The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) are the folks at airports who watch you go through the metal detectors, check your luggage, etc. There role is much more than what you see at the Airport gate, the TSA consists of 50,000 security officers, inspectors, directors, air marshals and managers who protect the nation’s transportation systems so we can travel safely.
Needless to say the TSA has had a challenging couple of weeks. First they accidentally posted their procedures guide on the net, and while the secret parts were blacked out, there are software programs that can help people with nefarious intent to see under those “black marks.”
Certainly the Christmas attack on Northwest 253 was an embarrassment to all involved in the air travel buisness whether they are culpable or not. The mixed message that came after were embarrassing also, it seemed as if TSA set new airport rules and changed them every hour during the first 48 hours. First you couldn’t use blankets in cabins, then you could, you had to stay in your seat during the final hour of a flight, you didn’t it was all so very confusing and it hasn’t been the TSA’s finest hour.
On Monday,two travel industry bloggers posted new TSA directives on passenger restrictions and screening procedures to help passengers understand what will be happening to them in the Airport. Tuesday their homes were visited by TSA special agents, and obvious attempt to scare other bloggers away from reporting on the TSA.
Steven Frischling described his visit on his blog, Flying With Fish:
Yesterday evening was like most other nights, until around 6:30pm when I received a phone call from Chris Elliot. Chris is a travel journalist, who happens to be National Geographic Traveler’s Reader Advocate, writes a regular column for The Washington Post, produce a weekly segment for MSNBC…and Chris is the other journalist who received and published a copy of the TSA’s Security Directive SD-1544-09-06
Chris and I have conversed many times before, however this phone call began by him asking me if any Federal Agents had visited me from the Department of Homeland Security this evening, as he had just been visited by a TSA Special Agent.
Moments after my call with Chris ended a sedan pulled in front of my house and two US Transportation Security Administration Special Agents were at my door with some questions and paperwork for me. I sent two of my kids upstairs, and like Chris I was served a subpoena by the Department of Homeland Security to disclose who sent me the contents of SD-1544-09-06 (you can read Chris’ subpoena HERE)
The two Special Agents were at my house for more than two hours speaking with me as I held my youngest son in my arms most of the time. When the agent left they said they’d see me again tomorrow morning, and hopefully we come to a resolution.
The two bloggers published the document in question within minutes of each other Dec. 27. It was originally sent by the TSA to airlines and airports around the world and described temporary new requirements for screening passengers through Dec. 30, including conducting “pat-downs” of legs and torsos. The document, which was not classified, was posted by numerous bloggers. Information from it was also published on some airline websites.
Frischling told Wired
“They’re saying it’s a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline. It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.”
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said in a statement that security directives “are not for public disclosure.”
It seems more likely that the Department of Homeland Security who oversees the TSA, was looking to shift some of the pressure away from its embattled director Janet Napalitano
“TSA’s Office of Inspections is currently investigating how the recent Security Directives were acquired and published by parties who should not have been privy to this information,” the statement said.
Gee, they sent out 10,000 of the document and allowed the airlines to post parts on their website and the DHS wants to know how it got out?
Frischling, a freelance travel writer and photographer in Connecticut who writes a blog for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.
All while he was holding his child. It is incredible that a terrorist doesn’t get put on a no-fly list, but a blogger gets threatened with being labeled a security risk.
“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”
“They came to the door and immediately were asking, ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’ It was very much a hardball tactic,” he says.
When they pulled a subpoena from their briefcase and told him he was legally required to provide the information they requested, he said he needed to contact a lawyer. The agents said they’d sit outside his house until he gave them the information they wanted.
Frischling says he received the document anonymously from someone using a Gmail account and determined, after speaking with an attorney, that he might as well cooperate with the agents since he had little information about the source and there was no federal shield law to protect him.
The Gmail address consisted of the name “Mike,” followed by random numbers and letters. Frischling had already deleted the e-mail after publishing the document but said he had learned from previous correspondence with the source that he had been hired as a screener for the TSA in 2009.
The agents searched through Frischling’s BlackBerry and iPhone and questioned him about a number of phone numbers and messages in the devices. One number listed in his phone under “ICEMOM” was a quick dial to his mother, in case of emergency. The agents misunderstood the acronym and became suspicious that it was code for his anonymous source and asked if his source worked for ICE — the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The agents then said they wanted to take an image of his hard drive. Frischling said they had to go to WalMart to buy a hard drive, but when they returned were unable to get it to work. Frischling said the keyboard on his laptop was no longer working after they tried to copy his files. The agents left around 11 p.m. but came back Wednesday morning and, with Frischling’s consent, seized his laptop, which they promised to return after copying the hard drive.
Frischling wrote on his blog that he decided to publish the TSA directive to clear up much of the confusion and speculation that was circulating among the public about changes that were being instituted in airport security procedures after a passenger unsuccessfully tried to ignite a bomb Dec. 25 using a syringe and explosive chemicals hidden in his underwear.
“We are a free society, knowledge is power and informing the masses allows for public conversation and collective understanding,” Frischling wrote on his blog. “You can agree or disagree, but you need information to know if you want to agree or disagree. My goal is to inform and help people better understand what is happening, as well as allow them to form their own opinions.”
It is a sad day in America when we have an administration that threatens a solitary blogger trying to watch his kids and do his blogging job, but ignores terror warnings and reaches out to despots. This is what Obama must have meant by Change.