Tag Archives: homeland security

The TSA farce

As put so eloquently by the Washington Post

As a result of those attempts, passengers must surrender sharp objects (a response to the Sept. 11 attacks) and slip off their shoes (a response to the 2001 would-be shoe bomber). They must remove liquids from their bags (a result of a 2006 plot to blow up planes), and, as of a few weeks ago, they must submit to body scans or pat-downs (a process accelerated by the attempted airline bombing last Christmas Day).

I’d also recommend checking out this interview with John Pistole, head of the TSA.  The many, many problems of the TSA began well before Pistole headed up the agency but I’m not sure he’s going to improve much.  This, in particular, caught my eye as particularly troubling:

Well, we have people from the intelligence community and the law enforcement community and also bomb experts, who are working on what’s the next device. Nobody predicted toner cartridges. I wish we had. That’s why we need tactical intelligence versus strategic intelligence. I’ve had members of Congress call and say: I have friends who are concerned about going to Europe over the holidays, we’ve got this travel advisory, what do you recommend? So strategic intelligence is good, but I’m always looking for the tactical. The proportionality issue comes down to how do we ensure that yesterday’s plots don’t succeed a second time. Because shame on us if they do. I mean, as the American people. I think we say, OK, burn us once, yeah, we’ll learn from that, but you’re not going to do it twice.

My translation:  I’m totally committed to ceding the initiative to terrorists because knowing what motivates terrorists or how events in another part of the world might manifest as threats here is a bunch of crap.  I’d rather chase a bunch of Hollywood plots because it’ll look really cool in our recruitment videos!

Tip top secret

When the Washington Post released their Top Secret America in July it was met with almost universal yawns.  They released another part in their series yesterday and while not exactly packed with new information (particularly for readers of this humble endeavor) it’s worth a look.

This article focused on the proliferation of state and local agencies in the intelligence business.

Among their findings:

  • Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
    • Perhaps expecting the same, cracker-jack results?  Read Sven’s post on this for more.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.
    • Are you kidding me?  How hard can it be to count all those flat screen TVs?
  • Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”…In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.
    • Uh…you mean the system where we threatened to blacklist people unless they started naming other ‘sympathizers’?
  • there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.
    • And the results?  Five arrests and NO convictions.

    “Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything” said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office. “But we’re happy to wade through these things.”

    • No, it’s not 99% doesn’t pan out…It’s 99.99997% that doesn’t pan out

There’s also a discussion on the rather poor state of analysis at that level with the tendency to throw the term around like it’s going out of style.

“The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be a real analyst,” said Allen, the former top CIA and DHS official. “Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that’s not right, because they have not received any training on intelligence analysis.”

This is the result of an assumption (despite what you hear about how important analysts and analysis is) that intelligence work generally and analysis specifically is something any reasonably bright (or not so bright) person can do.

Actually qualified personnel to do analysis?  Bah!  That’s for sissies!

Training gets a long overdue hit as well.

In their desire to learn more about terrorism, many departments are hiring their own trainers. Some are self-described experts whose extremist views are considered inaccurate and harmful by the FBI and others in the intelligence community

Yeah, let’s be clear.  This isn’t only true of terrorism.  Way, way back I did training that I was unqualified to do.  I didn’t know I was unqualified.  I thought I knew what I was talking about but now I shudder when I think about some of the things I said.  Fortunately, the consequences of my actions were minimal.

And there’s plenty of space left for my old bugbear, fusion centers.

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

‘Analytical hubs’ seems a bit generous but the jist of the statement is about right.  Many centers prioritize their capabilities and work to the availability of funds rather than any assessment of threat.  That’s why we’ve ended up with the concept of ‘all crimes, all hazards’ which really is just the fusion center equivalent of that dopey color coded threat level thing.

The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless.

And, local agencies, suffering from IC envy produce their own useless junk.  But, when your metric for success is how big your mailing list is and how many bulletins you distribute you really don’t care if it’s useless.  Which leads to another problem…no system for evaluating the usefulness and accuracy of published products.  Instead, you see a ‘fire and forget’ mentality in which review and reflection play no role in the intelligence process.

And let’s bring it all home with the inevitable warning that it’s not if another attack happens…but when:

“We have our own terrorists, and they are taking lives every day,” Godwin said. “No, we don’t have suicide bombers – not yet. But you need to remain vigilant and realize how vulnerable you can be if you let up.”

