Almost half of TSA’s entire workforce allegedly committed misconduct, and almost half of that number allegedly did so repeatedly. According to TSA data, from fiscal year 2013 through 2015, almost 27,000 unique employees had an allegation of misconduct filed against them. Moreover, about half of those employees had two or more misconduct allegations filed against them, with some employees having 14, 16, and 18 allegations. In fact, 1,270 employees had five or more misconduct allegations filed against them.
Security measures under “full system review.” Agency considering using dogs.
Someone recently noticed a Washington Post story on the TSA that originally contained a detailed photograph of all the TSA master keys. It’s now blurred out of the Washington Post story, but the image is still floating around the Internet. The whole thing neatly illustrates one of the main problems with backdoors, whether in cryptographic systems or physical systems: they’re fragile.
For once I’m not going to be criticizing the TSA, but that’s only because the TSA wasn’t involved here in any way. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if they have been meeting with their Irish counterparts supposedly to exchange nonsensical “security tips” but really to get free trips to Ireland at taxpayer expense because the $60 billion they’ve already filched from us doesn’t seem like enough, and in the process some of their bad judgment rubbed off on the people at Dublin Airport.
Well, I guess that was kind of critical of the TSA, actually. I tried.
The problem is that it was tested 70 times.
Arguably, this graphic from the ABC News report is not entirely accurate, though, because failing 67 out of 70 times is actually a 95.7% failure rate, not 95%. Of course, the banner actually says that “TSA FAILS TO FIND 95% OF GUNS, EXPLOSIVES,” but you can’t fail to find 95% of a gun, except that I guess if you have failed to find all of it you could also argue that you have necessarily not found 95% of it, or any lesser included amount, really. It’s all in how you look at it.
Perhaps the TSA will look at it as an improvement over past results, and because it has been so remarkably incompetent for so long its spokesthings could actually say that with nearly straight faces. Back in March 2006, which was already almost five years after 9/11, we learned that government investigators had tried to smuggle bomb parts through security checkpoints 21 times and had succeeded 21 times. Or, to put it another way, the TSA had succeeded in detecting them approximately no times.
Almost exactly seven years and many billions of dollars later, I noted another series of tests with similar results. Although in that case the TSA did detect one of four investigators who tried to smuggle bombs onto planes—a bomb-detection failure rate of just 75%—my respect for its efforts was tempered somewhat by the fact that the guy they caught “was detected with an IED hidden inside a doll [that] sources told the [Washington] Post … had wires sticking out of it and was quite obvious.” So, in terms of actual operational success I’m still counting that one as a no.
I therefore have little doubt that the TSA will spin this as a sign of improvement, since compared to its earlier efforts its success rate has gone up substantially. You might even say “infinitely” or “incalculably.” Yes, that’s it: TSA would like to point out that its success rate has increased by an amount that is literally impossible to calculate.
On the bright side, it has successfully detected people openly carrying Arabic flashcards. To my knowledge, it gets those people 100% of the time.
Rapiscan Systems lobbied aggressively to win a major contract with the Transportation Security Administration to provide X-ray body scanners at airports, only to lose the contract in 2013 after the company failed to deliver software to protect the privacy of passengers.
Rapiscan now has a friend on the inside.
Earlier this month, Rapiscan lobbyist Christopher Romig took a job with the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, which oversees the TSA budget.
During the previous push for a TSA contract, Rapiscan employed Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security, who now works as a pundit and a homeland security industry consultant through his firm the Chertoff Group. According to the Huffington Post, Rapiscan previously spent as much as $271,500 on lobbying per year to help secure business with the TSA.
Romig’s shift through the revolving door was first noted by Legistorm.
In his last lobbying filing statement, Romig disclosed that he lobbied Congress on “aviation, port and border security,” as well as the “budget and appropriation.” All areas he will now supervise as a professional staff member.
It still hasn’t caught any terrorists, but it has managed to root out a conspiracy of gropers (maybe sub-conspiracy is a better term) within its own ranks, according to this report.
After another employee reported that a screener at Denver International Airport had told her that he groped passengers he found attractive, a TSA investigator found that in fact at least two screeners were working together to further this goal. The investigator witnessed the male screener signaling to a female colleague when a certain passenger approached, and she then manipulated the scanner to “detect an anomaly.” (She apparently did this by deliberately selecting the wrong gender, something I’m sure they never do by mistake.) Result: thorough pat-down. She admitted she had steered travelers to him this way on at least ten other occasions.
The TSA described the alleged acts as “egregious,” which as you know means “really bad,” and because it fired both employees I assume it wasn’t using the archaic meaning of that term, which I have just learned was the opposite.
The case was turned over to the district attorney’s office for a possible charge of unlawful sexual contact, but the DA has apparently declined to prosecute because “none of the passengers believed to have been touched by the screener could be identified.” Well, I don’t think the admission to the tipster was hearsay, and the co-conspirator confessed. Do they not prosecute many people based on less evidence than that? I think they do.
