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Live Q&A With Ex-TSA Agent Jason Harrington

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the straight-from-the-agents-mouth dept.

Security 141

Jason Harrington (@Jas0nHarringt0n) is a controversial blogger, frequent contributor to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and one of the TSA's least favorite ex-employees. His descriptions of life on the job as a TSA agent caused some big waves and restarted a national discussion on security theater. Jason will be answering your questions below for the next couple of hours, or until the security line starts moving again. Please keep it to one question per post so everyone gets a chance. Update: 03/01 02:11 GMT by S : Jason has finished up for now — you can skip to his answers at his user page, or simply browse the comments to read everything. Thanks Jason for answering our questions!

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Messaging from higher ups? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370071)

We've all heard news stories about 'incidents' at the TSA. We know the reactions of the travelers involved, and occasionally some high-muckity-muck at the TSA will make a vague policy statement. I'm curious about the internal communications after these incidents -- were you told to behave in a different way, to ease up or crack down?

Re:Messaging from higher ups? (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370253)

Generally, as far as official memos coming down from D.C., the only news stories that caused official reactions were those that the TSA officially acknowledged and responded to in the press. As far as the local level, it varied from supervisor to supervisor, manager to manager. Managers and supervisors at TSA are mostly terrible, most TSA employees will tell you, and tend to just pull issues out of their asses that they want to harangue their subordinates over. Sometimes they would decide that they wanted to make a big deal out of some news story concerning misbehaving TSA employees, so yes, then those stories would affect us. Sometimes they would decide that they wanted to make sure no TSA officers in the entire airport were chewing gum at any time while on duty.

Re:Messaging from higher ups? (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46370351)

Sometimes they would decide that they wanted to make sure no TSA officers in the entire airport were chewing gum at any time while on duty.

Obviously, someone higher up associated chewing gum with plastic explosives... ;-)

Re:Messaging from higher ups? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46371575)

Sometimes they would decide that they wanted to make sure no TSA officers in the entire airport were chewing gum at any time while on duty.

Obviously, someone higher up associated chewing gum with plastic explosives... ;-)

Well, about that...

The chewing of cordite, as a form of chewing gum was far from unknown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sweet taste made it attractive, and it gave the user feelings similar to those produced by alcohol. (Due to its explosive qualities, however, several fatalities were reported, from chewing too strenuously.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordite

What's... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370091)

...the WEIRDEST thing you ever saw someone try to get through security?

Re:What's... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370551)

The 2 inch plastic prop gun attached to a sock puppet. Now that's both wierd AND dangerous!!

Re:What's... (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46371015)

I would say the all around most interesting weird thing that occasionally shows up would be exotic pets. People trying to bring exotic baby snakes from the U.S. to Britain, for example. There were cases of that happening at O'Hare, I was on the checkpoint for a snake smuggling situation, someone had a bag of baby snakes taped to his leg, I believe it turned out to be. This happens at airports around the world fairly frequently. I sometimes write for Cracked.com, and in googling this, I wasn't surprised to find a Cracked article on it: http://www.cracked.com/article... [cracked.com] Off the top of my head, and I should really think about this more thoroughly and more often before I forget, I would say that another of the funniest things that turned up sometimes were people wrapping their bottles of alcohol in tinfoil, thinking that would prevent the x-ray operator from being able to tell that it was a large bottle of liquids. One Russian lady did that at least twice that I knew of, on separate occasions. An old lady who, each time, acted as though she had no idea why her vodka was wrapped in tinfoil, or how it got there, claiming to speak no English. She was hilarious. We could just see that she was completely lying, and it pretty much felt as though she knew that we knew, and it was all just completely ridiculous.

Hi Jason (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370093)

Are you ready for a flood of non-sequitor questions from people who don't understand the difference between the TSA and the NSA nor do they appreciate that most of the front line grunts for the agency are just trying to earn a living?

Re:Hi Jason (5, Insightful)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 6 months ago | (#46370435)

Why would anyone believe it suddenly becomes okay to violate people's fundamental liberties simply because someone is trying to "earn a living"?

Re:Hi Jason (5, Insightful)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46371845)

I think most TSA screeners-- myself, definitely-- didn't really know much about the TSA before accepting the offer. All I knew was that it was security at the airport, and that it was a job that had to be done, one way or another. I hadn't ever really paid much attention to the TSA in the news or anything, and I really never flew very much, so the TSA just didn't concern me. It wasn't until after being hired, maybe about a year after, that I realized that there were a lot of absurd things going on, many of which represented unnecessary intrusion upon people's privacy. There really is no excuse-- if anyone believes that his or her job at the TSA entails violating people's liberties, they should theoretically quit immediately. Anyone who doesn't is not doing the morally pure thing, it's true. I was being a hypocrite by being employed there while speaking out against them. I admitted that a couple times on my blog. It can be tough, figuring out how to get out of a job situation that one doesn't believe in and into another job situation without going homeless, especially in a tough economy. I got out as soon as I found a new job situation that didn't mean that I would lose my apartment, my internet access, and my ability to continue regularly speaking out. On the front line, in practice, this is the dynamic that ends up being in place at airports around the U.S.: there are a bunch of TSA agents on any given checkpoint who don't believe in most of the rules that the TSA sends down, and who do their best to just disregard the rules whenever possible, and make things easy on passengers. Then there is the other camp, the people who believe that every last TSA rule is good and pure, and must be followed to a T. Some of the people in the latter camp are determined to get anyone who's not enforcing the TSA's rules in trouble, when possible. There are two camps of warring crotch-patting Jedi knights at every airport, basically.

Lighters (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370095)

As a previous chain smoker, this has been bugging me for a while. Every flight I made would require me to dispose of my throw-away lighter into the bucket prior to going through security. Does TSA just throw them all away? Recylce them?

Re:Lighters (0)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 months ago | (#46370271)

Could we broaden that to "what happens to all the junk you collect from us?"

Re:Lighters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370479)

Why would you need to save 8.7 trillion pairs of nail clippers? I know, melt them down and make a giant statue of Thomas Edison.