I’ve been listening to people tell me that we’re six months away from a wave of suicide bombers in the U.S. for at least six years now.  While I’m sure we’ll see them some day, as they say:  even a broken clock is right twice a day.


Kvick Tänkare

One guy expresses an intent to build an IED, gets caught, and is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.  Another guy actually builds one, is arrested and but isn’t given the WMD charge.  The difference? Well, J. has been following instances like this where it seems the trend is:  Muslims get the WMD charge and white dudes don’t.

EnglishRussia does it again with a great photo set from Kamchatka.

I’m not religious and have a lot of respect for people of faith but I have to admit I have nothing but contempt for those who use religion to rationalize their way of life (like these guys).  Don’t tell me you follow the New Testament and then argue that God wants everyone to have a six bedroom house and two SUVs in the driveway.  So, while this isn’t my cup of tea I gotta give this guy some major props for what he’s attempting to do.  (h/t daily dish)

Yeah…this is just weird (and probably NSFW)

Necronomicox sells dildos shaped like Cthulhu and other elder horrors from the other dimension: “We saw a niche that needed to be filled, so to speak.”

Bone-headed security decsions (homeland security edition)

Ah, you’ve got to love our anti-terrorism strategy.

  • Find an Arab speaker who’s got some criminal charges to work off.
  • Send him to a mosque or place where Muslims congregate.
  • Look for terrorists
  • If you can’t find any, look for people who need money or are mentally handicapped.
  • Bribe, beg, threaten, persuade, or cajole them to adopt Jihad (or at least say the right things into a microphone)
  • Get them to do something (no matter how incompetently) that might, be construed as furtherance of a terrorist action
  • Send in the SWAT team
  • Strut at the press release.

Case in point.

…the FBI has used informants…as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States.

Monteilh’s mission as an informant backfired. Muslims were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad that they obtained a restraining order against him.He had helped build a terrorism-related case against a mosque member, but that also collapsed. The Justice Department recently took the extraordinary step of dropping charges against the worshiper, who Monteilh had caught on tape agreeing to blow up buildings, law enforcement officials said. Prosecutors had portrayed the man as a dire threat.

And this is neither a recent or California only problem.  Chris Christie who was a U.S. Attorney before becoming New Jersey’s governor engaged in the same shady behavior in his prosecution of Hemant Lakhani.

Part of this is due to our screwed up judicial system that encourages prosecutors to dig in their heels and fight for convictions even when the evidence is shaky or, even when it proves the suspect’s innocence.

Some of it is laziness.

Some of it is incompetence.

Ayloush reported the FBI’s own informant to the FBI.

Members of the mosque told its leaders that they were afraid of Monteilh and that he was “trying to entrap them into a mission,”…The mosque went to Orange County Superior Court in June 2007 and obtained a restraining order against Monteilh, court records show.

After he vowed to go public…an FBI supervisor threatened him with arrest. “She said, ‘If you reveal your informant status to the media, it will destroy the Muslim community’s relationship with the FBI forever.”

Ah yes.  threaten your source and then appeal to him to keep quite because it’ll make your job easier.  Sounds like a plan.  Better prep Plan B.

At a subsequent meeting, Monteilh said, he signed a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for $25,000 in cash.

Let’s review.  Take a convicted felon.  Make him do all sorts of dodgy stuff.  Cut him loose and threaten him with arrest and then try to buy him off.  I’m sure we’ll be able to trust him now, right?  There’s nothing that’d get him to talk.


But Monteilh was arrested in December 2007 on a grand-theft charge and ended up back in jail for 16 months.

Just a guess.  He tried to get the FBI to get him off this in exchange for keeping him mouth shut (again) and went public when they wouldn’t (couldn’t?) play ball.

Very little of this makes us any safer.  But it generates cash (for participating agencies, security companies and assorted hangers on), the appearance that we’re making progress against terrorists and makes careers.

And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Hey, where’s my tax funded grope?

I had occasion to go through the security line at Philadelphia International Airport today and I have to say that this may have been the fastest I ever zipped through security.

I didn’t even see one of the full body scanners although I’ve read that they’re installed here (perhaps for international flights?).  The screeners did, however, do some sort of a half-assed pat down in conjunction with the metal detector.

