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TSA to launch independent study of X-Ray Body Scanners for health risks

Michael Grabell of ProPublica: "Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency's X-ray body scanners." Whether the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or review previous studies is not yet clear. Xeni

The TSA is an irredeemable shitshow, part ten bazillion

This time it's TSA at DFW, who detained a weeping 12-year-old girl with a genetic bone disorder in a wheelchair, separated from her family, on public display, for an hour. Her hands had tested positive for explosive residue, but it was a false alarm. No apologies from the TSA. Oh, and if she was the world's sneakiest suicide bomber, congrats, TSA, you kept her right there among all the other travelers for an hour, while you believed that she was about to blow herself to kingdom come. The Shitshow Agency, indeed. Cory

For those about to opt-out: a TSA scanning machine cheat-sheet

As Cory notes in this pre-Thanksgiving travel day post, some travelers in America will be opting out of scanning machines in TSA lines for privacy concerns, or for health and safety reasons. I wanted to post a reminder, however, that there is more than one type of so-called "TSA full-body scanner" at use in our nation's airports, and not all of them emit ionizing radiation.

This PBS NewsHour story by Miles O'Brien (which I worked on, as a shooter/producer) breaks it down.

Here's the deal: The devices branded "Rapiscan" that look like a blue box are the backscatter devices. These are the controversial devices that emit ionizing radiation (though exactly how much, and whether that's safe, is debatable). They also store and transmit very clearly invasive images of your naked body.

The millimiter wave machines made by L3 that look like a Tardis do not emit ionizing radiation. By all means, go ahead and opt out of those too, if privacy and civil liberties are your primary concern and you believe these searches violate your rights. But the Rapiscan devices are the ones that cause radiation exposure health concerns, not the L3 millimeter wave devices.

Again, the Rapiscan backscatter machines (which cost our government around $200K each) are the ones that emit ionizing radiation and create an invasively clear image of your body ("pornoscanners"). The L3 millimeter wave devices do not.

As ProPublica reports, the Rapiscan devices are quietly disappearing from major airports in the US and showing up in storage warehouses. Nobody in the civilian world is really certain what's going on, but it does appear that the TSA/DHS are retiring the Rapiscan devices for which we taxpayers paid billions.

(Thanks for the explainer, Miles O'Brien!)

Five reasons to opt out of TSA pornoscanners this weekend

Marilyn sez, "Chris Elliott gives 5 good reasons to participate in the Opt Out protest against the TSA's full-body scanners over this Thanksgiving weekend and so far, 65 percent of the people reading his column on Huffington Post say they will take part (including me)."

1. They're not adequately tested and could be dangerous. Unfortunately, the scanners you'll be asked to walk through haven't been properly tested. The latest independent evaluations are actually based on data provided by the TSA. The government wants us to trust it, but it won't give us a reason. That's unacceptable.

2. They're easily foiled. It's not difficult to sneak a weapon through a full-body scanner, according to several reports. The career criminals who might want to do us harm have figured out how to get around the scanners already.

3. They're too expensive. At a quarter of a million bucks a pop, the scanners are a huge waste of taxpayer money. To use one, or to allow one to be used on you, is is an endorsement of an iffy technology. It also lines the pockets of undeserving security contractors, say critics...

5 Reasons I'm Opting Out Of The TSA's Scanners (And You Should Too) (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Artist arrested at Oakland airport for wearing ornate watch

Geoffrey McGann, a southern California artist, was arrested at Oakland airport for wearing an assemblage sculpture/watch he'd made. The TSA were also worried because he had a lot of insoles in his shoes. He was eventually released on $150,000 bail.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A Southern California man was arrested at Oakland International Airport after security officers found him wearing an unusual watch they said could be used to make a timing device for a bomb, authorities said Friday... McGann told Transportation Security Administration officers that he's an artist and the watch is art, Nelson said.

Geoffrey McGann, Man With Strange Watch, Arrested At Oakland Airport [AP] (Thanks to everyone who suggested this!)

