SSI only secret when it is convenient


I know that expecting a consistent and coherent implementation of policy from the TSA is a pipe dream. Still, there are a few bits that it would seem it makes sense to keep consistent. Take the pseudo-secret Sensitive Security Information ("SSI") classification of documents, for example. This is a designation that generally requires a document to be kept away from public view as it  is considered integral to TSA operations, though not quite secret enough that it really matters. Sortof.

All manner of information that probably shouldn’t be is covered under the SSI designation, allowing the TSA to avoid FOIA requests and to otherwise avoid scrutiny. And I’m sure there are reasonable things covered by the designation, too, such as the Screening Management SOP. Actually I know that one is covered because there was an enormous fiasco a little while back when the poorly redacted version was posted online in public view. Whoopsie.

So it seems to reason that the SSI designation actually has some teeth. Which makes me wonder why it is so poorly observed at the airport. Today’s trip out of LaGuardia was another great example of this lax implementation, with a document clearly marked as SSI sitting out in plain view of the passengers walking through the screening checkpoint. The document was the daily schedule for "unpredictable" random checks that the agents are supposed to do, such as swabbing passenger hands or checking additional bags more thoroughly. I can understand why you might not want folks generally seeing that, though it also shouldn’t really matter. Still, it is marked as such so I would assume that would be enforced. Today’s experience suggests otherwise.

After noticing the document on display I asked to speak with the supervisor on duty, just to point out that the SSI document probably shouldn’t be in public. His response was rather surprising. His claim was, essentially, that the SSI designation on that particular document didn’t really count because the schedule on it changes daily. And because it was on a clipboard it wasn’t really in public view since I wouldn’t have been able to walk away with it.

Neither of those explanations make much sense at all, but that’s apparently how the TSA operates at LaGuardia when Steve is working as the lead TSO.

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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.

6 Comments

  1. Come on didn’t you know that clipboards are authorized information protection devices!? Even Superman wouldn’t have been able to read the document with his x-ray vision! 🙂

    1. The clipboard actually would have been fine. If they just flipped it over. Instead of acknowledging that they screwed up and fixing it the agent spent an excessive amount of time trying to convince me I was wrong.

      As for taking a photo of it, I was trying to avoid getting arrested today as I had to make that flight for a wedding. Otherwise I might have been a bit more cavalier.

  2. I just went through the Air Canada security area in BOS and the “SSI” Random Inspection schedule (grouped by hour of day) was sitting on top of the tunnel covering the exit conveyor of the bag xray.

    It was not on a a clipboard,and was facing out towards all passengers to read. I’m thinking SMRT here.

    1. That’s the exact same document as the one I saw, Gabe. Apparently it is OK because it isn’t really SSI. At least not at LaGuardia. Even though the SSI disclaimer is printed on it.

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