Post TSA's New Security Rules And Get A Visit And Subpoena From Homeland Security

from the chilling-effects dept

With the failed attempted terrorist attack last week, there has been a tremendous amount of confusion and changing stories concerning airline security. What was especially odd was that there were so many conflicting reports about what the TSA was requiring that it really made the very concept of flying a total pain. There were some reports saying that no carry on baggage was allowed and other reports saying no electronics were allowed. Then there were the reports that you could carry on one bag, but wouldn’t be able to leave your seat in the last hour of the flight or have anything (anything at all) on your lap during that hour. Every flight seemed to be different and the TSA was silent for a few days, before finally issuing a vague “guidance” press release that didn’t really answer any questions. Basically, the TSA said that it was changing rules constantly. One supposes that the idea was to completely vary the rules so that no “terrorist” could prepare for them and get around them, and I actually can see some merit in that, conceptually. But from a travelers’ perspective, it’s ridiculous. You simply can’t plan ahead with any sense of reason.

And since the TSA was so quiet and/or vague, there were a ton of people searching for information. Even the NY Times was relying on info found on airline websites rather than the TSA itself. So it was of little surprise that there would be plenty of demand for anyone to share any info that they knew — not for any nefarious purpose, but just so regular travelers could properly prepare for their trip.

Among those who found and posted such information was blogger/reporter and travel expert Christopher Elliott, who regularly blogs about travel issues. He posted the details of a TSA order requiring pat-downs of all passengers on international inbound flights. The order that he posted had been sent to US Airways employees, and seemed like a reasonable bit of information that people would probably like to know about, so it’s no surprise that Elliott blogged about it. But last night, Elliott received a surprising knock on the door from a Federal Agent with a subpoena demanding he hand over the details of where he received the info on the pat down procedure (thanks to Rob Hyndman who pointed me to an account of this incident).

Now, the argument in favor of this action is that these sorts of security procedures are probably supposed to be kept quiet (again, the idea would be to throw off any terrorist), but if you actually think about this, it doesn’t make any sense. First, it wouldn’t take long at all for reports of universal pre-boarding pat downs to be spread around. After all, thousands of people get on planes to fly to the US every day. In fact, among the many stories I heard, the universal pat down story was among them. So it’s not like it’s actually a secret. It’s quite clear from what’s being done. Second, if the TSA’s security plan is based on keeping information like this “secret” (even if it’s made obvious by their actions), then we’re in even more trouble than I thought. It’s security through pretend obscurity. It’s ostrich-level security theater. It’s security theater where the idea is that if the TSA pretends no one knows what’s actually happening, then it can assume that no one knows what the procedures really are for airport security.

Instead, the whole thing (once again) demonstrates how silly the TSA security procedures are. And, oh yeah, rather than sending federal agents to issue subpoenas to folks like Elliott to figure out how he got the security procedures, shouldn’t Homeland Security be spending more time tracking terrorists and coming up with plans that actually make us safer? What good is it engaging in a witch hunt over who passed on the obvious info that people get patted down before they board a US-bound flight?

Update: Wired has details of another blogger who received a similar visit, that was a lot less friendly (lots of threats involved) named Steven Frischling. Frischling cooperated, and they went through his phone — even calling his mom, and then wanted to get an image of his hard drive. When they had trouble making the image, they ended up taking his laptop. I’m still confused as to how this makes anyone safer.

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Comments on “Post TSA's New Security Rules And Get A Visit And Subpoena From Homeland Security”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The government is useless. They take tons of tax dollars, take away our freedoms, and invade our privacy all in the name of national security and in the end the PASSENGERS save the day and then the spokesperson for the department of national security considers this a systematic success. It’s truly amazing.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

A nice rant, but...

It’s a nice rant Mike, but in the end, giving the enemies access to your security manual is not a good idea. Spreading what should be secured information is a truly bad idea as well.

Basically, one guy publishing the manual online can undo months and years of work, and man years of training and effort put into creating a system that tried to secure us all.

rather than sending federal agents to issue subpoenas to folks like Elliott to figure out how he got the security procedures, shouldn’t Homeland Security be spending more time tracking terrorists and coming up with plans that actually make us safer?