Re:Lighters (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370481)

In Calgary (Canada) airport, collected items are given to the on-site chapel which sells them every Tuesday at lunch. Good place to get some small tools for cheap!

Re:Lighters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46371695)

They sell it for profit. Almost as good as the LEO money confiscation laws: "You have more than $X on you? We can seize that permanently on suspicion that it's drug money. You have no recourse for return of the money as it's not evidence, it's just ours." http://blogs.wsj.com/middlesea... [wsj.com]

Re:Lighters (2)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about 6 months ago | (#46370457)

As a smoker, I've been flying with lighters since before 9/11. I was only told I couldn't bring my lighter once, and it was the time I had it on me when I opted-out and got me an enhanced pat down. In my experience, as long as it's in your carry-on bag or just not on your person in general, it's not a problem.

Re:Lighters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370741)

I've probably flown 6-8 times in the past couple of years and each time had a lighter in my pocket, never heard a word about it.

Re:Lighters (1)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about 6 months ago | (#46370769)

For the enhanced pat down, you're explicitly told to remove everything from your pockets. It would take an especially incompetent TSA agent to not notice the lighter still in your pocket.

Perhaps you didn't opt out of the naked body scanners? I know people have walked through those with large knives and didn't get any grief from the TSA, so I wouldn't be surprised if something like a lighter got through as well.

Re:Lighters (1)

ubrgeek (679399) | about 6 months ago | (#46371817)

> It would take an especially incompetent TSA agent

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." - Mark Twain, a Biography

Re:Lighters (2)

Copid (137416) | about 6 months ago | (#46370937)

We should start a voucher system. Dump a pair of scissors in the bin? Get a voucher good for one pair of scissors that you can grab from the bin on your way out of your destination airport. Not a perfect replacement, but better than losing it entirely.

Re:Lighters (2, Insightful)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 6 months ago | (#46371535)

We should just get government thugs out of airports.

Sampling drinks at the gate (2)

OzPeter (195038) | about 6 months ago | (#46370101)

Can you explain why I have seen TSA officers waiting at the gate and taking samples of peoples drinks as they board the plane and seemingly testing them on the spot?

What does this prove? That the security lines have allowed illegal stuff through, or that shops on the inside are selling tasty explosives in liquid form?

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (5, Insightful)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370311)

That's called gate screening, and many TSA employees despise it and want it to be abolished, too, saying it's a waste of time. The best theoretical reason for that screening is that it's a last defense against the entire TSA security system having failed. Say a terrorist infiltrated TSA and ended up working as a TSA employee, and then smuggled something dangerous through. Not the most farfetched premise, really. Then that gate screening would be the only thing standing in the way of someone bringing a container full of potentially explosive hydrogen peroxide onto the plane. But it's pretty easy to imagine that if some evil person was clever and determined enough to have made it that far, they would figure out a way to evade the fucking team of bored and de-moralized TSA screeners waving a dumbass gadget over people's water bottles.

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 6 months ago | (#46370377)

But it's pretty easy to imagine that if some evil person was clever and determined enough to have made it that far, they would figure out a way to evade the fucking team of bored and de-moralized TSA screeners waving a dumbass gadget over people's water bottles.

Thanks for the answer. I avoided it by keeping my drink in my bag as I boarded the plane!

However in Buenos Aires flying to the US I had water bottles in my bag confiscated from me as I boarded the plane. Apparently this is a common practice in a whole bunch of places.

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 6 months ago | (#46370429)

Thanks for the answer. I avoided it by keeping my drink in my bag as I boarded the plane!

Interesting..I just usually chug the last of my beer at the gate right before getting on the plane.

Never had anyone try to sample it before tho....

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (3, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46370473)

Thanks for the answer. I avoided it by keeping my drink in my bag as I boarded the plane!

Whoa man, Jesus Christ! The TSA works hard to develop these comprehensive foolproof security measures such as looking for someone holding a drink and then scanning it. Can you please avoid giving the terrorists information that they otherwise could have never gotten if you hadn't posted common sense on the internet? Think of the goddamn children!

Obviously I need to write to my congressperson to push them to write a law that bans you from the internet or talking to people. In the name of security, of course.

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (1)

CelticWhisper (601755) | about 6 months ago | (#46370803)

What happens if I flat-out refuse this? I'm already in the (not-actually-)"sterile"(-at-all) area, what can they do?

Re:Sampling drinks at the gate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370963)

Say a terrorist infiltrated TSA and ended up working as a TSA employee, and then smuggled something dangerous through. Not the most farfetched premise, really.

That still sounds pretty farfetched. The hiring process at the TSA is extremely rigorous about weeding out any applicants capable of complex planning and other higher-order thought.

Power of a typical agent (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370103)

How much influence does a random TSA agent have over your ability to fly or move about the airport? In other words, if somebody takes a dislike to you, can they arbitrarily make your life difficult, or are their checks to prevent this.

Re:Power of a typical agent (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46371091)

A TSA agent can easily slow you way down if he or she just dislikes you. Let's say you bump into a TSA agent outside of the airport, by the check-in curb, he or she doesn't like something you say. Back at the checkpoint, you end up coming through while that TSA agent is on the x-ray. It's simple for the TSA agent to call "Bag check!'", have one of his or her co-workers come over, and then whisper, "This guy's an asshole. Pretend that his suitcase gave us a bad image on the x-ray, draw this out." Then let's say the TSA agent doing the bag check happens to discover a few mini-bottles of shampoo in your suitcase. If that agent decides to turn up the irritation on you full blast, he or she can then decide to declare that you technically need a Ziplock bag in order to bring those liquids through, even though he or she wouldn't normally do that. This would technically mean that your suitcase would have to be rifled through and then sent back through the x-ray again. This can go on and on for 10-20 minutes, depending on how determined one or two TSA agents are to make your life hell. If you lose your patience because you detect shenanigans going on, then one of the agents might scream for a supervisor to come over, because technically if an argument starts to break out, TSA screeners are advised to call for a supervisor to take over. If the supervisor gets in on the act....etc. etc. etc. etc. I've seen this blow up to the police being called into it.