So, I wasn’t able to strike a blow for freedom (and downright contrariness) but I’m not beat yet!  Stay tuned for the return trip…

One other observation for the general public:  People, please.  Pajamas are NOT suitable for wandering around in public areas.  Consider this your (final) warning.  Violate this rule again and you risk me unleashing my robot army…

Given that I can get free internet access just about anywhere else, what’s the deal with restricting access in airports?

Are we seeing a pattern?

Please refer to my post of earlier in the week regarding fusion centers and the argument that they can’t be expected to have things like policies, standards or metrics because they’re just too darned busy.

Keep that in mind as you take a gander at this…

From the ACLU:

Today, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a new report (PDF)…Some gems:

  • “The agency does not have documented standard processes to update training based on current information, such as the results of officer testing.” (Page 3)
  • “The agency also has not documented procedures to determine or allocate the equipment, support, and time needed for the workforce to complete training requirements, and provides little centralized oversight of the training program.” (Page 3)
  • “TSA did not establish a lead office to organize and coordinate [Transportation Security Officer] training until 2006…However, the OTT Division did not assume an active leadership role until 2009.” [law was passed in 2001]. (Page 3)
  • “According to a division official, OTT uses intelligence information, Aviation Security Assessment Program test results, covert testing results, and standard operating procedure changes to modify training, but it did not have a written procedure describing how to determine whether a training course needs to be modified.” (Page 4)
  • “Based on our interviews with TSOs and management personnel at the airports visited, TSA may not always provide TSOs with the equipment and support they need to effectively complete required training.” (Page 5)
  • And “TSA does not ensure that TSOs are provided the time they need to effectively complete training requirements.” (Page 7)
  • “One lead TSO indicated that he had not accessed the Online Learning Center since 2005. The TSO also explained that staff had limited time to read printed training materials in lieu of going online. Therefore, the staff is encouraged to simply sign off on the materials and receive credit for taking the courses without providing evidence of reading or understanding the information.

This is not only a TSA problem.  It infests the whole community and in many cases here you could cut and paste TSA and replace it with any one of a host of homeland security/intelligence/fusion agencies that have sprung up over the past decade.

Writing standards, developing training, establishing and tracking effectiveness aren’t sexy, don’t get people promoted and tend not to get assigned to those with the request skills to do an effective job at it.  You aren’t fast tracked on the career path for doing work like that.  You won’t be bringing in federal grant money for doing work like that.  In fact, it may be seen as only creating more liability for the agency.  After all, if you have no policies or standards you don’t have to worry about violating them, right?

As a result, they don’t get the attention or priority they deserve and we’re left with the Keystone Kop state.  This is one (of many) reasons why domestic intelligence work (in which I include counter-terrorism measures like those of the TSA as well as more traditional analytical work) remains in the minor leagues.  It doesn’t need to be that way.  It really just requires elected officials, regulatory agencies or the general public to stop accepting meaningless organizational speak as evidence of serious planning.  So, while the statement below is entirely a product of my fevered imagination it’s just this sort of gibberish that gets passed around as a substitute for real planning and direction.

We’re planning on leveraging new paradigms of total quality protocols in order to implement and utilize the latest in ‘all-crimes/all-hazards’ deliverables to facilitate the synergy of vertical and horizontal effects of intelligence and information sharing parameters so that going forward we can reduce incidents of touching the junk of all (alleged) non-terrorists.

Safety First!

I’m flying soon and so likely have an opportunity to get my government mandated grope.  I had one done about a couple of months ago but that was before the rule instituting the mandatory ‘happy endings‘.

As an aside, I think given there are some important policy implications about these security procedures that we have missed.  Allow me to submit the following propositions:

  1. airport security and the defense of our homeland is at least as important as what we’re doing on the battlefield.
  2. certain (ahem) government officials have made strong declarative statements about the danger of having gays in the military (erodes effectiveness, too much flirting in foxholes, etc.)
  3. the lack of a ban on homosexuals in the TSA allows terrorists to exploit that weakness by recruiting hot guys (or girls) to distract and befuddle gay TSA agents and allowing the terrorists to smuggle weapons and explosives on planes (you see teh gayz will be so anxious to inspect the junk they won’t notice the shoulder holsters and such)
  4. OMG!  We’re all gonna die!

