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.

Filed Under: christopher elliott, homeland security, security, subpoena, terrorists, tsa, tsa rules
Companies: tsa

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  1. icon
    Alan Gerow (profile), 30 Dec 2009 @ 12:09pm

    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.

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