You make it sound like an either or choice. Getting this guy to take down material (and discouraging others from doing the same in the future) goes a long way to making travel safer. I think you need to slow down for a second and consider that. You really, truly, without a doubt entirely missed the boat on this one. There should be no discussion of security measures, those sorts of discussions certainly do make things less safer and give the terrorists a heads up on what to expect, which allows them to plan around it.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: A nice rant, but...

Basically, one guy publishing the manual online can undo months and years of work, and man years of training and effort put into creating a system that tried to secure us all.

This was not “a security manual.” It was an email sent widely to airline employees telling them to pat down people boarding a plane. There is nothing “secret” about that. Everyone getting or witnessing the patdown will know that’s the rule.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: A nice rant, but...

It is part of the security process, it is likely something to be added into the manual as part of the process. It shouldn’t be online, it shouldn’t even be discussed.

Nobody getting patted down would know if it is a rule or just a one off (something for this day in this place). Publishing this just confirms something, and tells the terrorists not to use methods that could be detected by a pat down for now.

When Elliott publishes the memo that says “okay, you can stop patdowns”… you know where this goes.

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A nice rant, but...

Nobody getting patted down would know if it is a rule or just a one off (something for this day in this place).

OK, let me get this straight…

You’re posting a comment on a blog. This blog, and therefore your comment, can be read worldwide. This is via a series of tubes known as the “Internet”.

Yet, somehow, airline passengers would be incapable of using this so-called “Internet” to write about their experiences through blogs and comments, to enable them to collectively deduce the rules you are arguing cannot be divulged. This is despite the fact that your comments indicate there is a fairly low threshold of intelligence required for Internet-based communication.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A nice rant, but...

So what you’re saying is the U.S. has a piss-poor security process written by people with absolutely no understanding of how to secure anything? That they’re probably people with 1-2-3-4 as the combination on their luggage? Because if one of their security features is people not knowing their security processes, then the American public has put their care and protection in the hands of a bunch of idiots. Security 101 tells you that obscurity is not security, particularly if more than one person knows about it.

william (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A nice rant, but...

It is part of the security process, it is likely something to be added into the manual as part of the process. It shouldn’t be online, it shouldn’t even be discussed.

wow, that’s such an ignorant statement about security. ANY security expert would be able to tell you that “Security by Obscurity” does not work and creates a FALSE sense of security which makes you LAZY which in term EXPOSE you to even more security issues.

What’s stopping the terrorist from going on multiple trips to compile data on TSA regulations and figure out what’s going on? If it’s done to the public, the public will know. It’s like saying letting someone eat a dish at a restaurant but don’t tell him the dish’s name or what ingredients are in there. That person is GOING to know what it is. He may not know the exact recipe, but he’ll know enough.

By not discussing security measure, you have no idea where the weakness is. There are many smart people out there. Let say one regular guy who’s just browsing government websites discovered a LOOP HOLE in the Pentagon network but is discouraged to discuss about it. If he know, probably some other people out of 6,755,987,239 on earth knows about it. Now, what if one of them is a terrorist and start exploiting the system?

If it’s so secret, it shouldn’t be send out as a mass email to all employees. Heck, all the server that email went through has a copy of it. It should be written on self-destruct paper and handed to each employee. After they read it you kill them to keep the secret because when they start patting down those customers, everyone would know what’s going on.

Actually, come to think of it, I think you are a terrorist, or at least working for them. I think you know something that we don’t about the loop holes of the current TSA practice. I think you are trying to convince us not to review it so we won’t fix the hole which you and your friend are going to use to sneak bombs on the plane.

‘Fess up! Are you a terrorist?!

Webskipper says:

Re: Re: Re: A nice rant, but...

True, but I actually enjoy pat-downs. People enmasse should start packing adult diapers, other assorted toys and recent copies of Hustler. Yet, they often get packed in the carryon because I run late in getting to the airport.

I admittedly have a problem of “accidentally” spilling my morning glass of Carnation-Brand Condensed Milk on it while reading entertainment articles on the terrace, and these ones are often packed in my carryon in time for my 10:00 flight.

