The TSA has a blog

Our favorite federal administration, the TSA, has just launched a blog, called Evolution of Security. It kicks off with a cheerful message from Kip Hawley.

I applaud his reason for launching the blog:

One of my major goals of 2008 is to get TSA and passengers back on the same side, working together. We need your help to get the checkpoint to be a better environment for us to do our security job and for you to get through quickly and onto your flight. Seems like the way to get that going is for us to open up and hear your feedback...

The 270 comments following Hawley's introductory post contain a mix of congratulatory messages (most of these are from proud TSA employees), accounts of bad experiences with the TSA, general and specific questions, and suggestions for improvement.

Here's a typical comment from a citizen:

DHS and TSA are fundamentally broken. Disband both immediately and return our civil liberties. Thank goodness Richard Reid did not conceal something in his underpants or these people would be strip-searching every poor grandma from here to Branson. Would someone please explain to these people that putting shoes through an x-ray does not mean they don't contain an explosive? And honestly-- Refusing a valid ID because it is "expired"? Confiscating deodorant and sun block? Does anyone believe that this kabuki security theater really makes us safer? If you guys are serious about your responsibility to protect the country I suggest you start by (1) not cutting off "TSA approved" locks anymore (2) learning and sticking to your own rules and regs especially those pertaining to passengers with medical problems (3) not trying to intimidate anyone who asks for a complaint form and (4) immediately crack down on the threatening screeners who shout "do you want to fly today?" anytime their crazy made-up-on-the-spot orders are questioned by passengers--who in my opinion often know the rules better than the screeners themselves. Oh and by the way your first amendment rights to free speech don't stop when you enter an airport screening area, even at MKE.

Another citizen:

Traveling through Chicago I set off the metal detactor. I'm an almost 60 year female. I stopped dead in my tracts, afraid of what I had done. The TSA lady (??) barked at me worse way than how I talk to my large dog. All she kept yelling at me was, "BACK!" I'm not that used to traveling and didn't know what she meant. Why cannot you not talk to us as if we are 'people'? You say that you yourselves are people...I doubt that!

And here's a typical comment from a TSA employee:

As a LTSO I have very proud to work for TSA. I understand that some of the passengers do not like taking off their shoes or surrendering their toothpaste, however, there are many passengers that thank us for what we do. We must all remember that 9/11 happened and we are just trying to make the air safe for everyone. Flying is not a right granted under the Bill of Rights and due to the state of the world today, we must all make smart decisions. I am proud of what we do and what we represent. Thank you Mr. Hawley!!
The comments make for entertaining reading, but I'm skeptical that any positive changes to TSA policies will be made as a result. Link


  1. hah! the blog opens with a dozen puff pieces and internal ass-kissing and then descends (or ascends) into 300 plus anti-TSA rants.

    Watch it vanish soon.

  2. “Flying is not a right granted under the Bill of Rights and due to the state of the world today, we must all make smart decisions. I am proud of what we do and what we represent. Thank you Mr. Hawley!!”

    With that attitude ingrained in their employees (trickled down from above), is it any wonder there’s an adversarial relationship? “Flying is not a right…”. What a tool.

  3. “Flying is not a right granted under the Bill of Rights”

    Agree. However the TSA are NOT in the business of operating aircraft. The TSA ARE in the business of “searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a “probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.”

  4. well, since everyone will be driving instead of flying for domestic travel I suppose the silver lining is the increased profits for whoever holds shares in petroleum related businesses. They have to fly those planes empty to keep their routes so there won’t be any savings there.

  5. The freedom of breathing was not outlined in the Bill of Rights either, was that the loophole they used for waterboarding??

  6. I read somewhere that the carbon footprint of a person flying is approximately the same as that of one who is flying. It does not go up or down exponentially the more people you add to the equation. The only thing that flying does is get you someplace faster. The damage to the environment is approximately the same.

    Traveling by plane is such a pain in the ass now that anytime I have to travel less than 600 miles, I’ll gladly jump in a rental car and drive. The time spent at the airport, in security lines, on the tarmac and waiting for crappy weather to clear sometimes works out to be more or equal to the amount of time it takes me to drive.

  7. And I want to be clear that I totally don’t expect my superiors to read my enormously ass-kissing smarmy suck up note and promote me. No, not at all, Mr. Chertoff, you strong handsome, handsome man.

  8. Has anyone noticed that the blog is hosted by blogger? (Try commenting) Not that there’s anything wrong with a government agency freeloading on a service intended for individual users…
    Next, the TSA wants to ‘friend’ you on Myspace!

