The sock monkey above is called "Rooster Monkburn," and he was created by Phillis May, who makes a sells sock monkeys. When Ms May and her husband traversed the TSA checkpoint at
SEA-TAC St Louis airport, an eagle-eyed TSA operative noticed that Rooster was sporting a sub-two-inch toy pistol, which she seized, threatening to call police. Altogether, now, everyone: U! S! A! U! S! A! U! S! A!
May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol.
“She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.”
“She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May.
The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police.
“I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.”
“She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor.
TSA agent confiscates sock monkey's toy pistol [Susan Wyatt/King 5 News]
(Image: Phyllis May)
Phil writes, "Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project is doing a fantastic job of reporting on-site from Ibrahim v. DHS, the first legal challenge of United States government's no-fly list that has ever seen a courtroom. On the first day of trial, the judge learned that the plaintiff's daughter, scheduled to testify, was delayed because she had been denied boarding of her flight because she was put a Department of Homeland Security no-fly list. DHS staff deny this. The government's lawyers told the judge that the daughter is lying. The airline provided documentation of the DHS no-fly order. The subject matter of this trial is intense---restriction of movement based on blacklists---but there's no sign of an end to the jaw-dropping entertainment."
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Last March, Evan Booth presented a blockbuster talk at Kuala Lumpur's Hack the Box conference, explaining how to improvise lethal weapons from items in airport gift shops and duty-free stores. He's kept up the work since then on a website called Terminal Cornucopia, and he's presented 10 of his scariest weapons for a Wired story. And though the functional, breech-loading shotgun made from Red Bull cans, Axe body spray, and batteries (above) is impressive, it's only for beginners. There's also fragmentary grenades made from coffee tumblers, and a dart gun that uses braided condoms for its elastic.
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10 years and $900M later, the TSA's behavioral analysis program is a debacle. Here's the US Government Accountability Office on the program: "Ten years after the development of the SPOT program, TSA cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its behavior detection activities. Until TSA can provide scientifically validated evidence demonstrating that behavioral indicators can be used to identify passengers who may pose threat to aviation security, the agency risks funding activities [that] have not been determined to be effective."
Basically, the TSA has spent a decade and nearly a billion dollars reinventing phrenology. I feel safer already.
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The Arizona Republic has found a large cohort of elderly and retired people who claim to have been abused by TSA staff at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport. The passengers claim that they were required to remove their prostheses (particularly prosthetic breasts worn by cancer survivors), and that their objections were met with threats and hostility.
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A woman who valet-parked her car at Rochester airport returned to find a notice informing her that the valet had searched her car, on orders from the TSA. The TSA does not search cars in the other garages, and they do not provide notice to valet parkers that their cars are subject to search. The TSA says it searches the parked cars because they are stored close enough to the terminal that a bomb could do serious damage.
John McCaffery, TSA, said, “No, those vehicles that are in the garage, short term long term parking, even if they carry pretty large amounts of explosives, they would not cause damage to the front of the airport. But for those who use the valet, the car could be there for a half hour or an hour so there is a vulnerability.”
News10NBC went to the valet parking and one of the attendants showed us the notice they put in the cars.
We asked, “You're required, they tell you, you have to search the car?” Valet Parking Attendant Frank Dettorre said, “I have to do it.”
My prediction: the TSA will erect a sign at the valet drop-off saying, "By valet parking, you agree that we can search your car." And that will be the end of it. Because in the 21st century, posting a notice of your unreasonable conduct is the same as getting consent for it.
TSA searches valet parked car [Berkeley Brean/WHEC.com]
Magic words to TSA are not "please" or "thank you".. It's "Twitter".. cane released to go home.. twitter.com/TheWookieeRoar…— Peter Mayhew (@TheWookieeRoars) June 3, 2013
Peter Mayhew, the seven-foot-tall actor who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies, livetweeted his dustup with the TSA operatives at Denver airport as they attempted to confiscate his light-saber-themed cane, which he needs to walk. The TSA agents apparently objected to the cane because it was too long (Mayhew explains, "Giant man need giant cane.. small cane snap like toothpick.... besides.. my light saber cane is just cool.. I would miss it.."). The tweets came to the attention of American Airlines, with whom Mayhew is a million-mile flyer, and they intervened with the TSA to get him on his flight with his mobility aid.