Re:Power of a typical agent (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46371255)

There really are no checks to prevent it, because smart TSA agents quickly learn that the best way to impede a passenger's movement is to simply start following the official TSA rules and procedures point by point to every last detail, which translates to everything taking 5 times as long as it normally would. I would say that the worst nightmare of a TSA agent who was doing this would be a passenger who said, "You didn't just do all these procedures with the last passenger you dealt with. Why me?" And if it was a legitimate, comparable situation, and the passenger filed an official complaint and kept at it, and higher ups rolled back the security footage and saw proof that the TSA agent was disregarding official TSA rules for one passenger and then suddenly turning them on for another passenger, it could be bad for that employee. On the flip side, there are of course some truly awful passengers who come through, who deserve to be held up. I once had a guy fresh out of prison come through-- which is fine, for the most part, people fresh out of prison are perfectly cool at a checkpoint-- but this dude from the South Side of Chicago didn't have an official form of ID, just a xeroxed letter from the State. I had to call a superior over to approve of that situation, which is what I would have done for anyone with unusual documentation such as that. The guy decided that he just fucking hated me for that, right then, and so said, "You fucking lucky you ain't talkin' to me in the street right now motherfucker." I was being perfectly nice about it, and was genuinely doing my best to get him through security ASAP, not trying to give him a hard time But then I was like "OK, fuck it. This is how we're playing, then." So I did go a little out of my way to find a manager whom I knew would be a hardass with the guy, and told him the situation. A former marine, a cool manager-- there are some good people at TSA. He got up in the guy's face, and the guy then threatened the manager. Then the police came over. They discovered he was freshly released from prison, and so that ended up being about 45 minutes of questioning and checking up on his background. In the end, he still made it through and made his flight, but I'd say that he was just asking for that delay, really,

Re:Power of a typical agent (1)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 6 months ago | (#46371571)

smart TSA agents

Are nonexistent.

Re:Power of a typical agent (1)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 6 months ago | (#46371585)

Oh, yes, what awful passengers those people are. It's not as if it's the government thugs that are awful for harassing people and violating their rights and the constitution, no; it's the passengers.

No questions just thanks (4, Interesting)

t0qer (230538) | about 6 months ago | (#46370107)

Hi Mr Harrington.

Thank you for your blog. Everything we've long suspect about the TSA's attitude and purpose was validated by your posts. It was brave of you to be the whistleblower, and I think all of us owe you a debt of thanks.

What now? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370129)

Are you afraid of retribution? I realize that you probably did this without much to lose in your career, but you have to wonder if you'll be considered some kind of "spy" like Snowden for revealing things like this to your fellow countrymen.

confiscation of computer equipment (3, Interesting)

schneidafunk (795759) | about 6 months ago | (#46370159)

Have you had to inspect any computer equipment or pass along to feds for them to inspect?

Re:confiscation of computer equipment (5, Informative)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370331)

Can't say that I have, no. If we happened to see child pornography on an electronic device, we were supposed to report it to our supervisors. But I never saw any such thing, or heard of it happening where I worked.

How do you think that it should work? (4, Insightful)

j-turkey (187775) | about 6 months ago | (#46370189)

Jason,

Thanks for being here and answering our questions. Given your experience working as a "line" TSA screener, how would you propose that we fix airport security, making it more effective, yet less intrusive for travelers? Clearly, the TSA isn't going away, and they will be the agency that regulates airport security for the foreseeable future. However, would you (for example) suggest empowering agents with additional flexibility? Perhaps implement policies more in-line with real security and risk management strategies, eschewing the current models of "security theater" and reactions to past threats? Maybe eschewing use of TSA's screeners, and having private firms provide security (again, under TSA regulations)? Something else altogether?

Re:How do you think that it should work? (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370545)

There are many airports across the U.S. that actually went privatized-- the cities decided they didn't want TSA anymore. SFO, San Francisco, is one example. The government regulates and monitors the private firms at those airports to make sure they're up to federal requirements. I believe private firms do just about everything more cheaply. And I can't imagine they would be any less effective than TSA. I used to think that every TSA employee should have the right to make judgement calls on the job-- to use common sense. To look at a jar of peanut butter, look at the owner, size up the situation, and say "This can go on the plane. You and your peanut butter aren't a threat, despite what the official rules say." I wrote a letter to the New York Times saying as much; I framed it in terms of allowing TSA screeners the ability to use behavior detection on the job to help make judgement calls. But I eventually realized I was wrong; I eventually came to regret most of what I said in the letter to the Times, at least about behavior detection. Quite frankly, the majority of TSA employees aren't the brightest stars in the galaxy. Many of them are perfectly intelligent, perfectly nice people. But the majority are not, in my experience. To be frank, I think it would be a really bad idea to give the entire TSA workforce the power to make judgement calls and arbitrarily decide who gets pulled aside for extra screening, and who doesn't. I think the TSA should lift the liquids ban, allow everyone to keep shoes on, sell most of the body scanners. Maybe one scanner per checkpoint, only, to be used on a random basis. They should basically tell the public, "OK. We're lifting those restrictions, but just know that we can and will be randomly testing shoes, liquids, and randomly selecting passengers for full body scans (which they can opt out of for a pat-down, instead." Just the possibility of having your shoes tested would likely deter you from bothering to risk a half-assed shoe bomb attempt on an airline. You'd hit a mall or something instead, if you were a terrorist. Bruce Schneier talks about all of this on his blog, and has for years. There are so few terrorists out there in a position to actually inflict harm that it's just stupid to waste much time or money worrying about it. It's irrational. Confiscating people's bottled water is not going to make a terrorist say, "Welp. There goes my terrorist dreams. Guess I'll give up." He or she is going to just hit another target, or work around the TSA's rules. The money we waste with all this theatrical fretting over liquids (and losing perfectly good liquids) would be better spent trying to address any of the 5,000 things that cause more deaths than terrorism in the U.S. every year. The best I could come up with as far as behavior detection goes would be to scale the behavior detection program way back, and focus on having just one person certified in behavior detection on each checkpoint. Say, a supervisor. That person would be given the very serious responsibility of being allowed to bend TSA rules on a case-by-case basis-- to use common sense, based on his or her analysis of a passenger's behavior and situation. He or she would be paid more due to that responsibility (like supervisors are), but would also be in hot water if he or she abused that power/responsibility