Pornoscanner vendor accused of fraud, jailarity may ensue

Rapiscan, makers of the naked-scanner technology used in many US airports, are in a lot of trouble. The TSA has accused them of falsifying their tests results on the software that supposedly protects flier privacy by rendering them as cartoon characters with suspicious blobs wherever the scanner's image-processor thinks they belong. If convicted, the execs at Rapiscan could go to jail, and the company would be assessed for stiff fines and be barred from any future government contracting. Here's more from Wired's Kim Zetter:

DHS has spent about $90 million replacing traditional magnetometers with the controversial body-scanning machines.

Rapiscan has a contract to produce 500 machines for the TSA at a cost of about $180,000 each. The company could be fined and barred from participating in government contracts, or employees could face prison terms if it is found to have defrauded the government.

It’s not the first time Rapiscan has been at the center of testing problems with the machines. The company previously had problems with a “calculation error” in safety tests that showed the machines were emitting radiation levels that were 10 times higher than expected.

It turned out the company’s technicians weren’t following protocol in conducting the tests. They were supposed to test radiation levels of machines in the field 10 times in a row, and then divide the results by 10 to produce an average radiation measurement. But the testers failed to divide the results by 10, producing false numbers.

Maker of Airport Body Scanners Suspected of Falsifying Software Tests

Campaign to opt out of pornoscanners & video TSA checkpoints at Thanksgiving

Dave sez, "The National Opt Out and Film Week, a new campaign designed to expose the abusive policies of the TSA, is set to launch during Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel times of the year -- and the TSA might not be able to stop it."

Supporters of Opt Out and Film Week are encouraged to film TSA activities at their local airport -- even if they are not flying -- and upload the videos to Youtube and other sites. According to the TSA website, filming TSA agents and security checkpoints is not illegal, as long as it does not interfere with security procedures....

... "The reasoning behind a National Opt-Out Week is this: If the TSA decides to shut down its scanners in response to the protest, as it allegedly did in 2010, activists would have ample opportunity to document the action over a period of a week," Elliott wrote in an article for the Huffington Post. "TSA critics would then have more than enough evidence to prove that these scans and pat-downs are a false choice and do practically nothing to improve our safety."

Showdown with TSA set for 'Opt Out and Film Week' November 19-26 Special

TSA inspectors get a larger annual clothing allowance than Marine lieutenants get through their whole careers


TSA "officers" have a new deal: awesome new clothes to wear while they touch your genitals.

Under their new collective bargaining agreement, Transportation Security Administration officers get to spend more taxpayer money on their uniforms every year than a United States Marine Corps lieutenant can spend in a lifetime.

“TSA employees will see their uniform allowances nearly double to $446 per year,” the House Transportation Committee noted in a press release on the TSA’s new collective bargaining agreement. “By comparison, a combat Marine Lieutenant receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400. The cost of the increase in TSA uniform allowance is an estimated $9.63 million annually.”

TSA uniform perks more expensive than Marine Corps (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image: IMG_0374, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from eyeliam's photostream)

Aviation vulnerability: Scan boarding passes to discover if you're in for deep screening; print new barcodes if you don't like what you find

Want to know if you're in for a date with Doctor Jellyfinger the next time you go to the airport? Just print out your boarding-card and scan in the barcode: it encodes whether you're getting the "full security screening" or just the normal humiliation. Information about this vulnerability spread after a John Butler blog-post documented it. Not only can you discover if you're headed for the full monte, but you can also change your screening status by re-encoding the barcode with a different search-depth attached to your reservation.

I have X’d out any information that you could use to change my reservation. But it’s all there, PNR, seat assignment, flight number, name, ect. But what is interesting is the bolded three on the end. This is the TSA Pre-Check information. The number means the number of beeps. 1 beep no Pre-Check, 3 beeps yes Pre-Check. On this trip as you can see I am eligible for Pre-Check. Also this information is not encrypted in any way.