I often pack these items very inconspicuously and I hear it’s hard to miss a dildo you got for your friend on the new X-Ray backscatter machines. If you are so fortunate to get a pat down, and are lucky enough to get full suitcase check treatment, you can rightfully and with a straight-face, request a female TSA agent to pat you down.

Should they disagree, tell them you’re gay and would feel better if a woman would feel you up. Either way, after you’re person has been thoroughly violated in the name of safety, I believe you can politely ask them if they require a tip after violating your person.

It was weird that one time that they had to throw away a new bottle of KY Jelly because it was more than 3 ounces.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A nice rant, but...

Years of hard work, training… yep, that’s the TSA. They’re like the FBI, but with super airplane powers.

A patdown is neither a secret, nor is knowledge of it a “security measure” in and of itself. This is exactly equivalent to someone saying, “if you get pulled over for speeding next Thursday, the cops will pat you down for knives and weapons”. Which is itself useless info, there’s nothing to be done about it other than not speeding that day/going to the airport [as part of the analogy].

If our would be terrorist avoids the airport that day, then all the better. If not, he’s not getting on the plane without getting felt up…

Perhaps we forget that the 9/11 hijackers went through routine security screening procedures and still did massive damage.

If somebody leaked specific information on specific TSA agents or an operations manual, I could see the reason for busting down doors and shaking up an unwitting moron; but this is so mundane as to be laughable.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: A nice rant, but...

Security through obscurity is not security.

All it takes is a single mole on the inside, and their years of hard work and training are down the tube. Except if the secret agent is marginally competent, then no one would even know their security is broken. If a single blogger can completely unravel the National Security Plan by posting it on-line, then it’s a problem with The Plan, not with the blogger. The plan shouldn’t rely on people now knowing about its details as a key security feature.

In essence, the plan should be 100% open AND still be effective. That’s a good plan, and that’s the plan the US government needs to come up with. But, that assumes they actually do anything competently themselves, which never happens.

Chris (profile) says:

Re: A nice rant, but...

Few things a good security scheme is secure with and without the manual. Take for example public key encryption. Where part of it is public. Even if you know part of it then you still can’t crack the other part. If you have to depended on part of your “security” being secret then it really isn’t secure. If you design your system in such a way that even if you know how it works it is still hard to break that is a good system. OpenSSL is another example open source implementation of SSL . Back on topic the TSA is all about “security theater” they want people to feel safe. They have no idea how to actually make the planes safer. Personally I say let it all be open. Just think what terrorist would be stupid enough to try and blow up a plane if they know everyone on the plane is armed? That tends to take the “fun” out of it.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

A rant of my own

Right after the 9/11 attacks when the government started talking about new security measures and creating the TSA, I’ve been saying the same thing; there’s no such thing as security, only the illusion of security. All these measures that they take don’t make us any safer. They just take away our dignity. After the shoe bomber we had to start putting our shoes through the X-ray scanner. Now what will we have to do? Take off our pants and underwear?

If someone dedicates their every waking moment to figureing out a way to get an explosive device on a plane, and they are of average intelligence, then no matter what inconvienient security process they put us all through that person will find a way to do it.

Why not allow people with concealed carry permits to actually carry their handguns on flights? If someone tries to blow up their underwear, someone sitting next to, or near, them might have a gun and can take care of it before it becomes a threat.

Of course if any of these morons had an IQ above 50 they would go into the lavatory to blow up their bomb instead of doing it out in the open. But if they had an IQ above 50, they probably wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

pr (profile) says:

Pat down would have been worthless, of course

A pat down would have been worthless in the case in question, unless it included detailed probing of the genital area. The guy was wearing explosive underwear. He could have carried that much explosive in his rectum, so I guess the next thing the security at any price crowd will be expecting us to endure is full body cavity searches for all.

A more sound approach would be than nobody who has voluntarily gone to Yemen in then past five years gets a visa.

But getting back to the original point, there’s a vast difference between repeating what’s in a widely distributed memo and compromising national security information. In the first place, “aviation security” is not “national security”. Hijacking an airplane, even if you kill everybody on board, is not a threat to then nation. TSA and their “security at any price” crowd likes to pretend that it is, but it is not. It’s a crime, maybe a big one, but not a threat to the viability of the nation.

