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Good news for frequent flyers, as another carrier has joined in on the TSA PreCheck fun. In case you’re not familiar with the system, basically you consent for the airlines and TSA to know a little bit more about you through your frequent flyer number. Then at the airport—if selected—you can go through an expedited screening line. Here you usually get to leave your shoes on and keep your laptop in its bag, so it’s win-win for frequent travelers.
Now things are a go for the flyers over at Southwest Airlines, as the carrier is the latest to adopt the TSA PreCheck procedures. This is kind of big news, as Southwest is the country’s biggest domestic carrier. All those travelers should go along well with the system, as TSA PreCheck has made its way to around 100 airports. Those lucky enough to get the go ahead for the better security line will get confirmation within their boarding pass, as the text "TSA PRE" will appear in the upper left corner the paperwork.
Liquids Ban / TSA / LHR / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
In 2010, the TSA was actually putting up signs at security checkpoints promising that "future advances" in x-ray technology would let them play around with the restrictions on the amount of liquid travelers can carry on board planes.
Fast forward to 2013 and we still have liquids restrictions on U.S. flights. Meanwhile the EU regulations which were set to expire in 2013 are - wait for it - actually expiring. We don't know if the decision is deliberate or the result of laziness, but either way European airports will now let you carry shampoos onboard airplanes. Small victories, ladies and gentlemen, small victories.
It's becoming a very complicated end of the week for travel politics surrounding TSA. Today's shooting at LAX is going to trigger a bunch of investigations and questions, and we're probably going to have to revisit the old debate over whether long security lines make travelers safer or more vulnerable.
While all that's going on, the airline security agency is also facing questions over corruption and efficiency. The Washington Times yesterday published the results of a Homeland Security inspector general report on how TSA employees managed to secure "premium pay and other costly benefits" without being entitled to those perks. Apparently the trick wasn't particularly complicated: they just promoted themselves, except without doing anything else. The final extra cost to taxpayers was estimated at $17.5 million.
Long-time Jaunted readers will remember a somewhat contentious comment thread from a year and a half ago, in which we wrote about a video made by anti-TSA blogger Jonathan Corbett showing how to defeat an old kind of full-body scanner. It started off as a more or less routine post: we criticize both TSA security theater and full-body scanners when they need criticizing, and that was one of the times they needed criticizing.
Except there were many people - not a few of them from the conspiracy fringe where people imagine that TSA is a United Nations plot to bad touch grandma until she gets PTSD and starts drinking fluoride - who got grumpy because we noted that Corbett's trick probably wouldn't work on TSA's new gingerbread man scanners. Those people wanted to believe that a blogger had just defeated all of TSA's scanners, because that would absolutely prove that the government was screening people for no reason, and so that's what they believed. Never mind that it simply wasn't true.
Authorities have added a second arrest in their investigation of those three dry ice bombs planted last week at Los Angeles International airport. We're going to get to the details down below, but first let's dispense with some necessary unpleasantries: when NPR wrote that the "prank bombs... caused paranoia" at LAX, that was staggeringly moronic.
Dry ice bombs of any kind can be filled with shrapnel and metal fragments, and ice bombs made out of glass bottles can - quote unquote - require "major operative intervention," to say nothing of taking lives. These things are bad news and shutting down an airport as they're exploding is not paranoia. The geniuses who set them off - employees of Serviceair, which does baggage handling and cleaning at LAX - are very rightly in a world of legal hurt. Just building dry ice bombs is a felony in Los Angeles, let alone exploding them in an airport.
If there is one overarching problem with TSA - and we've said this more than once - it's that the agency tries to prevent yesterday's attack tomorrow, and so obnoxiously inconveniences travelers to stop plots that have already happened. That doesn't have anything to do with this post. It's just something we like to repeat.
But if there's another deep-seated institutional problem with the TSA, it's that when the agency is in trouble, which is often, its officials will do damage control by just making things up. Take the fallout from the PDF idiocy, or the controversy over back-scatter machine limitations, or the entire debate over unionization, or the Detroit racial profiling case. All of these are places where the TSA tried to sell the public on explanations that were either false, contradictory, incoherent - and in most cases some combination of the three.
Something is not quite right with this story, about the dozens and dozens of TSA employees who were disciplined for participating in what the agency describes as a gambling ring at Pittsburgh International Airport. Five people are set to be fired, 47 people might get suspended, and another 10 got reprimand letters. Some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations indicate that about 20% of TSA employees at PIT are caught up in this mess.
And that's where things begin get muddy.
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Just for the record: yes, we know that quirky airport security stories about weapons confiscations are often a result of TSA's press outreach strategy. We've actually written about how it works. TSA officials want Americans to think that people are trying to bring weapons on board airplanes - because how else are they going to justify their existence - and it's hard to get national reporters interested in one-off stories. So you end up with a bunch of articles in city and state-based outlets that describe city and state-based incidents.
But that doesn't mean that some of the stories aren't genuinely fun. Take this local Baltimore story about BWI workers discovering that a woman was trying to smuggle a pink stun gun on an airplane. Just the visual is kind of giggle-worthy, which is probably how it ended up jumping into national blogs. Well done, TSA PR.
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We thought we had maxed out this week's airport security stupid on Wednesday, when we wrote about the genius who tried to smuggle uranium, through an airport, in his luggage, in the United States. We figured that no one could be any less intelligent in trying to smuggle something through an airport, at least not this week. We were - in a single word - incorrect.
Meet the "fish pants smuggler" who got caught in New Zealand's Auckland Airport this week. Guess what he tried to hide in his pockets.
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?
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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.