There is a strong argument for ending these programs on the basis of their high cost and lack of effectiveness alone. But they actually do damage to our society. TSA agents participating in the behavioral detection program have claimed the program promotes racial profiling, and at least one inspector general report confirmed it. Victims unfairly caught up in the broader suspicious activity reporting programs have sued over the violations of their privacy. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded the telephone metadata program violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and raised serious constitutional concerns.
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed by Senate Intelligence Committee last week is yet another example of this phenomenon. Experts agree that the bill would do little, if anything, to reduce the large data breaches we’ve seen in recent years, which have been caused by bad cyber security practices rather than a lack of information about threats. If passed by the full Congress, it would further weaken electronic privacy laws and ultimately put our data at greater risk. The bill would add another layer of government surveillance on a U.S. tech industry that is already facing financial losses estimated at $180 billion as a result of the exposure of NSA’s aggressive collection programs.
A controversial Transportation Security Administration program that uses “behavior indicators” to identify potential terrorists is instead primarily targeting undocumented immigrants, according to a document obtained by The Intercept and interviews with current and former government officials.
The $900 million program, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, employs behavior detection officers trained to identify passengers who exhibit behaviors that TSA believes could be linked to would-be terrorists. But in one five-week period at a major international airport in the United States in 2007, the year the program started, only about 4 percent of the passengers who were referred to secondary screening or law enforcement by behavior detection officers were arrested, and nearly 90 percent of those arrests were for being in the country illegally, according to a TSA document obtained by The Intercept.
Nothing in the SPOT records suggests that any of those arrested were associated with terrorist activity.
Those results aren’t surprising, according to those involved in the program, because the behavior checklist was, in part, modeled after immigration, border and drug interdiction programs. Drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants often exhibit clear signs of nervousness and confusion, or may be in possession of fraudulent documents.
“That’s why we started rounding up all the Mexicans,” said one former behavior detection officer.
The TSA’s PreCheck program also expedites security screening for “notorious convicted felons” and “former domestic terrorists.” Who knew? From the sounds of its in-depth pre-screening efforts, you would think (unnamed) convicted felons wouldn’t be able to sail past the checkpoint without even slowing down, but apparently, that’s exactly what happened. And it’s not just any former felon/domestic terrorist, but one who was previously convicted of murder and offenses involving explosives. (via Kevin Underhill/Lowering the Bar)
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) received a whistleblower disclosure alleging a sufficiently notorious convicted felon was improperly cleared for TSA Pre✓ screening, creating a significant aviation security breach. The disclosure identified this event as a possible error in the TSA Secure Flight program since the traveler’s boarding pass contained a TSA Pre✓ indicator and encrypted barcode.
The good news (such as it were) is that the TSA did not grant the unnamed felon/terrorist PreCheck approval through its laborious and intrusive application process. It also didn’t wave him/her through because lines were backing up at the normal checkpoints. (This is called “Managed Inclusion” by the TSA, but it more resembles “For the Hell of It” in practice…) That ends the good news.
It did, however, use its “risk assessment rules” to determine the terrorist/felon to be of no threat. This might be encouraging news for former felons/domestic terrorists, perhaps signaling that government agencies may ultimately forgive some criminal acts and not subject former felons to additional security harassment in perpetuity. Then again, this may just be the TSA’s excuse for waving someone with questionable PreCheck clearance through security because a checkmark — and its own internal bureaucracy — told it to.
We also determined the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) followed standard operating procedures, but did not feel empowered to redirect the traveler from TSA Pre✓ screening to standard lane screening.
The OIG recommends more “empowerment” for rank-and-file. Good luck with that. If officers don’t feel empowered, it’s because management has shown them that questioning the (broken and wildly inconsistent) system isn’t an option. Neither is doing any independent thinking. When this officer attempted to push it up the line, he/she ran into a pretty predictable response.
[T]he TSO knew of the traveler’s TSA Pre✓disqualifying criminal convictions. The TSO followed the standard operating procedures and reported this to the supervisory TSO who then directed the TSO to take no further action and allow the traveler through the TSA Pre✓ lane. As a result, TSA does not have an incident report for this event.
One of the TSA’s Behavioral Detection Officers (highly-trained in the art of the mental coin toss) was also contacted by the concerned officer. And, again, no further action was taken/recommended.
In the end, a felon/terrorist boarded a plane because the TSA’s bureaucratic process can’t handle contradictory variables. The PreCheck approval said “yes,” but the previous convictions said PreCheck approval should never have happened. The TSA deferred to the obviously incorrect checkmark on the boarding pass. And now we have the punchline to the joke that starts, “A murderer with explosives experience walks into a PreCheck lane…”