TSA is trying to pretend that repeating the contents of a memo that they distributed, and whose effects in any case are discernible to any sufficiently patient observer, is the equivalent of handing over the encryption keys for the UAVs. Such theater makes them feel important, but it’s more than a little dangerous to let them get away with the charade.

william (profile) says:

Re: Pat down would have been worthless, of course

i was thinking about the exact same thing because once I read a Japanese manga(comic as we call it here) where it had a terrorist swallow a remote detonated bomb and… you know the rest.

If a comic writer can come up with something like that, why can’t the terrorist think of something even more clever?

With the current trend, full cavity search is not going to be far off.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s silly to try to “hide” security procedures that are visible. Guy #1 goes through without a bomb, gets on the plane. He then calls guy #2 with the bomb and tells him what TSA did. If today’s procedure wouldn’t find the bomb, guy #2 gets on the plane. Boom.

The things that should be kept top secret are the location, number, and capability of bomb sniffing devices, full-body imaging systems, and facial recognition systems. And the flights on which Air Marshals are placed.

The Idea Guy says:

Here's a great idea to solve the problem

They could take each and every passenger, knock them out, take them to a private room and conduct a thorough search. That way no one other than the tsa would be able to see what was being done and the passengers would not remember anything which could then be communicated.

One minor problem with this, it might have a detrimental affect upon the airlines …. similar to what the terror dudes have been attempting to do for some time. Bonus points awarded because we would be doing it to ourselves and neglecting them of their 72 vigins.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mostly for show

My favorite phrase-of-the-month is “Security Theater”… and that’s mostly what the TSA practices, at least in its public presence. And making shoe and belt removal into a boring, everyday routine, along with dopey non-issues like nail clipper and knitting needle prohibitions, has collectively blunted the tiny effect of that theatrical performance. What I’d LIKE to believe is that for every ounce of TSA effort on the theatrical, public front, there’s ten pounds of effort behind the scenes, on strategies that can actually make a difference.

Anony1 says:

Because then the American version of the Reichstagg fire would never have happened.

Or did you actually think 9/11 was about terrorism?

It’s a shame your generally good analysis is damaged by your conspiracy theory lunacy, IMHO. Every factual analysis of the events points towards the terrorist explanation to date, by independent experts. There are plenty of other reasons why allowing citizens weapons onboard a flying tin can is a really bad idea, without getting all conspiracy on us. There are obviously powers that be in the world, but that doesn’t mean that everything is some government plot, again, IMHO. That being said (and I didn’t event this one), the plane is either secure or it isn’t. Bomb resistant cargo holds, counter-measures for missles attacks, explosives scanning machines at terminals, etc..are all ready methods, proven, and available. None of this has been done. It’s a lot easier to practice security theater than to fight against the system. In the short term that is. In the long term that type of thinking will likely get a lot of people killed, by some idiot terrorist. Just my 5 cents.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s a shame your generally good analysis is damaged by your conspiracy theory lunacy, IMHO.”

Well, opinions are fine, so you’re entitled to yours. However, the lesson that can be learned from the Reichstagg Fire is that regardless of whether the attempts at terror or attack are real, in the past governments have allowed those attacks to take place specifically to achieve otherwise unpopular goals.

Certainly we’re talking about theory at this point, but there are severely important questions that need to be answered about 9/11 before we can simply accept the government account. The JFK assassination taught us that. Pearl Harbor kinda sorta got folks thinking like that. Vietnam taught us that. Watergate taught us that. The Lusitania SHOULD have taught us that.

I mean, look, you should AT LEAST be able to admit that questions SHOULD be asked as a result of some of these quesitons, including:

-What was the full relationship between the CIA and Al Qaeda?
-Who was shortselling United/American stock the week before the attacks?
-Much like the White House already had a full dossier on Lee Harvey Oswald who refused to identify himself beyond his Alex Hidell alias when he was arrested, how did the FBI have the intel/dossiers on the hijackers for the BBC to publish in the IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH of the attacks? (BTW, when asked about this, the BBC responded by saying that they just published common Arabic names for those that were missing, and they just happened to get them right…)
-Why did Bin Laden first deny involvement in the plot? These guys take credit for EVERYTHING they do, but this time he tried not to?
-Why did NORAD claim that they scrambled fighters to intercept all four planes, then change their story when the White House said that NORAD hadn’t been informed until the first three planes had crashed?