  9. The carbon footprint may be the same(sic) but the type of pollution caused is totally different, there is the chemical pollutant at higher levels that doesn’t disperse properly aswell as noise pollution and impact on birdlife (somebody please correct me or site examples as I haven’t got any to flesh out at the mo), so driving is always going to have a lower overall impact then flying. I’m not saying this justifies TSA’s ridiculous antics by the way ;-)

  10. @ #12 Bonnie: I really hope the next president does a total rehaul of TSA so it’s actually useful for once.

    I hope the next president addresses the issues that are making it “necessary” to have an agency such as the TSA in the first place, so as to render it perfunctory.

  11. Ha ha, no more comments. Someone should take a screenshot of the page before it is sanitized by the new TSA 3-1-1 blogging rule (all comments must be 3 words or less. 1 words must be “TSA.” 1 other word must be “wonderful.”)

    Please remove shoes before posting comments.

  12. Have any of the US Presidential candidates said anything to indicate that they’re contemplating reforming DHS and the TSA?

  13. @ #22 Elysianartist –
    Sure, or that. I’m curious about whether any of the candidates have even put thought into this issue. That would already be a plus. The particular position is actually less interesting to me, since “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” but a President who has worked out some sort of position on the issue is more likely to do anything at all to address it.

  14. Well, the TSA has already shut off comments on its blog. I guess it passed the 3 oz limit.
    During my travels post 9/11 I have had occasion to fly out of airports on private and leased aircraft.
    TSA doesn’t even regulate these flights or do security checks. During one trip my girlfriend was waved onto the tarmac and drove within thirty feet of the plane. The co-pilot carried my luggage to the car trunk. Last year a friend helped me rescue Tuxedo, a
    Spaniel that I was adopting. We rolled his plane out of his hanger space at one Air Force base, taxied past C5A’s and Warthogs, and landed at another Air Force base 40 minutes later. Granted we filed a flight plan, but encountered no security or TSA during the trip. So, in my experience, fly with someone who owns or shares a plane.

  15. Patrick @5 and nzruss @6:

    Neither flying nor any other right is granted to anyone under the Constitution.

    That’s the thing about rights, which are political conditions necessary for the life of a morally autonomous being: they aren’t granted. They are just there.

  16. hmm;
    “The basis under which the TSA restricts carry-on items is 49USC44935, which prohibits weapons. It also covers “dual use” items, but that “means an item that may seem harmless but that may be used as a weapon.”

    If I then publish a manual of techniques and methods utilizing objects of clothing as weapons (garrotes, whips, flails, maces,clubs etc.) and widely disseminate said manual over the web, TSA is duty bound to take cognizance of this “threat” under “dual use items” – and further, would be duty bound to take action to nullify it.


  17. Takuan, do it!! That might help make flying more fun..

    …oh wait, never mind. NEVERMIND! Don’t do it!! [runs away, whimpering]

  18. is it possible to soak clothing with liquid (or powder) explosives? What screening is employed to defend from this?

  19. #32 takuan – Yes, it’s possible to soak your clothes in liquid explosives, but as far as I know they all stink, so a detector should be pretty easy to build. However, as of 1 month ago (last time I flew…), I can confirm they are NOT screenging out stinky passengers. (I admit, it was me. I reeked.)

    And I suppose you could impregnate your clothes with gunpowder too, but from what I understand, they’d be prone to vanishing in a bright flash and puff of smoke. A simple test would be to have a spot welder working above the x-ray machine, raining sparks down on those below. Unfortunately, there are very few terrorists who I would like to see after their clothes had just burned off, which is probably why this hasn’t been rolled out yet.

  20. The TSA employee that wrote that “Flying is not a right granted under the Bill of Rights” shows a surprisingly good grasp of how the Constitution and Bill of Rights work. He or she is correct in that the rights of the people are NOT granted by the Constitution or Bill of Rights, but rather rest innately in the people.

    The Constitution and Bill of Rights serve as limitations on the power of government to restrict these rights.

    Specifically, the right to fly is part of an unenumerated right to travel, and thus protected by the Tenth Amendment. The Supreme Court has on multiple occasions recognized the right to travel, including U.S. v Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966) and Shapiro v Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969).

    The Constitution serves as grant from the people to the government of certain powers. Article I Section 8 enumerates the Powers of Congress, and
    Article II enumerates the Powers of the President. Neither of these include any Power to limit travel within the United States, require government issued identification for such travel, or conduct unreasonable searches and seizures (e.g., body searches and seizure of liquids, gels, screwdrivers, etc.). In fact, these searches and seizures are explicitly prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, since they are plainly unreasonable. (To be reasonable, they would have to serve a demonstrably rational purpose in furthering a legitimate function of government, and to be effective at performing that function.)

