Tuesday, 6 June 2006
Unanswered questions at Dulles Airport
Since I write about the "how's" and "how-to's" of travel, every trip I take is a busman's holiday. Even on vacation, I'm always making mental notes, sometimes writing them down, occasionally taking photos, and often asking questions about the meaning of what I see happening.
Like most travel writers, I avoid identifying myself as such. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle of journalism is that people tell different stories when they know that what they say or do may appear in print.
Normally, that's not a problem. If people don't like what I'm doing, they say so by words or gestures, and I stop. I smile apologetically. They smile (usually), and in any case I go on about my business and my journey.
I've been asked to leave places where I didn't see the "off limits" signs (if there were any), or they weren't in any language I could understand. And I've been asked to stop taking photos.
But never, anywhere in the world -- including a fairly wide variety of police states -- have I been threatened with arrrest while travelling, merely for asking questions about what was happening.
Until last month, at Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC, USA.
Here's what happened:
On Sunday evening, 14 May 2006, I was headed home from Washington to San Francisco after two weeks on the East Coast, including the annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. It's a long way from downtown Washington to Dulles Airport, even if you have your own car (which I didn't). So I left my final meeting on Capitol Hill early, to allow plenty of time to get to get there by Metro train and bus.
I checked in at the United Airlines counter, showed my USA passport to the airline staff person when they asked me to show them my identification, and received my boarding pass and baggage check with almost an hour left before my flight. (I didn't argue, but what they meant was to "show my credentials" -- identification is an act or process, not a tangible object.)
As I approached the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, I was relaxed, I had plenty of time, and I was curious about the passenger processing procedures at Dulles. Every airport is a bit different, and I try to keep track of the range of variation so that, in my reporting and advice to other travellers, I don't over-generalize from my observations at airports I visit more frequently.
So when one of a group of people between the check-in counter and the TSA checkpoint -- who appeared to be neither TSA nor airline employees -- said to me, "I need to see your boarding pass and ID", I took the time to ask him, "Why? Who are you?"
"I need to check your boarding pass and ID," he repeated. ("I need to..." is a peculiarly ambiguous locution. Is it an order, or a request? Must I satisfy your needs?)
"But why? Who do you work for? Am I required to open my passport for unidentified strangers?"
"We work for the TSA", he said, and pointed to a logo on the badge that hung from a lanyard around his neck.
There was a logo there -- too small for me to read, even with my bifocals, without getting closer than seemed polite. But he wasn't wearing anything that looked like a TSA uniform, and the largest line on his and his colleagues' badges said, Airserv . I didn't see anything saying "TSA" or "United Airlines".
"Do you work for the TSA? Or do you work for Airserv?"
"Actually, we work for Airserv."
"So what's the relationship between Airserv and the TSA? Does the TSA require me to open my passport for you?"
"Wait here. I'll get someone from the TSA to answer that."
Presently a man with a badge that had a different logo on it emerged from behind the checkpoint and introduced himself as Mr. Graham, a TSA supervisor. (He told me his first name as well, but by the time I thought it might be important enough to write it down, the police had arrived and told me to keep my hands away from my pockets, where my pen and paper were.)
I identified myself (verbally) as Edward Hasbrouck, and asked him, "Sir, is the screening here at Dulles performed by TSA employees or contractors?"
"All our screening personnel at this airport are TSA employees," Mr Graham told me.
"I see, sir. Thank you for clarifying that. So do these people with the badges that say 'Airserv' work for the TSA?"
"That's what I thought, sir. But this man claimed that they work for the TSA, and said that's why they have the TSA logo on their badges."
"TSA logo? There's no TSA logo on their badges. That's the logo of Customs and Border Protection [another division of the Department of Homeland Security]. That shows that they are authorized to be in the secure customs area of the airport."
"Then are you concerned, sir, that he claimed to be a TSA employee, when he's not?"
"No, sir. That's not my concern." I thought that impersonating a Federal officer was a serious crime, but Mr. Graham didn't seem to care.
"Sir, does any TSA regulation or other law or government order require me to open my passport for them?"
"No, we [TSA] don't."
"I don't want to do anything wrong, sir. If you as a TSA employee order me to open my passport for you, or for these other people, I will do so. But I'm trying to clarify who these people are, and whether they, or you, or the government, are making a request or giving an order that I show them my passport."
"No, sir, the TSA doesn't require you to do anything."
"Thank you, sir."
With that -- having already identified myself and showed my passport to the airline at check-in, having identified myself to the TSA supervisor on the spot and assured him of my willingness to open my passport on demand of any government agent, and having been directly assured by that same TSA supervisor that the government did not require me to show my ID to the people from Airserv (about whom I had been able to determine only that they didn't work for the government or the airline, and were misrepresenting their relationship to the government) -- I began to proceed toward the security checkpoint, which I had not yet reached.