Mayhew was returning to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport from an appearance at Denver Comic Con early this week when TSA agents refused to let Chewie board his plane with one of a kind cane.
The TSA has backed down from its moment of sanity in which it decided to allow golf-clubs, small knives and other items that pose no threat to airplanes back in the sky. The TSA's move had been a welcome effort to clarify that it was attempting to prevent terrorists from crashing airplanes, not prevent bodily harm to passengers (in order to do the latter, it would have had to also ban socks full of quarters, large booze-bottles from the duty-free, and innumerable other objects capable of harming crew and passengers). However, after hysterical criticism from flight crews, flier groups and cowardly congressmen, it changed its mind.
"After extensive engagement with the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and other important stakeholders, TSA will continue to enforce the current prohibited items list," Mr Pistole said.
Jonathan M. Katz reported on the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake for the AP. What he saw there ran contrary to the prevailing narrative of violence, looting and lawlessness in the streets. Instead, what he found was another example of "Elite Panic", the UN's "relief" forces landing heavily armed people all around the island who treated everyone as a bestial looter. Katz's piece on the experience draws comparisons with the way that the aftermath of Katrina, Sandy and other disasters were reported -- a stilted, evidence-free narrative that demanded that life be like the movies, where the slightest faltering of the state is immediately attended by a descent into savagery.
Yet authorities themselves showed an equal — and often far more dangerous — tendency to overreact. Trymaine Lee, part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Katrina coverage at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, wrote a scathing report from New Orleans five years later for The New York Times. Having taken time to investigate and reflect, he reported that despite a popular belief that the storm zone had been an inherently violent place, “Today, a clearer picture is emerging … including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe...."
That pacific posture wasn’t deployed in Haiti. Paratroopers landed, rifles in hand, on the lawn of the destroyed National Palace, while thousands more troops waited aboard warships in the bay of Port-au-Prince, never to disembark. The U.S. Southern Command cited “serious concerns within the (U.S. government) and international community that the security situation could sharply deteriorate, and that the U.S. military might have to provide security broadly in the affected areas and beyond.” (Anderson, who was not in Haiti, said he agreed with that posture, noting: “The Haitians are very demonstrative people, loud, and there’s insecurity there on a good day much less a bad day.”)
UN peacekeepers, whose ranks also swelled after the quake, organized food distributions with a defensive posture, herding thousands of Haitians into open squares under the sun’s apogee, then standing in front of food with riot shields, clubs and rifles at the ready, pepper-spraying and beating people as they came to get the food, with no clear provocation. News accounts often referred to these scenes as “riots.”
Finding peace in post-disaster Haiti [Jonathan M. Katz/Ochberg Society]
An anonymous reader of Dave Farber's Interesting People list has discovered a glaring flaw in the TSA's protocol for secondary screening:
today at newark airport i used a paperless electronic boarding pass on my cell phone (as i usually do). i got through the id check, stripped down to my skivvies (almost), and as i was about to walk through the magnetometer (they still have those at united newark), they were yelling out that they were checking boarding passes, take them along through the mag.
i said, it's on my phone, you really want i should take my phone through the mag?
they said "no, only take your paper boarding passes".
huh? sure enough, if you said you used a mobile boarding pass, they believed you (anddidn't even look at it (of course, only another scanner could really verify its authenticity.)
so after a bit of conversation, i found out that they were checking the paper boardingpasses to check for the dreaded four esses, meaning "secondary screening". if you are randomly selected for secondary screening at checkin, they currently won't issue you an electronic boarding pass, you have to do a manual check-in.
so now they have created a situation where someone selected for secondary screening can get through the id check with their paper boarding pass showing the SSSS, and then, when they reach the mag where the screening would occur, simply lie, saying they are using an electronic boarding pass to avoid secondary screening.