Yeah…think I’m joking (not by much)?

…Americans For Truth About Homosexuality is calling for the Transportation Security Administration to institute some “common-sense, healthy ‘discrimination'” by banning “self-acknowledged homosexuals” from doing security screenings, “so as to avoid [passengers] being put in sexually compromising situations.”

Jeez…So we’re not only supposed to be freaked out about terrorists who want to kill us but now we’ve got to be paranoid that someone is actually going to get a cheap thrill out of feeling us up.  The levels of self reinforcing paranoia boggle the mind…

Jeff Goldberg was on the Colbert Report the other night raising the possibility (jokingly) of homosexual passengers requesting physical pat downs from people of the opposite gender and the inevitable skyrocketing of men who claim to be homosexuals when a hot TSA screener is working the station (That sounds a bit too much like a euphemism for this family friendly blog, buster! eds.) I guess you could stymie that by telling people you were entering their sexual orientation into a massive government database so as to avoid this problem in the future but I suspect other complications may arise.

And finally, a bit of Canadian humor.

h/t Fallows

Worst blogging job…ever

Being the TSA blog lackey. Even if you can get past the whole ‘Now, really, if we don’t grope you, the terrorists win!’ argument you just know you won’t be getting much in the way of sympathy or breaks from your commenters.

Still, the TSA bloggers seem to be making the best of tough situation.  I’m not a regular reader but they’re doing their best to convince readers (or try to anyway) that not only are existing security procedures effective but that they’re also totally reasonable.  Of course, you’re going to have a mighty tough row to hoe if you’ve got to write statements like this:

And finally, the $10,000.00 question of the day… Will you receive a $10,000.00 fine if you opt out of screening all together and leave the checkpoint? While TSA has the legal authority to levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000.00 for cases such as this, each case is determined on the individual circumstances of the situation.

I don’t agree with them but I’ve got to give them props for doing the best they can with a crappy situation.

Check out the comments…ouch!

Kvick Tänkare

The Department of War Studies at Kings College has started a podcast…I haven’t given it a listen yet but it’s in my Zune queue now.

Nice beaver!! Brandenburg is experiencing a beaver boom and the it’s causing problems according to Spiegel.  I know it’s juvenile but I can’t pass up on some of these (unintentionally?) great lines (I’m channeling my inner Beavis and Butthead)  :

“A beaver doesn’t have any business being at a dike,”

“hunting beavers just doesn’t work at all.”

“You can live with beavers; you just have to want to.”

In order to prevent beavers from penetrating the lower parts of the dikes…

Looks like Sweden is going to send officials to Greece to help out with their influx of asylum seekers.

Evolutionary venom resistance among King Cobras, squirrels and others…

The TSA continues to be confused over its mission at airports.  It acts as if its primary mission is to elicit compliance from travelers rather than security (maybe they see the two as synonymous)?

…the effectiveness of pat-downs does not matter very much, because the obvious goal of the TSA is to make the pat-down embarrassing enough for the average passenger that the vast majority of people will choose high-tech humiliation [back scatter scanners] over the low-tech ball check [newly invasive, yet still ineffective pat downs].

Would you rather look cool or ride comfortably?


Atlantic to TSA: Pat this down!

Jeffrey Goldberg and James Fallows deliver a one-two punch to the TSA over body scanners and pat downs at airports.

Goldberg begins by posting a letter from the American Airlines pilots union to its members…Considering these are the guys who are flying the planes I have to admit I’m kind of surprised at the bluntness of the tone.

While I’m sure that each of us recognizes that the threats to our lives are real, the practice of airport security screening of airline pilots has spun out of control and does nothing to improve national security.

I do disagree with this though:

There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot.

I’d argue that there’s no better reason to demand one in public.  Let everyone see this ineffectual process is really just an exercise in humiliation in order to elicit compliance.

Fallows talks about the frustrations of diabetics who need insulin pumps…who knew?

The TSA is singling out an entire class of people based on our medical conditions and treating us like we’re criminals. They have NO plans for ways to deal with this (eg, setting up a pre-approval system or using doctor notifications to clear us without the groping).

I’ve got a couple of flights coming up in the next couple of months…