I'd gotten only a step before Mr. Graham called out, "Wait."
I stopped immediately, still several steps away from the checkpoint.
"Where are you going?"
"I was going on to the checkpoint, sir, since you told me I didn't have to show these people my passport."
"If you don't show your passport to these guys [gesturing toward the group of Airserv employees], I won't allow you through the checkpoint."
"Sir, may I proceed through the TSA checkpoint as a 'selectee' without showing them my passport? I understand that as a 'selectee' I will be subject to a more intrusive search."
"No, sir, you may not."
"So do I understand you correctly, sir, that as the TSA supervisor you categorically refuse to allow me to proceed to the checkpoint unless I first show my passport to these people, even though they don't work for the TSA?"
"That is correct, sir."
This was interesting, since I had heard the arguments by the TSA's lawyers, and read the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Gilmore vs. Gonzales , claiming that airline passengers were not required to "present ID" if they were willing to be searched more closely as "selectees" for secondary screening.
But since I was being given no alternative, and it was getting closer to boarding time for my flight, I opened my passport and held it out, along with my boarding pass, to the mystery man from Airserv to inspect. He ignored me.
"What are you doing?", Mr. Graham asked.
"I'm displaying my passport and boarding pass for this man to inspect, sir, as you told me you would require before you allowed me to proceed to the checkpoint and my flight."
"Just wait right there", he replied. "Someone is on their way here to answer your questions."
I waited, under detention (at least I think that an order from a Federal officer, "Wait right there", constituted detention). But Mr. Graham's statement proved to be a lie. The people "on their way" turned out to be two Washington Metropolitan police (Federal officers, I think -- Dulles Airport is located in Virginia, not the District of Columbia, but is operated by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority under, I presume, some sort of under Federal jurisdiction). And when they arrived, it wasn't to answer any of my questions, but to ask me questions.
Lots of questions, all of which I answered: What's your name? Where do live? Where are you going? (I'm trying to go to my gate to get on a plane to go home to San Francisco, sir.) How long have you been in Virginia? (About an hour and a half, on my way to the airport from the District, ma'am.)
And of course, a direct order (not a request): "Give us your passport", which I did.
While one police officer took my passport away slightly out of earshot to radio for a check of whether I had a rap sheet with NCIC , the other stood next to me watching me closely (lest I attempt to flee?), with one hand poised over her pistol holster. When I stepped slightly toward the man with my passport to respond to one of his questions, his partner bellowed at me to come back. When I did so, and took a step back toward her, she barked at me again, first to stay further away from her and then to keep my hands up and away from my pockets.
Eventually the cop with my passport came back and declaimed with seeming satisfaction at his catch, "You have a record for this sort of thing, don't you?"
"Not that I know of, sir." I've been arrested, but never in an airport, and never merely for asking questions.
"Have you ever been arrested?"
"Yes sir. I have a Federal felony conviction for refusing to register for the draft ."
"Why wouldn't you do that?", his partner interjected.
I paused for a moment, considering my answer. I had just spent four days with a gathering of resisters to conscription and military service from around the world, throughout which a constant theme had been the many and varied definitions of, and reasons for, "conscientious objection".
But this didn't seem the time or place for a philosophical discussion, especially if I wanted to make it home without adding an involuntary tour of the D.C. Jail to my itinerary. These were jumpy people with guns and badges, and I gave them what seemed the simplest and most calming of the various truthful answers: "I didn't want to promise to kill people, ma'am. I've been arrested several times for misdemeanors for nonviolent civil disobedience, but I completed my sentence, and I haven't been arrested in more than 20 years."
She gave a "Harrumph", and her partner glared at me and launched into a lecture:
"Look, you. We don't want to have to come back here. [They didn't have to come, and I hadn't summoned them, but I refrained from pointing that out.] And if we do come back, it won't be like this. [I took this to mean that they wouldn't be so "kind" as merely to detain, search, berate, and interrogate me.] Do you understand me? [I understood him to mean a threat of arrest, if I wasn't already under arrest and not "mere" detention.]
"And once you go into that checkpoint, you can't change your mind -- you have to do everything they say."
He gave me back my passport.
"Am I free to go, sir?"
"Yes. Go on."
"Mr. Graham, may I proceed to the checkpoint?"
"Yes. But once you do, you can't back out."
Of course I was "selected" for the usual secondary screening for weapons and explosives: wanding with a hand-held metal detector, a pat-down search, and opening and search (in a location where my view of what was being done was substantially obstructed) of my carry-on luggage (including my notebook and papers), shoes, belt, money pouch, and the contents of my pockets.
In addition, TSA staff took various of my papers and documents away to photocopy them (I recognized some of the copies that one of them was carrying when he returned) and questioned me throughout their search.