Disposing Throwaways (2)

buk110 (904868) | about 6 months ago | (#46370199)

If I came to the airport and had a bottle that was over the 3.4 oz or had a disposable lighter or some other item, where/how does that stuff get discarded? Would seem to me if these materials were "dangerous" they are just sitting in an airport bin and that's slightly better than the airport but not by much

Re:Disposing Throwaways (5, Interesting)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370647)

The liquids, food items,flammable material and such-- stuff that you couldn't legally ship out for auction-- gets disposed of as hazardous material, at a hazardous material disposal site. This is one of the most common questions as far as senseless TSA rules go-- "If my stuff is supposedly dangerous, then why is it just sitting right there in a disposal bin on the checkpoint after I surrender it?" TSA would officially say that the items that are placed right there in bins on checkpoints after being surrendered are items that have been determined to not be the implements of a terrorist attempt, but rather, potentially dangerous stuff that is just being tucked away out of reach of the public, where it can't be brought through and potentially commandeered by people with malicious intent. But, a closer look at the way a checkpoint usually operated in practical terms, with a full passenger load coming through fast and furious, like at Chicago O'hare, LAX, or JFK, betrays holes in this logic. So you bring a liquid through that could potentially be hydrogen peroxide or liquid nitrogen, as far as the TSA is concerned. That liquid looks like a bottle of water. The TSA agent tells you that you can't bring it through, since large amounts of liquids could potentially be deadly explosives. The agent throws it in the bin right there on the checkpoint. This would maybe make sense, if the TSA agents tested the liquids each and every time before they threw it away to make sure that it wasn't an explosive. But in a busy airport, this almost never happens. The lines would be out the doors if the agents took the time to actually test every single bottle of water or Diet Coke that came through. So almost all of them end up just throwing it away, without testing it. That's what really betrays it as pure theater. Several security experts have noticed that this actually creates large security holes, in certain circumstances. There are hypothetical situations, which are completely plausible, in which a terrorist could simply bring bottles of liquid to an airport every time he or she flies, watch as the TSA mindlessly throws it away 3 out of 4 times, until they got through on the 4th time without having the liquid tested, due to an inattentive x-ray operator.

Re:Disposing Throwaways (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 6 months ago | (#46370819)

This is one of the most common questions as far as senseless TSA rules go-- "If my stuff is supposedly dangerous, then why is it just sitting right there in a disposal bin on the checkpoint after I surrender it?"

The rules may be senseless, but this is not an example of one of them.

The material is in the bin and therefore didn't make it onto a plane where it could be used to kill lots of helpless people. If someone was targetting people in the airport outside the sterile area, they wouldn't have to go through the line with bottles of H2O2 and acetone and hope they meet up just right in the bin, they'd just bring in the acetone peroxide and use it directly. I mean, if you want to cause panic and fear, you can just drop a bottle of fuming nitric acid into a trash container.

Re:Disposing Throwaways - H2O2 (1)

whitroth (9367) | about 6 months ago | (#46370953)

The whole concept of smuggling enough *high-purity* H2O2 onto a plane is vastly silly. My late ex, a materials scientist who worked with hypergols at KSC, used tell me just how hard it was to deal with. Close to 100% purity, and the slightest impurity - even a dust mote - would set the damn stuff off. Think of it as slightly less explosive, but just as sensitive, as pure nitroglycerin.

                    mark

We know liquid nitroglycerin works (1)

Dr. Gamera (1548195) | about 6 months ago | (#46371127)

The bombs in the Bojinka Plot were primarily nitroglycerin, with some other ingredients. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... [wikipedia.org]

No Fly List (2)

Thomas Twinnings (1971230) | about 6 months ago | (#46370219)

Hi Mr. Harrington, Do you have any idea where the "No-Fly List" comes from?

Explosive swabs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370231)

Hi. Thanks for all you've done.
I travel with a camera bag with an SLR body or two, several lenses and a few accessories.
90% of the time, this bag is swabbed by staff and the swab tested. I have never been told of results, positive/neutral/negative/other.
1. Why do they always swab my camera gear?
2. Hand hygiene in those places is TERRIBLE - I'm glad you're out and I hope you're healthy. (not a question)

Good day.

Re:Explosive swabs (0)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 6 months ago | (#46370771)

90% of the time, this bag is swabbed by staff and the swab tested. I have never been told of results, positive/neutral/negative/other.

D'oh. The fact you aren't posting this from prison is a good indication that all those tests came up negative.

1. Why do they always swab my camera gear?

Because they ask you what it is and you tell them that you use the gear to take pictures of the death and destruction you cause in the name of Allah, MHNBP? Because you have a "Free Timothy McVeigh" sticker on the bag?

Behind the scenes theft (2)

Maximalist (949682) | about 6 months ago | (#46370235)

Every so often an event makes the news that somebody in the TSA has been busted for stealing out of luggage. Did you observe or suspect these sorts of shenanigans were happening while you worked for them? Are these one-off bad apples, or is it the TSA's informal wage-boost bonus system?