What terrorists or really anyone can do is use a website to decode the barcode and get the flight information, put it into a text file, change the 1 to a 3, then use another website to re-encode it into a barcode. Finally, using a commercial photo-editing program or any program that can edit graphics replace the barcode in their boarding pass with the new one they created. Even more scary is that people can do this to change names. So if they have a fake ID they can use this method to make a valid boarding pass that matches their fake ID. The really scary part is this will get past both the TSA document checker, because the scanners the TSA use are just barcode decoders, they don’t check against the real time information. So the TSA document checker will not pick up on the alterations. This means, as long as they sub in 3 they can always use the Pre-Check line.

October 19, 2012 Security Flaws in the TSA Pre-Check System and the Boarding Pass Check System. (via /.)

Stranded in Hawai'i on the no-fly list

Wade Hicks Jr. got a standby flight on an Air Force jet from Gulfport, Miss to visit his wife, a U.S. Navy lieutenant stationed in Japan. But when the jet set down in Hawai'i, he was not allowed to board it again. He had mysteriously been landed on the FBI's no-fly list, and was stranded in Hawai'i, unable to fly anywhere. Five days later, without comment, the FBI removed him from the list.

Those Feebs, huh?

From Audrey McAvoy in the AP:

"I said, `How am I supposed to get off this island and go see my wife or go home?' And her explanation was: `I don't know,'" Hicks said.

Hicks said he was shocked and thought they must have had the wrong person because he doesn't have a criminal record and recently passed an extensive background check in Mississippi to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

But the agent said his name, Social Security number and date of birth matched the person prohibited from flying, Hicks said. He wasn't told why and wondered whether his controversial views on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks played a role. Hicks said he disagrees with the 9/11 Commission's conclusions about the attacks.

Don't worry, they're on it. Oh, wait:

A Homeland Security spokesman referred questions to the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the report. A spokesman for the center declined to comment on Hicks' case. The government doesn't disclose who's on the list or why someone might have been placed on it.

No-fly list strands man in on island in Hawaii (via Naked Capitalism)

Woman with late-stage terminal cancer humiliated by TSA bandage-lifting

What has the TSA done to protect America from rogue cancer terrorists this week? This: A woman with leukemia who was making an end-of-life journey to Hawaii was humiliated en route by a revealing TSA pat-down.

[Michelle] Dunaj says nothing went right at the security checkpoint. A machine couldn't get a reading on her saline bags, so a TSA agent forced one open, contaminating the fluid she needs to survive. She says agents also made her lift up her shirt and pull back the bandages holding feeding tubes in place. Dunaj needs those tubes because of organ failure.

With other passengers staring, Dunaj says she asked for privacy and was turned down. "They just said that it was fine; the location we were at was fine," she said.

Video at KOMO NEWS. More at AP.

They messed with my fellow cancer traveler Lori before, too.

(thanks, David Calkins, vido still via KOMO NEWS)

More in our TSA archives.

Ex-TSA agent: stealing is commonplace in the TSA


Marilyn sez, "My reporter friend Nicole Glass interviewed ex-con and ex-TSA agent Pythias Brown who said stealing is commonplace in the agency." The article, in RT, describes a culture of total, unaccountable corruption, compounded by terrible working conditions for TSA employees and complete alienation from, and hostility to, travelers. It's the perfect (and perfectly predictable) setup for runaway thieving and criminality. This is Brown's first interview since being released from prison after three-year bit for stealing on the job.

ABC’s interview with Brown highlights the extent of the dilemma passengers face when traveling with valuables. Brown is just one of many officers caught in the act of stealing goods worth thousands.

In February, 2011, two TSA officers were arrested for stealing $40,000 in cash from a checked bag in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Using an X-ray machine, the men found that the bag contained $170,000 and removed some of the money.

In the first two months of this year, a TSA baggage screener in Orlando was arrested for stealing valuables by hiding them in a laptop-sized hidden pocket in his jacket and selling the goods on Craigslist. And, a New Jersey-based agent stole $5,000 in cash from a passenger’s jacket as he was going through security

While in April, a Texas-based TSA officer stole eight iPads from checked bags, while another officer stole a $15,000 watch from a passenger at the Los Angeles International Airport in May.