  21. “Flying is not a right granted under the Bill of Rights and due to the state of the world today, we must all make smart decisions. I am proud of what we do and what we represent. Thank you Mr. Hawley!!”

    hmmm what about the Ninth amendment??? just because it isn’t “Expressly” enumerated in the “bill of rights” doesn’t mean you don’t have the right…

  22. The flight attendants will bring you a perfectly serviceable weapon free for the asking – just ask for a seatbelt extender.

  23. it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that the TSA “bloggers” are actually reassigned TSO’s or PR firm lackeys with scripted parameters. gubment budgets are made to be shoveled. or in other words, “if you don’t spend it this fiscal year you can’t increase in the next”

  24. Over 700 comments, you say? I count only 422 on the first post. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say ‘memory hole’ or ‘secret detention’ or ‘no fly list’? There are other posts with other comments, but I don’t know how long they are going to bother keeping this blog up, with how cheerful they have to be in contrast to the comments they are receiving.

    There’s a delightful message from ‘anonymous’ that offers a multiple-choice quiz in which the correct answer seems to be ‘Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40’ and seems to have been copied verbatim from a forwarded email (they neglected to remove the antivirus banner from the end of the text).

    Certainly a fun adventure in government communication. Why they aren’t using their own servers instead of hosting comments on blogger, I don’t know.

  25. Posting on that blog is sure to get you bumped up to the top of the n0-fly list.
    When I travel I pack a big ass gun. Straight up. You get special treatment from the TSA when you’re checking a high power rifle in with your luggage.

  26. Apparently TSA only closed that initial “open thread” in favor of posting in the new categories, which are accumulating plenty of postings (and there is a new de facto open thread at the top).

    I think you can safely assume that the reason the first N posts were from TSA’ers is that TSA notified about the blog in-house and they got the word faster than we did.

    I was a bit skeptical of Mark’s “typical citizen posting” comment, so I started at the end (to avoid that in-house clump up front) and read every 8th message going backward, until I got tired of it. Here is my thumbnail of each:

    – pro-tsa capslocked rant (user “tsa”)
    – lots of good stuff but how do we know they’re reading?
    – better way to get our stuff back
    – site needs format change
    – security is inconsistent airport to airport
    – “post office rejects” slur
    – dehumanizing – we’re not cattle
    – thanks to tsa – people should learn rules
    – no credibility – airport inconsistency
    – slip on shoes/baby shoes – airport inconsistency
    – shoes/flip flops – airport inconsistency
    – TSA doing its job, but railroads and borders?
    – common sense – “touch that horn” overreaction
    – site font and cookies
    – need categories – inconsistency
    – why my messages not appear?
    – need expedited screening – better customer service

    I hope this blog will give TSA some useful perspective. For example, many people seem to have far less problem with the procedures than with seeing them applied inconsistently from one airport to the next. That saps confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the security screen.

    Overall it’s an excellent idea. I hope it doesn’t become a political football and get shut down.

  27. I think I’m going to use 9/11 as my excuse for anything from now on, no matter how ridiculous. “Well, ever since 9/11…” People will hear that and just *know*.

  28. #32:

    At the Cincinnati airport they have a machine I call “The Puffer” that, when entered, blows brief, strong puffs of air on you and then apparently analyzes them for traces of explosives. However, they don’t run everyone through the machine, just a lucky few pulled out of line randomly.

  29. guess I shouldn’t go to the range the morning of a flight. Or stand around the main lobby area squirting traces of chemical explosives on passer-bys.

  30. if the danger of a flight being bombed is so pants-wettingly imminent, why haven’t these prospective mass murderers just shot a few jets out of the sky with shoulder-launched rockets by now?

    There are hundreds of thousands of MANPADs (yes, that’s what they call them) loose out there. Hell, you could probably buy one if you had ten grand.
    So where is the smoking wreckage?

  31. Lilah mentioned the GE EntryScan3 “air puffer” machines – they are in at least sporadic use at quite a few airports around the country and have been since 2004. I believe it’s still a pilot program, partly because it turns out that in steady production use they tend to break down a lot. And one symptom when they’re nearing breakdown is that analysis (the part where you stand and wait for the doors to open after the puffin’) gets slower and slooower. And they’re not that fast when they’re working perfectly. As a result, passenger throughput is really low with the puffer. So they can’t afford to do what they do with metal detectors, namely share them across adjacent lines. Instead, when one breaks down they route around it until it can be removed for service. On the rare occasions where there are a lot of them working, I try to avoid them if I’m travelling with my cat, because I have to hold her on the walkthru and the puffs really freak her out. Takuan is right – if you go shooting at the range, go home and take a shower and change clothes before flying, or things will get interesting.