Re:Behind the scenes theft (5, Insightful)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370913)

It happened pretty frequently at Chicago O'Hare-- an officer being arrested/terminated for theft. I'd hear news of it once every two months or so. Oddly, I just so happened to have never really known of those people. I knew of a couple of them-- talked to them a couple times here and there-- but there was never a case of a friend/co-worker of mine stealing from the public, or getting caught at it. I had a couple friends who, back in 2007, would gather up change left behind by passengers in order to buy coffee on break.A friend/co-worker of mine and I were once accused of stealing diamonds from a jeweler flying to Israel. The guy was fairly wealthy, and very paranoid. We'd done a private screening on the guy, since jewelers/coin collectors usually request a private screening of their luggage, so that the entire airport doesn't see that they're carrying a suitcase full of gold. After the guy got home to Israel, he decided that he was short a diamond in his collection, and that I and my co-worker must have been responsible. The jeweler hired a private investigator, the entire thing blew up into a full investigation. My co-worker and I were asked by TSA higher-ups if we'd be willing to take a polygraph test, just to throw that into the investigation and see if the guy still wanted to pursue it, assuming we passed the test. I said hell yes, give me the polygraph, I may be stupid, but I'm not stupid enough to have swiped some guy's diamond so as to end up doing prison time with a felony on my record. My co-worker said the exact same thing. We both passed the polygraph, not surprisingly. That was the only case I've ever heard of where a TSA employee took a polygraph, ever. I feel sort of lucky that it just so happened to have involved me.

Re:Behind the scenes theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46371821)

Polygraph?! Damn, talk about theater...

Opt-outs (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370239)

What do the agents think of opt-outs? I'm in the shrinking minority that opt out every time I fly, and I'm treated mostly with professionalism (with a hint of annoyance by some).

Re:Opt-outs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370399)

What do the agents think of opt-outs? I'm in the shrinking minority that opt out every time I fly, and I'm treated mostly with professionalism (with a hint of annoyance by some).

I don't opt out -- I'm medically exempt. I'm hoping my question about medical exemptions gets upvoted from -1 AC so that Jason replies.

A few years back I saw on FlyerTalk a "special frequent flyer club" that included always, always opting out. I have also seen some discussion that if something like half of all travelers opted out, TSA would be overwhelmed and have to stop sending everybody through the scanners.

Re:Opt-outs (5, Funny)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370707)

Generally, opt-outs are looked at as an annoyance. If the checkpoint isn't busy, then the agents might not mind doing your pat-down at all. If they're bored, they may even welcome the diversion. But if a checkpoint's getting slammed, and TSA screeners are having a bad day in general, and then you show up opting out, they might be either aggravated with you, at times disdainful. I had one former co-worker who used to shape his hands into a diamond shape every time an opt-out came through. I asked him what it was supposed to mean. A vagina, he explained.

Re:Opt-outs (1)

galiven (231146) | about 6 months ago | (#46371143)

I actually flew out of O'Hare on Thanksgiving day last year. The checkpoint was completely empty, but the agent very lightly challenged me when I opted out, saying something like "Why do you have to do that? You know its pointless." I wasn't actually ready with my A-Game talking points so I just said "I just don't want to support the security theater." but I don't think he really cared enough to have a debate about it.

Confiscated electronics (3, Interesting)

sinij (911942) | about 6 months ago | (#46370247)

What happens to all confiscated electronics and do you have any suggestions on how to lower your chances of getting your devices targeted by TSA?

Re:Confiscated electronics (1)

Sean (422) | about 6 months ago | (#46370469)

TSA forces passengers to surrender electronics? Under what circumstances? I've never heard of that.

X-ray Machine Operators (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370275)

Do the X-ray machine operators actually care about what they see on the screen? I've been able to get a few items that are on the TSA banlist (Swiss Army Knife, Zippos with lighter fluid in them, corkscrews, etc.) and the only thing that has ever called for a bag check was a tablet computer that I didn't place in the bin (there was a sign that stated tablets didn't have to be removed from bags, just regular notebook computers).

What really triggers an operator to call for a bag search? Would a small box of toothpicks or screws set off an alarm?

Unable to go through scanners (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370277)

Hi Jason, and thanks in advance for answering these questions.

I am physically unable to use the scanners, both the X-ray and the millimeter-wave radar. I have been advised that I am therefore medically exempt, and am entitled to be screened by only the metal detector without any direct-contact search. I have TSA's standard notification card that I give to the person at the WTMD, informing them of the nature of my issue, and I also tell them verbally that I am medically exempt. Half the time they wave me through the WTMD (and half of that time, conduct an explosives test on my hands). The other half of the time, the TSA person gives me a LOT of grief in an effort to force me into either the scanner or the enhanced pat-down. So far, eventually they step away for a few minutes, then someone else comes along and waves me through the WTMD.

What phrasing do you recommend I use, both on the card and by speaking, when I initially notify the screening person of my situation, to skip the part where the TSA person gives me grief?

Re:Unable to go through scanners (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 6 months ago | (#46370363)

Ooh, I think I can field this one:

What phrasing do you recommend I use, both on the card and by speaking, when I initially notify the screening person of my situation, to skip the part where the TSA person gives me grief?

"You know, on second thought I think I'll take the bus."

Re:Unable to go through scanners (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370497)

Ooh, I think I can field this one:

What phrasing do you recommend I use, both on the card and by speaking, when I initially notify the screening person of my situation, to skip the part where the TSA person gives me grief?

"You know, on second thought I think I'll take the bus."

(Parent AC replying.)

Show me a bus that can cross an ocean, and I'll take it. :)

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

dtmos (447842) | about 6 months ago | (#46370543)

"You know, on second thought I think I'll take the bus."

You've apparently not heard of the TSA VIPR teams [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Unable to go through scanners (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370601)

"You know, on second thought I think I'll take the bus."

You've apparently not heard of the TSA VIPR teams [wikipedia.org] .

(Parent AC replying again)

Unfortunately I have, and I think they're a classic case of both mission creep and just plain creepy.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 6 months ago | (#46370817)

Oh, I've heard of them, never actually seen one in person.

Of course, that may be a consequence of living outside the Constitution-Free Zone. YMMV, depending on how close to the national border you reside.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370381)

I think it speaks to the usefullness of TSA quite a bit, that 1 TSA 'goon' will give you crap, while a presumably equal TSA 'goon' will wave you through in your scenario. That frontline TSA employees are handling policy on their own terms is something I really have a problem with here. And that's even before discussing the possibility of security threats.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46370385)

You're anonymous, so, I can't see that it matters, but... ...what the heck makes you medically exempt from direct-contact searches that still lets you get on planes in close contact with other humans?