I couldn't refuse to answer their questions, since I'd already been threatened implicitly with arrest of I didn't do "whatever they told me to do". They demanded that I tell them the purpose(s) of my trip, where I had been, what I had been doing, when and where was my last flight, when I had last been at Dulles, where did I live, where did I work, and a variety of other things -- none of them even remotely related to whether I had any weapons or explosives. I answered all their questions, though I did so as succinctly as truthfully possible.
I have some press credentials (real ones, not the fakes and forgeries you can buy for a hundred Thai Bhat on Khao San Road, or for a few dollars more in Times Square or the Tenderloin), but I don't think I've ever used them, and I didn't have them with me. But the TSA people noticed my business cards, and asked me about my books, so they definitely were aware that I was a travel writer for whom questions about airport procedures were all in a normal day's work. The warrantless search or seizure of my notes would appear to have been, on its face, a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 2000aa). They didn't seem to care. "We're making an incident report," the one interrogating me said ominously but in a somewhat apologetic, or perhaps embarrassed, tone.
They let me put my shoes and belt back on, but continued to fiddle with my belongings for a while more before giving a final glance at the clock and thrusting my bag across the counter to me with the cheerful farewell, "You can go now. The shuttle to the C gates leaves in 17 seconds. You'll make your plane." I did, but of course I didn't have time to ask any more questions.
A partial explanation (if not justification) of the police involvement may have been provided just a few days later, when Time magazine reported on the TSA's rollout of behavioral profiling under the catchy rubric of "Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques". (See SPOT run?)
According to the 17 May 2006 Time story:
SPOT... has been tested over the last three years at several airports in the Northeast, including Boston's Logan Airport.... SPOT is based on observing passenger behavior ....
Here's how it works: Select TSA employees will be trained to identify suspicious individuals who raise red flags by exhibiting unusual or anxious behavior, which can be as simple as changes in mannerisms.... Those who are identified as suspicious will be examined more thoroughly; for some, the agency will bring in local police to conduct face-to-face interviews and perhaps run the person's name against national criminal databases.... If such inquiries turn up other issues [such as?] countries with terrorist connections, police officers can pursue the questioning.
When anyone who ask questions is suspected of being a terrorist, and subject to detention, interrogation, and search, we've got a problem. And if I had an RFID passport , it would have been worse: the new USA passports with RFID chips, and the ICAO standard for RFID passports, have been (mis)designed to make it impossible to open the passport cover to permit visual inspection of the data page by people in the line of site without also exposing the RFID chip to reading of its unique serial number by strangers around and behind you in every direction.
But what about the rest of what happened? And who are these guys who wanted to see my passport? After I got home, I asked both United and the TSA for clarification.
Rule 35 (page 8 of the PDF) of the contractual Conditions of Carriage in United's published tariff of fares provides that United "will refuse to transport ... any passenger ... who refuses on request to produce identification which reflects the same full name information displayed on the tickets(s). Note: UA shall have the right, but shall not be obligated, to require identification of persons purchasing tickets and/or presenting a ticket(s) for the purpose of boarding the aircraft."
I'd already identified myself and shown my passport to obtain my boarding pass, and I hadn't yet reached the boarding point. That leaves only the clause "refuses on request to produce identification". I asked United spokesperson Robin Urbanski, "To whom are United passengers required to present identification?"
"It varies", said Urbanski unhelpfully.
So if someone approaches a United passenger in an airport and demands to see their ID, how can or should the traveller determine whether the demand is authorized by the conditions of carriage, or whether the person is perhaps an identity thief, stalker, etc. ?
"The contract of carriage is between United and our customers. So if the interaction is with someone who does not work for United, the contract of carriage does not apply," according to Urbanski.
The people with the Airserv badges never even claimed to work for United. So whatever authority they had to demand credentials, or deny passage toward the checkpoint to those who didn't show them, didn't come from United's contract with passengers (even if it's legal, under the assembly clause of the First Amendent and the common carrier clause of the Airline Deregulation Act, for an airline to require identification credentials as a condition of carriage, which so far as I can tell no court has yet been asked to decide). And the order not to proceed to the checkpoint (an order I believe was both unconstitutional and unauthorized by statute, although I immediately obeyed it) came from Mr. Graham of the TSA.
I asked the same questions of TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez, who replied that "In most cases, airline contractors are responsible for checking identification of ticketed passengers prior to arriving at the security checkpoint". But Melendez was silent on whether travellers are required to comply with these "contractors'" demands, or how they can verify their bona fides.
Melendez also said that "TSA requires government issued ID be available at the security checkpoint." That's irrelevant, since I had yet to reach the checkpoint when the people from Airserv demanded my passport.
I was told by a TSA supervisor that the TSA would not permit me to fly, even as a selectee, unless I showed ID. Was I misinformed, or has the TSA policy changed since the statements made to the court in the Gilmore case?