Etc. etc. etc.

Sorry, I just read a LOT of history….this one doesn’t make sense yet….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

A family member was in Afghanistan and his group had Osama in sight. They had to radio to DC for permission to continue, and the WH itself pulled the plug and stopped the pursuit. Then their whole battalion was killed when a movie theater was bombed, but my family member decided not to go out that night.

Stories like these may be hard to believe, but blood is thicker than water. When you say it doesn’t make sense…

zellamayzao says:

this is why i dont trust TSA

When the local airport of a small town in southern colorado handed their security department to the TSA my dad and brother both applied for a job. My father was a retired police officer with 20+ years experience and my brother, though i love him, was a derelict. My brother got the job. My father did not on account he was over qualified. A cop, over qualified for a security job for the federal government at an airport.

Makes you think, doesnt it?

TW Burger (profile) says:

Re: this is why i dont trust TSA

TSA is a corporation whose purpose is to make money. Hiring ex-police officers with experience and training would cause reductions in profits due to rightful demands for better pay. Your average TSA (and most lower level airport security people) are under thirty, have a high school or equivalent diploma and no prior security training. They make less than $30,000 per year – if they are full time. They have the education, skills, and training of parking lot attendants.


Why Have 67,000 TSA Employees Left Their Jobs?

It’s hard to say if it’s your father or brother who is the lucky one. It sure isn’t the air traveler or the country.

Israel is considered to have the among best airport security. They hire highly paid experts with special training in behavior analysis, profiling, interrogation, anti-terrorism, and martial arts/weapons.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re: this is why i dont trust TSA

Israel has two international airports – Ben Gurion and Ovda (to be replaced by a new Eilat airport) – and only one of them is a major international airport. It can afford to have the best airport security since it can concentrate it efforts at a single location.

That is not easy nor cost effective to do in North America and Europe.

TW Burger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: this is why i dont trust TSA

I doubt the costs would be proportionately higher in the USA – much of the money given to TSA seems to be wasted. I agree that doing your best is not easy, but saving lives is not cost effective?

I dislike that attitude. Going the easy and cheap route is why GM is still nearly bankrupt and is getting more bailout money (for GMAC). It’s indicative of the lazy and corrupt corporate culture that creates much of the problems facing the world.

So, what is the cost effective ratio of blown up aircraft to security expenditure?

Anonymous Coward says:

I was listening to liberal left wing radio talkshow host Michael Savage yesterday, and he made a very valid point which I will paraphrase:

Napatalano said “The System Worked” But the system didn’t work. I’ll tell you what worked… What worked was Human Nature. Human Nature worked when that Dutch guy jumped over three rows of chairs to stop the Terrerist Nigerian Banker guy into a headlock and stopped him from lighting whatever controlled substance he had.

People everywhere that had been scammed by 419 fraud rejoyced. I hope Obama recognizes this guy for his heroism over a beer.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

100% security will never happen...

When are people going to realize that the airways are safer than even sleeping in your very own locked up home with bars on the windows and alarms everywhere? And that’s even BEFORE the TSA gets involved.

MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of people travel daily, and when was the last time a terrorist killed an airline passenger? Wasn’t it 9-11?

If you look at in the way that every day more people fly than are in some of the worlds largest cities? Yet more people die in those cities than die in airplanes, air terminals etc…

on 9-11 2600 or so people died, and it was a tragic crime. But put it in perspective how many people die in that entire year? Now how many people were killed in equally tragic murders in their homes in that same year?

The only thing that 911 and all the Security procedures have accomplished is to increase the cost of travel, increase the amounts of waste, increase the cost of labor on businesses, and increase the amounts of waste in our land fills.

Before 911 I took my toothpaste and deodorant, and shampoo on the planes with me. I packed for a day or two in carry on luggage to give me a little more time with my family and off I went, got to the airport 45 minutes before my flight and was done.