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370453)

You're anonymous, so, I can't see that it matters, but... ...what the heck makes you medically exempt from direct-contact searches that still lets you get on planes in close contact with other humans?

I am not claiming an exemption from the pat-downs, only from the scanners.

My question is based on my understanding that the medical exemption from the scanners means the pat-down is not called for.

Given all that, my first attempts DID include a second claim of being medically exempt from physical contact. I have since dropped that part, to focus on the one exemption that matters.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46370599)

Given all that, my first attempts DID include a second claim of being medically exempt from physical contact. I have since dropped that part, to focus on the one exemption that matters.

So, what is your claim? Is it hypothetical?

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46370513)

The way I read it, the medical exemption entitles him to use only the medical detector, not that it necessarily also means he can't have someone touch him.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370489)

How are you medically exempt from mmWave radar?

Also, are you aware that the upcoming 802.11ad "WiGig" wireless gigabit technology will be using mmWave radar frequency range in the 60GHz range? Are you going to have to avoid being in the same room as wifi equipment?

The old planar backscatter xray scanners were unproven and untested as far as radiation output went. TSA staff did not wear dosimeters. They were unregulated by the FDA as radiation emitting medical devices (for reasons that were never clear). It's an unnecessary risk to receive ionizing xray radiation like that for "security" reasons if the machines are not tested and calibrated regularly to ensure that no problems occur. And generally avoiding ionizing radiation is a good idea. It may be no more than a CT scan, but you shouldn't get unnecessary CT scans, either.

However, mmWave radar scanners are non-ionizing. It's like wifi or driving by a cop car with a radar gun. There is no conceivable medial reason why you shouldn't be exposed to mmWave radar that I can come up with.

I could see that maybe you are medically unable to life your arms up, or perhaps medically unable to fit into a machine (due to obesity). But in the latter case you wouldn't be able to fit through a metal detector either, and in the former scenario I would have to assume you are either very old, or very infirm, and TSA would accommodate your use of the machines without arm lifting, or let you use the metal detectors.

Honestly, it sounds like you just think you're allergic to wifi.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

MadCow42 (243108) | about 6 months ago | (#46370645)

I'm curious what qualifies as a medical reason to avoid the scanners? I opt out of them always, but it'd be nice to be able to at least occasionally avoid the pat downs too...

Care to share your ailment?

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370759)

I'm curious what qualifies as a medical reason to avoid the scanners? I opt out of them always, but it'd be nice to be able to at least occasionally avoid the pat downs too...

Care to share your ailment?

Take your pick of ailment. One of these is true, the rest are decoys. (And no, I won't say which one.)
* I am a cancer survivor, benign skin melanoma, and do not want to take the chance of the scanners triggering a relapse.
* I am afraid of small enclosed spaces like the scanners (but I can get drunk enough on the plane to survive the trip without out-screaming every baby on board).
* I have a bad shoulder and cannot keep my arms raised long enough for the scan.
* I have restless leg syndrome and cannot stay put long enough for the scan.
* I simply want to neither get scoped nor groped. But TSA is not permitted to demand medical details. They can ask, they just can't require me to answer.

Coincidentally, the CAPTCHA is "syndrome."

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46370815)

FFS dude, you're anonymous on the internet.

If you're asking a hypothetical question, just say so.

If not, explain the condition.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

Qwerpafw (315600) | about 6 months ago | (#46370855)

You're not a cancer survivor if you had a benign melanoma.

Tumors can be cancerous or benign. They are not cancer if they are benign, by definition. You're the "survivor" of a benign tumor, which is unexceptional since generally everyone survives benign tumors. Sometimes benign tumors can be uncomfortable and occasionally they can press against nerves and cause issues, in which case they are removed. However, they are not cancer, and you are not a cancer survivor.

I have lipoma tumors all over my body (6-7). They are relatively small. Most cannot be seen visually, as they are beneath the skin. Some people have them removed for cosmetic reasons. I have not had mine removed since they do not bother me. They are not cancer.

Re:Unable to go through scanners (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 6 months ago | (#46370823)

Care to share your ailment?

Yes, his condition is called "I'm making up inconsistent stories on the internet to get vague questions answered."

How would you fix it? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370335)

Thanks to your work, we have all learned about what we are doing that doesn't work.

Do you have any suggestions on how to implement a reasonable airport / transit security system?

If not, can you point to some things that need to be considered that you think are likely to be missed by someone lacking your front-line experience?

Overzealous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370361)

The recent story about the 2" plastic gun being confiscated was sad. This was a prop for a sock puppet, yet - it was considered dangerous. How about some simple common sense?

Two questions: (4, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 6 months ago | (#46370373)

1) Is there anything that the TSA does that you consider to be effective and worth doing?

2) Have you ever heard of any TSA precautions actually catching a terrorist planning on attacking a flight - when the TSA were not alerted by another agency?

Re:Two questions: (5, Insightful)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370793)

I think the TSA is actually trying to get better, all around. I think the current chief's heart is in the right place. Not too long ago they tried to lift the ban on little pocket knives, such as Swiss Army knives. In that case it was the public who actually failed to be reasonable. Maybe it was partially the TSA's fault for not lifting the restriction in a more delicate manner. At any rate, what ended up happening was a bunch of headlines around the nation, "TSA to Allow Knives Aboard Planes." An outcry followed, with congressmen jumping in and slamming the TSA for even thinking about endangering all our lives. The TSA had to cancel its plans to allow Swiss Army knives to pass through the checkpoint. But scissors have been allowed through for years. Knitting needles. Walking sticks that can be sharpened into terror spears. And actually, in practice, about 50 percent of TSA employees haven't been bothering to call bag checks on what they can see is a tiny Swiss Army knife for years. They know it will just be a waste of everyone's time. So whether or not Swiss Army knives are officially allowed through the checkpoint is irrelevant-- even more dangerous things have been passing right through the checkpoint for years, and Swiss Army knives get through, anyway. Basically, the TSA is now able to cite that whole debacle and say "See? We tried to make things more sensible on the checkpoint, but the public couldn't handle it." I think the TSA has trained its workforce to be pretty good at looking for and identifying small things that, for the most part, don't really matter, on an x-ray screen. Leatherman tools, bottles of liquid that are even slightly over 3.4 ounces, torch lighters vs. non-torch lighters. Many of the screeners see those things on the screen and choose not to bother alerting anyone about it, which is often why your pocket knife or slightly oversized liquid makes it through.