As we think about the postmortem on security procedures following from the Boston Marathon attack and plan on new procedures, Bruce Schneier has some crucial security design advice: don't forget transparency and accountability. Without these two crucial elements, security can't work:
Long ago, we realized that simply trusting people and government agencies to always do the right thing doesn't work, so we need to check up on them. In a democracy, transparency and accountability are how we do that. It's how we ensure that we get both effective and cost-effective government. It's how we prevent those we trust from abusing that trust, and protect ourselves when they do. And it's especially important when security is concerned.
First, we need to ensure that the stuff we're paying money for actually works and has a measureable impact. Law-enforcement organizations regularly invest in technologies that don't make us any safer. The TSA, for example, could devote an entire museum to expensive but ineffective systems: puffer machines, body scanners, FAST behavioral screening, and so on. Local police departments have been wasting lots of post-9/11 money on unnecessary high-tech weaponry and equipment. The occasional high-profile success aside, police surveillance cameras have been shown to be a largely ineffective police tool.
Sometimes honest mistakes led organizations to invest in these technologies. Sometimes there's self-deception and mismanagement -- and far too often lobbyists are involved. Given the enormous amount of security money post-9/11, you inevitably end up with an enormous amount of waste. Transparency and accountability are how we keep all of this in check.
Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement does what we expect it to do and nothing more. Police powers are invariably abused. Mission creep is inevitable, and it results in laws designed to combat one particular type of crime being used for an ever-widening array of crimes. Transparency is the only way we have of knowing when this is going on.
Slate's Ryan Gallagher caught wind of a new face recognition software being rolled out at the Statue of Liberty. He interviewed a rep from Total Recall, who were reported to be representing Cognitec, the German company whose product, FaceVACS was going in on Liberty Island. Halfway through the interview, Total Recall's director of business development Peter Millius terminated the call, saying that the project was on hold, or possibly cancelled, "vetoed" by the Park Police.
Then it got weird. Cognitec and its lawyers began to barrage Gallagher with emails and letters warning him that if he wrote about this, they'd sue him. When he asked Total Recall for clarification, they threatened to sue him, personally, for harassment. The National Park Service didn't have much to say about the bid, saying "I'm not going to show my hand as far as what security technologies we have." Go, security-through-obscurity! Hurrah for spending tax dollars without any transparency!
Gallagher reported the whole story, including the threats. Whatever merits or demerits Total Recall and Cognitec have as companies, turning into weird, opaque legal-threat-generating machines in the middle of an interview and harassing and intimidating journalists sounds like the kind of thing that should disqualify them from getting any of the American public's money.
“We do work with Cognitec, but right now because of what happened with Sandy it put a lot of different pilots that we are doing on hold,” Peter Millius, Total Recall’s director of business development, said in a phone call. “It’s still months away, and the facial recognition right now is not going to be part of this phase.” Then, he put me hold and came back a few minutes later with a different position—insisting that the face-recognition project had in fact been “vetoed” by the Park Police and adding that I was “not authorized” to write about it.
That was weird, but it soon got weirder. About an hour after I spoke with Total Recall, an email from Cognitec landed in my inbox. It was from the company’s marketing manager, Elke Oberg, who had just one day earlier told me in a phone interview that “yes, they are going to try out our technology there” in response to questions about a face-recognition pilot at the statue. Now, Oberg had sent a letter ordering me to “refrain from publishing any information about the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” It said that I had “false information,” that the project had been “cancelled,” and that if I wrote about it, there would be “legal action.” Total Recall then separately sent me an almost identical letter—warning me not to write “any information about Total Recall and the Statue of Liberty or the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” Both companies declined further requests for comment, and Millius at Total Recall even threatened to take legal action against me personally if I continued to “harass” him with additional questions.