Now since 911 I can still pack for a day or two in my carry on, but now I can’t take my toothpaste unless I buy the non-economical sizes, I cannot take my deodorant on the plane because it’s an aerosol, I have to get to the airport 1.5 hours to 2 hours before my flight, I increase my risk of athletes foot. I fly to my destination and waste another 30 minutes to buy deodorant and toothpaste in sizes small enough I still cannot use all of it, and then go do my work.

I cut my work at my customers 1.5 hours shorter to deal with the airport, I throw the deodorant and toothpaste in the trash, and I fly home.

Net result I have spend 3 hours more labor that my employer has to pay for, I have increased my waste footprint to the landfills, and I have spent 1.5 hours less with my family.

I am no safer, I could have flown for several lifetimes BEFORE 911 before I would have even encountered a terrorist, and even more lifetimes before losing my life to one. Now with all the new Security maybe one or two more lifetimes will be added to those numbers, but now with security so heightened and used to scare the public all we do is give the terrorist a bigger target.

Now since Terrorism has nothing to do with body counts and everything to do with psychological impacts we’ve now made their successes exponentially more effective and only reduced their chances ever so slightly to succeed.

Not to mention given the government an even bigger tool to use to control the citizens through fear. President wants to distract the press from oh say a huge security breach in his own home, he increases the terrorist threat level because of a “credible rumor.” Big multi billion dollar full body scanner corporation wants trillions in airport contracts they convince some nutcase with a death wish to fill his underwear with gun powder and buy him an airplane ticket.

When does it all stop? When is do we as Americans say enough is enough, and shove our own dirty underwear in the mouths of the vocal minority that want nothing more that cry out “please mr government I don’t feel safe on that airplane I never ride on so make it more safe?”

I don’t know a single frequent flyer that has ever said the airports aren’t safe enough in a serious conversation.

Anony1 says:

@Dark Helmet: I’d try, but I don’t have the time or desire. The answers to all of your questions are out there, with reasonable explanations. I don’t say this out of hope, I say this because I’ve done the research myself. You seem smart enough, do the research yourself. Sometimes the answer is influenced by what you hope to find.The only one I find remotely compelling is your charge on the BBC dossiers. As for AQ and Egyptian Jihad, you’re right to an extent, but I have’nt found any link between Egyptian Jihad and the OSS (the WWII pre-CIA) in my research. As for the topic at hand, the suboena, is the wrong approach, technical violation or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I’d try, but I don’t have the time or desire.”

I think a more reasonable explanation is that you have no explanation so you are coming up with some fake excuses for not being able to explain.

“I don’t say this out of hope”

It sure sounds like you are saying this out of hope.

BTW, I am not Dark Helmet

Stephen says:

this isn't about security theatre

the new restrictions and the home investigations have nothing to do with security or security theatre. what the passengers on the plane who tackled the boxer bomber and the bloggers who posted new tsa regs did, was something far worse: the embarrassed the cops. they showed what a bunch of bumbling useless f-wads they are, and thus they and others must be stamped down to restore the cops au-thor-i-tay.

Stephen says:

in defense of the "cops"

TW Burger

Yes, I mean the security personnel at airports but also cops in general, who, since 9/11, think that as “first responders,” they are due absolute obedience, zero questioning, and automatic worship as de facto heroes. In addition, how can you champion the incompetent, the poorly trained, the put upon and the deliberately bureaucratic, as opposed to the intelligent and effective, just because they are doing their job? Where I work, those people are fired and their bosses are to. It infuriates me to no end to see Americans passively accepting idiocy and pageantry just because they imagine that’s the patriotic or noble thing to do when they should be storming airports the way the Pentagon was marched on in the 1960s.

mhenriday (profile) says:

«shouldn't Homeland Security be spending more time

tracking terrorists and coming up with plans that actually make us safer?»

As a matter of fact, Mike, given that the evidence points to this being yet another false-flag CIA operation with the young man helped aboard the plane over the objections of aeroport personnel, despite not having a boarding card, perhaps other objectives than making you safer are uppermost in the minds of certain of your government’s officials. «What objectives ?», you might ask – how about justifiying a war on Yemen for a starter….


oliver (user link) says:

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