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We first saw this story bubbling up through social media outlets and airport security forums, and we just assumed it was fake. To believe it happened you'd have to believe that people who smuggle nuclear materials across continents and oceans are idiots, and that doesn't seem like a reasonable assumption, now does it? And yet here we are, with documents on The Smoking Gun pretty much proving exactly that.
A year and a half ago, give or take, undercover Homeland Security officials posted ads on a Chinese e-commerce site where they pretended to be Iranian and asked someone to deliver them raw uranium. The West has been trying to stop Iran from acquiring such materialsknown as yellowcakesince it can be enriched and used in bomb-making.
So this was kind of a clever, clever trapone that would work 99% of the time if reality was a Looney Tunes cartoon, but is less likely to succeed in our universe. To make things even better, they would ask sellers to deliver samples to the United States, because that's the only thing that could throw up more red flags.
What do you think happened next?
TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / Travel News / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Remember TSA's VIPR program? This is the one that allows TSA agents to go beyond airportsand into places like bus and train stationsand do the same thing to travelers there that they do in airports. That means, very explicitly, that they're allowed to engage in so-called "suspicionless searches" of travelers just because those travelers are... well... traveling.
The objection to the VIPR program is that it sounds very much illegal. Cops can't search citizens just because those citizens are standing close to where a train might soon be. And yet not only are federal agents doing exactly that, butand this is why the program is back in the newsthey're adding new locations for VIPR teams to monitor.
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It's August. We're traditionally supposed to be talking about baby animals and the zoos where you can visit them, perhaps during "brew at the zoo" events. Instead there's this global terror alert that the United States issued last week, and one scenario is that Al Qaeda has figured out an "ingenious" new way to attack passenger airliners.
Let's run through this terrifying (and, for TSA critics, frustrating) scenario. ABC News outlined it yesterday.
Sometimes there are travel journalism stories that aren't unusual or complicated, let alone fun or enlightening. Very little work is needed from our end to unpack them, and very little work from your end is needed to understand them. They just very straightforwardly are what they are.
As an example, take the report pulished yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO is the government's investigative arm, and it was asked to evaluate the number and type of misconduct cases among TSA workers. In 2010 there were 2,691 cases. In 2012 there were 3,408 cases. That's an increase - and we didn't do the math ourselves, we're relying on USA Today for the grade school arithmetic - of 32% over two years.
What a tangled little story this is. It begins with a strange but seemingly confirmed story about how TSA agents are now searching valet-parked cars parked at airports.
We write "strange" because, well, that's a very new thing TSA would be doing. You'd think they would have told have told someone in advance. Yet it's also "seemingly confirmed" because a local news station in New York went to Greater Rochester International Airport, where the car searches occurred, and found a bunch of evidence.
TSA has a press strategy - and we've discussed it before - which isn't very sophisticated but still somehow makes sense in a caveman sort of way. The agency wants American citizens to know that there are people out there trying to carry dangerous weapons onto airplanes. Fair enough. So their media outreach goal has been to show American citizens that there are people out there trying to carry dangerous weapons onto airplanes. See what we meant about not being very sophisticated?
Traditionally the agency has settled for very straightforward press outreach. Every time someone got caught carrying a knife or a gun or a cane with an effing sword in it through security, TSA would reach out to reporters to try to get a story written. That's why if you type in "TSA" on Google News, you'll get a bunch of local outlets writing one-off stories about weapons found in airports.
38 year old Stephen Jackson was fired from his job as a supervisor at JFK overseeing private airport security guards. He subsequently released to the media a bunch of really incriminating photos and videos showing other guards working for his former employer, FJC Security Services, asleep on the job.
He says he was fired for being too good at his job: over the course of six months he showed his superiors evidence of sleeping guards, and they mostly ignored him, and he kept pestering them, and ultimately they fired him. Under Jackson's theory, he's a whistle blower. The good folks at FJC Security Services claim Jackson was fired for totally different reasons, and he showed the media pictures of their employers sleeping in retaliation. Under their theory, he's a disgruntled employee.
Everyone seems to agree that the pictures are totally legitimate examples of airport security guards asleep on the job. Which seems like kind of a big deal to us, since they're guards in charge of airport security.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a case over whether the law that created TSA means that an airline can't be sued for reporting that a soon-to-be ex-employee on a different airline's flight had a gun when in fact he didn't. Confused yet? So are most of the reporters that have been covering the case, from what we can tell.
The USA Today writeup is probably one of the cleaner accounts we've seen, and even it takes 6 paragraphs before getting to the legal issue at stake. The case is actually kind of important for airline securityit goes to the heart of how lawmakers encourage airlines to report suspicious behaviorso let's see if we can't unpack it below.
Travel Rants / TSA / Airline Security / Airport Security / Travel News / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Sigh. Under pressure from flight attendants, victims' families, airlines, and outrageously outraged members of Congress, TSA is reversing a decision first announced in March under which the agency would allow small pocket knives and sports equipment as carry ons.
In retrospect this was kind of inevitable. It took less than a week for the objections to start. The decision became increasingly expensive for TSA to push through, and there was really no incentive for the agency to deal with the headache. All they wanted to do was speed up security lines a bit to make it easier for fliers to travel. If fliers weren't going to stand up for themselves in the face of political objections, the agency heads weren't going to take the hits.
Which brings us to what has frustrated us about this debate since the beginning.
Washington, D.C. is rife with scandals over how various branches of the government have been violating people's privacy and security. Whether it's the IRS targeting conservative groups or the Department of Justice monitoring journalists, it appears that federal agencies have been given vast powers to collect information and they're not very good at holding on to that information.
So naturally, Congress has chosen this week to add a provision to the new immigration bill that requires all non-U.S. citizens to be fingerprinted when flying out of the U.S.'s 30 busiest airports.
Because if there's anything that American politicians are good at generating, it's irony.
Sigh.This happened two weeks ago, broke earlier this week, and is now winding its way through the usual blogs and forums run by the usual mix of well-meaning libertarians and conspiracy theory nutjobs.
An Italian woman was making her way through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport and was standing in the baggage claim area. The airport's bomb-sniffing dog apparently decided that the woman needed to be bitten, so it bit her.
How hard the dog actually bit her has been a subject of open debate. EMS personnel on the scene said it "looked like a scratch." She says that there was bleeding and the bruise afterward was the size of her hand. You can judge for yourself who's telling the truth by looking at the picture here. Try not to be eating food when you look at it though, because it's actually kind of horrific.
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This is without a doubt the least sexy naked travel post that we've ever blogged. John Brennan is a Portlander with what appears to be a libertarian streak. Last April he was going through a TSA checkpoint when officers detected nitrates on his clothing. In order to demonstrate that he was not in fact carrying explosives, Brennan got totally naked. Problem? Solution.
He was of course immediately charged with violating local indecency laws, because seriously, he got really naked (NSFW, obviously). Those charges were promptly slapped down by a judge. We have a Constitution in this country, and that Constitution entitles you to protest against the government in all kinds of interesting ways, and those ways apparently include being naked.