Redditor Federal Reservations has made a handy post enumerating all the regressive, authoritarian, corporatist policies enacted by the Obama administration in its one-and-a-bit terms. You know, for someone the right wing press likes to call a socialist, Obama sure makes Richard Nixon look like Che Guevara. And what's more, this is only a partial list, and excludes the parade of copyright horrors and bad Internet policy emanating from the White House, via Joe Biden's push for Six Strikes, the US Trade Rep's push for secret Internet censorship and surveillance treaties like TPP and ACTA and TAFTA; the DoJ's push to criminalize every Internet user by expanding the CFAA, and much, much more.
Obama extends Patriot Act without reform - 
Signs NDAA 2011 (and 2012, and 2013) - 
Appeals the Federal Court decision that “indefinite detention” is unconstitutional - 
Double-taps a 16-year-old American-born US citizen living in Yemen, weeks after the boy's father was killed. Administration's rationale? He "should have [had] a far more responsible father" - 
Continues to approve drone strikes that kill thousands of innocent civilians including women and children in Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries that do not want the US intervening; meanwhile, according to the Brookings Institute's Daniel Byman, we are killing 10 civilians for every one mid- to high- level Al Qaeda/Taliban operative. This is particularly disturbing, since now any military-aged male in a strike zone is now officially considered an enemy combatant - 
Protects Bush’s war crimes as State Secrets -   
Waives sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa in order to deepen military relationship with countries that have poor human rights records -
Here's a writeup of Evan Booth's Hack the Box conference presentation on making lethal weapons out of items bought in airport duty-free shops. It's pretty ingenious stuff (the video above is from a related presentation at CarolinaCon 2013).
The problem here is that legitimate purpose of airport security is not protecting passengers and flight attendants from harm. In reality, there's no way to accomplish that goal against a determined attacker. The real and legitimate purpose of airport security is to protect airplanes and cockpits from harm -- to stop people from hijacking and/or crashing airplanes (this is why the TSA correctly relaxed its rules about carrying small knives onto planes -- and why so many of their other rules are pointless and stupid). So long as none of these lethal weapons can crash an airplane or beat an armored, bolted cockpit door, they embody no new incremental threat to aviation -- on the other hand, the improvised battery-bombs are a real threat.
Besides a bomb knew Booth also easy to make a bow and arrow of stuff he had bought in a shop in an airport. For this he used an umbrella, hair dryer, socks, a leather belt and condoms. Too obvious things like a lighter and deodorant as alternative gas burner he did not elaborate.
Booth also made a crossbow of an umbrella, floss, grab a toy, a rolkoffertje, a straw and tape. With a straw, cotton and a piece of metal from a remote controlled helicopter he was able to make a blow gun for firing arrows.
Remarkable is also a club that he made a gift, what magazines, floss, a leather strap and tape. In a test showed that so firmly, that he with a single blow a coconut in several parts stores.
Onderzoeker maakt bom van artikelen luchthavenwinkels [Dutch, Nu.nl]
Researcher makes bomb Articles airport shops [Google Translate]
French spies demand removal of a Wikipedia entry, threaten random Wikipedia admin in France when they don't get their way
The French spy agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur inexplicably flipped out about a longstanding Wikipedia entry on a military base (station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute) filled with public domain, widely known information. They tried to get the Wikimedia Foundation to delete it, but wouldn't explain what, exactly, they objected to in the entry. When the Wikimedia Foundation rebuffed them, they picked out a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.
The Foundation is trying to support the their volunteer as best as they can. Meantime, the post about station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute's pageviews have shot from a couple per day to 9000+.
The Foundation takes allegations of national security threats seriously and investigated the matter accordingly. However, it was not readily apparent what specific information the DCRI could consider classified or otherwise high-risk. Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified. Almost all of the information in the article is cited to publicly-available sources. In fact, the article’s contents are largely consistent with a publicly available video in which Major Jeansac, the chief of the military station in question, gives a detailed interview and tour of the station to a reporter. This video is now cited in the article. Furthermore, the page was originally created on July 24, 2009 and has been continually available and edited since. We do not know why the DCRI believes that the article has suddenly become an urgent threat now.
