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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?
Airports / Travel Advertising / Travel Politics / TSA / Airport Safety / Airline Safety / → All Tags
To the 3 of you who obsessively follow our travel politics posts: apologies, but content is going to become increasingly sparse as we enter the silly season of an off-cycle election. We just can't take it. We're not sure what exact second we snapped, but the story responsible was this "TSA unions support armed guards" nonsense. We've already written extensively about the dishonest bait-and-switch that was used to install TSA unions. We've already written extensively about how TSA tries to protect ill-thought policies with hastily-thrown together band-aids. We've already written extensively about how politicians grandstand against TSA but won't give the agency the resources to do things right.
The convergence of those topics kind of short-circuited our brains. You probably don't want to read about the internal politics of labor plus safety plus electoral considerations. We certainly have no desire to write those posts. It's a shame because the story is actually really important both as a substantive matter and as an illustration of how the way we talk about aiport security is broken. And yet.
Instead, how about a video where someone tries to sell you chocolate by dancing through various parts of an airport?
TSA / PHX / Bad Ideas / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
It's been a week since we've had a post describing some potentially stupid TSA confiscation - the last one involved Lena Dunham and something shaped like a cat - so we're practically overdue. Meet country music promoter, PreCheck member, and perfume wearer Lois Lewis. Two Saturdays ago, she tried to get a 2 ounce bottle of Jimmy Choo perfume through security at PHX. The perfume comes in a case shaped like a grenade.
Cue "womp womp womp" music. The security lane was closed for an hour, bomb experts were called in, and so on. We've embedded a news report at the bottom.
The justification was that increasing how much people paid for airline tickets would increase the number of people who purchased airline tickets. The reasoning went as follows: right now, people don't purchase airline tickets because it takes too long to get through airports; new taxes could pay for more airport workers, which would decrease the amount of time it takes to get through airports; therefore, more taxes would make more people would purchase airline tickets.
We were not kind. In between words and phrases like "giggle-worthy logic" and "stupid," we pointed out that TSA had once floated the exact same theory, except they were going to raise the fees outside the normal budget process. It was shot down despite being trotted out in 2010 and 2011 and then again later in 2011, because it was moronic.
Celeb Travel / Lena Dunham / TSA / LAX / Airport Security / Airline Security / Celebrities / → All Tags
This is a story about Lena Dunham, the TSA, and cats. The only way we could cram more Internet-friendly content into this thing is if we added some kind of Upworthy-style headline - "I Thought I Understood Airport Security; But Then I Saw This Outrageous Tape of A Celebrity Telling Her Brave Story" - but our blogging software won't let us use titles that long.
"Girls" star Lena Dunham was trying to get through airport security at LAX when she was pulled aside for what she later described to Seth Meyers as a "self-defense keychain" in the shape of a cat. Apparently it's the kind of thing where you slip your knuckles into the metal (maybe the eyes?) and then use the sharp bits (maybe the ears?) to stab another human being. The Seth Rogin Twitter feed subsequently tweeted an illustration for viewers who might have been struggling to form a mental picture.
Airport Security / Travel Tech / Global Entry / TSA / IAH / Airports / Airport News / Passports / → All Tags
We have not been shy when it comes to sharing our love and affection for some of the new technology making its way into the passport and immigration control line. Automated kiosks smooth the process, and of course cutting down on lines after a long-haul flight is always a plus.
This week some of this travel technology makes its way over to Texas, as Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport is now featuring some of those awesome Automated Passport Control kiosks.
If you've been traveling of late, you might have noticed that the TSA has a new strategy of expediting the security screening process, filtering travelers going through general security into the dedicated precheck line at random.
We've seen it at different airports across the country, most recently in Denver and Philly. There's usually a TSA employee standing at a fork in the cattle-call line, and an iPad randomizer determines your fate as to which way you are sent through security. If the arrow points one way, you go through the normal screening lines. But if it points the other, you get to join the TSA precheck line where you, a person who has not signed up for precheck and has not been prescreened, is not required to remove your shoes, laptop, or outer layers.
TSA / Bad Ideas / Airport Security / Airline Security / PHX / → All Tags
You guys know our stance on TSA, and our basic frustration with people who knock the airport security agency just for kicks. You know it because we've repeated it endlessly to the point where we asked you to incorporate it into your New Years resolution for 2014.
If you're going to complain about how much TSA employees suck, you need to choose one of two options: either support more funding for agency, so it can hire better people, or elect lawmakers who will dismantle it, which will never happen because no politician wants to get tagged for the next terrorist attack. Anything else is just complaining for the sake of complaining.
Recent assessments from the CIA indicate that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists are creating new shoe bombs that have the ability to generate multiple casualties on airplanes. Reports of the new threats came alongside other warnings - specifically but not entirely related to the Sochi Olympics - that terrorists are seeking to hide explosives in toothpaste and cosmetic tubes. Happy middle of the week everyone!
Putting aside the crazies who say that news about terrorism is designed to scare the American sheeple into letting the United Nations inject our kids with vaccinated fluoride (or whatever) there are usually two ways that people react kinds of stories of heightened threats.
Valentine's Day Travel / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
TSA recently blogged a list of tips for traveling during and around Valentine's Day. Yes to regular and even liquid-filled chocolates, but no to flower vases with water in them, plus a reminder that there are special rules for traveling with wedding dresses. Because wedding dresses and flower vases with water in them could be used to compromise the security of aircraft, you see.
In other news, engineers have discovered a way that hackers can hijack TSA scanning machines to remotely overlay what screeners see with arbitrary images. So if you're a terrorist smuggling a gun through security, and you've got a friend who has gained access to the computer linked to your checkpoint, your friend can cover over the image of your gun with what looks like a pile of socks.
Last week saw a good deal of travel politics news - we'll unpack most of it as the dust settles this week - but there was something in particular we wanted to post today, if only because it's kind of aggravating.
The end of last week saw a back-and-forth in Politico between TSA and a TSA ex-agent who wrote an expose confirming every bad stereotype people have about the agency. Neither side comes off particularly well, but what got our attention is how even at the top levels of public debate, people still don't get a very, very fundamental point: you can have lots of very specific rules, and then you get TSA employees who implement stupid regulations, or you can empower TSA employees to 'use common sense,' and then you get douchebags who use the wiggle room to abuse travelers.
It can be one or the other, but - unless you're going to get better TSA agents or abolish TSA completely - you have to choose one.
Airport Security / Airline Security / TSA / Congress / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Not to beat a particularly stupid dead horse, but just one more thing about that silly hearing that Congress held last week with TSA officials. We've repeatedly covered how the overarching debate over airport security is broken: politicians attack TSA for cutting corners, but those same politicians aren't willing to either change the rules (so there are no corners to cut) or increase the agency's funding (so it wouldn't need to cut corners).
We've already posted on one aggravating part of the hearing, which had Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) declaring that TSA agents don't say "please" and "thank you" enough, and so he's going to write legislation sending them to politeness school. He saw security officers telling travelers to do awkward things like take off clothing, and stand in line, and assume various positions, and he thought it would be better if they were nicer about it. But the problem isn't whether agents are polite when they implement poorly conceptualized and even more poorly executed security policies. It's that the security policies are poorly conceptualized and executed.