Re:Two questions: (5, Informative)

JHarrington (3553209) | about 6 months ago | (#46370849)

No terrorist has ever been thwarted at an airport due to TSA procedures. The TSA would trumpet that news far and wide the day it happened. If anything, there is the possibility that the TSA's procedures deterred a terrorist from making an attempt on an airline. The only sort of proof of this I could imagine would be documents found at a terrorist training camp, for instance, expressing the idea that US. airport security is too daunting to bother trying to get past. I think there may have been a couple cases of such communications turning up. But then there's the question of how much of the TSA's security was really necessary to deter that terrorist. It may have been just the passengers' willingness to fight back that made that terrorist decide not to bother with an attempt on a plane, or people's heightened awareness of fellow passengers post-9/11

Moral objections (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370421)

Why is it that people apply for law enforcement or government positions and then continue to follow through on orders that are morally and/or ethically objectionable to the self and the general public?

What Authority Does a TSA Agent have and not have? (3, Interesting)

xclr8r (658786) | about 6 months ago | (#46370459)

In training To detain, arrest, etc. What have they told TSA agents that they can not do?

Unlawful orders (2)

Wookact (2804191) | about 6 months ago | (#46370515)

In the military I was always taught it was not only my right but my duty to disobey unlawful orders. Is this subject ever broached in training with the TSA?

Re:Unlawful orders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370661)

The problem is that there isn't really much that the TSA does that people complain about that rises to the level of an unlawful order.
That's really the problem -- that is legal.

no groping please? (2)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 6 months ago | (#46370519)

I read all your blog a while ago. I would like some real world advice on two things:
1) how can I get through security as fast as possible?
2) how can I minimize my chances of getting my nuts grabbed?

I'm not going to throw a principled fit at the security checkpoint because I know it won't accomplish anything at all. I'll fight my battles elsewhere. I'll play the game in line, yessir, yes ma'am, whatever. Just get me through an don't grab my nuts! I have a plane to catch and want to leave with my dignity intact.

So any advice on playing the game? That would be nice.

Re:no groping please? (1)

CelticWhisper (601755) | about 6 months ago | (#46371011)

This is it, right here. Mod parent up. If we have no other question answered in this discussion, I'd be fine with it as long as we get an answer to this.

Scope-n-grope is the most disgusting betrayal a government agency has perpetrated against the American people in recent memory (I consider it worse than the Snowden revelations). There is no excuse for what is being done to innocent air travelers and it is unconscionable that I would have no guarantee of being free from unwanted forced physical contact with government clerks (remember, they're not officers of anything) if I were to go to an airport with the intention of boarding a plane.

How can we guarantee that we will not be touched? Going through a nude-o-scope isn't enough, as they've been shown to alarm on sweat or rumpled clothing. Medical exemptions aren't enough as there's the risk of a TSA clerk overstepping their (barely existent) authority and demanding a grope anyway. Pre-(CHECK! LOOK AT HOW CUTE OUR TRADEMARK IS!) isn't enough as the T&C explicitly state that nobody is guaranteed expedited screening.

I'm happy to keep giving Amtrak my money - I don't care about speed and the experience is much nicer. However, I can't ignore principle. A US citizen should have the right to be free from unreasonable searches, and even if one does have to clear some kind of Checkpoint Charlie at airports, they absolutely must have the right not to be touched against their will.

How do we effect this?

Re:no groping please? (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46371095)

1. Run
2. Be a woman

I opt for the passive aggression also. I wear my t-shirt with the quote in my signature and wait patiently as I opt out (I have never once been allowed to go through the metal detectors while the nut zappers have been in place).

Re:no groping please? (2)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 6 months ago | (#46371327)

how can I get through security as fast as possible?

Before you get to the airport:

- Go through all your carry-on bags. Dump them out. Sort the contents. Make sure you have no swiss army knives, screwdrivers, torch lighters, razor blades or other "Gee, I didn't know that was in there" items.

- Make sure all your liquids are in 3-ounce bottles in one ziplock bag quickly accessible from your carry-on bag.

- Make sure your laptops and tablets are in one easily accessed area in your carryon.

At the airport:

Before you get to the security line, empty everything from your pockets into a pocket in your carry-on bag. Everything. Every dime. Every pen. Every post-it note. Every gum wrapper.

- Take off your belt and stash it in your bag.

- Take off your watch and stash it in your bag.

- Unlace your shoes, or wear slip-ons.

When you get to the belt at security:

- Grab two bins.

- Bin 1: Shoes, liquids bag & jacket in one bin

- Bin 2: Put your laptops & tablets in the other bins

- Put items through the X-Ray in this sequence: Bin 1, Bin 2, laptop bag, rollaboard.

...that way things will be coming out in the correct order for you to package them up and be on your way.

how can I minimize my chances of getting my nuts grabbed?

Use the scanner with NOTHING in your pockets. No flags on the screen means no nut-grabbing.

...but ultimately, the speed you get through security is determined by the speed of the Kettles in front you in line.

Joking around by TSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370557)

I recently had n incident with a TSA screener. I didnt quite hear her question about concealed liquids as it would turn out, but then she didnt wait for my reply, so I went through a couple rounds of "What? Talk louder? What?". All the while my harmless quart bag of toiletries went through. Screener started mouthing off and making accusations and colluding with other TSA employees and creating a specktacle. Never answered my question then said something to the effect "I was just joking with you." after having accused me of breaking a rule. I didn't appreciate it so I went to the mangement desk and told them something to the effect of "You people expect NO JOKING from us travelers. Why is it OK with TSA to act this way? Supervisor agreed and said he would handle my complaint." Questions to you are: Are they handled? What should a travel do when they encounter TSA misbehavior? We still need to make our flight, so any advice for after-the-fact action?