"I don't know who told you this or why", said Melendez. "But again, TSA requires government issued ID to be available for viewing [again, he declined to say by whom] in order to gain access to the security checkpoint."
Melendez pointed me to the Access Requirements page on the TSA Web site, which refers to requirements for passengers to present credentials only at check-in counters and TSA checkpoints -- not in between:
"At most airports, a boarding pass and ID are now required to pass through the security checkpoint.... For e-tickets, you will need to show your photo identification and e-ticket receipt to receive your boarding pass," which I had in fact done.
All this was exactly one of the scenarios I asked the head of the USA State Department's Passport Office, Frank Moss, about, last year at CFP:
[E]ven in the USA, how would I be able to verify whether a demand to present my passport (by an airline, for example, rather than the government) was authorized or required by law?... Or with whom they might "share" the identifying data? Moss couldn't say.
It's actually even worse: the TSA has crafted its procedures so that the demand for identification credentials is made neither by the TSA itself nor the airline, but by a third party whose identity and authority are entirely unverifiable to the traveller, and who is accountable to the traveller neither through government legislative and regulatory procedures nor through enforcement of contractual rights (since they have no contractual relationship to the traveller).
To give an added frisson of resemblance to countries with corrupt or dysfunctional police and governments, the people in uniform demanding people's credentials are lying about being government employees. The real government employees watching them don't care. And if, like me, you so much as ask a few polite questions about what is going on, you are detained, threatened with arrest, searched, investigated, your papers copied by the government for your permanent (I can only presume) dossier, and the unaccountable third party (and, in the case of an RFID passport, anyone else within range with a reader in their luggage) left with the unregulated legal "right" to use and sell any data obtained from its government-coerced scrutiny of your credentials.
[Follow-up, 9 June 2006: Privacy advice to the Department of Homeland Security ]
[Follow-up, 16 July 2006: Dialogue with the TSA Privacy Officer ]
[Follow-up, 21 July 2006: Why was I detained by police at Dulles Airport? ]
[Follow-up, 28 July 2006: TSA report on what happened to me at Dulles Airport ]
[Follow-up, 28 September 2006: Kip Hawley is an idiot. ]
[Follow-up, 27 October 2006: TSA says their press releases are secret ]
Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 18:58 ( 6:58 PM)
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Enough complaining. What can we, your readers, do about this? Whom in the government can we contact to enact change?
An all to familiar story unfortunately... notice how early on it degrades from a security aspect to merely teaching you a lession for your "impudence."
I can't even take my regular walk near my home with out police scrutiny and harassment, and being required to carry an ID card. Thanks to a recent encounter with the police declaring such (yeah I know it's not true.. yet) and giving me a warning... if they choose to stop me again I'm sure they'll "school" me some more.
I think the "terrorists" won on 9/11.
Bravo. The rest of us really need to think about how blindly we accept "the rules," without asking questions.
I also really enjoyed how many "sirs" were fired back and forth during your exchange. The antagonistic "sir" is amazing.
I fly out of Dulles about once a month and hate having to take off my shoes when going through security. While it certainly didn't go as far as what you experienced I was subjected to similar stupidity. Last time I flew out was on 21-May and I wore flip flops in an effort to avoid the whole problem but they wanted me to run them through the x-ray. When I asked if it was mandatory the large, round woman in front of the metal detector gates scowled at me and said I would be "subjected to additional screening and possible delays". I had over an hour before my flight so I said "okay". She walked to a man behind the metal detectors pointed at me and I swear it looked like she said "this a**hole won't take off his shoes". The man asked me if I was refusing to take off my shoes and I asked him if it was "mandatory". He repeated almost verbatim what the round lady said -- I shrugged my shoulders. He then asked me to walk through the metal detector and it sounded...I forgot to take off my belt. I removed my belt and then walked through a second time without a peep. The man then said I had been "selected" for additional screening for refusing to remove my shoes. He escorted me to a "pen" just beyond the metal detectors. A third TSA employee then came and scrutinized my ticket and passport. He then had me sit down and he swabbed and tested my flip flops. The whole thing took maybe an extra 3 minutes. Not a big deal but I can see from your experience I was probably one question away from a cavity search. I guess the thing that bothers me most about this is that none of it is an effective deterrent to any of the terrorist bs they are pushing. If people want to experience a real security screening try flying into Germany -- very thorough and you can keep your shoes on.
Your story about your TSA encounter at Dulles raises an interesting question. You mentioned that the TSA made photocopies of your papers.
Many business travellers often carry with them company documents that might contain proprietary, legally privileged, or trade secret information.
Do the regulations permit the TSA to copy and keep this sort of material? (not to mention the electronic data issue...)
To answer the previous commenter:
I had documents (reporter's notes) that would be clearly be legally privileged in California, but journalists' privileges are almost nonexistent under Federal law. (I don't know about Virginia law, or whether it even applies -- Dulles might be an exclusive reserve of Federal jurisdiction.)
