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.
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.
Remember our happy mutant comrade John Brennan, who removed his clothes at the Portland Airport during a TSA screening? He was acquitted of a ridiculous indecent exposure charge, and now he is appealing an equally stupid fine from the Transportation Security Administration for “interfering with the screening process.” This might sound silly, but it's serious business. As Brennan points out in his press release below, "This is the first time the TSA has followed through on assessing civil penalties for 'interference with screening" purely for nonviolent, non-obstructive protected expressive conduct.'"
I'm grateful to Brennan for being a civil liberties champion.
Read the rest
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 -
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]
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]
Taking Sense Away is the aptly named blog allegedly maintained by an anonymous former TSA screener. It delves into the kinds of shenanigans that go on in the image operator room where they get to see what you look like naked in the pornoscanner ("a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images, dear passengers"); a glossary of TSA insider jargon ("BBC: Bogus Bag Check, or Bullshit Bag Check. What happens when a not-too-bright x-ray operator decides to call a bag search."), and many other useful and enlightening posts.
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!)