Police to get major new powers to seize domains

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November 27, 2010

James Loy, once the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, became the first administrator at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He claims that, while necessary, the TSA is not exactly what was envisioned when it was created in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks.

He looks back and comments: “We armed pilots. We put in hardened cockpit doors. We did what we did at the checkpoints.”

Loy’s guarded approval of TSA doesn’t completely square with the decidedly negative view registered by Steve Elson, a veteran of the Federal Aviation Administration’s red team, which tests airport security, even prior to 9/11. An early TSA assignment had him test detection ability by taking weapons and bomb material secretly through airport security. He claims 100-percent success. What about now? Elson says, “As bad as security was back then, it’s worse now. [The TSA] is a big façade.” In 2006, security screeners at Los Angeles International failed to identify 75 percent of fake bombs, and 60 percent of similar fake material made it through Chicago O’Hare screeners.

Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.) helped to design and create the TSA in 2001. He wanted the private sector to be involved, but TSA immediately became a monopoly that he now labels “a bloated, ineffective bureaucracy with over 66,000 employees,” with an annual cost that has ballooned from $.7 billion to $6.9 billion in 2010. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Mica wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in May 2010 calling for an “immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster.” He based some of his negative view on the GAO’s report that TSA had bungled the development and deployment of the detection program known as Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT). The SPOT program failed to identify 17 known terrorists who travelled through eight SPOT airports in the United States on 23 different occasions, including Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber whose attack failed.

The veteran Florida Congressman also pointed out that the law creating the TSA contains an “opt-out provision” enabling an airport to reject TSA and hire private security personnel.

But inefficiency and cost aren’t the major concerns expressed by a growing number of airline passengers who don’t like the TSA. A law-abiding passenger was detained and questioned by TSA when he was found to be carrying $4,700 in cash proceeds from a political rally. When the citizen in turn queried TSA employees about their fishing expedition, they promptly summoned police and the man was threatened with arrest for asking reasonable questions. The Bakersfield, California, airport was closed down when luggage screeners discovered five bottles of an “amber” liquid in a passenger’s luggage. The TSA agents detected a “strong chemical odor,” complained of nausea, and were taken to the hospital. Their alarm resulted in sheriff’s deputies, fire crews, FBI agents, and members of a joint terrorism force descending on the airport. Further tests showed that the liquid was honey.

In July 2010, Fred Gevalt, a retired Boston-area businessman who spent a career in the aviation industry, released a 94-minute film entitled Please Remove Your Shoes. Featuring interviews with members of Congress (including John Mica), air marshals, and TSA whistle-blowers, it documents TSA’s wasteful, ineffective, and invasive practices.

The TSA’s controversial full-body scanners now in use throughout the nation were introduced courtesy of $73 million in federal stimulus funds. Termed “a naked strip search” by many, these machines have also generated complaints about possible dangerous radiation. Though the TSA says the machines are safe, the cumulative radiation exposure caused by passing through the machines repeatedly is a concern to many frequent flyers including (but by no means limited to) flight attendants and pilots.

Numerous passengers with metal implants in their bodies have until recently been forced to endure a thorough and time-consuming wanding followed by a cursory pat down. But TSA has discarded its wands and now subjects anyone whose metal hip or knee sets off an alarm to a far more invasive pat down of the entire body from neck to waist to legs and even to the groin. This invasive procedure is randomly foisted on others.

In 2005, the federal 9th Circuit Court ruled that TSA procedures do not violate a passenger’s right to be secure from search and seizure as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. This ruling has yet to be overturned.

In the meantime, airline passengers will still be required to endure long lines and growing TSA scrutiny. Does all of this guarantee safety? A growing number say, “No.” But TSA is now a certified government bureaucracy and the number of similarly intrusive federal agencies that have had their wings clipped or been abolished is minuscule.
 
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