I don't _think_ I had anything else subject to any special privilege, although I'm not sure.
More or less by chance, the only electronic data I had in the carry-on bag and on my person was in my cell phone. (I had other electronic devices in my checked bag. Since the locks were removed, I presume they opened it, but of course that also took place out of my sight.)
Since I couldn't see much of what they did with my belongings, and they definitely took some away (to copy some of my papers, and do I know not what else), I don't know if they attempted to get any of the data from my cell phone. But there wasn't a great deal of information in my phone, and again by chance no phone numbers of confidential sources.
Do "the regulations" permit this? I don't know if there are any regulations; if there are, they are probably secret. This is the "secret law" issue John Gilmore and others have come up against.
And the USA wonder why the rest of the world hates America!?
Your forefathers must be rolling in their graves!!
I have chosen not to remove my shoes the last 6 times I've flown. I get the swabbed wand on my footwear and then they run it thru a detector and come back and pass me thru. sometimes i'm not even checked if i don't remove my shoes. If they start to ask questions i tell them i have athletes foot.
Dave Graham, MWAA are NOT Federal, Loudon County Jail, not DC Jail
What you were put through is nothing short of outrageous. I fly infrequently, yet I am always stunned at the pure stupidity of our current "security" measures. NO ONE is going to attempt to hijack a plane and fly it into a building again, nor is ANYONE going to try and blow up their shoes. al-Qaeda knows that we now know about these techniques, and will guard against them. They will come up with new ideas. I think it is telling that in the many, many nations where one is not required to remove one's shoes that there have been ZERO shoe-bombings.
ive never flown before. and i dont think i am ever going to. but i do think i will do a little investigation at my local airport.also im not afraid at all of them arresting me,so,i can go a little deeper into it.ill post any info i find out. terribly sorry that happened to you.(i know a good bit about law after being jailed for 3 years lol)some law had to have been broken.
Once I was wearing sandals, and they passed the wand over my *bare* feet. Oh c'mon!
Another time I forgot my purse in my son's car when he dropped me off at the airport--had no ID, no boarding pass, as well as no money. You can imagine how I was treated under those circumstances.
GWOT = BS
What you guys are going bonkers over is what people of color in this country have gone through for decades. And any self-aware POC knows that you don't try to make a philosophical point with the hired help, even if you're right. For the writer, it was a matter of getting delayed for a flight he still made. For others, these are life and death lessons.
I can imagine what treatment an admitted black felon would have in this situation. I think a temporary holdup would have been the least of his problems.
well... it's rather simple, it's the beard. i mean, who has a beard of that length? that's right, jihad explodishoes people. i dont like how they handled it (especially with the lies) but i understand why they were concerned. shave off the beard and you'll never have problems like that at an airport. i live by DC and we cant afford to risk losing a good chunk of government... well... officially (i hate the bastards (congress and the senate) personally). we have site-R but that is the ultimate fallback. less beard, less trouble.
I agree, it's ludicrous the searching the American airport puts you through. Futhermore, I don't understand why they make you take your shoes off. I wear Pumas, and if you're not familiar with Pumas, they're essentially a piece of rubber with leather or suede wrapped around your foot. Yet, for some reason they feel that I might be hiding something in this minimalistic shoe. Until this year, I frequently travel from America to Japan. In America I always spend most of my time at the airport just waiting to go through security. God forbid I get "selected" Really, if they're going to hand search my bag, what's the point of having the x-ray machine? is it that ineffective? Not to say that the Japanese security is lax, but I got selected there once, and basically the search consisted of: "Do you have any explosives?" "No.", "Knives?" "No." "Ok, just stand here" they passed the wand around me and looked in my shoes and let me go, and that was it.
You asked, "Enough complaining. What can we, your readers, do about this? Whom in the government can we contact to enact change?"
Remember Charles I? Charles "sinned openly, so he should be tried, sentenced and executed in the face of the world, and not secretly made away by poisonings and other private deaths". Charles was tried for crimes against his people and the laws of England: "trusted with a limited power to govern by and according to the laws of the land, and ... for the good and benefit of his people", he was accused of a "wicked design" to establish "an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will". Charles had attacked the fundamental constitution of the kingdom, under which frequent parliaments were the remedy for misgovernment and had embroiled his people in "unnatural, cruel and bloody wars".
On 4 January 1649, in ringing tones the purged House of Commons declared: "That the people, are, under God, the original of all just power...That the Commons of England...representing the people have the supreme power in this nation...whatever is enacted, or declared for law, by the Commons...hath the force of law...although the consent and concurrence of King, or House of Peers, be not had thereunto"
On, "January the 30, 1649...King Charles beheaded on a scaffold at Whitehall."
