TSA spends $900m on useless “behavior” program

According to a Government Accountability Office report, the Transportation Security Agency has blown through nearly $900 million on an ineffective behavioral training program designed to teach TSA agents how to spot potential terrorists based on their mannerisms.  Fewer than 1% of passengers spotted by TSA agents have been arrested and accused of terrorist activity.

A federal review of the program has offered no evidence that the costly program has enhanced the United States’ ability to stop terrorism before it starts, leading to the GAO’s recommendation that the government cut the program entirely.  The GAO accused the government of rolling out an expensive program without a reasonable expectation of its effectiveness, typical of many government initiatives.

The program supposedly trains TSA officers to spot suspicious behavior in a crowd of people, distinguishing between normal activity exhibited by passengers simply stressed out by travel and from a nervous person intent on committing a terrorist act.

The program has cost taxpayers $878 million since its inception in 2007.

Read the entire report here.


TSA’s Pre-Check program convenient, or invasive?

Transportation Security AdministrationThe Transportation Security Agency has quietly rolled out the Pre-Check program that allows frequent travelers to voluntarily submit to a background check, interview and fingerprints in exchange for a much faster experience through TSA checkpoints in airports.  Is this program convenient for frequent travelers or something much more invasive?

Since 2011, the TSA has tested the program at 40 different airports.  It allows pre-screened travelers to proceed through TSA checkpoints without removing their shoes and belt.  Light jackets can be worn and computers / liquids can remain in carry-on luggage.

The program requires an $85 enrollment fee, but there is no guarantee that travelers will pass the background check and get approved – or be provided a reason if denied.  Worse, approved travelers are still not guaranteed to swiftly breeze through TSA checkpoints due to the agency’s random screening of pre-checked passengers and lengthening Pre-Check lines.  Approved passengers can be removed from the program at any time, without notice or reason.  However, their background information remains saved.

The FBI keeps fingerprint records on file for 75 years and are used in the investigation of crimes by local and federal law enforcement agencies.  Along with a background check and personal interview, financial information is also required before passengers are approved for the program, which is NOT protected under the Privacy Act of 1974.  As a result, travelers are not permitted to request a copy of the information that the TSA investigation keeps on them, which makes it nearly impossible for law-abiding travelers to ensure accuracy and protect against abuses of personal information.

Privacy rights activists are concerned over the information that average Americans are willingly giving up to the government.  “I would not apply for one of these trusted-traveler programs, which in the past have involved giving the government more information or authorizing it to get more information about me,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Lee Tien.

Even if you are lucky enough to get approved for the program, there is no guarantee that the “elite-line” will be any faster than the regular TSA checkpoint lines, or more organized.  “Most recently, I was flying Delta from LaGuardia and the TSA PreCheck line at the terminal looked like it was a mile long and not moving very fast at all while the normal and elite security lines were chugging along and a lot shorter,” remarked one traveler.  “The non-TSA agents manning the lines were not checking for TSA Precheck and frankly the whole situation was out of hand. Something is wrong with this picture. Or many somethings.”

After the TSA expanded the Pre-Check program to 60 airports earlier in the year, passengers nationwide have noticed a distinct lengthening of lines through the very Pre-Check areas that were designed to avoid long and frustrating wait periods that the unwashed traveler is subjected to.

Now, 97 airports participate in the program.

Former TSA agent admits screenings are false security

TSA-pat-downIn a scathing attack published in the New York Post, a former Newark Transportation Security Agency employee blasted the ill-prepared, undisciplined and ineffectual TSA screening process throughout the country, calling it “make believe” and largely for show.

Because cameras are rolling, the employee said screeners are forced to do “something” – including pat downs and other tasks that make it look as if the TSA makes our airways safer.  “I’ve had to screen small children and explain to their parents I had no choice but to “check” them. I would only place my hands on their arms and bottom half of their legs, and the entire “pat-down” lasted 10 seconds. This goes completely against TSA procedure.”

“These are the employees who could never keep a job in the private sector,” he said.  “I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.”

He continued by saying TSA agents have been repeatedly caught falling asleep on the job, and the failure rate of catching potentially “dangerous” objects is quite high.  Supervisors are often mentally elsewhere and play very little role in the day-to-day operations of the TSA.  The agency does not require a high school diploma to be a screener, and most screeners are there primarily because of the generous pay (~$15/hour, starting) and benefits.  Most do not care, while some are far too generous exercising their “right” to confiscate passenger’s belongings.

“A small number of screeners are delusional zealots who believe they’re keeping America safe by taking your snow globe, your 2-inch pocket knife, your 4-ounce bottle of shampoo and performing invasive pat-downs on your kids.”

Read the remainder of the attach on the TSA here.

Man suing TSA after being thrown in jail over peanut butter joke

nutty8n-4-webFrank Hannibal got more than he bargained for when making his way through the TSA screening area at LaGuardia Airport.  TSA agents were apparently concerned about the thin layer of oil over top his gourmet Crazy Richards peanut butter and pulled the married father of two out of line for inspection.

Jokingly, Hannibal commented to his family that “They’re looking to confiscate my explosives”.  A TSA agent overheard the comment and immediately called for police, who proceeded to handcuff the dangerous jokster and took him to jail where he spent the next 25 hours after being charged with falsely reporting an incident, which is a felony.

The charges were baffling – Hannibal made the remark to his family, not a TSA agent or police officer.  It remains unclear how making a comment to one’s family can be considered “reporting an incident”.  Apparently the local police department agreed and eventually dropped the ridiculous charges.

Hannibal is suing the TSA for $5 million.  “It sounds laughable now but at the time to be led out of there like a terrorist was unbelievable,” Hannibal said. “My whole life was up in the air. It was a nightmare. My children were overwhelmed. It was crazy.”