    Takuan also asks about shoulder-fired missiles as a security threat. The general answer to this is that while the threat is taken seriously, and countermeasures are installed on El Al and some American flights and will probably be added to more planes in the future, it is important to remember that the passive infrared homing systems on most SAM’s are designed to find and hit the extremely hot and compact exhaust of a military jet engine – a dazzling pinpoint to the missile’s infrared “eye.” By comparison, the big turbofans used in commercial airliners are cool, dim and wide. It is hard for a traditional SAM (which is what our corrupt and lazy friends have flooded the market with) to find and lock on to airliner exhaust. Al Qaeda stood right there at Mombasa airport and uncorked a pair of Strela-2’s at a departing (and defenseless) Israeli charter jet. Both missed.

    Laser guided missiles are of course a deadly threat. I think you would find that what happens is that a lot of people spend a lot of time finding the bad guys and the bad hardware before this happens.

  32. is your cat checked for a surgically implanted bomb?

    How much are Stingers these days? How is their shelf life?

  33. @ #45 PTERYXX:
    Yeah, I’m not surprised that Ron Paul is smart about this stuff. He’s most likely going to get my primary vote, which unfortunately won’t count, since my state votes after Super Tuesday, and McCain seems to have sewn up that party already.

    It’s a shame that the “mainstream” candidates apparently don’t have the courage (they probably do have the intelligence) to talk about this issue. I wonder if McCain and Paul would consider banding together and forming a Conservative Anti-Establishment ticket. I think that such a ticket could beat Clinton easily.

  34. My pet undergoes the same screening I do – a walk through the metal detector. I’ve never been a selectee with the animal, so I don’t know if they would wand her. They certainly fuss and coo over her (she’s a calm little chocolate colored Burmese). The other day a big male TSO sheepishly (but unbidden) pulled out a little color picture of his cat to show me. It was pretty funny, but it reminded me that these guys feel the dehumanization of their job as much or more than we notice it in our periodic encounters.

    Most Stingers (particularly most black market ones) are dumb passive IR; some advanced variants have a UV component to ignore flare countermeasures. They have the same problem with dim, cool civilian engine exhausts as other MANPADS. If you are genuinely interested in the issue (not clear from posting context) there is more information on proliferation available from the Federation of American Scientists.

    Any mainstream candidate who proposed abolishing the TSA would soon cease to be a mainstream candidate – his or her opponents would commence shredding. Reform of the DHS in general has been discussed, although it doesn’t poll as a leading issue of concern to the voters and therefore you probably won’t hear too much about it.

  35. Do most people in the US actually like the TSA? Doesn’t the average Joe hate them by now? Why can’t someone else take a line like Ron Paul’s? “I want to secure this country. The TSA does nothing toward this goal. If you want to prevent the next 9/11, join me in getting rid of this farse.

  36. it is not in bin-laden’s programme interests to bomb an American jetliner. A bombing would justify the TSA,release the anger built up against the government and provoke direct attack in Pakistan (or even moreso). The TSA is doing bin-Ladens work for him. As planned. And announced.

  37. OK,
    My bias should be towards TSA since they are my employer, but its not.
    Time after time qualified individuals are passed over for promotion for no other reasonthan they are not former colleagues of management in thier previous employer’s Law Enforcement Agency.
    You ould think the tsa’S new BDO (Behavior Detection Officer) program would want psych majors and educated people involved. Nope! We want previous Civil Liberties Violators and uneducated simpletons ivolved in singling out the real threats in our airports: Grandmas and minoroties beware! Leave your toothpaste at home! The TSA’s new BDOs are on the job and thier experience as Wal*Mart stock persons and police department honor gaurds will keep us safe from bad UPC codes and unpolished shoes.
    I for one am hoping future employers don’t realize what I have been doing for the past few years. I fear my hard work for the past 5 years may have done more harm than good.

  38. read Imperial Life in the Emerald City. All the appointees to “rebuild” Iraq were cronies, hacks and kids.

  39. TSA at Miami International Airport is a hole of corruption and despotism, 8 officer were caught steling passengers property and not a word was said about. Their manager was never in place to prevent it and a lot of fraud are commited in their Time and Leave sheet.
    Everything happened at concourse J first floor, please investigate this!!!
    A disgusted TSA Officer

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