Thanks to Keto for adding another layer of reality. Once again today, as with Watergate, the clique in power is so arrogant and out of control that it treats middle class whites the way people of color are usually treated. (A break-in the Democratic Party HQ brought a president down; contemporary break-ins and even a police murder at Black Panther Party sites didn't shake the system. Marion Barry does something dumb and it's criminalized -- and it's a national joke; Bil Clinton gets the same treatment and there is outrage.)
I'm not suggesting white guilt, just a pragmatic understanding that this kind of behavior by authorities is fed by racism. Racial disparity is a breeding ground for corruption and authoritarianism. It has locked up 2 million people in the US without most of us white folks even noticing. More prisoners than China or India. People in high places like this situation, and they want more of it. It will take a united self-conscious effort to push them back.
I congratulate Hasbrouck on his courage and his clear writing (and his prior activism).
I have to take issue with the smugness of this comment:
"(I didn't argue, but what they meant was to "show my credentials" -- identification is an act or process, not a tangible object.)"
I looked it up. An accepted definition of "identification" is, in fact, "Proof or evidence of identity" and "evidence of identity; something that identifies a person or thing ".
This one was easy enough to dig up. I wonder how much more of your assertions are made out of ignorance.
The previous commenter takes exception to my saying that, "what they meant was to 'show my credentials' -- identification is an act or process, not a tangible object."
I used these words as they were used by the Supreme Court in its decison last year in Hiibel v. Nevada, in which this distinction was decisive.
The Supreme Court based its decision on the fact that, in its opinion, the language in the Nevada law requiring identification could have been satisfied by verbal self-identification ("My name is Hiibel"), and did *not* require production or display of credentials or evidence of identity.
See my commentary on this decision at:
"When anyone who ask questions is suspected of being a terrorist, and subject to detention, interrogation, and search, we've got a problem."
We've had that problem for over four years now. Those of us who live in the DC area have learned not to ask innocent questions like "What's going on?" of federal law enforcement, for example TSA officers or Park Police. They will presume you may be gathering intelligence for a terrorist attack.
general personal observation:
asking questions of people with shiny metal badges is a troubling enterprise. however, people with paper or plastic badges are usually helpful and, at the very least, can't detain you against your will without consequence.
"less beard, less trouble."
so true, so true. a few years ago, at the height of my beard phase, i noticed a sharp spike in airport nuisance. the other problem is, i militantly maintain a hair connector between my eyebrows, the so-called "unibrow" (we find this term derogatory, by the way, and have not matured as movement to the point of embracing it). i also noticed that many american men have shame regarding this facial feature and seek to eliminate it. terrorists* on the other hand, love the hair connector, they wear it with pride, like a dirty bomb detonated in the face of modern american male grooming standards.
*by "terrorists" i don't mean the IRA, but the swarthy kind from you know where. the irish never really developed a genetic disposition to grow an eyebrow connector, but if they did i bet they'd let it grow.
What makes this whole terrorist prevention procedure more insane and obtuse is that whatever proof MIGHT exist showing that 19 Arabs actually did commit a massive crime on 09-11-2001, is deemed to be classified, and it would threaten to "National Security" to reveal it.
I'll bet it would. It would tThreaten security a lot. However, when you realize that Al-Qaeda was a creation of the National Security advisor, it makes you question what to THEY mean by 'security'. Apparently a different agenda from most of us.
We have a video of "Fatty Bin Laden" confessing after normal thin, wan Osama bin Laden denied all responsibility and blamed a shadow govt of within the USA. He should know, he got his paychecks from them, in some manner, either indirectly via Pakistan/Saudi, or via protected narcotics sales.
We have a passport which apparently went aboard the planes with the passengers, yet appeared in the hand of an anonymous passerby who handed it to cops.
It must have been made of titanium.
I think there were probably NO Muslims and NO Arabs involved in Sept 11, or if they were, they --- like so many other cases which are documented --- were Intelligence agents or assets on US payroll as subcontractors.
I have the story of Ali Mohamed on my website, for just one example.
If the govt did stage the entire operation -- buildings exploding from top down and molten steel in the basement would seem to indicate 'magic power' Muslims were in charge. Magic muslims to bring the towers down AFTER they passed. Magic muslims to 'mind-meld' with NORAD to make em take a nap.
Nope, no conspiracies there. G'head.
Did the same thing in the Minneapolis airport. Turns out the checkpoint of boarding pass and ID was a person hired by the airlines...not TSA nor did they have any affiliation with TSA.
People behind me were really pissed that I was debating the point with this person, but I thought "hey...this is our civil liberties."
The differences between your adventure and mine is:
1) You were in Dulles near the Capitol and I was in the land of reasonableness (Minnesota)
2) Sadly, your "book cover" was undoubtedly judged and mine wasn't (you have a long beard and the appearance of a civil disobedient. I'm a "suit" that looks like an exec-type out of central casting).
