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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)_/¯.
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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.
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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?
The TSA groping scandal seems like it's been going on for a year, but people are still talking about it so it's worth putting on your radar.
The Economist - an outlet that has spent roughly 150 years developing its dry, understated tone - lit up the airport security agency earlier this week, calling it out for "repeated sexual assaults." This is of course in the wake of two TSA agents, a guy and a girl, getting fired for being part of a "pat downs for pleasure" conspiracy.
The scheme was actually kind of clever, albeit staggeringly illegal and guaranteed to detonate whatever trust the public still had in TSA. When the guy saw another guy he wanted to grope heading through a scanner, he would send a signal to his accomplice. The accomplice would then tell the scanner that it was scanning a female. The scanner would look for female body parts and - there's no gentle way to write this - detect a bulge around the groin area that wasn't supposed to be there. It would return an alarm, the traveler would get pulled aside for secondary screening, and then the groping would happen.
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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?
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You've just got to see the Library of Parliament, located within the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Ranked as one of the "7 Wonder of Canada," but more famously recognized as the "most beautiful room in Canada," the library is the only remaining piece of the original 1876 Parliament building, surviving the destructive 1916 fire thanks to iron fire doors. Inside are 1 million documents and 11 miles of books and, up until very recently, a "no cameras" zone.
Visitors to the Library fall into one of two groups: members of Parliament and their staff, or members of there public making the official (and free!) Parliament tour. The latter would find themselves disappointed by a major rule: photography was strictly prohibited if the room had anyone in it, either staff or politician. Occasionally a weekend tour would get lucky and find an empty library, but viewing the room with all its lights on, a librarian stationed, and in active use brings out the spirit of the space.
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?
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It's true. US visitors to Cuba are now allowed to bring $100 worth of Cuban cigars back into the country and it's all thanks to a little speech this morning by President Obama, to announce the resumption of US-Cuba relations for the first time since 1961.
This major development, which will see the reopening of a US embassy in Havana and easing of travel bans, came about thanks to talks orchestrated by Canada and Pope Francis in the Vatican. According to the NY Times, the final step occurred just this morning, when two world leaders picked up the telephone:
If you haven't heard, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has spent $4.7 million on travel this year so far. The $4.7 million has taken Mabus over 955,000 miles through Iraq, Afghanistan, numerous trips to German military bases, and a few relationship-typing “we-need-to-talk” type of chats Japan and South Korea.
With this, it’s truly difficult to grasp the magnitude of 955,000 travel miles. To quickly put that in perspective, that’s about the distance between Earth and Mars… times four! For fun, we decided to figure out some crazy, cool, and crazy-cool things to do with a $4.7 million and 955,000-mile travel budget.
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When it comes to new opportunities in tourism, Papua New Guinea might be the latest and greatest travel destination not named Myanmar. The latter’s recent surge is due to, among other political improvements, a complete restructuring of its tourism policies in 2013. In very much the same way, Papua New Guinea, after nearly four decades of struggling to find its footing as an independent country, has slowly been transitioning into a destination foreigners can feel comfortable visiting.
According to its Tourism Authorities, only 5,000 Americans visit PNG each year, putting those who make the journey in an exclusive class of travelers. Despite what you might assume from a generally poor population, the cost of living in Port Moresby is on par with other major cities around the worldthink the high rates of New York and Parismostly thanks to the influx of foreign mining companies over the past decade, a list that includes Exxon and Mobil.
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?"