Lots of stupid TSA things this week

I can always depend on the TSA to do stupid things, so I don’t write about them all that often.  But there were a few particularly juicy ones this week that I thought were worth sharing.

First up was the announcement that a TSA screener at Newark airport was arrested after trying to sell a $47,900 camera that was pilfered from checked baggage.  Apparently the camera belonged to HBO, and they were none too happy that it went missing.  The same guy also stole a camera from CNN which the company tracked after the cops and the TSA stopped caring about the theft.  The guy had over 60 cameras, 30 laptops and a bunch of other good stuff in his house when the cops showed up.  I give him some credit for brains, as he was appears to have been picking up the various accessories on eBay that he hadn’t yet stolen from bags so that the sales would look more legit, but the guy is still a moron.  It also begs the question of how someone could take so much stuff out and no one else notice, particularly with some of the things being particularly large, but that’s the TSA for you.

Number two on this week’s list was the details posted about the “passive” bomb screening devices that the TSA used in Denver and Minneapolis during the conventions.  The devices are pretty similar to those used in Asian airports to sense hot/cold on people as they come into the country.  There the screening is done for health reasons to prevent another SARS outbreak.  In the USA they are looking for cold spots on the image to represent places on a body where something is preventing the normal heat signature from appearing.  The TSA is pretty sure that it would take a bomb to block the heat.  I’m not sure that a money belt or passport holder wouldn’t have a similar effect, and I’m pretty sure my lead film pouch would too. 

The most disturbing part of these screenings is that they have extended the screening out from the checkpoint to the airport entrances.  The TSA operates on the basis of an administrative search and that search is supposed to govern the area from the checkpoint to the gates.  Plus people are supposed to be warned that such a search is going to happen and be given the option to decline the screening and leave the area.  These new checkpoints are moving the screening to a point that significantly expands the TSA range and also do not appear to have the appropriate signage in place.  Of course, it is entertaining to see the TSA finally responding to the threat of people trying to attack the “public” part of the airport, years after it was done in other places and with no particular reasoning or indication of a specific threat in the USA, but that seems to be their habit.

And number three on this week’s list of stupid TSA tricks was the announcement of their desire to perform passenger checks on all private planes over 12,500 pounds.  That pretty much includes all private planes and it has the private jet operators up in arms.  Essentially the TSA has decided that they want to conduct screenings against their master list of names and aliases of people who shouldn’t be allowed to fly commercially and extend that list to private jet service.  I have no idea why they feel this is necessary or even useful, but they are doing it anyways.  The lobbying groups that represent private aviation are working pretty hard against this one.  In the meantime, the phrase “papers please” continues to grow in its applications for air travel.

On the plus side, Kip Hawley, the TSA Director, has stated that he expects that upgrades to the x-ray machines might bring an end to the 100mL liquids stupidity at some point next year.  Apparently the issue has always been in the x-ray machines, not the liquids.  Plus it seems that x-ray machines can detect explosives somehow, which is interesting news since they never seemed to be able to do so before.  Except for the detection machines that they’ve had available in Japan for years.  But that’s a whole different issue.  And let’s also remember that Kip likely won’t be working for the TSA next year, so it isn’t particularly clear what he has to say about the situation.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.