Unfortunately most people believe the claim that we're being protected from terrorism and are more than willing to acquiese to any demand.
How bad is the TSA screening process? When my fellow soldiers and I came back from Iraq, the first American soil we touched down on was Baltimore airport. It was closed, but it was mercifully free of mortar and small arms fire so we wandered through it happily while the plane --- with all our weapons on it --- was cleaned or serviced or whatever. Some of us wore empty sidearm holsters, and all of us were in our desert camo uniforms. Upon returning to the plane, we were ordered by the TSA to remove our boots, belts, and what the military calls our blouses --- the shirt over the tee shirt. Our sole black member --- a guy who's been a US citizen for twenty years, a native Arabic speaker who'd been, not to put too fine a point on it, FIGHTING the war on terror --- was pulled aside for an 'interview.' Yeah, some polyester-clad security guard tried to interrogate an experienced interrogator. That's how they treat soldiers; how do you think they view civilians?
I would consider post-9/11 airport security to be a joke, if it weren't such a pain in the butt.
The last time I flew, I chose not to take off my shoes (basic canvas mary-janes and no socks) because the posted sign said it was unnecessary. I was berated by a screener and told I *had* to remove them to send through the machine. When I pointed out the sign that said removing shoes is unnecessary, she informed me that the sign was wrong and I needed to remove my shoes or she would remove me from line. Considering the length of the line and the fact that I was headed on vacation, I complied but not without informing the security agents that they should remove the conflicting (and obviously ill-informed) signage -- after I got through screening, of course.
I definitely think that more people need to start questioning the "screening practices."
You, sir, are a horse's ass.
It sounds like 'SPOT', while I swear must have been come up with someone who did not realise the amusement of naming a government program after the family pet..
Is really nothing more than lending legitimacy to what was already obvious: Secondary screening is nothing more than punishment -- not security.
We have low paid, bored, humorless people with nothing better to do than exert whatever power and control they can over someone -- they can't spit in your coffee -- so they herd you around and subject you to as much hassle as they can get away with and if you don't 'do what we say' they just threaten you with missing your flight, or arrest.
Also: What always gets me, is just how comical and nonsensical the whole thing really is. Every five minutes we hear the warning... don't leave your baggage unattended. Don't accept anything from someone... etc.
But we hear this after we have practically had to strip nude to get into the gate area right? Doesn't that mean if their screening procedure meant anything -- I could leave my bag sitting unattended while I used the toilet for a half hour if I wanted? No one is supposed to have anything prohibited!
Lastly: I despise the trend of these self check in kiosks and the reduction of airline staff. For some reason, which I have gathered to be someone with my name is on some TSA list. I can't use the self checkin kiosks. And it doesn't matter how many times I tell the surly and unhelpful airline staff that it will not work -- they still snear at me and make me go through the hassle anyway.
Considering I fly for business on overage of twice a month -- this all adds up to a lot of wasted time just to satisfy the motions of security.
I wouldn't care if everyone was screened the same -- and it appeared to offer any sort of benefit.
With respect to the warning every five minutes. Once my girlfriend who is German, was asked to go to INS secondary upon arriving in San Francisco on a flight from Frankfurt Germany, on route to LA, and then on to Guatemala for vacation. After sorting out the issue which is long, complicated, and not really interesting, but it did take about 1 hour and 15 minutes. At one point I asked about our baggage. I was told that they sent an agent to "take care of it". Upon finally arriving at the baggage area, I found our bags in a pile, alone, and not being watched by anyone.
You should have seen the look on the face of the next security person to which I answered, yes my baggage was sitting in the airport uncontrolled for approximately 1 hour, while my girlfriend was questioned by INS secondary. Needless to say we were searched....
to the writer, I'm sorry to hear of your ordeal. To the 1 out of 2 people who voted for Dubya, you are getting what you deserve.
Take an extra pair of socks with you. DO NOT allow your feet to touch the ground. Parisites, athletes foot and many serious diseases can be found on the ground. Your feet consist of lyphs. Sit in the chair, take socks off put new socks on and when recovering your shoes, put the socks that have NOT touched the ground on.
We need a second revolution - this is no longer a Republic - it is a theocracy run by bureaucrats who for the most part have failed at jobs in the private sector and can only work in the lower standards for government service.
Forget the lawyers, if shakespeare were alive today he would recommend de-lifing all the government employees who ride desks. Guys who work for the government who do manual labor at least have an honest job. when bureaucrats are rated by how many people whose 'privileges' they can take away 'think DMV here], it is no wonder that gotcha politics rules the roost.
I want to comment on the incident with the 2 unknown men who asked to identify you. You need to further explore the understanding of how the nazi and gustapo police played a major role in similar tactics back in the past. We are nowliving with the same blueprint of Nazi
Germany on our military police state.