Ex-TSA agent: We steal from travelers all the time (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image: TSA Security Checkpoint, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from billypalooza's photostream)

iPad left at airport checkpoint ends up at TSA inspector's house

ABC News ran a sting against dirty TSA inspectors by leaving behind iPads (with tracking spyware) at ten airport checkpoints known for theft and following them electronically. One iPad, left at an Orlando checkpoint, moved 30 miles to the home of Andy Ramirez, a TSA inspector at the airport. Initially, he denied stealing the iPad, then he blamed his wife. He has since been fired from the TSA.

I'm sure that he was the only crook working in the entire agency and now we're all safe. Thank goodness.

According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012, including 11 so far in this year.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

...Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt.

His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.

"I'm so embarrassed," he told ABC News. "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home," he said.

... No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.

In its statement, the TSA said it "holds its employees to the highest ethical standards."

Republicans have promised to fix this problem by firing the unionized federal workers and replacing them with private contractors. Because private contractors -- not directly accountable to the government, insulated by layers of contractor/subcontractor relationships -- would never, ever abuse their authority. Which is why mall security guards are the pinnacle of policing efficiency.

ABC News Tracks Missing iPad To Florida Home of TSA Officer (via Beth Pratt)

An accountable algorithm for running a secure random checkpoint

Ed Felten presents and argues for the idea of "accountable algorithms" for use in public life -- that is, "output produced by a particular execution of the algorithm can be verified as correct after the fact by a skeptical member of the public."

He gives a great example of how to run a securely random TSA checkpoint where, at the end of each day, the public can open a sealed envelope and verify that the TSA was using a truly fair random selection method, and not just picking people they didn't like the look of:

Now we can create our accountable selection method. First thing in the morning, before the security checkpoint opens, the TSA picks a random value R and commits it. Now the TSA knows R but the public doesn’t. Immediately thereafter, TSA officials roll dice, in public view, to generate another random value S. Now the TSA adds R+S and makes that sum the key K for the day.

Now, when you arrive at the checkpoint, you announce your name N, and the TSA uses the selection function to compute S(K, N). The TSA announces the result, and if it’s “yes,” then you get searched. You can’t anticipate whether you’ll be searched, because that depends on the key K, which depends on the TSA’s secret value R, which you don’t know.

At the end of the day, the TSA opens its commitment to R. Now you can verify that the TSA followed the algorithm correctly in deciding whether to search you. You can add the now-public R to the already-public S, to get the day’s (previously) secret key K. You can then evaluate the selection function S(K,N) with your name N–replicating the computation that the TSA did in deciding whether to search you. If the result you get matches the result the TSA announced earlier, then you know that the TSA did their job correctly. If it doesn’t match, you know the TSA cheated–and when you announce that they cheated, anybody can verify that your accusation is correct.

This method prevents the TSA from creating a non-random result. The reason the TSA cannot do this is that the key K is based on result of die-rolling, which is definitely random. And the TSA cannot have chosen its secret value R in a way that neutralized the effect of the random die-rolls, because the TSA had to commit to its choice of R because the dice were rolled. So citizens know that if they were chosen, it was because of randomness and not any TSA bias.

Accountable Algorithms: An Example

Shirt that got Poop Strong man tossed off a Delta flight available once again!


After Arijit got thrown off of a Delta flight for wearing a TSA-mocking t-shirt I designed, a lot of people began to email, asking where they could buy one for themselves. Well, it seemed a bit weird to do a reissue and pocket a royalty for a shirt on the basis of someone else's legal hassles, so I worked with Arijit and Woot, and we've decided to reissue the shirt with all the profits being divided evenly between EFF, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Get yours today for a mere $15! Wear it with pride! Don't blame me if you get kicked off an airplane!

Also available in handsome tote form at $10 each.

Threat Level: Doctorow