As we told you last Monday, various branches of the U.S. intelligence community have concluded that Yemen-linked jihadists, operating out of Syria, may be plotting to take down American and European airliners. The scheme would involve terrorists with Western passports slipping through security armed with a new generation of undetectable explosives. We suggested you might soon be seeing enhanced screening procedures.
Yesterday morning ABC News popped a story about a recent White House meeting - recent in the sense that it happened last week - in which top-level intelligence officials raised alarms about new threats to aiport security and airline security. Very short version: terrorists who have dug into Syria are reportedly working on a new generation of undetectable bombs, and so you will probably be feeling new security precautions both domestically and overseas. Happy Monday!
ABC got at least one source to worry "[this threat] is different and more disturbing than past aviation plots." Another talked about "creative" new bomb designs. The outlet also aired interviews on Sunday - which are embedded below, and included one with President Barack Obama - that were arguably even scarier.
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How is this nonsense still a story? How - after it broke more than a week ago, and was already hopelessly tired back then - are journalists still producing new copy about "outrage" and "fury"? What details remained unexplored through the first three dozen articles, such that we needed more information a week later?
If you don't troll conspiracy theory forums or have a Google Alert set up for TSA, you might not know about video documented barbarism under discussion. You'd be the only one though, since the YouTube upload has been viewed by over 200,000 people in the last 10 days. It's at the bottom of this post too. You're welcome.
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We weren't going to blog this story because there's not much to convey beyond what you already know. A 16 year old teenager fought with his parents, ran away from home, jumped the fence at San Jose International, climbed into the wheel well of an Hawaiian Airlines flight bound for Maui, and then somehow lived to tell the tale.
Hiding in wheel wells is the kind of thing that almost always kills people, which we know because their bodies then fall out of the sky. This kid somehow survived and is now being cared for by child services, so it's a kind of bittersweet thing.
That's really all that can be said about the incident, unless you want to talk about how no one in this country bothers to secure airport runways any more, and you don't need to hear that rant again. Except: it turns out that a 16 year old runaway is newsworthy enough for CNN's Anderson Cooper to devote a 90 second segment to it. And not just any 90 second segment.
Last fall the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study showing that TSA's behavior profiling program - creatively named "SPOT" - was useless. The technical language was that the project succeeded in catching bad guys at a rate only "slightly better than chance," but that's GAO code for "worthless."
Naturally people assumed that the program would be scaled back. Instead - per a Washington Times report from last week that made its way around the Internet - TSA has expanded the program to BWI. Because why should a failure, especially a failure that members of Congress blast as "an intrusion into the privacy of the flying public," prevent programs from steamrolling forward?
Apparently there's a debate happening on the Internet - so says the LA Times - over whether the 14 year old Dutch girl who tweeted a terrorist threat to American Airlines was "a victim of security excess" or an "idiot." To which we answer, why can't it be both?
You'll recall that Sarah - of the now-deleted @QueenDemetriax_ Twitter account - tweeted to @AmericanAir over the weekend that "hello my name's Ibrahim and I'm from Afghanistan. I'm part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I'm gonna do something really big bye." The social media mavens at American responded exactly 6 minutes later (faster than they've ever done when, say, we've had a flight canceled) by publicly informing her that her "IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI."
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This is a downer of a Friday story, but it's already getting some traction on travel sites. Plus it's going to be airport security news for the next few weeks. Plus it's probably going to affect your actual, physical airport experience. So you might as well get it on your radar now.
The short version - and you can read longer takes with details and videos here and here - is that the spring issue of Al Qaeda's lead magazine Inspire had a picture of the SFO AirTrain, which they captioned "Stand up, pack your tools of destruction, assemble your bomb, ready the detonation." You can understand why some people are talking about this.