Regarding these shoe-fetish issues that the authorities have, what happens if someone tries to travel with a broken leg?
At least in my part of the world tourists regularly go home in the ski season with plaster casts when they have run out of talent on the slopes. Will the TSA hack off the plaster to check what is inside? Will they stick the passenger on the conveyor belt, set the X-ray to "crisp" and put the passengers encased foot in the focus? Has anyone tried this and lived to tell?
Your experiences have been amazing, definitely, although you are probably "targeted" more than you realize for doing what you do.
When I ran a Bush-critical website in Vermont years back, I was "targeted" through repeated "special screenings" at flight check-in on a regular basis. It is one of the reasons I left the U.S. and am now living in Europe permanently.
From what your article and others have told me, it is apparent that the "special screening" has been set up as a "revenge tool" for the ex-Burger King employees of the TSA and its subcontractors to use; you most definitely did see the roly-poly woman mouth the word "a**-hole" to her supervisor, since I am sure that is what the TSA internal "culture" secretly labels all of us when we travel . Part of the motivation may be jealousy (after all, we are escaping whatever dull hole they are parked at all day) and part is probably the mentality this type of human brings with him (or her). In the service industry, most of us in managerial positions realize in a snap when someone is of this ilk and either spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to "reprogram" them into a productive employee with proper customer service attitudes, or we are (especially if time-pressed) forced to fire them ,thus probably sending them to the TSA and giving them the enormous block-sized chip on their shoulders which you sadly came to experience first-hand.
On behalf of the entire U.S. service industry sector, my humblest apologies to you and everyone else who has been harassed or harangued by one of these failed convertees now employed by the TSA.
I just found this today, and it just amazes me how crazy things have gotten. We're not all mindless robots who will trade away all our liberties in the name of safety. I'm a firefighter, and recently I flew to Colorado to a reunion. For my trip out of BWI, I was in full uniform with badge and didn't get hassled at all. Coming back was a different story. I had left the mountains and had already taken my coat off. When I approached security in Denver I was wearing jeans, clogs, and my uniform sweatshirt with the denim collar and the insignia on front and back, patches on arms, and pins on collar. I was informed very rudely that my duty shirt was "outerwear" and that I was to remove it immediately. Never once in the time since 9/11 have I been asked to take off a sweatshirt or even been looked at twice when I had a patch on. All I've ever had was wanding over the insignia if it was metal. There is absolutely no good reason to strip people down to practically nothing to go through a metal detector. A friend of mine actually had her nipple pinched during a patdown and was berated for wearing an underwire bra. Some of us need them and they are not weapons, people!
You were being, IMHO, a pompous smart-alec and persons who behave like this make it more difficult for everyone else who travels. Yes the TSA is a pain but we are at war.
I've never travelled to the States and incidents like these put me off from ever wanting to go. I've haven't come accross this level of verification and assessment before. It's a shame 9/11 has made so many US officials paronoid and suspicious - even against thier own people. However, it's not hard to see where they're coming from - when a terrorist is determined to harm your country, these additional checks aren't going to stop them, but they will make it harder for them to succeed. Good luck to you guys - you're gonna need it. I'm travelling East!
David Graham is now a DAFSD at Dulles
Well, here's the deal. I live in and work around DC. However, I travel frequently to Seattle, New York, and more. At no airport besides Dulles or Reagan National have I been harassed so much. Living around the capital these days is like being under the ominous dark cloud of a police state. Capitol Police now sport bulletproof vests and assault shotguns and simply stand around all the staircases leading to various parts of the office buildings and the Capitol itself...it's not a very nice place to live anymore. All government officials and police who work around here tend to be huge PitA's, and the ones who are nice tend to be the EXCEPTION.
Whenever I feel like the USA is going down the drain, thankfully I get to travel to *anywhere else*, and my spirits are lifted.
When asked why you had a conscientious objectioni to the draft, you shold have said the same reason GWB skipped out on the draft.
Unbelievable! (not the story, the actions of TSA, and the police that were called)
While I understand the need for additional security, and scrutiny, it sounds like they were having a slow day, and had to harass someone to justify their salary!
The way everything was handled was terrible, thanks for writing the blog, appreciate it.
Upon reading all the comments of what happened people in the airport, we all just had the same problem LOL, here in Ph, it happened to me, taking off slippers, I mean, slippers?? come on, what is it in my slippers?? Men!!
yeah, I believe 9/11 made them quite paranoid. I believe they are just doing their job and trying to do their best to protect their country even though in very inappropriate way. is it good to be safe or not? or is it "over protective"?
Graham faded to black away from TSA just like the end of a bad movie! He was a nightmare on aviation drive! Maybe now they can get some positive management in place. Narcism has no place there. thanks for the memories AO!