Opting out... (2)

MadCow42 (243108) | about 6 months ago | (#46370569)

I travel FREQUENTLY, and always opt out of the naked scanners at the airport... partially because of safety concerns, partly because of my view that they're security theatre and ineffective, and partly in protest. After all - as inconvenient as a hand pat-down is, I KNOW that won't give me cancer in 20 years. 4-5 scans a week or more over 20 years... what's that going to do to me?

Question: do the TSA agents hate me? :)

Re:Opting out... (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about 6 months ago | (#46370897)

I get the protest and "security theatre" angles, but the mm wave scanners are in the radio frequency range just below infrared in frequency, with less energy than visible light (so, definitely non-ionizing radiation). Cancer's not a realistic concern, unless there's somewhere where they're still using the backscatter X-ray machine; I'd avoid those due to possible safety concerns.

Re:Opting out... (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 6 months ago | (#46371133)

For me, whether or not the scanners might cause cancer isn't even part of the equation (it would be, if that were the worst part). I opt out on principle because I don't believe that the government has the right to scan my body when I'm traveling, plain and simple. I don't care if they scan the bags I have with me, I have that stuff with me knowing that it's going to be scanned. But for them to assert the right to basically check me out without clothing is too far, I don't agree that they have that right and so I don't allow them to do it. As far as I'm concerned, between protest, security theater, and cancer, cancer ranks third on the list of reasons why I don't want to go through the scanners.

Re:Opting out... (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about 6 months ago | (#46371897)

I agree with your perspective, and I opt out of the scanners on the same principles. I could have been clearer on that point. The reason I replied was that it seemed odd to list something that isn't an issue anymore among things that are still a problem.

Random selection process (1)

lolococo (574827) | about 6 months ago | (#46370571)

Is the "random" selection for additional screening truly random?

I remember 10-11 years ago, I used to fly every week with Southwest Airlines out of Boston's Logan. For the first few months, I was "randomly" selected at each and every flight at boarding time. I was assuming it was because I was travelling with a French passport - I remember how popular French were at that time in the US. Then, after a couple months, I was never selected again, presumably because Southwest had built a profile on me showing that I was a "good" passenger. Is there any real substance to my (admittedly biased) assumptions?

Serious Question (1)

CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) | about 6 months ago | (#46370667)

If I book a flight to Kiev in the spring, for vacation of course. Would that make me more likely to be suspect?

Looks, Gate Screening and Missing Your Flight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370721)

Previously, while flying home from Italy, I was scanned about 5 different times for airport security. On the last screening which was a gate screening. I had not shaved for days as I was on vacation and didn't really want to deal with razors/TSA.

After checking my bag a man physically searched me and then had his gloves inspected for bomb making items. That turned out positive. 15 minutes later they found the machine was returning positive for clean unused gloves, making it clearly an equipment malfunction of some sort. I thinking, ok, now you can let me board since your equipment is broken. Nope. Instead they had to take me down to the station, causing me to miss my flight.

So I’m wondering if there is anything I can do to be less likely to be pulled to the side and if it does happen again is there a way to get the TSA to pay for my flight? Would my scraggly beard have been a reason for my selection in the line?

Hand swabbing (2)

CelticWhisper (601755) | about 6 months ago | (#46370871)

I've heard of the practice of "hand swabbing" - randomly selecting passengers to have a cotton swab coated in some chemical run over their hands and tested for explosive residue. I do NOT consent to any contact with my skin (or any physical contact from strangers at all, excepting lifesaving medical procedures) - how would I go about refusing this and what would happen afterward?

Note that this question is academic - I refuse to set foot in airports and have done since the introduction of the Reign of Molestation in 2010, and will continue to do so until the RoM is stopped and (hopefully) John Pistole is sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, the entirety of his sentence to be spent in solitary confinement with the cell door permanently welded shut.

Do you ever encounter problems when you travel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46370885)

How do TSA agents treat you? Have you ever had to endure any punitive hassling? Or do they find some way to communicate their approval for what you are doing?

off-hour vending machines (1)

bugi (8479) | about 6 months ago | (#46370973)

What's with the guards by the vending machines in terminals? What would happen if I insisted on using the vending machines?

The airports I fly through have nooks with vending machines. When I go through (always day or early evening), there's always a guard. I tried to use the vending machines a couple times and was told "no" and they're only for when the shops are closed.

What goes? Whose policy is it? Do the shop vendors pay separately for this extra protection?

3rd degree in Amsterdam (1)

Vellmont (569020) | about 6 months ago | (#46371169)

About a year ago I was traveling home, and the TSA had set up a security checkpoint at the gate in Amsterdam. The screener (A Dutchman, oddly) kept asking me question after question, surely suspicious of something. This only thing even remotely suspicious was that I had gone through Switzerland, and my flight was cancelled so I had been re-routed through Amsterdam.

Do you have any idea why the gate agent gave me the third degree, asking me all these questions about where I had been, etc? I've traveled quite a bit internationally, and this was the hardest time I've had getting back in the US. Is it just TSA being extra-paranoid about anyone coming through Switzerland due to the super-rich trying to take money out of Swiss banks after the banks agreed to turn over records? Or is it just the Dutch TSA agents are dicks?

X-Ray Cumulative Dose (1)

Lvdata (1214190) | about 6 months ago | (#46371199)

I know you said above you would avoid back scatter x-rays, but what about the cumulative dose from back scatter, AND the luggage scanners. It seems like there is a push from management at the TSA not to track the dosage the employees receive. Do there regular TSA agents feel this is OK or do they want some from of tracking? Have you done some checking on the dosage based on machine type and manufacturers documentation?
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