We requested more information from the DCRI, such as which specific sentences or sections they believed to contain classified information. Unfortunately, the DCRI refused to provide any more specific detail and reaffirmed their demand that the entire article be deleted. Therefore, the Foundation was forced to refuse their request pending receipt of more information that we could use to fully evaluate their claim.
On 30 March 2013, we discovered that the DCRI, evidently dissatisfied with the Foundation’s response, contacted a volunteer with administrative rights (a “sysop”) who resides in France. This sysop is not responsible for the hosting of the content on Wikipedia, had no role in the creation of the article, and is not part of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we understand it, the sysop attempted to explain his limited role as a volunteer and directed them back to the Foundation’s legal department.
(Image: A general view of the military base of Pierre sur Haute, located in the Monts du Forez. It's a dependency of the Base Aerienne 942 of Lyon-Mont Verdun, GDL/CC BY-SA image by S. Rimbaud)
Sai has "a neurological disorder that causes episodic muteness and muscle spasms" -- basically, he sometimes becomes mute and gets bad shakes. His doctor has advised him to have juice continuously available, and this helps control his condition. TSA rules allow him to bring any amount of juice through a checkpoint. Unfortunately, the TSA doesn't read its own rules. Instead, Sai is detained at checkpoints for endless, illegal questioning and searches of his personal papers, confidential business documents, etc. When he loses the ability to speak, he uses pen and paper to communicate, but the TSA takes the pen and paper away as soon as he cites language from a landmark legal case limiting their power to search him.
He's videoed one of these encounters, with the TSA and its private contractors at SFO, and he's filed grievances with various agencies over that incident and another at Boston Logan. The TSA is illegally refusing to follow its own administrative procedures, so he's getting ready to sue them (he needs an ADA and/or FOIA-specialized lawyer qualified for the bar in MA and/or CA and/or federally -- any takers?). He's also trying to force them to disclose their secret procedures.
The edited, subtitled video of his run-in at SFO is fantastically infuriating. The TSA and its private contractors are vindictive, lawless, brutal. But Sai is an inspiring example of calm under fire, a guy who knows his rights back and forwards, and doesn't let the fact that his physical condition is deteriorating -- you can see his tremors -- make him lose his cool (here's the unedited version, which runs to about an hour).
Sai's site has plenty of ways you can help with this, including a petition to Congress and a questionnaire to help him with his Freedom of Information suit. And by helping him, you help everyone who has to fly -- and everyone who cares about freedom in America.
On March 1, 2013, San Francisco TSA refused to allow me to travel with medical liquids. My liquids had been been tested clean by xray & explosive trace detection, and the official on scene specifically acknowledged reading the TSA's Special Needs Memo (including that juice is a medical liquid and that there's no volume restriction on medical liquids). This directly involved the most senior TSA officials at the airport, who detained me for about 50 minutes total.
This is only the most recent in a long string of personal incidents of harassment, denial, or direct refusal to obey TSA's medical liquids policy. This time, though, I got it all on video.
TSA screener finds pepper spray on the floor, gasses five other screeners because he thought it was a laser-pointer
A TSA screener at JFK pepper-sprayed five of his colleagues at Terminal 2 on Tuesday, according to the New York Post. The screener, Chris Yves Dabel, found a pepper-spray cannister on the floor and believed it was a laser-pointer, so (for some reason), he aimed it at five other screeners and pressed the trigger. The six were sent to Jamaica Hospital.
The screener sprayed five other TSA agents around him, sending all six to Jamaica Hospital and halting security checks at Kennedy for at least 15 minutes, police said.
No passengers reported injuries. Dabel refused medical attention.
TSA officials scrambled to keep the embarrassing incident under wraps yesterday — until The Post began inquiring about it, a source said.
Oops, TSA guy goes spray-zy! [NY Post/Josh Margolin]
Castle View School in Canvey Island, Essex, England, briefly banned triangular flapjacks (not pancakes; the English call granola-bar-like food "flapjacks") after a student sustained an injury when another student threw a cornersome flapjack at him. The school authorities required that all flapjacks must be served in rectangular portions, to increase the safety of food-fights.
The ban did not stand very long. Public mockery seems to have killed it.
According to one report, in 2011 British MP and Education Secretary Michael Gove was prevented from taking flapjacks into a cabinet meeting, after officials cited similar safety concerns. That is the only report of that alleged incident, however—although Gove was (and is) the Education Secretary, there does not appear to be any other evidence that he was ever frisked for flapjacks or that even the British government has actually classified them as a security risk.
In a rare, welcome moment of sanity, the TSA has announced that it will allow small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks, wiffle bats, and similar items on planes. Given that you are allowed to bring on canes -- that is, clubs -- and 40-oz duty-free liquor bottles -- that is, long glass knives, this represents no new risk to flight crews. However, aviation employees are beefing and saying that this represents the TSA's convenience, not theirs. Gee, thanks.
On the other hand, they still ban box-cutters -- small knives of a specific, but not particularly lethal form -- because "there’s just too much emotion associated with them, particularly the box cutters." That's from John Pistole, head of the TSA, and apparent believer in sympathetic magic.
The agency will permit knives with retractable blades shorter than 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) and narrower than 1/2 inch, TSA Administrator John Pistole said today at an aviation security conference in Brooklyn. The change, to conform with international rules, takes effect April 25.
Passengers will also be allowed to board flights with some other items that are currently prohibited, including sticks used to play lacrosse, billiards and hockey, ski poles and as many as two golf clubs, Pistole said.
TSA Will Permit Knives, Golf Clubs on U.S. Planes [Jeff Plungis/Bloomberg]
Matthew, a young man who blogs about air-travel, was thrown off a United jet after a flight attendant chastised him for taking photos of the new first class seats. She apparently thought he was a terrorist. According to Matthew, she lied (and the captain backed her up) and said that he refused to stop taking pictures when asked. The captain apparently threatened to have him taken off the plane by the police. Matthew says he's logged 950,000 miles with United though he's only 26 years old, and that this has made him question his views of the airline.
Captain: Sir, you are not flying on this flight.
Me: Can you tell me why?
Captain: My FA tells me she told you to stop taking pictures and you continued to take pictures.
Me: That's a lie, captain. She told me stop taking pictures and I stopped. I did try to explain to her why I was taking pictures—I am a travel writer [I offered him one of my business cards and he too refused to accept it].
Captain: Look, I don't care. You are not flying on this flight. You can make this easy or make this difficult. We'll call the police if we have to.
Me: Why are you threatening me? Your FA is lying—I did not disobey any crewmember instruction.
Captain: Look, we're already late. I'd advise you to get off this plane now. Make it easy on yourself. Don't make us bring the police in. Goodbye.
Me: Wait. Captain, may I have one of your business cards?
Captain: I don't have any, but United will have no trouble finding me. My name is...[removed].
Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania suspended a five-year-old girl for pointing a Hello Kitty bubble-gun at another student, characterizing this as a "terrorist threat." The little girl had to undergo psychiatric evaluation before she was allowed back in. Her parents say that they couldn't get their daughter into another school, because no one wanted a kid with "terrorist" on her transcript. They're considering a lawsuit.
The school claims "the information supplied to the media may not be consistent with the facts" but declines to correct the record. They do, however, offer this empty, mealy-mouthed rubbish: "The Mount Carmel Area School District takes the well-being and safety of students and staff very seriously."
The kindergartner, who attends Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania, caught administrators’ attention after suggesting she and a classmate should shoot each other with bubbles.
“I think people know how harmless a bubble is. It doesn’t hurt,” said Robin Ficker, an attorney for the girl’s family. According to Ficker, the girl, whose identity has not been released, didn’t even have the bubble gun toy with her at school.